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Oh, What a Feeling!

By: Rav Yaakov Yisroel Wenglin

Sometimes, when I have students from various seminaries as guests at my Shabbos table, I ask them to summarize the nature of our avoda in the world. Bottom line, what’s our goal?  Almost always, someone will respond, “To be an eved Hashem” -- to be a servant of Hashem.  I certainly agree with this synopsis, especially if we acknowledge that the essence of a servant is to do the will of the master.  But as with any idea in hashkafa, if the idea does not present the whole picture, then a person can come to make mistakes, both in the external world of action and the internal world of thought and emotions.  It has been noted that the shortcoming of the servant parable is that a servant may serve the master only begrudgingly, looking to fulfill the most minimal requirements of compliance while yearning for the time of day when the job is over and the servant is on his own time (that’s not true about us, is it?).  While the servant parable certainly captures the nature of a Jew’s obligation to fulfill the will of the master – or rather, the Master – and do so accurately and thoroughly, something big is still missing.

This week’s parsha completes the picture, presenting us with one of the more inspiring and really awe-inducing ideas in all of Yiddishkeit, and it comes in only half of one verse!  Devarim 14:1 starts with בנים אתם לד' אלקיכם, “You are children to Hashem, your G-d.”  Huh?  Wha?  Um, that’s right, you are children to Hashem, your G-d.  Children.  Really.  I heard the observation from Rav Noach Weinberg, ztz”l, that we say Avinu, Malkeinu during the holiest time of the year, and notice which aspect of our relationship comes first – Hashem is our Father before He is our King!  Being a child comes before being a servant.  Going back to Devarim 14:1, different levels of analysis can be applied to every verse, but regardless, every verse must not depart from its plain, straightforward meaning.  Here, we are being told that we are children of Hashem.  Obviously, we are not to understand this idea in physical, birth-related sense, but in its conceptual, metaphorical way.  Put most simply, just as a parent loves a child, so does Hashem love us.  Check it out: If you are a parent, go find a moment to kvell over your children, maybe while they’re sleeping or playing nicely together.  Allow yourself to get into the moment, B”H.  Really kvell and get some nachas.  Notice the depth of feeling that you can generate and experience.  Now, multiply that by infinity, and you get a sense of how Hashem feels, so to speak, about us! 

There is even more to contemplate here, because one is not compelled to sire a child; it is a matter of choice to become a parent.  In like fashion, then, we can see that Hashem wants us to realize that He has chosen to bring each of us into existence; it is His will that we are here and it is His will that we do something significant with this existence.  Notice how so much of the parsha is about Hashem holding us to higher standards than the world around us and how He expects us to be holy in even our mundane matters.  We are not to follow in the religious practices or customs of the other nations – in fact, we must destroy all of their places of worship and all their accessories and toys.  Our land is to be sanctified.  Our religious observance must be according to Hashem’s rules and not our whims and preferences.  We must eat food in holiness.  We must not be tempted in any way to serve Hashem other than as He prescribes, and we should violently eliminate any suggestion to the contrary.  We must treat our property with holiness by giving tithes, advancing loans, and helping our fellow Jew.  And we must appear in the holy city of Yerushalayim several times throughout the year.

That Hashem loves us and imbues us with infinite importance are critical thoughts for us to have in this generation, where self-esteem is hard to come by.  If a Jew really were to internalize that Hashem is her loving Father, who cares deeply -- infinitely so – about her, that Jew would no longer have any self-esteem issues and would feel great about herself.  This feeling is measurably enhanced when she realizes also that she is not just loved but she is also important, important enough for Hashem to have brought her into existence and to sustain her in existence.  My experience with people has shown me that even if a person can manage a healthy level of self-esteem in this era, such a person is often still lacking Jewish self-esteem, meaning that the person severely underestimates her importance in the divine scheme and her potential and impact as well.  This feeling causes a person to reduce or even completely shut off any healthy expectations of herself in the areas of growth in observance and avodas Hashem.  I feel myself constantly having to battle this attitude, as I often hear a vague (and evil) voice in the depths of my consciousness tell me, “You’re really not so important, you’re just a simple Jew, and it doesn’t really matter if you….”  Then you can just fill in the blank: “…it doesn’t really matter if you rush through davening, or if you don’t smile at your neighbor, or if you don’t dress so modestly, or if you don’t speak with refinement, or if you spend to much time watching movies, sports, video games, game-shows, Game of Thrones, or if you don’t learn so much, or if you hang out with your friends Ben and Yehuda, or your friends Ben and Jerry….”  The list, sadly, goes on.  That voice is from the Satan himself, the angel of death, the other side, the side of darkness, the yetzer hara who wants nothing more than for us all to lose sight of our status as children of Hashem – children who are beloved and who are infinitely choshuv

The holy Ba’al Shem Tov brings an elegantly simple parable of a father who comes home from a long day at work.  What is going to make that father, abba, tattee, daddy the happiest when he walks into his home?  A comfy couch with his slippers and favorite warm drink would be nice.  And sure, eating a nice dinner with his doting wife would really hit the spot.  But the best thing for this father, abba, tattee, daddy when he walks into his home is when his children come running up to him, grabbing his legs and hands while jumping up and down gleefully exclaiming, “Abba, Tattee, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”  You can just picture the scene, right?  Maybe some of you have merited to experience it, B”H.  Such a great metaphor.  But the question is why does this moment give the father such pleasure?  What, he has such an ego problem that he needs his little critters to make him feel better?  He needs to know that his kids know that he’s the man?  He feels proud that he and his wife have taught the children to love their parents?  I’ll give you a hint: what were the children doing before Abba, Tattee, Daddy came home?  They were playing with their toys, and they were engrossed in that play.  And yet, when their father walks in the room, the toys don’t matter any more, only Abba, Tattee, Daddy.  We are just like that to Hashem, and when He sees that we can prioritize our connection to Him over our connection to our toys, it gives Him infinite nachas!  And when He sees that we feel His love and esteem ourselves and push ourselves to take more seriously the way we spend our time, our mitzva observance, and our dedication to holiness in our mundane endeavors, then He becomes our proud, so to speak, Father, Abba, Tattee, Daddy.






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