Va’etchanan: You Gotta Serve Somebody

The true path to joy is service.

Serving the Lord may be out of fashion, but it pays eternal dividends!

Table for Five: Va’etchanan

Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

But you who cleave to the Lord your God are alive, all of you, this day.

-Deut. 4:4

Rabbi Nicole Guzik, Sinai Temple

For the first time, I am viewing God as a parent with unhealthy boundaries. From the moment a child is born, a parent navigates how to remain close to their offspring while teaching them how to explore the world. I remember watching my children walk into their kindergarten classroom, completely unscathed. Outside on the play yard were sobbing parents, my tears mixed along the crowd. Letting go is part of growing as a parent. And perhaps God missed the class on healthy separation.

Family therapist Salvador Minuchin teaches extensively on “enmeshed relationships.” Enmeshment describes family bonds that are overly dependent, reliant on each other’s praise and approval. In other words, your actions take place as an emotional response to another, not on your own accord. When the Midrash describes God wanting his children cleaving to him, a rabbi/therapist can’t help but wonder: is this an enmeshed parent? Unable to let us move without consent? Or is God fostering healthy spiritual growth, while leaving room for independence, discovery, and failure?

Just like with any enmeshed parent, an adult child can always review and refine their boundaries. Do we exist in this world overly concerned with God’s approval? Or do we move through this world with God as a partner? Involved as a guide and mentor, granting us permission to question, struggle, venture and grow? We can shift the dynamic if we are willing to face the question.

Dini Coopersmith, Women’s Reconnection Trips, www.reconnectiontrips.com

Life’s purpose is to cleave to the Almighty. We know that. To have a relationship with God is what it’s all about. God is like a life-line that is thrown to one who is drowning, keeping them above water, giving him/her life-force. But how does one reach this level of cleaving to the Almighty? We are only human after all, and it seems quite a tall order to expect everyone to reach Hashem! Says the Netivot Shalom, there are levels of attachment to God. Some of us try to connect to God through our minds. Others connect on an emotional level and still others have a visceral attachment to God, so that their limbs automatically are drawn to do God’s will. On the most basic level though, every single Jew is wired to attach to God, even from the depths of depravity. Even if one is very disconnected on a conscious level, at the most primal core of our being, we are all looking for meaning and we are aware that if we do not attach ourselves to God we have no life, no meaning, we are not “alive today”.

Another idea is the following: “you who are cleaving to Hashem, all of you“- only unified with the rest of the Jewish People can a Jew truly connect to Hashem, since each one of us, on our own, is flawed, but when unified, each complements the other and we become attached to Hashem as a whole, perfected, united Jewish Nation.

Rabbi Aryeh Markman, Executive Director, Aish LA

But wait, I’m alive and not cleaving to God! And isn’t He everyone’s God, not just “your God”?

What does it mean to cleave to God? Answer: To have your mind totally attached to God at all times. Such as supporting and interacting with Torah scholars; the repository of living Torah wisdom. We learn this from Joshua who attached himself to Moses, and Joshua became like him.

And it’s a two-way street. As much as you will attach yourself to God, God will attach Himself to you. Like a flame attached to the wick of a lamp. The implication here is your life will be prolonged. Factoid: This also goes for, as an example, cattle. In the Book of Numbers, Chapter 7, when the princes of the tribes brought cattle to pull wagons at the dedication of the Tabernacle in the desert, those cattle lived until the time of Solomon!

There is more. By attaching yourself to God, not only will you live life to the fullest in this world, but also in the next. We are talking Resurrection. Yes! A significant reality Jews taught the world.

Which brings us to “your God” And while God is God to everyone, He is, at the same time, directly available for an intimate relationship with the Jewish People, without any intermediaries. The other nations channel through an angel.

Cleaving to God is the truest pursuit one can undertake in this world. The resulting benefits are both in and out of this world.

David Porush, student, teacher & writer at davidporush.com

A singular word in this verse begs us to delve into it: hadevekim – “the clingers.” (Its root gives us the modern Hebrew “glue.”) Here it alludes to the ineffable concept of deveikus, an elevated intimacy with God, a merging with Divine consciousness that transcends its shadows of normal human attachment and love. Kabbalists have used ascetic practices and esoteric meditations to try to achieve its ecstasy for centuries. The Baal Shem Tov said it was the highest attainment of the Jew, accessible through suprarational awareness, living every moment of life as a joyful prayer.

Cosmopolitan and assimilated Jews often see hadevekim, the clingers, as deluded throwbacks. It’s a tension that plays throughout Jewish history since Ahab, “who strayed after fetishes – like the Amorites.” Seleucid Jews, those sophisticates, fell under the sway of Greek culture and corrupted Jerusalem until the Maccabees purged them. Following R. Joseph Soloveitchik, I’d suggest that the Maccabees’ deveikus – not their military adventure – is the eternal courage to be celebrated on Chanukah.

Jews have always sought meaning through modernism while ironically scorning the faithful who’ve achieved it by sublimating material desires to spiritual ones, turning their backs on the abysses of fashionable thinking, and clinging to the reality of a living God. Those who disdain them usually subside along with the empires whose allure they can’t resist.

Our verse here could be read cynically as a tautology, but I hear a triumphant promise still being fulfilled: “You who cling to Me are all alive as Jews today!”

Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg, Dean of Students, Shalhevet High School

Since the dawn of time, humanity has lost too many hours of sleep agonizing about the meaning of life. We desperately want to know what this whole thing is all about and what we can do to unlock its meaning. Long before Plato and Aristotle wrestled with these questions, Moshe, as part of his farewell address, revealed a simple cheat code:

דביקות בה׳

devotion to God.

You, who cling to God, the verse states, you, are alive today. Moshe isn’t just saying that devotion will be rewarded with life, but that devotion is the Good Life. If you want to really feel alive, find something bigger than yourself and give yourself over to it.

From Gandhi to C.S. Lewis, the gurus tend to share a similar voice: you need to lose yourself in order to find yourself. Ironically, but also unsurprisingly, our joie de vivre flows when we release ourselves from obsessing over our own needs and desires and create room for nobler causes. And while our culture today might snicker at such a perspective – it’s archaic, too religious, or authoritative – it would serve us well to embrace it. The recipe is an oldie, but a goodie: immerse yourself in Torah, service, and godliness and you will truly feel alive.

With thanks to Rabbi Nicole Guzik, Dini Coopersmith, Rabbi Aryeh Markman, David Porush, and Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg.

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Read more at the Jewish Journal.

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