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SERVANT OF G-D

by Michael Alterman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"And Abram said, ‘Hashem: What can You give me seeing that I go childless, and the steward of my house is Damasek Eliezer?’" (Genesis 15:2).

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"And Abram said, ‘Hashem: What can You give me seeing that I go childless, and the steward of my house is Damasek Eliezer?’" (Genesis 15:2).

When imagining a life well led, which images flash before our eyes? If we could enter a time machine and travel forward to witness our own funeral, after 120 years, what would we like to hear the rabbi say about us? When we come before the throne of glory for the ultimate day of reckoning, what do we hope will be the last word, the sum total of our lives?

Throughout the five books, the Torah stipulates numerous character traits that are virtuous. In plotting a course for one’s life, it might be beneficial to identify some of those traits and use them as a guide in making the decisions that direct our actions. One trait that plays a fundamental role in the direction of our lives is the degree to which we develop and view ourselves as avdei Hashem, servants of G-d.

At the end of the last portion of the Torah, we are given a brief summary of the accomplishments of our greatest leader and, arguably, the greatest man to ever live. "Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom Hashem had known face to face" (Deuteronomy 34:10). Several verses earlier, when ascribing a single character trait by which to distinguish Moses from the righteous people who preceded and would follow him, the Torah chooses to call him an "eved Hashem -- a servant of G-d" (ibid. 34:5). Apparently, no other title describes Moses better. The Torah is telling us that Moses had perfected his character and deeds to the point that G-d Himself could testify that he had achieved this lofty plateau in Divine service. What does it mean that Moses was the "servant of G-d" and why is this quality such a meritorious one to possess?

The quintessential servant in the Torah -- albeit to a human being rather than to Hashem -- is Eliezer, the servant of Abraham. Eliezer was the master of Abraham’s household and the man responsible for overseeing the numerous comings and goings of that great home. So great was Eliezer that the sages interpreted his title "Damasek" (literally meaning that he came from Damascus) as an acronym for the Hebrew words "doleh u’mash’ke miTorat rabo l’acherim -- he spread the teachings of his master (Abraham) to others." In other words, he was the dean of Abraham’s academy, and he disseminated the word of G-d to thousands of people. Yet, his title in the Torah is always "servant of Abraham."

In Parshat Chayei Sarah the Torah relates a lengthy narrative about Eliezer’s mission to find a wife for Isaac. Remarkably, Eliezer’s name is not mentioned once throughout the entire story. 67 verses, and the central figure is not referred to by name once! Even he introduces himself only as the "servant of Abraham" (Genesis 24:34). It would seem that Eliezer became so involved in his mission, and that he was so dedicated to carrying out the bidding of his master, that he practically lost his identity as an individual and was fully enveloped within the domain of Abraham. Similarly, when Eliezer gave Torah lectures, their topic and subject matter was determined not by himself but by his master Abraham. Eliezer did not spread his own teachings, but rather "Torat rabo -- the teachings of his master." His dedication to Abraham was absolute. (Although one could perhaps question the merits of being a servant to another person, we can certainly extrapolate from Eliezer’s behavior an understanding of the role of a servant of G-d.)

This is what the Torah means when it says that Moses was a servant of G-d. He subordinated himself completely to the will of Hashem, and that was how he achieved his lofty heights. Although his level might be beyond our reach, we can nevertheless emulate his dedication to Hashem and use that character trait as a guide for our own behavior. In our Divine service of G-d, it is our responsibility and privilege to seek out what G-d asks of us and to carry that out to the best of our ability. As servants of Hashem, we can revel in the knowledge that we serve the King of all kings, the Creator of us all, and the One who truly calls the shots.

Lest one think that such obedience requires one to relinquish any sense of individuality and self-expression, the sages taught us an important insight that addresses exactly this issue. The Mishnah (Tractate Makkot 3:16) states that Hashem wanted to give the Jewish people merit; therefore He gave us numerous mitzvot to perform. The commentaries discuss, what is the connection between these two statements? How do the numerous mitzvot give us merit?

The Rambam, in his classic commentary to the Mishnah, explains that when a person fulfills any one of the 613 mitzvot in its ultimate form, solely out of his love for Hashem and without tainting its performance by mixing in ulterior motives, he automatically earns for himself a portion in the World to Come. Thus, explains the Rambam, we are given so many different mitzvot so that a person can specialize in any given mitzvah, based on his own strengths and predilections, and earn for himself a share in eternity. This provides the opportunity, even the responsibility, for us to incorporate our own unique abilities into our service of G-d and rededicate ourselves to fulfilling our role in the world. May we all have the courage and fortitude to apply our special skills to the service of Hashem and not waste them on fruitless pursuits.

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Michael Alterman, who hails from Atlanta and recently graduated from Johns Hopkins University, is studying in the Kollel Avodas Levi in Baltimore.

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