HANDLE WITH PRAYER
In this week's Torah portion we begin the lengthy listing of the various offerings that were brought in the Temple in the regal and exacting service of G-d.
In this week's Torah portion we begin the lengthy listing of the various offerings that were brought in the Temple in the regal and exacting service of G-d. Unfortunately, however, we find it difficult to connect to the concepts of this Divine service because we are bereft of the Temple and, with it, the level of closeness felt by all those who stood in the place where Hashem's presence was felt so strongly. One wonders if we have any connection in our day and age to the lofty levels reached by the Children of Israel in that auspicious place; if the offerings of old have any relevance to our modern world. However, our sages tell us that we are not without the concept of Divine service, and, as the Talmud (Tractate Megillah 2a) states, there is another form of Divine service that exists in the heart of man in the form of prayer. In fact, in every heart lies a small Temple and altar waiting for each individual to "pour his soul out like water" before his Creator.
Our sages tell us in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers 1:2) that the world stands on three things Torah, Divine service, and kindness to others. Although Divine service refers primarily to the offerings of the Temple, in our day, the primary form of Divine service we possess is prayer. What then is the connection between prayer and the offerings of the Temple? Moreover, what exactly does Divine service entail? Are we slaves to Hashem? In general, one has slaves and servants to provide for his needs or wants. This cannot be true in our service of Hashem, for Hashem has no needs and lacks nothing.
The Maharal, one of the seminal figures of Jewish thought in the last five centuries, explains that when we are instructed to become servants of G-d by performing the Divine service, it is clearly not for Hashem's benefit. It is impossible to provide a service to Hashem when he lacks nothing. Rather, the service of Hashem is for our own benefit, because it gives us a clearer outlook of the world and serves as a guide for our perfection of the world and ourselves through our actions. He explains that when Hashem enjoins us to act like servants, it means that we must realize that all of our possessions belong directly to Hashem.
Just as a slave is only an extension of his master, and everything he acquires automatically belongs to his master, so too everything we acquire and possess really belongs to Hashem, who allows us, out of His great kindness, to use it. This feeling was expressed most potently by the offerings of the Temple, wherein we burned our physical possessions, a negation of our own ownership of what we possessed, at Hashem's command.
Moreover, our sages tell us that the one bringing the offering was supposed to imagine himself being burned on the altar. This served as the ultimate declaration that every fiber of one's being owes its existence directly to Hashem.
This feeling and expression is what was passed on in the form of prayer. When we pray that Hashem should provide for our various physical, mental, emotional, and communal needs, we are in fact coming to the realization that we turn only to Hashem for these things, because all of these things are directly under Hashem's control. A person needs to come to the realization that health and sustenance are not completely under one's own dominion; that despite all his efforts, there are some things beyond his power. Then, that person will come to grips with the fact that these things are really being dictated by Hashem; and in turn that person turns to Hashem to provide those needs. That is the greatest expression of our recognition of Hashem's mastery over the world.
It is for this reason, the Maharal explains, that one of the pillars that the world stands on is Divine service. If the world is perceived purely as a natural cause-and-effect existence, the world and all of one's physical, mental, and emotional possessions become distant from spirituality; and like all physical things, are subject to the laws of deterioration and death. Only by linking oneself and all of one's possessions to Hashem and by declaring they are under Hashem's direct control, does one have a connection to the eternality of Hashem, and then the world of one's being and possessions "stands" forever.
Morally, the understanding that all things are owned and controlled by Hashem is a reassuring concept. After all, since Hashem controls everything, He knows the best way to use His possessions and, thereby, is capable of guiding all of Mankind towards the perfection of their behavior. Only when Man becomes the master of his own morality does anarchy and amorality come into play. For when Man sees his physical, mental, and emotional possessions as his own, each individual determines what must be done with those possessions on his own. As long as morality is determined by each individual, then each individual is guided by his own needs, regardless of how it conflicts with others. Hence, Man may set the guidelines of his morality at the expense of others' needs and wants.
On the other hand, when Man views Hashem in control of the world, then all humanity is guided by a purely good will that encompasses all human needs and supports a just morality that considers each individual in the most perfect way. Perhaps, it is for this reason that in the very place where we express our recognition that Hashem is the true controller of our possessions the Temple the Divine law was also held (in the ark) and the High Court (located on the Temple grounds) spread Hashem's law to the world.
The concept of seeing Hashem's control over and presence in every aspect of Creation is a lofty goal that takes a lifetime to truly perfect. Yet, we must begin to surmount the foothills if we are ever to reach the peak. Perhaps we can all remember a moment in our lifetime when we felt we really needed something and by the simple laws of nature we would never have received that item. Yet, when we turned to Hashem with a full heart and begged for that item, our need was unusually and unexpectedly met. Perhaps we can take a moment and come to grips with the reality that despite all of our meticulous planning, events often seem to go against our logical deductions, and seem guided by a higher force. Maybe, as we focus on these experiences and feelings, we will be able to recognize the true source of all the aspects of our existence, Hashem.
And, at long last, we will turn to Him with an uplifted soul and ask Him to provide for the needs that often elude our planning. Perhaps then we will finally come to the realization that He is the ultimate and eternally good, giving, and loving source of all that we have.
Ranon Cortell, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta is studying at the Yeshiva of Greater Washington and the University of Maryland.
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