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Home » Vayechi

Vayechi: The Freedom to Serve

Submitted by on January 9, 2006 – 4:55 pmNo Comment | 2,639 views

Priorities

I recently asked a young man if he would like to undertake a particular mitzvah. His reply, “It’s not my cup of tea,” caught me by surprise. It made me wonder if we Jews are limited to a pre-determined direction or if we are really capable of more.
If life were a chessboard, would we be a pawn who can travel only in one direction or a queen, who can strike out in the direction of her choice?

The Angel

Angels are uni-directional. Their characters are molded by G-d into single, pre-determined, profiles. They must remain on those predetermined tracks and are incapable of lateral movement.  (1)
Some angels serve G-d in love. Others serve G-d with joy. Angels who love are incapable of joy and angels with joy are incapable of love, unless they “borrow” from each other.
A loving angel who wants to worship with joy must borrow joy from a joyful angel. A joyful angel who wishes to pray with love must borrow love from a loving angel. The same holds true for every angelic characteristic.freedom to serve - innerstream They are each restricted to their own cup of tea and if they want a different flavor they have to borrow from each other.
This is why the prophet describes the angel as stationary. The angel cannot abandon its post and take on a new position unless it is externally motivated. It is capable of tremendous devotion and spiritual passion, but it is incapable of moving away from itself. Of doing things in ways that are different from the nature imparted to it by G-d. (2)

The Jew

Are we different? Are we confined to those mitzvahs that we deem “priority?” King Solomon refers to the Jewish people as G-d’s bride. If G-d is the king, then we are his queen. On the chessboard this means that the Jewish soul is capable of multi-directional travel. (3)
Fundamentally we are each unique. We each have our own characteristics and prefer our own path of worship. Some Jews are meditative, others reflective. Some are joyful, others loving. Some like to study, others to act. Our paths are unique to ourselves, but here is where we differ from angels. Angels cannot veer from their characters, we can.
The prophet describes the soul as mobile. It is capable of lateral movement. Though we each have a favorite beginning place, a mitzvah that our nature most prefers, we are also able to act in ways that are not inherent to our nature. We are capable of performing those mitzvahs that are not our “priority.” (4)
We are capable of all mitzvahs despite our preference for one of them. We can choose any path of worship, even those that are not indigenous to our characters.

Can we Thrive?

The astute reader will ask, “Souls may be able to perform outside of their comfort zones, but can they thrive? Should we not perform with alacrity those mitzvahs that we do enjoy, rather than perform with reluctance those mitzvahs that we don’t enjoy?”
To answer this question, it would be beneficial to consider the twelve sons of Jacob, the root of our nation. These twelve men were the father figures of our people, and each imprinted his family and offspring with the unique strains of his character.

Jacob’s Blessing

Just before his passing, Jacob blessed his sons. Each son received a blessing consistent with his character of spiritual worship. Judah was blessed with leadership and strength, Issachar with diligence and scholarship, Zebulun with commercial success, etc.
After Jacob blessed each son individually, he repeated all the blessings to each of his sons. Why did he do that? What benefit could the others derive from blessings that did not address their own aspirations and strengths?
Jacob wanted his children to enjoy all forms of spiritual worship, not only those consistent with their individual characters. He wanted them to engage in all mitzvahs, not only those within their natural comfort zones.
Jacob therefore offered individual blessings first, to inspire them towards those mitzvahs that were synonymous with their personalities. Then he granted them comprehensive blessings, to engender a genuine enthusiasm for all mitzvahs, even those inconsistent with their personalities.

We Can Thrive

The answer to our earlier question is, yes, we can thrive outside of our comfort zone. The differences in our spiritual consistency today is derived from the unique characters of Jacob’s twelve sons. Jacob’s blessing that enabled his sons to transcend their limitations and enjoy all manner of spiritual worship endows us too with that wonderful ability.
All Jews, regardless of background and level of observance, are equal heirs to Jacob’s blessing. No mitzvah is beyond our potential. Every mitzvah can be our “cup of tea.”
A professional tradesman today is, due to Jacob’s blessing, able to study Torah with total devotion and concentration. A Torah scholar today is, when necessary, able to leave his studies and raise funds for charitable causes with total sincerity and joy. Every mitzvah is available to every Jew. Not only to perform, but also to enjoy.
The next time someone tells you, “Its not my cup of tea,” go out and brew another cup. Urge him or her to try it and say that it’s a new flavor. Say that it’s the flavor of our forefather Jacob.

Footnotes

  1. This is why angels pray in groups. (Isaiah 6: 3. ) They call out to each other and seek each other’s permission to break out of their pre-determined characteristics. Why must they seek such permission? Because angels are confined to their their pre-determined characteristics and cannot escape them unless assisted by other angels.. See Likutei Torah, p. 1a (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813).
  2. Zacharia 3: 7. See commentary Torah Ohr, p. 30a (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813).
  3. Shir Hashirim 3: 11, 5: 1.
  4. See note #2 above. Talmudic rabbis commonly adopted and cherished one mitzvah above all others. They observed all the mitzvahs but they singled out one mitzvah for preference. Bab. Talmud Shabbos, 118b.
This essay is based upon a talk given by R. Menachem M. Schneerson, Rebbe of Lubavitch, (NY, 1902-1994) on 15 Tevet 8744. Sefer Hisvaduyos, pp. 743-748 and Likutei Sichos XXV, pp. 285-292.

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