Rabbi Oury Cherki

Lech Lecha - My Slave

Translated from Hebrew. Published at the Noahide World Center website and in Shabbat B'Shabbato.

There are two ways to serve G-d, either as a slave or as a son (Introduction to Shaar Hahakdamot, by Rabbi Chaim Vital, 1:3).

The first one, labor as a slave, is a technical activity, which only requires the person to perform the specified duties. One who acts as a slave does not try to determine the reasons for the mitzvot that he observes. Everything that he does can be summarized in the sentence, “Tell me my obligation and I will do it.” This approach is based on a religious justification, almost as if there is a fault in trying to understand the wisdom behind the mitzvot, on the assumption that G-d wants obedient slaves who do not ask any questions. This approach implies that acceptance of the yoke of heaven diminishes a human being and narrows his horizons.

A son’s labor, on the other hand, includes within it the understanding of mankind. The word “ben”, meaning a son, is related to the word “bina”, which means understanding. In a technical sense, there is no difference between the two types of service. Whatever a slave does for his master is the same as what a son does for his father. However, a son is allowed to search in his father’s archives (Zohar, Ra’ya Mehemna, Behar, 111:2). The “archives” are the thoughts behind his requests from his son.

In view of this, we might wonder about the description “a slave of G-d” or “My slave” which is used as a phrase to describe the greatest men of our nation, including Moses himself. The wonder is even greater when the entire nation is called by this title, as in the words of the prophet: “You are Israel My slave, Jacob, whom I chose” [Isaiah 41:8] – from this week’s Haftarah.

The explanation of this apparent paradox is that there is a great chasm between one who performs labor as a slave and one who is called “a slave of G-d.” The first one performs his service out of fear, while the second one has achieved the status of a son and serves out of love. However, because of his great love he wants to behave in the manner of a slave – not because he despises wisdom, heaven forbid, but because he wants to achieve what lies beyond attaining wisdom as a personal experience. And that is why later in the same verse it is written, “the offspring of Abraham, who loved Me” [41:8]. The verse teaches us that the title “My slave” stems from love and not from fear. As the Rambam has noted at the end of Hilchot Teshuva, “One can only love G-d through knowing about Him, and the strength of the love corresponds to the knowledge, whether it is a small amount or a large amount. Therefore a person must dedicate himself to the study of wisdom which teaches him about the Creator.”

The fact that we love G-d is in itself the reason for our redemption. “Do not have any fear, worm of Jacob” – that is, do not serve out of fear – but “I have helped you, that is what is said by G-d and your redeemer, the holy one of Israel” [41:14].

And this leads us to the essence of the approach of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. The purpose of the political redemption of the nation of Israel is to bring about a change in our awareness, basing our faith on pure intellect, free of all fear which can destroy the power of the spirit. This is a call to encourage the spirit while removing the minor elements of recognition which darken the glory of faith, while enhancing the power of deep insight of the thoughts of Israel and the world in general.