Assume a Master for yourself

Ethics of the Fathers, 1:6


"And they believed in G‑d and in Moses His servant" (Exodus 14:31).

What was the nature of Israel's relationship to Moses? Moses, after all, is a human being. And yet, the Torah uses the very same word to connote Israel's belief in him and in the Almighty ("they believed in G‑d and in Moses"). Indeed, the Midrash derives from this that "One who believes in Moses, believes in the Almighty; one who does not believe in Moses, does not believe in the Almighty(!)"

The Talmud goes even further, applying the same to the sages and Torah authorities of all generations. On the verse, "To love the L‑rd your G‑d and to cleave to Him," it states: "Is it then possible to cleave to the Divine...? But whoever attaches himself to a Torah scholar, the Torah considers it as if he had attached himself to G‑d...."

The Awareness Factor

"So says G‑d: My firstborn child, Israel" (Exodus 4:22).

In what way is G‑d our "father"? There are, of course, the obvious parallels. G‑d creates us and provides us with sustenance and direction. He loves us with the boundless, all-forgiving love of a father.

Chassidic teaching delves further into the metaphor. It examines the biological and psychological dynamics of the father-child model, and employs them to better understand our relationship to each other and to our Father in Heaven.

A microscopic bit of matter, originating in the father's body, triggers the generation of a life. In the mother's womb, a single cell develops into a brain, heart, eyes, ears, arms, legs, toenails; soon it emerges into the world to function as a thinking, feeling and achieving human being.

Physically, what began in the father's body and psyche is now a separate, distinct and (eventually) independent individual. Yet there is a good reason we say, "Like father like son." On a deeper level, the child remains inseparable from his begetter.

In the words of the Talmud, "A son is a limb of his father." At the very heart of his consciousness lies an inescapable truth: he is his father's child, an extension of his being, a projection of his personality. In body, they have become two distinct entities; in essence they are one.

One may argue: perhaps in the child's mind, the seat of his identity, the singularity of parent and offspring lives on. Here, the child's relationship with his father is sensed, here resides the recognition of their intrinsic oneness. But the brain is only one of the child's many organs and limbs. The rest of him may indeed stem from its ancestral source, but is now a wholly separate entity.

Obviously, this is not the case - any more than it would be correct to say that the eyes alone see or that "just" the mouth speaks. The component parts of the human being comprise a single, integrated whole; it is the person who sees, the person who speaks, the person who is aware. The toenail of the child, by virtue of its physical and neurological interconnection with the brain, is no less one with the father than is the brain itself, the organ which facilitates this oneness.

But what if the toenail, or any other limb of the body, severs its connection with the mind? This would cut it off from its own center of vitality and consciousness, and, as a result, also from its parental origins. In other words, the unity of all the child's limbs and organs with the father's essence is dependent upon their maintaining their connection with their own mind, a connection that imbues them all with the awareness of this unity.

The Body Israel

My firstborn child, Israel.

Israel, too, is comprised of many "organs" and "limbs."

In each generation, great sages devoted their lives to assimilate the Divine essence of Torah. These are the mind of Israel, whose entire being is permeated with the awareness of G‑d's truth. Israel also has a heart, individuals whose lives exemplify compassion and piety, and hands, its great builders and achievers. Each and every individual, from the "Moses of the generation" to the "ordinary" foot soldier, forms an integral part of the body of G‑d's firstborn - each is equally "the limb of the father."

But, as with the physical father-child relationship, it is the mind of the child that cements his bond with his father. As long as the many organs and limbs of his body remain a single integrated whole, they are all equally the father's child. But it is only by virtue of their connection to their mind that they possess the awareness which makes their physically "detached" selves one with their source.

The same applies to the "body" that is Israel: it is our life- bond with our "mind" that both integrates us as unified whole and facilitates our connection to our Creator and Source. True, a Jew cannot ever sever his bond with his G‑d any more than even the lowliest "toenail" of the child's body can "choose" to go off on its own and undo its relationship with its father; but while we cannot change what we are, we can determine to what extent our identity as G‑d's child will be expressed in our daily life.

We can chose, G‑d forbid, to disassociate ourselves from the leaders that G‑d has implanted in our midst, thus banishing our relationship with Him to the subconscious cellar of our soul. Or, we can intensify our bond to the minds of Israel, thereby making our bond with the Almighty a tangible and vibrant reality.


Jack Of All Trades

Said Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch:

There are those who question the need of a mentor to guide them through life. They claim that each and every individual can forge his own relationship with G‑d unaided. They argue that since the Jewish faith rejects the concept of an ``intermediary'' between man and G‑d, they have no use for mentor or master.

They fail to understand that the entire Jewish people are a single entity, that every individual soul is, in truth, but a limb or organ of the general soul of Israel. Just as each limb and organ of the human body has its function at which it excels, so, too, every soul has its role and mission, as well as its limitations: the ``loftiest'' of souls is dependent upon the ``lowliest'' for the attainment of the single, unified goal. And were any limb to strike out on its own, detaching itself from the ``head'' which provides the entire body with vitality and direction - the results are self-understood.

When someone adapts the attitude that he can do it all on his own, he reminds me of the story told about the goy and the tefillin. Once, a Jew noticed a pair of tefillin in the house of a gentile peasant. Upon seeing a holy object in such a place, he began to inquire about the tefillin, wishing to purchase them from the goy. The peasant, who had looted the tefillin at a recent pogrom, grew agitated and defensive. ``What do you mean, where did I get them?'' he blurted out, ``Why, I made them myself! I myself am a shoemaker!''