living to die

Judaism must be the only religion where we're expected to think seriously about dying (for the sake of sanctifying God's name) six times a day. (Three Amidahs (arvith, shacharith, minha) and three Shemas (arvith, shacharith, and al haMitah (before going to sleep)) every day)
This morning, during the first beracha of the amidah, I was thinking about dying for kiddush HaShem. (Which is actually an important thing to do, especially at the word באהבה - with love)

I was thinking that in Shema, we have the same responsibility, to think about dying for kiddush HaShem when we say ה' אלוקנו ה' אחד - Nature and the super-natural both originate from the one God. If we actually internalize this idea when we say it. Then, dying for kiddush HaShem is not so difficult. If we know that what is befalling us is solely the result of the will of God, it shouldn't make a difference whether we are chilling out watching a sitcom rerun, or if we are having the flesh raked off of us by a Roman centurion. And, in truth, the Noam Elimelech says that about Tzaddikim, for them, they know their lot is directly from HaShem, and they have no care (absolutely none) for their personal situation.

So, in a sense, for us mere mortals, the goal of dying for kiddush Hashem right when we are supposed to be acknowledging God's one-ness seems like a logical after-thought. Since it's all in our imagination anyways. (Yes, I really want it when I'm thinking about it, and would want to be able to welcome it, but some small part of me knows that the actual challenge would be nothing like the imagination, obviously. As a simple example, last night I was annoyed with my wife about something totally trivial, but try as I might I couldn't ignore it, even though I knew she'd done nothing wrong, and it was totally my yetzer trying to get me to be mad at her. Something stupid and trivial and I had to beg HaShem to keep me from getting upset about it. (Coincidentally Today's Tanya this morning speaks specifically to that.) )

This wasn't what I wanted to talk about, I wanted to meta-out a little further. The goal of the Jew in the world is to unite the natural and super-natural recognising and making apparent to all that they are one and the same. To reveal God's one-ness in the world. (At least according to Rav Moshe Hayyim Luzzato, the Ramhal, in his Da'ath Tevunoth.)

If and when we reach the point where we're walking zen-masters. (lehavdil elef havdaloth) Living in the moment, aware that everything we perceive is God's will and God's private conversation with us. (at least according to the Baal Shem Tov) Then why are we here? Why be presented with choices about what to do when? Why the mitzwoth? The minute we totally get HaShem. Totally recognise the truth and goodness in every outcome, what purpose does action serve? In my prayers this morning the answer was patently simple. Sometimes, when you are sitting with someone you love, you're happy to sit silently gazing into one another's eyes. Other times, you want to tell them something exciting, or suprise them, or do something special. In fact, the relationship really only grows and develops when you communicate with them through actions and words, through sacrifices and selflessness.

Our Torah, our mitzwoth, our prayers, all those things are what we do to develop our relationship with God because we love him. Everything that happens to us, it's what He does to us because he loves us. Through the interplay of our respective actions and responses, the manifold conversation in simultaneous multiple media, we develop deep bonds and intense relationship.

The Noam Elimelech says it's true, from God's perspective we don't need to act, the thought is enough--witness what the Talmud says about someone who intended to fulfill a mitzwah and was prevented by external (extenuating) circumstances--God makes it as if he actually did fulfill the mitzwah.

But, Avraham Avinu knew that from his perspective, nothing less than the action would do, and eventual action isn't sufficient, it needs to be immediate action, in the heat of the moment. That is why, the Noam Elimelech explains, that he chopped the wood for Akeidath Yitzhak right after God commanded him, even though he would need to carry the wood for three days to a place that most-likely was wooded.

Even moreso, Yitzhak asks Avraham, why do we need to go through the whole charade of offering me, I'm willing and ready to be offered, why not just find the sheep and sacrifice it in my place already? Avraham says, when I've tied you down and placed you on the Altar, only then will you have fulfilled your part to it's utmost. (This is a paraphrased version of how the episode goes down according to the Noam Elimelech)

Our actions and all our mitzwoth, along with this physical world, are all here solely for our benefit. God knows we really want him, there's a part of us that wants him no matter how much we fight it. (The Tanya talks about this in Likkutei Amarim perek 24&25, as does the Notzer Hesed in Ketem Ofir (re: Shushan HaBirah in Esther 1:5)) But God also knows that we have to see what it is we're really ready to do for Him. We have to reveal and develop the relationship until everything we have and everything we are is that relationship. This world is about the flow from potential to actual. (מן הכח אל הפועל)

This is actually the lesson that Esther learns in the Megillah, Mordechai tells her that she needs to go now and intervene with the king, otherwise she and her family will be lost, but HaShem will save Bnei Yisrael some other way. It's not for Bnei Yisrael that Esther needs to risk her life before the king, it's for her own soul. (It's the pshat but I never understood it that way until I heard Rav Aly (from the Kollel of Yeshivat HaKotel) talking about it 5-6 years ago.))

When we are thinking about dying for kiddush HaShem, it's not that were dying as a favor to God, to make his name great in the eyes and hearts of all who see and hear about it. We are dying for kiddush HaShem because that's all we want from existence, to see God so clearly, to cleave to Him so closely that we cease to exist and all that is left is his one-ness.


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