Photo Credit: Jewish Press

“He used to say, do His will as though it were your will, so that He will do your will as though it were His. Set aside your will in the face of His will, so that he may set aside the will of others for the sake of your will.” (Avot 2:4)

Last week, we learned about the importance of intention in performing the mitzvot. The Mishnah in our perek relates to another aspect of the psyche, that of will.

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Rabban Gamliel (the son of Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi), encourages us to “make His will as your own so that He will make yours as His,” and to “nullify your will before His so that He will nullify the will of others before yours.”

 

Identification

We should aim not only to nullify our will before Hashem’s but also to transform our will to match His. Instead of only submitting to Hashem’s will, we should strive to identify with it. We should want what Hashem wants, aim to value what He values, and feel what He “feels” about what we experience in this world (see Peirush Rabbeinu Yonah, Avot 2:4).

We can learn what this means from Pinchas, who Hashem described as someone who was “kano et kinati” (Bamidbar 25:11). That is, Pinchas did more than take action in response to the sin he saw. His reaction was visceral; he felt the appropriate pain and jealousy one who identifies with Hashem ought to feel.

Rav Yechezkel Weinfeld uses this idea to explain Rav Shimon Bar Yochai’s surprising interpretation of the verse in the second parsha of k’riat shema that mentions working the fields (Devarim 11:14). Rav Shimon Bar Yochai encouraged learning all day and relying on Hashem to provide for us without our having to work in the fields. The verse that seems to endorse such work refers to a time when people are not “oskim b’retzono shel Makom (involved in the will of G-d).”

Tosfot (ibid.) points out that the context in which this verse appears describes people fulfilling mitzvot and the reward they thus earn. If so, how could the parsha mentioned above be understood as referring to people who are not involved with following the will of G-d? Tosfot explains that although the people fulfill Hashem’s will, they are not complete in their avodah. What does this mean? What are they lacking?

Rav Weinfeld explains that the parsha refers to people who fulfill the commandments and act in line with Hashem’s will but have not yet succeeded at making Hashem’s will their own. They are not yet “osin retzono shel Makom.” Their incomplete reward mirrors their incomplete avodah. Hashem rewards them for their fulfillment of mitzvot by supporting their work in the field, but additional effort is required for their service to be complete.

 

The Form – Passionate Heart and Soul

Identification with Hashem’s will impacts both the form and breadth of our avodat Hashem.

Syncing our will with Hashem’s ensures that when we fulfill Hashem’s will, we do so with a full heart. This is how the Ramban (Hasagot HaRamban, Sefer Hamitzvot L’HaRambam, mitzvat asei 5) explains the verse, “And you shall serve Him with all your heart” (Devarim 11:13). When fulfilling mitzvot, we should be fully invested in our avodat Hashem and act wholeheartedly. The Ramban expresses this idea in a second context – his explanation for why the Torah describes Avraham as running (“ratz”) to serve his three guests (Bereishit 18:7). He explains that the Torah wants us to appreciate Avraham’s passion for chesed. He did not just do it; he ran to do it.

We see the relationship between “running” and “will” through the relationship between the Hebrew word for will, ratzon, and the abbreviated version of that word that describes running – ratz. Rav Yehuda Ben Teima links the two in his statement later in Avot, encouraging us to “run (ratz) like a gazelle to fulfill the Will (ratzon) of your Father in Heaven” (Avot 5:20).

 

Breadth – What Hashem Wills

Making Hashem’s ratzon our own means that we are passionate about not just His commandments, but about everything Hashem “wants.” This should express itself in two ways: the general will of Hashem and our unique identification with it.

The Mesillat Yesharim (chapter 18) explains that ideally, one should relate to Hashem the same way one relates to others they love and care deeply about. One who cares about another person values not only the other’s explicit requests; they also try to anticipate and facilitate whatever might make the other happy.

We see this idea in Avraham’s actions at the Akeidah. After Hashem tells him to spare Yitzchak’s life, he looks for something else to sacrifice (Bereishit 22:13). Avraham figures that Hashem would want him to sacrifice something, so, even though he was not commanded to do so, he seeks out the opportunity. Chazal (in the Mishnah quoted by Rashi on the verse) teach us that Avraham was indeed correct in his understanding; the ram he saw in the thicket was not there by coincidence. It had been created during the six days of creation for this purpose. Understandably, Hashem blessed Avraham only after he offered this voluntary sacrifice (Bereishit 22:15-18). The brachot are given to Avraham because he is not just a loyal servant, but also one who loves Hashem. (It is noteworthy that Avraham is the only person called “ohavi (my lover)” by Hashem. See Yeshaya 41:8 and the Rambam in Yad Hachazaka, Hilchot Teshuvah 10:2.)

The words Mordechai spoke to Esther when she hesitates to approach Achashverosh on behalf of the Jewish people are another example. Mordechai tells her that this may be “the moment you became queen for” (Megillat Esther 4:14). Neither Esther nor Mordechai were commanded by Hashem to take action. Like Avraham, Mordechai reflected on the circumstances and assessed what Hashem wanted, concluding that it was something for which Esther was responsible to risk her life.

The examples of Avraham and Mordechai highlight the need to reflect not just upon what Hashem wants from the world in general, but also what He specifically wants from every one of us. The Chatam Sofer (She’eilot U’teshuvot, Chelek 1, Orach Chaim, Siman 197) uses this idea to explain the surprising statement of the Gemara (Yevamot 108b) that “one who says that they have only Torah, lacks even Torah.” The Chatam Sofer explains that Torah, as eternal and universal, can teach only the general responsibilities all Jews have at all times.

A person who identifies with Hashem’s will must go beyond that by using the unique abilities and circumstances Hashem created him with and places him in to appreciate how he, personally, is meant to best serve Him. Only one who does this truly has Torah.

May we successfully sync our will with Hashem’s in a way that brings us to identify with His goals and inspires us to serve him fully and comprehensively.

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Rav Reuven Taragin is the Dean of Overseas Students at Yeshivat Hakotel and Educational Director of World Mizrachi - RZA. He lives with his wife Shani and their six children in Alon Shvut, Israel.