Pirkei Avot - 1.2 How to Relate to G-d

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah                                                               for her neshama.
By Elisheva Maline

In mishna 1:2 - Antigonos of Socho who recieved the tradition from Shimon Hatzadik (Simeon the Just) would say: do not be as slaves who serve their master for the sake of a reward. Rather, be as slaves who serve their master not for the sake of reward. And the fear of heaven should be upon you.

In the previous mishna, 1:1 Shimon Hatzadik spoke about serving Hashem by learning Torah, doing avodah and carrying out acts of loving kindness. In this next mishna, Antigonos takes Shimon's teachings and narrows them down to the trait of avodah (the process of raising oneself in the awareness of G-d's presence). To paraphrase, the mantra Antigonos lived by was, "Don't make serving G-d conditional to receiving a reward." That is not to say that a person shouldn't pray for success or ask for a good job, a nice house, spouse etc. Prayer is the strongest communication existent between man and G-d and we should take advantage of it. 

How do we forge an unconditional relationship with Hashem without hope of return? As finite beings, relating to Hashem seems nigh impossible. G-d is infinite; us mere mortals cannot help but feel far away.

Therefore, we relate to Hashem on anthropomorphic terms; although one has leeway to attribute G-d with human characteristics, it is on the condition that one remembers: G-d cannot be limited to the finite! That being said, there are psukim (verses) sprinkled throughout Tanach (an acronym for Torah, prophets and writings) which refer to G-d as having emotions like love, jealousy, sadness etc. After reading one such verse, a person should by no means conclude, "So G-d can get carried away with His emotions also." G-d cannot get bogged down or overwhelmed by His feelings. He's G-d. If one considers G-d as having human qualities one may not realize his thinking is borderline blasphemous. 

Every relationship mirrors the various ways we can relate to G-d. "Go out, O daughters of Zion and gaze upon King Solomon and upon the crown with which his mother crowned him..." (Shir Hashirim 3:11). At their most ideal, relationships have a certain reverence. A person lives with the desire to construct his life exactly the way his beloved wants him to because he knows his beloved wishes only the best for him. Since his beloved's love is very much alive to him, it colors his every decision. A child would feel shattered if s/he were aware of a tenth of his/her mother's suffering after s/he did something self damaging.  

The foundation of an all encompassing love for Hashem, or, in truth, any relationship, is gratitude: G-d does everything for us: like a mother/father he makes sure our emotional, physical and mental needs are met. Like a teacher, He makes sure we were born with all the tools needed to fulfill our latent potential. Like a husband, He loves us and provides for us financially and domestically. Look around you: you may see a world full of suffering people; you may see a planet full of people who need love. Emulate G-d by giving. Donate your talents, your money, even a few minutes of your time. Smile at a person. All this and more are forms of giving. G-d is our beloved teacher. Show people how to give through His example. Call your mother. Help a friend do her shopping. 
At the height of enthusiasm, Antigonos reminds us, "And the fear of heaven should be upon you." This last sentence demonstrates that love is not enough: it must be tempered with fear, caution. Not the kind of fear that a child feels for a dysfunctional parent (think Danny Torrence from The Shining) but the awe and reverence a servant feels for the emperor of a vast kingdom. Imagine the cautious step of the lowly foot soldier when his army general enters a room. Imagine the president mailing you a letter requesting your presence. Would you not quake in excitement and nervousness?  (If these analogies don't strike a cord, fill in the blank with: your boss, principal, commanding officer, your spouse etc.) It is unfortunate that no one today has experienced the utter terror that accompanies a message a king of England has asked to see you (think Henry the VIII) because then you'd have more of an idea on how much more you would tremble when G-d, the king of kings called you in for a meeting. 

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