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Covenant Connection

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Volume 9 Issue 2   November 2014 Kislev 5775

CONSCIOUS SERVICE

The Jewish Order of Prayer, the siddur, is, we insist, a key tool in the Abrahamic tool-kit. It’s an amazing body of holiness that exists so we can learn from it.

It’s frequently misused. People often recite from it without knowing what it says. Reading the prayers in one’s actual mamma-loshen (“mother tongue”) is a learning experience. Reading with understanding makes us more conscious servants of God.

 

In fact, marking up a siddur, making it one’s own, with notes and highlighting, is a big step – we could cite great authorities for this - towards higher consciousness.

 

As for making service to God one’s personal ideal, see the Shema,  “Hear O Israel” (Deuteronomy 6:4). “You!” HaShem calls to every one of us (not “you all,” collectively, but you/me/every witness personally, individually; Bill or Mike or Joan). Love HaShem and “serve Him, with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 11:13)

 

You can be emperor, doctor or judge, but the best thing to be by far is God’s servant. To make His will your will; to serve Him, whoever you are, with all you’ve got – not just passionately but consciously, with all your senses, rationally and deliberately – that is the purpose of man. All else is hevel/ fleeting/“vanity” (as in Ecclesiastes’ “Vanity of vanities…”).

 

Question: How do we serve God?

 

Answer: By trying.

 

Learning what He loves and what He hates (learning  good from evil) and what He wants from us makes a good beginning. (How else, except by learning, can we expect to do what He wants and avoid what He hates?) Then we’re supposed – He bids us – to continue the study.

 

That’s a real pleasure, for serious servants. But even if it weren’t, it’s nothing more or less than the Way of God to do our utmost to try, at all times, to do what He likes.

 

This is conscious service.

 

Conscious service is humble service. To err is human. Moses, God’s model servant, was a model of humility. “Of all Moses’ virtues, the Bible singles out for mention only his humility.”

 

There is no room on Earth for both the arrogant and God.”  (Talmud, Sota 5a)

 

Closed-off, smug, unenlightened “service” to God is an oxymoron. Conscious service must always be aspirational – we can only aspire to serve; we can’t know with perfect certainty whether we’re serving truly - and humble. But the Way of God is not a tightrope, either. He hasn’t left us completely in the dark.

 

“He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what HaShem requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

 

[We discussed this passage in Rainbow Covenant (p. 311): To do “justice,” or mishpat. Literally, lawfulness, rightness, the fair, square and decent thing. To love “goodness,” or hesed (chesed):  lovingkindness, or the spirit of mercy turned into deeds. To walk “humbly,” or tzana: modesty, chastity, personal dignity and purity.]

 

Note the use of “man” here, incidentally: “O man.” Not Israelite, priest or prophet but man – human being, adam. The Way of God is the way of man – not just Jew, nor gentile, but all of us (male and female) together.

 

This is the program we’re advancing. Whether one’s a Jew or Noahide, we aspire to give our lives over to God, to serve Him truly, as a conscious servant of HaShem.

 

We’re not saying that unconscious or semi-conscious actions never turn out well. A boastful, arrogant man can, at times, advance God’s agenda; even thoughtless “love” of God or gods may help fulfill His will. But no “heart and soul” servant of God wants to go through life like that. Conscious service is mindful service. One simply can’t fulfill the obligations of a trustworthy servant – one can’t devote all heart and soul to God – without putting one’s whole mind to it.

 

A conscious servant is not gullible. If supposed “Torah” – His Teaching - is beneath God, we shouldn’t assume that it’s Torah, even if someone impressive claims it is. If it flies in the face of what we know about Him – if it’s contrary to justice, dignity, kindness or truth – it’s not Torah. If it contradicts the whole general drift of Torah, making Him out to be tyrannical (God forbid) or His servant Moses out to be a liar (God forbid), it’s not Torah.

 

This may seem obvious but no one else seems to talk about it. We started this foundation to make plain to all comers that God’s universal law  – the Noahide Law system – is as holy and brilliant and wise as all the rest of His Torah. It doesn’t detract from His glory but enhances it. It’s not bloodthirsty but, on the contrary, a model of justice, brilliance and loving-kindness. Indeed, being a conscious servant of God means being an agent of, and a force for, justice, brilliance and loving-kindness.

 

HaShem, make known to me Your ways, teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me.(Psalms 25)

 

What are the rewards of conscious service? Infinite. Dip into the siddur for more on this. To the extent that we ourselves are conscious servants of HaShem, we hereby testify, based simply on our own life-experience: conscious service is the way of light and joy, gratitude, common sense, life and love and blessing.

 

“They will still be fruitful in old age, vigorous and fresh they will be – to declare that HaShem is just, my Rock in Whom there is no wrong.”

Psalms 92. Siddur, kabbalos Shabbos service

 

By Michael Dallen*

 

* Every Covenant Connection is reviewed, in first draft, by our directors (Rabbi Michael Katz, Jack E. Saunders, Michael Dallen, and Dr, Robert E. Buxbaum. See About Us). Mistakes are, of course, the responsibility of the author.

 

 

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We call on God for help. As the prayer that Israel says every morning just before reciting the Hebrew statement of faith known as the shema asks (please understand that this is much richer in Hebrew than in English): Our Father, the merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy on us, instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah's teachings with love. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and fear Your Name. Amen.

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