Since each and every one of us is created in the image of G-d, then our natural aspirations are to actualize this truth and seek to become godly. We want to be all knowing and all-powerful, just like G-d. We want to transcend the limitations of time and space, just like G-d. This is actually the theme of modern technology to master endless knowledge, control the environment, get to places faster and miniaturize.
I said gods you shall be,
all of you are sons of the most high
Therefore, when the evil snake in the Garden of Eden approached Adam and Eve he appealed to their natural impulse. He did not say, "Hey, if you eat of the tree you will have a great sex life." The snake knew that sex is the not the driving force within human beings. He also did not claim, "Eat from the tree and you will become rich and famous." He knew that none of this is really the root of human motivation. Rather, the snake offered the first human beings to be who they are beings created in the image of G-d. In other words, the root of all human drives is to become godlike. Even when we sin it is because we want to be true to ourselves and become godly. Fame, riches and even sexual drives are only symptoms of our fundamental desire to be like G-d acknowledged by all, powerful, and free without limits.
Therefore, the snake appealed to Adam and Eve's desire to become godlike and claimed that G-d was threatened by their aspirations and was trying to stop them. The snake argued that G-d's commandment was actually a plot to keep them subordinate and protect His supreme position as the One and Only. He insisted that G-d was using fear tactics to suppress them. He assured them that if they had the guts to defy G-d and eat the forbidden fruit they would "become as G-d" independent gods.
However, the opposite is true. Torah (Bible) teaches that G-d actually seeks to share His Divine glory with us. G-d lovingly embraces and gives of Himself to us. He accomplishes this through offering us the opportunity to give of our self to Him serve Him so that we can bond with Him and truly attain the status of divinity and eternity.
Commandments mitzvos are actually the true way to fulfill our ultimate aspirations for godliness. In fact, when we violate G-d's will, we are actually betraying ourselves and undermining our personal fulfillment.
To Serve with Joy
The Torah promises that by following the commandments we will achieve godliness. But how can that logically be? Does not "obeying" imply an inferior status? Does it not make us servile rather than godly?
Most people think that a mitzvah is a "demand" meant to deprive or diminish our godly self worth. But that is incorrect. A mitzvah is a "command" enabling us to co-operate, associate, identify and thereby consciously bond with G-d and experience His love. This is the meaning of the blessing said prior to doing a mitzvah,: "That you have made us holy through your commandments." As it says in the Torah: "You shall be holy for I am holy." (1)
In other words, when we bond with G-d, the Holy One, we too become holy.
"For what great nation is there, that has G-d so close to them?" (3)
Hence the popular saying: "The King's servant is a king; cleave to heat and it will warm you."
Each day we are challenged with feelings of our nothingness. When we see ourselves relative to this enormous and overwhelming universe, we realize that we are not even the size of a speck of dust. And yet, even though everything from without seems to tell us that we are nothing, something within stubbornly insists that we are something. It is the very nature of humanity to try and overcome this threat of nothingness. We all do it. But the question is: Can we really transcend the limitations of our beings? Can we beat our mortality and eventual return to dust?
It is human nature to want to identify with greatness in order to experience and partake of it. This is the psychology of patriotism; through commitment and devotion to my country, which I perceive as great, I will go beyond myself and my limitations, to partake in the great, sharing its glory and its eternity. Human beings often seek to be servants of the greater, whether it is a king, country or cause. In fact, this devotion may even lead to an individual giving his or her life for some important principle. This might sound like a gross nullification of self. However, it is this kind of commitment and self-sacrifice that gives people unusual strength and an even greater sense of self-worth. These benefits are all achieved through our devoted service to and identification with something which transcends our limited selves. All the hard work and personal sacrifice inspired by our passionate devotion actually leads to the ultimate in self-gratification. All is gained when you give of yourself to the beyond yourself.
When you serve your country or selflessly dedicate yourself to a great cause you do not feel self-effaced, nor do you experience your service as a degrading and depriving form of slavery. You actually feel just the opposite. Through service, you go beyond yourself, identifying and bonding with larger forces, eternal values and ideals. You become one with the great and share in its splendor. A mitzvah, is G-d's gift to humanity, the opportunity to serve and bond with G-d; Who is the Greatest. Our humble service to G-d through the mitzvos actually empowers us. We achieve greatness and transcendence when we identify and bond with G-d and thereby partake of His splendor and eternity.
The mitzvos are not an expression of G-d's desire to diminish us or make us subservient to Him, rather they are expressions of G-d's love and His desire to elevate us by offering us ways to consciously bond with Him.
Mitzvos and Love
When you give of yourself to another person, investing time and effort in him or her, you bond with that person and thereby feel love. The ecstasy of love is experiencing the bond and identification you forge with another person by giving of yourself to him or her in action.
Parents feel a profound and intimate connection with, and love for, their children through all their hard work in providing and caring for them. However, the children do not always reciprocate that same intense identification; they do not always feel love for their parent because of all that they have received. Why is that? Because the act of giving leads to a far greater identification and love than that accomplished through the act of receiving.
According to Judaism there is no greater happiness or joy other than doing a mitzvah. Each mitzvah is a taste of the eternal. Each mitzvah is a rung in the ladder of human ascension to godliness. Every time you do a mitzvah, you provide the ultimate service to G-d, which is to crown Him as the King. Through doing a mitzvah you bond with G-d and enjoy the ecstasy of loving G-d. The Talmud teaches that the reward of a mitzvah is the mitzvah the reward of love is love. A transgression, however, severs us from G-d. To sin means to break our bond with G-d and betray the love. The real punishment for a transgression is the transgression. We punish ourselves by alienating ourselves from the ground, root and context of our lives G-d. We punish ourselves by forfeiting the opportunity to experience being in love.
When we follow the mitzvos and serve G-d, we bond with G-d and enjoy the ultimate in self-worth and personal fulfillment. However, when we transgress the will of G-d, seeking to only fulfill our desires and serve ourselves, then we feel like nothing. We have severed ourselves from G-d, Who is the only true source of eternal being and self-worth.
The Gift of Godliness
Adam and Eve's choice in the Garden of Eden was whether to seek godliness in and of themselves, attempting to establish themselves as independent gods, or to fulfill their quest for Divinity through service of the truly one and only G-d. Because they chose the former they became mortal just as they were forewarned: "Death, you will die." This was not simply a punishment, but the natural consequence of their act.
Death happens when you sever yourself from the Divine context wherein you exist by the grace of G-d's shared being. In fact, the message of death is the secret to eternal life. Death confirms that in and of yourself, independent of G-d, you are temporal and finite. You are destined only to return to dust. The true way to immortality is through service of the Immortal One.
Through identification with the Eternal, the Eternal becomes part of your personal definition. When you define yourself as independent of G-d, you really betray yourself, losing the eternal and divine dimension of your being.
The choice of love and life is whether we choose to serve or to sever. The mitzvos are an opportunity to serve G-d. They are G-d's gift to us. They are the gift of giving ourselves to G-d, becoming godly.
G-d called Jacob god
After the trial and tribulations of being in exile in the evil house of Laban and the final confrontation with Esau, Jacob returned home at last:
When Jacob came from Padan Aram and entered the boundaries of Cannan, he arrived complete to the vicinity of Shechem……He erected an altar, and named it Kel Elokey Yisrael (G-d is Israel's L-rd). (4)
He erected an altar, and named it Kel Elokey Yisrael (G-d is Israel's L-rd).
In the Talmud(5)
R. Elazar asks:
"How do we know that the Holy One Blessed be He called Jacob -'Kel' (a god)? Because it is written: 'Vayikra lo kel Elokai Yisrael.' For if you assume that Jacob called the altar kel, we should have: 'Vayikra lo Yaacov' ('And Jacob called it…') The meaning then must be that He called Jacob - 'kel'. And who called him 'kel'? Elokei Yisrael, (the G-d of Israel)."
In other words, G-d called Jacob "god."
In a similar way the Zohar(6)
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Jacob, "I am the Divine in the higher realms and you are the Divine in the lower realms."
With this we can understand why the Talmud(7)
states that Jacob never died.
Jacob fixed the sin of the first man. He overcame death and became immortal. He achieved that which the first human being failed to achieve. G-d bestowed upon him the noble title of kel and thereby promoted him to the status of Divinity.
What Jacob accomplished for himself is available to us all through the teachings and guidance of Torah. The purpose of the Torah's guidance and the G-d-given commandments it contains is to enable us to receive the gift of godliness. The Torah is a practical guide to divinity.
(1) Leviticus 19:1
(2) Bereishis Rabba 16:3
(3) Deuteronomy 4:17
(4) Genesis 33:18-20
(5) Talmud, Megillah 18a
(6) Zohar Vol.1 pg 138a
(7) Talmud, Ta'anis 5b
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Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.
He is the author of the newly released, The Secret Life of G-d, and Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power , Seeing G-d and Love is my religion. (Click on links to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.
© 2005, Rabbi David Aaron