In this week’s parsha, God’s calls us His servants, “כִּי־לִי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבָדִים עֲבָדַי הֵם .../For the children of Israel are servants to me, they are my servants …” Yet, Moshe Rabbeinu at the end of his life told the nation, “בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַה' אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם .../You are children to God your Lord …” In what respect are we servants and in what respect are we children? How can our relationship with God reflect that of servants and children at the same time?
The Zohar in this week’s parsha addresses these questions and explains that a servant is required to do his master’s bidding whether or not he understands the reasoning behind it. A son, on the other hand, is permitted and in fact encouraged to search and understand the mysteries and secrets of his father.
The Zohar is teaching us that we are required to serve God both as servants and as sons. As servants, we are required to learn the plain meaning of the Torah in order to know how to fulfill the mitzvos. Understanding the reasoning behind the mitzvos is irrelevant. We are enjoined to fulfill the mitzvos simply because they are God’s decrees. As God’s beloved children, though, we are encouraged to delve into the mysteries of the Torah, to try our best to understand the Torah at deeper levels.
The Sfas Emes delves deeper into the nature of our relationship with God as reflected by the servant approach and the child approach. The Sfas Emes notes that it is a difficult task for a servant to fulfill his master’s bidding without knowing the reasoning underlying the request. A son, on the other hand, more easily understands his father. A son, unlike a servant, is naturally drawn after his father. It does not take a lot for the son to understand his father’s reasons or to agree with them. They are almost his own.
The Sfas Emes teaches us that this dichotomy between the “servant” approach to learning Torah and performing the mitzvos and the “son” approach, is apparent in the difference between Shabbos and the days of the week.
During the week it is difficult to be sensitive to the Godliness that permeates everything in the Creation. Godliness is more concealed during the week and more revealed on Shabbos. Also, we are busy during the week with our own issues. Nevertheless, we must work at overcoming our own desires and God’s concealment, cultivate a strong belief that God permeates the Creation and strive to fulfill His will. This is not an easy task. The Sfas Emes relates it to the “servant” approach of serving God. Just as the servant needs to fulfill his master’s wishes even though he may not understand them, so too, must we fulfill God’s wishes even though He is not revealed to us. Both require work. Significantly, the Hebrew for servant – עֶבֶד – has the same root as the word for work – עֲבוֹדָה.
On Shabbos it is far easier to experience the spiritual. Chazal quote God as saying, “I have a good gift in my treasure house and it is called Shabbos.” A treasure house is generally a hidden place. One does not open his treasure house to the world. God’s treasure house is a metaphor for the hidden spiritual light that is inherent in the Creation. When God says that His treasure house contains Shabbos, He is alluding to the spiritual light that is more easily revealed on Shabbos.
The Sfas Emes relates Shabbos to the “son” approach of serving God because a son is close to his father and more easily understands him. Like the relationship between a son and his father, on Shabbos it easier for us approach God and experience Him, to understand His mysteries and secrets than during the week.
May we merit fulfilling the dictate of the Zohar, serving God both as servants, because He decreed it, and as children, delving into His mysteries and secrets.