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“Acharei Havayah Elokeichem Teileichu…”
[Likkutei Torah p. 19]
This Mamar speaks of the verse in this Parsha that discusses the commandment to walk in the path of G-d, who is testing man and giving him challenges. It delves into the purpose of these challenges and how this relates to the purpose of the descent of the soul below. One of the most profound questions faced by philosophers and the thinking man is with regard to the purpose of a Nisayon-challenge or test. Why does G-d challenge or test man if He knows his capabilities and his future choices? Is G-d ridiculing the person? Placing a stumbling block in his way when He knows he can’t handle it? The Mamar explains a fundamental lesson in our life’s mission and the challenges that we face within it. The purpose of these challenges is not only for man to show loyalty and force himself to do the right thing, but for him to search for G-d and express his longing and yearning for Him.
Explorations of the Mamar
The verse states: Acharei Havayah Elokeichem Teileichu. It states six levels of the service of G-d that one is to follow: 1) Teileichu-walk in the path of G-d; 2) Tirau-Fear Him; 3) Tishmiru-Guard His commandments; 4) Ubekolo Tishmau-Listen to His words; 5) Veoso Taavodu-Serve Him; 6) Ubo Sidbikun-To Him you shall attach. The previous verse stated, Ki Menaseh Hashem Elokeichem Eschem Ladaas, that, “Hashem is testing you to know.” What is this level of challenge that precedes all the other levels of serving G-d, and what is it that G-d wants to know?
Is the purpose of the descent of the soul into this world the challenges that one faces in following the path of G-d?
The soul, prior to being invested in this world, was positioned in the supernal worlds. It experienced a great revelation of G-dliness in those worlds. It then descended in a mystic journey through the worlds below until it reached this physical world, which is the lowest level on the spectrum. Here it experiences a concealment of G-d and a distance from His light. The main purpose of this great distance and descent is facing challenges that derive from the concealments and removal of the conscious G-dly energy found in Creation. It is specifically the challenges to one’s health and livelihood that conceal G-d’s Divine hand and prevent one, from both within and without, from serving Him and coming close to His presence. This concealment causes the path of the wicked to succeed and leads the person towards confusion below. He sees more benefit, power, and pleasure involved with those that take the path that does not serve G-d, and he is challenged to follow it. The test of the soul is to see whether it will follow G-d despite all the setbacks and visible failures of those that choose His path, and despite the external success viewed by those that are wicked and ignore the way of G-d. A person needs extra strength to stand up to the challenge to ignore all the setbacks and hindrances that oppose his service of G-d, whether external or internal, such as the psychological and emotional setbacks that one experiences.
The purpose of the challenges:
The reason that G-d sends these challenges is in order for man to overcome them and then come to a higher level of Ladaas. [The verse states that Hashem tests us, Ladaas Hayeishchem Ohavim.] What is this level of Daas? It is a level of understanding, and an internal bond and connection with Hashem in a way that Hashem is vividly experienced like any other matter of the physical world. One will feel Hashem in the same way that he feels his own existence and the vitality of his own soul. This is the true reason behind why G-d challenges us. It is not simply because He desires to know if we are capable of passing the test, hence judging our love and devotion towards Him, as surely He foresees all future events and knows what is in man’s heart and how man will choose to follow in his challenge. The Midrash Rabba explains that the purpose of the challenges is so that man receives a reward for his good actions and not simply for good intentions of the heart, and so G-d challenges man in order for him to receive a reward for his actual choices. However, this does not explain why the verse states that Hashem gives challenges in order to “Know”, Ladaas. However, based on the above explanation, the verse is understood, as in truth the purpose of the challenges is so that man reaches the level of Daas in his relationship with Hashem.
How challenges bring a person to “Know G-d”:
The reason that tests and challenges bring a person to the level of Daas is because in truth a challenge contains a very high level of G-dliness that is not contained in other matters. Although the actual challenge and test is itself devoid of G-dly revelation and hence tends to seduce man to ignore his spiritual consciousness, choosing in accordance with the current revealed reality, which ignores G-d, nonetheless within the concealment of G-d is a treasured G-dly vitality. This is similar to the incident with Shimi ben Geira, who cursed David, and David exclaimed that God told Shimi to do so. This is also the meaning of the saying of the Sages that when the Jews were exiled to Bavel, the Shechina became exiled with them. This means that the actual Shechina is invested within the prince of Bavel, which has control over the Jews living in his land. [Thus although it seems that G-d has forsaken us and thrown us to the care of the gentiles, in truth the Shechina is in control and is itself invested within the heavenly prince of Bavel.]
The G-dliness that is hidden within these challenges that conceal G-d is in truth rooted in a level of G-dliness that is much higher than the standard levels of holiness. This is similar to a wall that has fallen, whereby the higher bricks fall a further distance than the lower bricks. Thus when a person overcomes the challenge, he breaks open the face of concealment that hid the G-dly light within it and the high level of G-dliness hence becomes revealed to the open. This revelation spills into the soul to give it the level of Daas and consciousness of Hashem. This is similar to the G-dliness found in food, which upon being eaten serves as a source of life and energy for the person.
A parable from a nut:
The G-dliness contained within our challenges is similar to a nut in its shell. The hard shell prevents man from getting to the food or even knowing there is any food inside. The nut presents the exact opposite of food, as it is hard and inedible. If one did not know that it contained a fruit inside, he would simply discard it or use it for some other matter. However, once the nut has been successfully broken and one retrieves the food, one uses it to give him energy and health benefits that are not found in other foods. The challenges that Hashem sends us are similar to a nut in its shell, as a challenge contains a vast abundance of G-dliness hidden away by the hard shell of the concealing worldly nature. When man sees through the challenge and serves G-d in spite of it, hence making the correct choices, he unveils the hidden treasure of G-dliness, which then serves as inner sustenance for his eternal bond with Him.
Like a father hiding from his son:
A challenge in the service of G-d is similar to a father that is hiding from his son. He does this so that the son will search for him. This will reveal the wisdom of the child, who knows the true purpose of the hiding is simply so that the child will search for his father, and not because the father truly desires to hide. When the child finds his father, they then rejoice, embrace, and have true bonding.
Many of us do not feel any real gain or difference after passing a challenge that G-d has given us. What is the practical implementation of this Mamar, and how can we grow from challenges?
The challenges that we face in life regarding service of G-d have many facets, aspects, and categories. One person faces a challenge in his Parnasa. Should he not be fully honest and gain some more money, or should he be honest and take a loss? Another faces a challenge in getting a job. Should he let himself get despondent and depressed, or act with joy and security, having trust in G-d that He will provide for him? Another is faced with the challenge of looking at something immoral and quenching his animalistic thirsts, or abstaining from it out of obedience to his Maker. Another is troubled by foreign thoughts during prayer, which touch on very important subjects in his life. Should he entertain these thoughts due to their importance and put G-d on hold during his prayer, or should he trust that if he has troubling thoughts, he should specifically focus on G-d during prayer as it is only Him that can help him in solving these issues? We are faced with hundreds of challenges, weekly, daily, and annually, each in accordance with our position in life. Sometimes, we fail and choose, Heaven forbid, to be slightly dishonest to gain that extra money, we fall in despair due to difficulty in finding a job, or we glance at an immoral sight, and entertain important, foreign thoughts during prayer. At other times, we overcome these challenges out of a strong will to do what we know is right. However, even when we are successful in meeting the challenge, we don’t really see or feel that it has added to our bond with G-d. Why? The reason for this is because of the focus and perspective that we entertain towards the challenge. If we view the challenge as simply that G-d is trying to see if we will do the right thing and be loyal to Him, then certainly it may not have a revealed positive effect on our attachment to Him, and we may even have resentment towards Him for putting us to the challenge to begin with. “Why did He make it so difficult to be an observant Jew?” many exclaim. If, however, we view the challenge as a message from G-d to bond with Him, like a father hiding from His child, then we will not only focus on overcoming the challenge and doing the right thing, but also on contemplating our relationship with the Giver of the challenge and how its entire purpose is for us to reveal that we truly love Him and are dedicated to Him. A challenge is G-d’s way of asking us for emotional attention, similar to a father awaiting the loving embrace of his searching son, or a spouse awaiting the reassurance of her partner’s love. This then is the meaning of the verse that He gives us challenges, “to know whether we love Him”, that we reveal our love for Him through contemplating the purpose of the challenge, and not simply to overcome it and choose the right path.