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8 Av 5760 - August 9, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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To Want -- More!

by L. Jungerman

"And you shall love Hashem your G-d . . . and with all your soul -- Rashi: Even if He claims your soul . . . "

Rabbenu Elozor Azkari zy'o explains in Sefer HaChareidim, chapter 9, that the commandment of "With all your soul" is a daily exercise. "One should ponder it when he recites the Shema and reaches the words "bechol nafshecho" and "bechol nafshechem." He should also be fully prepared that if such an opportunity (of relinquishing his soul and possessions) presents itself to him, he should be able to do so willingly, even joyfully, like R' Akiva and the sons of Chana.

"[By conjuring this up as he prays daily], he is credited with having actually done so in practice. This is what is referred to in the verse, `For we have been killed for Your sake every day; we have been regarded as sheep designated to the slaughter.' Is it possible for a person to be killed every day? Rather, Hashem credits tzaddikim as if they truly submitted themselves to the slaughter every single day. Indeed, in their hearts, they are fully prepared for this. This follows what is taught in Zohar, Parshas Tzav: `Repent a day before your death.' How? Every day, a person should prepare to transmit his soul to his Maker.

"Maseches Brochos tells how R' Akiva was taken out to be killed precisely when it was time to recite the Shema. The Romans raked his flesh with iron prongs but he accepted the torture with love and concentrated his whole attention to declaring his allegiance and love to Hashem. Seeing him thus, his disciples asked, "Rabbenu -- to such an extent [is one required to show love]?" He replied, "All my days I was troubled over this verse of bechol nafshecho which requires that we love Hashem even if He is claiming our soul. And now that the opportunity to fulfill this commandment actually presents itself to me -- should I not do so with alacrity?' And as he came to `echod,' his soul departed."

The question arises if one can actually think such thoughts in a pragmatic way. How can one gauge one's future reaction to such a test and be convinced that when the time comes, he will truly relinquish his soul joyfully? When one is taken up with the effervescence of life, can he possibly conjure up a vivid, lifelike situation of self- sacrifice? The end of self existence? The author of Yesod veShoresh Ho'avoda repeatedly describes how one must graphically imagine a fire raging all the way up to Heaven and he, prepared to leap into the flames at any/every given moment. All for the love of Hashem.

But the light-year distance which separates that exalted tzaddik and us restores the original question to the fore. Is it possible? Can one honestly depict this scenario in one's mind? For if not, he is declaring a falsehood, and Hashem abhors liars; they cannot exist in His presence.

Along came R' Aharon Kotler zt'l and taught: "With all your soul -- this is to be translated as `if you will it with your soul.' If you so wish. From here we learn that the principle significance of the commandment of bechol nafshecho is that one should want to love Hashem with all his soul. When this is one's primary all-absorbing aspiration, then it naturally follows that one is prepared to nullify any conflicting wish. It is a simple consequence, a natural result. To want so, so much that even life itself is valueless within that context. And such a thing exists; it has been proven.


This interpretation enables a quick and ever-ready test of one's preparedness for executing the ultimate degree of bechol nafshecho. That test is not necessarily on the rack of the Inquisition, for according to that outlook, the ultimate self-sacrifice is not at the point of death, the willingness to die for one's faith. This is not a theoretical surrender-sacrifice which is, of course, the final test, `even [to the point] when He requisitions your soul,' but the entire in between range of action leading to that climax. `With all your soul' means with all the driving force that you possess, with your full willpower at any given moment, your constant preparedness to render and surrender your be- all unto Hashem and perform His will. You must be capable of uprooting any subsidiary wishes and inclinations, overt or covert, and sacrifice them upon the altar of your love for Hashem. Everything for His sake, for your love for Him.

The conflict and surrender involves an ongoing, daily struggle, almost minute by minute. Overcoming one's difficulties, discomfort, conflicting wills that pull a person in directions other than that of "And you shall love . . ." The self restraint and sublimation of self interests for, as opposed to the forces tugging against. This is an active, ongoing sacrifice and not the theoretical preparedness of surrendering one's soul to death. It is much more than the conjured pyre of immolation in one's imagination but is rather a veritable fire burning in one's bones, the fire that consumes one's natural laziness and inhibitions. It is a sacrificial act of the soul's very lifeblood.

This concept is elaborated upon in Tzidkas Hatzaddik (p. 197) as follows: "`With all your soul' means with those things to which a person feels attached, heart and soul. Like at the giving of the Torah, where `My soul swooned when He spoke . . . ' The spiritual pull was too strong for a mortal being to contain. Chazal similarly explained the verse, `Nefesh ki sakriv -- when a person [soul] sacrifices' to mean the very soul which a poor man offers up when he brings a sacrifice. His offering may be meager, but it incorporates his very soul.

"We also find that the poor man's prayer is called nefesh, soul, as we find by the barren Chana, `And I poured out my soul.' Her longing for a child was so totally absorbing that it became her very essence, her life and soul. This is the degree of love which we must also feel for Hashem. This is the means and method of carrying out the ongoing obligation of loving Hashem with all one's soul, in daily life. We must develop such a love that will encompass every drive and will within our makeup and sublimate them to a consuming love for Hashem's Torah and commandments. We must live a life with a love developed for Torah and yearning for true G-d- fear. If we live thus, we will not have to struggle constantly with those drives that tug in opposite directions, wills that conflict with the true will. Rather, our will, our soul's desire, will naturally be attuned to the right channels so that the choice will be natural, and not a matter of deliberation each time, with the good overcoming the base, natural propensity.

"When R' Akiva was led to his death, it was time to recite the Shema. The Romans raked his flesh with iron prongs but he was occupied with declaring his allegiance of the Heavenly Kingdom. His disciples asked, "Rabbenu -- to such an extent [is one required to show love]?" He replied, "All my days I was troubled over this verse of bechol nafshecho which requires that we love Hashem even if He is claiming our soul. And now that the opportunity to fulfill this commandment ultimately presents itself to me -- should I not do so with alacrity?'" (Brochos 61).

HaRav Mordechai Mann zt'l explains away the disciples' wonder. To such an extent? Is a mortal being actually capable of surrendering himself so totally -- with perfect equanimity and joy -- when his very flesh is being mortified to death? Is such a thing possible?

And he replied: Do you then think that this degree of sacrifice has been attained in one split second, only at the verge of death? And that in one instant I could rise to such a height and sustain my endurance? Not at all. I have enacted this very moment every day of my life. I lived a life of bechol nafshecho, of sacrificing myself upon such an occasion. It was an ongoing reality, a long process of sacrificing my will for the sake of my love for Hashem! Is it then surprising that after such a long preparation, an extended internment, that when the real moment of testing arrives that I not be fit and ready? My life has been leading up to this very climax! And now that it is here, I am fully prepared and able to stand up to the test.

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