Sh’mini, Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47
“What is God’s Will for Me?”
Growing up, I always had difficulties, with the concept of “doing God’s will” that my rabbis often spoke of. Somehow, I was supposed to do “God’s will” in all my daily actions. For them, doing God’s will meant to observe the mitzvot, divinely prescribed through the writings of the Torah, the Talmud and the Halachah—the official guide to Jewish observance. I questioned such teachings from the start. First, following the Halachah this strictly never worked in my life, living as I was with secular parents in a secular environment. Second, different traditions led Jews of different backgrounds to interpret the guidebook’s practices dissimilarly. Was God’s will subject to interpretation? Third, I couldn’t believe that God’s will for the Jews was limited to only living an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle.
My unease with this concept only deepened as my spiritual journey unfolded. Because I no longer held an understanding of God limited to the otherworldliness of a dualistic theology, there couldn’t be a God outside of Creation that would somehow communicate His will to individual humans, letting each know what He wanted from them. If it was in order to lead an ethical life, we didn’t need a God to do that. If it was to go on crusades, spread our “good word,” convert or kill the infidels, I wouldn’t care to do that God’s will. Besides, Judaism no longer has people claiming that God speaks to them, ordering them to do His bidding. According to tradition, Prophecy ended over two thousand years ago.
I suspect that the quest to know God’s will for our life is connected to our need for meaning and purpose. Beyond the question; “What is God’s will for me?” lies the bigger question: “Why are we here?” I found a powerful teaching—quoted in Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Commentaries on Leviticus—by Toras Kohanim (Reb Tzvi Hirsh HaCohen Rappoport) on a verse in this week’s portion: “And Moses said: Do this thing that God has commanded, and God’s glory will reveal itself to you.” [Lev. 9:6] What is “this thing” that God commanded? What is God’s will for us? Toras Kohanim answers: “Moses told them: ‘remove the yetzer ha-ra (separate sense of self) from your hearts, that you all may be one, in awe and heart, in the service of the Presence. This practice will lead you to attain inner and outer harmony knowing He is One, manifesting as/through all Creation.’ As it is said: ‘Circumcise the foreskin of your heart and no longer be stubborn.’ [Deut. 10:16]”
This aligns exactly with the teachings of our mystics and the principles of Kabbalah. The Infinite has manifested Itself as the Finite in order that It might know Itself. For the Kabbalists, this is God’s will: to become Self-Aware. We are among the beings through which this is possible. Through spiritual practices like meditation, we are setting the stage for the Infinite Ground of the Cosmos to have a moment of Self-recognition, creating an opening for Awareness itself to become Self-Aware, to awaken. We are the conduit through which the Infinite gets to recognize Itself in the mirror of the Finite, thus directly participating in a miracle, a most sacred event in Creation itself. When sentient beings transcend the delusion of their separate sense of self (yetzer ha-ra) by circumcising the foreskin around their heart that has imprisoned and hidden the Divine Awareness they are, that false sense of self drops, and God’s Glory reveals Itself to Itself; i.e. God becomes Self-Aware. It is never “we” who become enlightened. God wakes up to God-Self. Similarly, it is never “we” who do God’s will; God does.