Thursday, February 7, 2013

What Does God Want from Me?

Have you ever asked, “What does God want from me? Why did He create me?”

In Deuteronomy, Moses answers this very question and outlines our Creator’s five requests (10:12-13). “And now, Israel, What does Hashem, your God, request of you? Only to fear Hashem, your God, to follow all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve Hashem, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul; to observe Hashem’s commandments and statutes, which I command you today, for your benefit.”

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in his classic, The Path of the Just, distills from these verses the five essential components of Judaism:

A. To fear God.

B. To walk in His ways.

C. To love Him.

D. To serve Him wholeheartedly.

E. To observe His commandments.

God makes these requests not for His benefit, rather, as Moses points out, “…for your benefit (ibid).” By fulfilling these requests, we develop a relationship with our Creator and infuse our lives with meaning and fulfillment.

Below, is an exploration of each of the five requests. Fulfilling them is not all or nothing; it is a lifelong journey. Keep climbing to even higher levels of fulfilling these requests. As you do, you will come even closer to God.

A. To fear God.
This means to be in awe of His exaltedness and aware of His constant presence. The first step in developing a relationship with God is to remind yourself that He exists and that He is with you at all times.

Rabbi Luzzatto outlines three steps to do this:

(1) Throughout the day, bring to mind that God’s glory fills the world – His presence is in every cell and atom. Realize you are standing before God at all times. Shift your awareness, from inward – centered on your thoughts – to outward, tuning in to God’s presence which surrounds you always. This will help you feel deep awe and reverence before Him.

(2) Think about God’s awesomeness. He is the Creator and sustainer of the entire universe, as well as countless spiritual worlds.

(3) Contemplate how lowly you are compared to God; you are completely dependent on Him and cannot do anything without His help.

Guideposts: You will know you are on track toward achieving awe of God, when you are able to refrain from – or at least greatly limit – talking during the prayer service. You will sense, sitting in God’s house, speaking to Him, that it is not appropriate to turn away to schmooze with a friend. You also find that your modesty and humility have increased. In addition, when faced with temptation, you remind yourself of God’s awesomeness and His all-encompassing presence, and you feel ashamed to sin before your Creator.

B. To walk in God’s ways. After contemplating His greatness, we will be motivated to emulate Him, as best we can. God is completely good. His every act is a manifestation of His goodness, (although we do not understand how). We walk in our Father in Heaven’s footsteps by being a source of goodness to others. When we help others, our Father is channeling His light of goodness through us. When we harm others, we sever that special connection to Him and spread darkness.

Every interaction you have with another person gives you an opportunity to be a force of goodness. When you are friendly, considerate, helpful and show an interest in others, you transform a mundane interaction into a sacred experience.

Guideposts: You will know you are on track toward achieving walking in God’s ways, when, faced with uncertainty you ask, “What is the elevated, Godly way to act? How does my Father in Heaven want me to act?” In addition, when meeting people, instead of considering, “What can they do for me?” You consider, “What can I do for them?” Lastly, you are careful not to even inconvenience others, certainly not to harm them emotionally or financially.

C. To love God. Awed by His grandeur and inspired by His goodness, you will come to love Him. An aspect of loving God is being grateful for the blessings He has given you. In addition, think about who God is to you: He is your Creator, who brought you into existence to benefit you. He is your Father, who loves you unconditionally. He is your protector, who ensures you only experience what is for your eternal good. He is your provider, who gives you exactly what you need for each moment. He never stops thinking of you, caring for you, loving you. Now ask, “Do I love God?” Speak to Him and express to Him your love.

Guideposts: You will know you are on track toward achieving love of God, when you look forward to doing mitzvot, even at great sacrifice, demonstrating to God your love and appreciation. You delight in the opportunity to come close to Him, through prayer, fulfilling and studying His Torah and helping His children. In addition, you flee from sin, to avoid any act which would distance you from your Father in Heaven and be a sign of ingratitude.

D. To serve God wholeheartedly. This means serving Him with pure intent. Fueled by your reverence and love for God, you will want to serve Him solely to fulfill His will, without ulterior motives. As King David says in Psalms (40:9), “To do Your will, my God, is my desire...” When mitzvot are done for this reason, they serve as a bridge, uniting you with God.

Rabbi Luzzatto mentions another aspect of purity of intent: Serving God mindfully. Before doing a commandment, ask, “What am I about to do and why? Before whom am I going to do it?” You perform the commandments before God to fulfill His will and through them you draw closer to Him.

Guideposts: You will know you are on track toward achieving serving God wholeheartedly, when you perform mitzvot with the same intensity and fervor regardless of whether you are in a public or private setting. (This shows that your mitzvah performance is not driven by wanting public approval.) In addition, every day you perform mindfully at least one mitzvah. Start with prayer and pick at least one section to focus on its meaning. You can also be mindful while saying blessings on food.

E. To observe God’s commandments. In addition to serving God wholeheartedly, in your awe and love for Him, you will also want to fulfill His every request.

In order to observe the commandments we need to learn the laws. Find a class or book geared toward your level of observance. If you learn a law that seems too difficult for you, remember that God only asks you to do what you can. Tell yourself, “Right now I’m not sure if I can do this, but it’s important to know that this is the goal to work towards. All God asks is that I do my best, and I will.”

If possible, speak to your rabbi about how to fulfill the law in your situation. You will likely discover that either the law is more manageable than you initially thought, or that in your case, there are leniencies upon which you can rely. After all, the Torah, “Its ways are ways of pleasantness…(Proverbs 3:17)”

God wants our efforts, whether we are successful or not is out of our hands. Put in your best effort and ask your Father in Heaven for help. Often, you will discover that with His assistance, you were able to fulfill the observance after all. As the Sages teach, “One who seeks to be purified is assisted (Tractate Shabbat 104a).”

Guideposts: You will know you are on track toward achieving observing God’s commandments, when you choose a rabbi to whom you ask religious questions and advice on how to upgrade your observance. In addition, you study the laws daily to ensure you fulfill the will of your Creator. One who studies the laws every day is assured a place in the next world (Tractate Niddah 73a). Lastly, if you stumble in one of the Torah’s guidelines, you repent right away and get back on track.

God highlights four aspects of our relationship with Him (Hoshea 2:21-22), “(1) I will betroth you to Me forever, and (2) I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, with justice, with kindness and with mercy. (3) And I will betroth you to Me with fidelity, and (4) you will know Hashem.” Perhaps these four aspects align with God’s five requests.

The first aspect, parallels fulfilling His commandments, as it is through them that we earn eternal bliss – basking in the Divine Presence forever. The second aspect, gives examples of walking in His ways. The third aspect, fidelity, parallels serving Him wholeheartedly, not adulterating our service with ulterior motives or by acting by rote. The fourth aspect, to know God, is to revere and love Him (we come to know God, each on our own level, by studying His Torah). By fulfilling your Creator’s five requests, you consummate your betrothal to Him, creating an eternal bond with God.

The greatest achievement possible in life is coming close to the Ultimate good – our Creator. When we fulfill the five requests every day, we live our lives with our Creator as our constant companion and guide. God did not create us to live just any life: He wants us to live the best life possible and discover the Ultimate good. How about you, what kind of life do you want to live?

Which one of the five requests will you focus on fulfilling to an even greater extent?

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