Self-Serving or G-d-Serving

Friday, 18 January, 2019 - 10:32 am

Rebbetzin Rivkah was the wife of the fourth Chabad Rebbe. She was also the granddaughter, daughter-in-law, mother, and grandmother of 5 generations of Chabad Rebbes. She was a witness to, and a participant in, nearly a century of glorious Chabad history.

At the age of 18 she was diagnosed with a serious illness. Her doctor ordered her to be careful about eating first thing in the morning. She was hesitant to eat before reciting her morning prayers, so she resolved to awaken even earlier, pray and then eat. Needless to say, the lack of sleep compounded with the eating after prayers, did not do her health any favors. When her father-in-law, the third Rebbe, heard about this he said to her: "A Jew must be healthy and strong. The Torah says about mitzvot, 'Live in them,' meaning bring vitality into the mitzvot. To be able to infuse mitzvot with vitality, one must be strong and joyful." Then he concluded: "You should not be without food. Better to eat for the sake of davening rather than to daven for the sake of eating;" he then blessed her with long life.

In 1959 the Rebbe shared this story and then analyzed the concept of eating to daven rather than davening to eat. He explained that eating and davening represent the two dimensions of a Jewish person’s life. Davening is symbolic of activity that is G-d-centric. Eating is representative of all other activity. There are three ways a person can approach the tension between these two dimensions.

1.      To compartmentalize. When I daven, learn and do mitzvot, I am all in on the G-dly and the holy. But when I eat, work and go about life, G-d and the Torah are not taken into account. This would be the Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde approach. Not recommended!

2.      To recognize that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two dimensions. Since G-d is the source of all blessing, I must daven if I want to eat. In this approach, my primary focus is the “eating” (physical and material life). But in order to withdraw from my account with the “Big ATM in the Sky” I must make deposits in the form of “davening.”

3.      To recognize that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two dimensions. But in this approach, there is nothing separate about the two. Rather I acknowledge that life is about serving Hashem and every experience that I have (even the seemingly mundane ones) is to that end. So I eat in order to daven. I strive to incorporate the concept of “know Hashem in all your ways.” There is nothing in the life of a Jew that is divorced from serving Hashem.

This third approach is the one advocated in the story. If you daven so that you can eat, then your life is about “eating” and davening is merely a facilitator. If you eat in order to daven, then your life is about “davening” and eating is merely a facilitator. The second approach is self-serving. The third is G-d-serving. The true service for a Jew, is when all of life’s activities are utilized in the service of G-d, either directly or indirectly.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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