Many religions teach that to serve G-d properly one must sacrifice one’s life for G-d. This week’s parasha tells us that doing so would be a colossal mistake. Early on, before we were a nation or a religion, we were a movement. This movement began with a man named Avraham who lived his life searching for truth and challenging anything and everything that threatened to conceal or adulterate it. He radically attacked existing cultural and religious bigotry and founded a movement that would one day become a nation.
In Avraham’s search, he recognised that all that exists must have had a precursor — something that was the ultimate cause, and thus, the ultimate truth. He realized that this primal cause by nature of its very being had to be one, without form, omnipotent and omniscient. This being was the cause of all things which meant that it didn’t exist, but instead, WAS the power of existence itself — the very source of all that existed — this was G-d.
In this discovery, Avraham understood that caring for and cultivating his own life was the greatest tribute he could give to G-d. G-d stepped in to help him and guide him as to what would work to strengthen his life and what would not work and damage his life. And so the first words G-d said to him were:
Go for yourself, from your land, from your birth-place, from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. (Bereshit, 12:1)
Go for yourself – for your own good and your own enjoyment. (Rashi, ibid.)
Avraham was not told to sacrifice his life here and leave it all behind for G-d’s sake. He instead was told to seize his life and live it to its fullest and that G-d would make available to him all that he needed to do so, so long as it was Avraham’s choice. In knowing and loving G-d, Avraham served by being utterly committed to life — not the least of which, his own.
Over four centuries later, a nation of Avraham’s progeny was poised to carry on his powerful movement and commit to live the greatest life possible. They took great care to avoid all things that would strangulate and damage their identity and otherwise keep G-d, Source of Life, from enlivening their own. In recognizing this we understood that every command and charge from G-d was an extension of the original לך לך — the bid to “go for yourself”of Avraham our forefather. We understood that through His commandments G-d wanted nothing else but to guide us towards Life and for us to be all we could be. We knew then that no one roots for us to achieve our fullest potentials more than G-d.
Here, Moshe Rabbenu, the faithful shepherd entrusted with delivering Avraham’s children to freedom, reminds us of the true nature of the Torah and Mitsva:
G-d said to me:…Who would give that this heart of theirs would always belong to them, to hold me in awe and keep my commandments all of the days, in order that it might be good for them and for their children, for the ages!
Take care to observe…in all the way that G-d your Lord has commanded you to walk,
in order that you may live and it be good for you.
Hearken Yisrael! and take care to observe them that it may be good for you, that you may become exceedingly manyas G-d your Lord promised you — (in) a land flowing with milk and honey.
We have forgotten this most basic principle. G-d has given us the gift of life. We have only one. To not protect and care for it and to not live to its fullest is a tragedy both for man and G-d. Thus, to truly serve G-d is to cultivate the only creation that is entirely in our hands to keep and treasure — our selves. To love G-d is to love life, and one cannot love all of life without loving their own first.
Many of us have been taught, incorrectly, that the more we diminish ourselves, the more we show G-d that we are committed to Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, we are, like Avraham was, told to walk before Him and be whole (Bereshit, 17:1) in our fullest glory — in that, we are the closest partners with G-d that we could ever be. To shut oneself down is to dim the light that you bring to Creation. A tragedy, indeed.