We have seen last week that the Ramban seemingly attributes two parts to the prohibition of “You shall not test Hashem.” One is that one may not serve Hashem in expectation of a reward, and if the reward were not forthcoming then the person would think (as the Ramban puts it) “It is useless to serve Hashem.” Rather, one must serve Hashem with the knowledge that it is entirely possible that one will encounter difficulties —even sufferings and perhaps tragedies— nevertheless, one must accept it as Hashem’s righteous judgment. That notwithstanding, we are promised (Devarim 6:17) that, at the end of the road, so to speak, all will indeed be good. This is one type of ‘testing’ that is proscribed. The second type, the Ramban says, is testing the truth of Hashem’s omnipotence, His ‘ability’ to perform miracles, demanding ‘proof” of the truth of the Torah. Rather, we are to look at those that mitzvos bear testimony to the miracles at yetzi’as Mitzrayim and we will know that all these truths have already been established.
What is the common thread here, so much so that the Torah “throws” these two ideas together? Moreover, how does it relate to the context of the passuk stating “and you shall do what is right and proper in the eyes of Hashem, so that it will be good for you...?” And what does ‘doing what is right and proper in the eyes of Hashem’ even mean? The first explanation the Ramban gives is that our sole motivation when doing mitzvos should be to do what is right and proper in the eyes of Hashem —meaning, to perform His will, as servants and subjects serving their King. This addresses both of the abovementioned points; i.e., not to test Hashem’s ‘abilities’ and that our service of Hashem should not to receive a reward, rather, solely to do His will. This, almost ironically, carries the promise of ultimate reward.
The idea of doing mitzvos purely with the motivation of performing Hashem’s will actually has an expansive side to it as well. It seems logical that that actually gives rise to the Ramban’s second explanation of “doing what is right and proper,” which is to go beyond the letter of the law in our dealings with our fellow-man, and to do what we should realize is Hashem’s ‘true’ will; that a person’s actions should emulate Hashem in goodness and caring. This “higher” will is extrapolated from the letter of so many mitzvos, and teaches us their ‘spirit,’ namely, Hashem’s ‘higher’ will.
This, in fact, should be our goal in doing mitzvos; i.e., to figure out what Hashem’s will is, what is this mitzvah a manifestation of, and to try to do that will in all that we do. And so we are hopefully doing Hashem’s will not only as the purpose in doing the mitzvos, but as we do Hashem’s will in everything that we do as we extrapolate that will by studying those specific mitzvos.
This idea is actually expressed in Mesilas Yesharim (chapter 18), where the Ramchal writes that true chassidus is to go beyond even perfection in the performance of mitzvos, and attempt to cause “nachas ruach” [i.e., what we actually call nachas, meaning pleasure, or satisfaction] to the Ribono shel Olam, trying to find favor in His eyes, causing Him to be pleased with us. The manifestation of true ahavah, says the Mesilas Yesharim, is when one strives to do the will of one’s beloved without needing an explicit request or demand. “One who truly loves Hashem,” writes the Ramchal, “will not be satisfied to carry out only explicit commands. Rather, he will say, as a son might, ‘Now that I know that my father (for example) likes this, I will increase and expand my efforts in that direction in ways that I know will bring him nachas.’”
Thus, we see that “to do what is right and proper in the eyes of Hashem” is actually the inner essence of the highest madreigah (level) of serving Hashem; a level at which one does things for the sake of fulfilling Hashem’s will, shutting out, as it were, all other cheshbonos (motives), which is the essence of the commandment of “You shall not test…”
This concept has even further reaching ramifications. Ramban explains the passuk (Devarim 6:13) that states “and Him shall you serve” thus: “The explanation of ‘and Him shall you serve’ is that one should act at all times like an acquired servant who serves his master always, who makes his master’s work primary and his own needs secondary, until this leads to what the Sages say ‘and let all your actions be for the sake of Heaven.’ Meaning, that even one’s physical needs should be done for the sake of serving Hashem; that a person should eat, sleep, and do all as is required for his physical health, so that he will be able to serve Hashem. This is the idea that Chazal express in their statement, ‘And Hashem saw that all was good— this is sleep.’ Is sleep [innately] a good thing? Yes. For when a person sleeps he wakes up refreshed and occupies himself with Torah… and this is indeed a sound explanation of the idea of serving Hashem totally and completely.”
When one functions in this capacity —as this quintessential servant of Hashem— which is actually a meaning of “doing what is right and proper in the eyes of Hashem,” by obviating expectations of reward and certainly not questioning the purpose or wisdom of what that service is, then one is saved from the double dangers of you shall not test Hashem.
On a deeper level, the ultimate reward we will attain through this is bonding with Hashem for all of eternity, becoming daveik baHashem. That is attained most intensely through serving Hashem as described —as a faithful servant, or actually, as a loving son, who cares for nothing but doing his father’s will; for that represents the ultimate bittul (negation) of our own egos, surrendering them unto Hashem. And this, as the title of this column indicates, will have us overcome those blocks to the geulah sheleimah that still exist, as we try to find our nechamah in these weeks between the commemoration of the churban and Rosh Hashanah, reflecting on what brought the churban about, and the ways in which we can rectify it.