"The Duties of the Heart"
Gate 6: Surrendering to G-d
We just cited the instances in which we automatically surrender our wills
to G-d's and to others', so let's explore the ones in which we're
advised to -- even when we might not be inclined to.
The first sort would apply when we're at work or with friends, but we'll
delve into that later on in the course of this gate.
The second would apply when we encounter true Torah sages and holy people -
- those "who know of G-d and His Torah" as Ibn Pakudah puts it. It would
simply make sense to surrender to their greater wisdom when we encounter
them, since they alone can marshal all our talents and inclinations toward
true spiritual excellence.
Third, interestingly enough, would be when someone praises us for our good
traits. It's not that we're asked to acquiesce to his or her compliments
and admit how good we are (though healthy, reasonable pride is to be
encouraged). What we're actually bidden to do is to recall the many facets
of our personality -- the good and the bad -- and to not overplay the good
cited. We're to know full well the wrong we're capable of, and to be
humbled by that reality. So what we're to surrender to then is to our
vision of ourselves as better people.
The obverse of this, though, comes into play when someone points out our
faults. What we're to do then, we're told, is to realize there's always
some truth to what people tell us about ourselves (and some fallacy), and
that we'd be wise to use the moment for reflection and repentance. For by
doing that we succumb to G-d's wishes that we better ourselves all the
The next instance is when we enjoy good fortune. We're advised to foster
true gratitude for that and to take it upon ourselves to serve G-d more
selflessly as a consequence.
But there are many lessons to be learned from the gift of good fortune. It
could indeed be a favor from G-d -- but it might also come to test our
mettle, and it might bring us harm or throw us off the mark. But how are
we to know which category of good fortune we're being subjected to? Just
know that it has been granted to you as a gift when you find yourself
disregarding the "trappings" and going about serving G-d despite it.
Realize as well that it has been sent to test your mettle when you find
yourself caring more about it than about serving G-d. And know, too, that
it's doing you harm when you're so obsessed with it that you utterly
abandon your service to G-d and humanity, you forget its Source, and
you're ungrateful for it.
So the best thing to do when you're so fortunate would be to surrender to
G-d's will in your life, and to use your resources to that end.
The next circumstance in which we're encouraged to subjugate our wills to
G-d's is when we read of others' pains and sorrows in various portions of
the Torah (and elsewhere) and we realize how we, too, are subject to all
that. For the brittleness of human nature and the coldness of life itself
come to teach us many things, but most especially the fact that life is to
be focused on spiritual growth; and that each moment that allows us to
pursue that is a gift from G-d outright.
Finally, it would do us well to surrender to G-d's will and wishes when we
give charity, pray, teach others how to serve Him, and the like. For we're
to do those sorts of things with no other aspiration other than of
fulfilling G-d's mitzvot. Indeed, one could easily lapse into self-serving
pride and satisfaction doing good things like that, and forget the point
of it all. So it would help to recall that there's a world of good we
could be doing which we often don't, and to concentrate on what's to be
done rather than on who's doing it.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org