How do we serve God?
“And now, O Israel, what does your God/ Adonai Elochecha demand of you? (Deuteronomy 10:12a). This is the question raised by this week’s Torah portion, Ekev.
In his article, “Adonai-Elohim: The Two Faces of God,” Rabbi Harold Schulweis discusses the two names of God that appear to guide our lives in almost all of our prayers. He writes that, “Elohim is the ground of the universe that is given, and Adonai is the energy that transforms. … Adonai Elohim marks the cooperation, the transaction, between the human and the divine.”
This explanation helps us conceive of how to actualize the cooperation or transaction between ourselves and God. The Torah continues, “Only this: to revere your God (Adonai Elochecha), to walk only in divine paths, to love and to serve your God (Adonai Elochecha), with all your heart and soul, keeping Adonai’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good (l’tov lecha).” (Deuteronomy 12b-13)
As a chaplain, when I visit someone who is feeling challenged practically and theologically, I often use these verses as a basis for a way to go forward. I talk about this beautiful teaching of Rabbi Schulweis’, that when we say the expression Adonai Elohim we are articulating the “the cooperation, the transaction, between the human and the divine.”
The verse helps us to recall that we live in ongoing partnership and that we are given parameters for this partnership – to follow the commandments which provide us with a gameplan to live a life of meaning and purpose. When we serve our God with our entire being and experience the reverence and the awe that is to be found by existing in this world that contains both divinity and everyday humanity, we cleave to the divine, and acknowledge that we are never going it alone.
Ultimately, we do this for our good/ l’tov lecha. When we see the word tov/good used in this way we are taken back to creation and the Garden of Eden. God created humans to become caretakers of all that was “good” under creation and to recognize and experience the awesomeness of our partnership.
The Da’at Zekanim, a Torah commentary from 12th-13th century, posits that these verses present a list that comprises all aspects of life. He writes that according to one view, “G–d asks us to do only what is clearly of benefit for us and is good for us and the observance of which will result in our earning a great reward.”
What is that great reward? Some might say that the reward is to be found in the afterlife. I prefer the understanding that the reward is to be found in “the cooperation, the transaction, between the human and the divine.”
We humans are born into a world that is imperfect; our task is to leave the world a better place than the one we were born into. We are to make a difference through our interactions with others - both known and not yet met. We face the injustices in our world – both to people and to the planet – in the best ways that we can and strive to make a difference for ourselves and for others. We do recognize that we will fail at times but that we will learn from our failures and continue onto our next challenge. This is what our parsha asks when it says, “And now, O Israel, what does your God Adonai Elochecha demand of you?”
When our parsha asks “And now, O Israel, what does your God/ Adonai Elochecha demand of you? Rabbi Schulweis offers an answer, “We can use the memory and energies in [ourselves] and [our] community to lift up those who are bowed down, to mend the torn fabric of the universe, to comfort the bereaved and to lift up those who are fallen.” Elohim and Adonai. Accept and transform.”
Rabbah Arlene Berger is a rabbi of Hevrat Shalom Congregation in Rockville, MD and a community chaplain.
*This dvar was originally published on 8/18/22 in the Washington Jewish Week