Ra’anana Community Kollel
Children or Servants?

Rabbi Dovid Horwitz

The Jewish people share a unique dual relationship with Hashem. The Torah refers to us in Parshat Re’eh as the “children of G-d”, while it refers to us in Parshat Behar as the “servants of G-d.” The Rosh Hashana liturgy mentions both aspects in an attempt to arouse Divine mercy. “If we are as children, have mercy upon us as a parent to his children. If we are as servants, our eyes are turned toward You until You favor us and bring forth our judgment as the light.”

The Gemara in Bava Batra 10 asks when are we likened to children and when to servants. The answer the Gemara gives is quite astonishing. We are as children to G-d when we do the will of G-d. We are as servants to G-d when we do not perform the will of G-d.

This answer seems the exact opposite of logic. A servant can only be considered a servant if the servant is loyal and performs the master’s will. Once one rebels and throws off the master’s yoke, one is no longer a servant. A son or daughter, however, retains his or her status whether he or she performs the parent’s will or rebels against the parent. The parent-child relationship can never be destroyed so long as both are alive, no matter how far the child has strayed. If so, the Gemara should state that we are like servants when we perform Hashem’s will and we are like children even when we don’t perform Hashem’s will.

Because the Gemara does not offer this distinction, we must conclude that the servant who fails to perform the will of G-d is not rebelling by committing transgressions. If so, the person wouldn’t be considered a servant either. Rather this is a person who is fulfilling the exact letter of the law but is not doing the “will of G-d.” Let us explain this idea with the following story.

A man walks into a very busy hardware store and sees that there are not enough employees to adequately service the customers. He notices two workers that are exceptional. One worker is sitting quietly in the back of the store doing paper work and seems to be totally disinterested with helping out with the customers. Another worker, who seems too young to be an official employee, is running around doing many different tasks to offer better service to the customers. The onlooker is amazed that the official worker is doing nothing to alleviate the store owner’s predicament, yet the younger unofficial worker is truly there for the storeowner. He then discovers that the official worker is nothing more than a paid employee who has been hired as a bookkeeper. The employee is not interested in doing any task other than what he was hired to do. Therefore, he sits in the back of the store doing his bookkeeping, oblivious to the pandemonium around him. The young man who is running here and there is the store owner’s son. He does not need to be a paid employee to put in a helping hand. His desire to bring his father pleasure and to make him happy is what drives his actions.

This is the difference between the servant of G-d and the son or daughter of
G-d. The servant will adhere to strict halachic standards but will not do anything more than is required of him or her. He or she might be doing the command of G-d, but could be falling short of doing the will of G-d. In other words, this person is fulfilling a religious duty because of a command to do so. Such a person does not seek to bring pleasure to G-d with his actions. The child of G-d will look to make G-d happy with him or her. The child might take on more than is technically required if the child knows that his or her actions will bring G-d pleasure.

There are many areas in Jewish life that might not be considered requirements according to halachah, yet going the extra mile for G-d is what will characterize us as G-d’s children. Perhaps this is why the Shulchan Aruch writes that it is customary to be more stringent and go beyond the letter of the law during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We want to come to G-d as children and not as servants. The chance of evoking Divine mercy is more easily accomplished when we come as the children of G-d - because even if we are not perfect and we let G-d down, as our Parent, Hashem will always bring us back. 

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