There are two ways to serve Hashem as hinted to in the prayers on Rosh HaShana:
“If like children… if like servants…”
A child doesn’t have to do anything to get this designation. When it comes to Hashem, he merely needs to acknowledge the fact that he is a child:
“I’m Your child; You’re my Tatti”
We all are meant to serve Hashem in both ways. But, which way we approach Him depends on the situation we find ourselves in.
Whether We are Up… Whether We are Down
The whole world runs according to cycles of ups and downs. Moments of growth and expansion, followed by moments of contraction, followed once again by growth and expansion, and so on.
So too, in our personal lives there are moments when we are feeling up: times when we have a higher level of clarity, energy, confidence, joy and determination. We feel more open and alive.
Then there are the moments when we are feeling down: times when we feel we have less energy and less resolve. We are reflective, or sometimes, confused; we feel closed, small, weak, insignificant.
Sometimes, in the face of a nisayon or adversity, we fail to respond in a positive way. Though the failure may be difficult to bear, it’s often the ensuing struggle to find our way back to firm ground that is even harder. It’s at such times we can approach Hashem as His children.
In the last possuk in perek 119, Dovid HaMelech declares:
תָּעִיתִי כְּשֶׂה אֹבֵד, בַּקֵּשׁ עַבְדֶּךָ
כִּי מִצְוֺתֶיךָ לֹא שָׁכָחְתִּי
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant;
for I have not forgotten Your commandments
Rav Dessler brings a mashal about the spiritual progress and development of a tzaddik versus a baal teshuva that can help us to better understand what it means to serve Hashem like a child.
The tzaddik advances in his service of Hashem bit by bit, like climbing the rungs of a ladder. The baal teshuva on the other hand is like a cripple who doesn’t have the arms and legs with which to climb. From his lowly place, watching the raging waters rise up from below, he cries out for help. At that point, Hashem comes and raises him up to great heights.
There’s an idea in this mashal that isn’t always emphasized…
The baal teshuva cried out for assistance, and Hashem came to lift him up. It was Hashem who brought him to his current level; he couldn’t do it himself.
The truth is, though, that the tzaddik goes through the exact same process, too. As it says:
כִּ֣י אָדָ֔ם אֵ֥ין צַדִּ֖יק בָּאָ֑רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַעֲשֶׂה־טּ֖וֹב וְלֹ֥א יֶחֱטָֽא׃
For a man is not righteous on earth that he does good and never sins
כִּ֤י שֶׁ֨בַע יִפּ֣וֹל צַדִּ֣יק וָקָ֑ם
A tzaddik falls seven times and rises…
Even a tzaddik will reach a point where he recognizes that he can’t go further, and he needs to pray to Hashem for Divine mercy. Hashem then raises him up to the next rung of the ladder.
The tzaddik himself cannot move unless Hashem helps him to get there. The difference between the tzaddik and the baal teshuva is that Hashem’s assistance is hidden by the fact that the tzaddik is doing so much work.
This is the explanation of “In a place where a ba’al teshuva stands, even a perfect tzaddik can’t stand.”
Hashem’s involvement and Divine mercy is much more revealed with the baal teshuva, than it is with the tzaddik. BUT, at the end of the day, both of them really need assistance.
The point is, our ability to grow and change for the better is in Hashem’s Hands. We need to do our part, to yearn, daven and do histadlus according to our level, but whether or not we succeed is not in our hands…
Back to our possuk:
תָּעִיתִי כְּשֶׂה אֹבֵד
I have gone astray like a lost sheep…
A sheep is a follower…
Negative thoughts, desires or behaviors can be so overwhelming that we can feel powerless to overcome them
I’ve been pulled away and I have no energy to return. I feel stuck, confused, afraid…
You, Yourself, come search for me, Your servant, and bring me back, because….
כִּי מִצְוֺתֶיךָ, לֹא שָׁכָחְתִּי
I know You exist, I haven’t forgotten You or Your commandments and I know You want me to succeed because I am also Your child
Please, help me to return.
After making the effort to call out to Hashem, then it’s the time to wait.
יֵשֵׁ֤ב בָּדָד֙ וְיִדֹּ֔ם כִּ֥י נָטַ֖ל עָלָֽיו
Sit alone and be still because
it depends on [Hashem]
Have emunah in the fact that you created an opening for Hashem to help you.
When teshuva is up to us, then it’s contained by our own limitations. But when it’s up to Hashem, then those limitations disappear… Hashem is Ein Sof, boundless! No matter where we are or how many times we fall, Hashem is our Father in Heaven. When we sincerely cry out to Him in search of Divine Mercy, He will turn to us, love us as His children, and help us to move forward.
This then is the fundamental approach to serving Hashem when we are in a “down,” but how do we approach Hashem when we are in an “Up”?
When things are clear and we are feeling empowered, that is the time for action. We become more like servants seeking to serve Hashem and strengthen ourselves in any way that we can so we have emunah during the down times.
In Sefer Tehillim, perek 27, Dovid HaMelech proclaims:
לְךָ, אָמַר לִבִּי—בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָי;
אֶת–פָּנֶיךָ יְהוָה אֲבַקֵּשׁ
On Your account, says my heart,
“Seek My Face” Your Face Hashem I will seek
Seeking Hashem’s Face means on one hand looking for His Hashgacha in your life, seeing the chesod that surrounds you, building your Torah knowledge and doing mitvos. It also includes learning and strengthening yourself in fundamental concepts of emunah and bitachon.
On the other hand, seeking Hashem’s Face means getting touch with yourself and your Chelek Elokah Mimal, the unique Divine Spark that resides in every Jew, as well as your personal tafkid in the world and the blocks that stand in the way of that tafkid.
When we do this then we have the capacity to connect to Hashem in every instance or circumstance.
אִם אֶסַּק שָׁמַיִם, שָׁם אָתָּה
וְאַצִּיעָה שְּׁאוֹל הִנֶּךָּ
If I ascend up into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in the nether-world,
behold, You are there.
And when we are connected to Hashem, that’s when we create a cli, a vessel, for Hashem to send us all the kinds of brocha that there are in the world. When we actively put our burdens on Hashem and pray for Divine Mercy, then we will increase our peace, joy and happiness “if like children… if like servants…