Monday, March 16, 2009

T'fillah#2- defining Avoda

The core of the issue seems to lie in the nature of Avoda- what is Avoda?

On the one hand, Avoda seems to cover all the Mitzvot, on the hand it seems to be T'filla and Talmud Torah, how are we to understand this?

Avoda, from the root avd refers to service, most completely the service of a slave. What characterizes service is the relationship between the identity of the actor, and the idea or "good" pursued by this actor. A sovereign actor implements an idea or good intrinsic to himself. A servile act results from an idea or good higher than oneself.

In this sense, service is intrinsic to the minds ahava of ultimate grandeur of Chochmas Hashem and every actor in Creation, serves Hashem. Insofar as a mind grasps the eternal beauty of Chochmas hashem, it formulates its identity as a mind in an ahava whose reference is to this Chochma and acts for the sake of better knowing this idea and apprehension. Insofar as this idea is greater than oneself, acting on the basis of ahava is a service, it implements an ideal greater than itself.

The irony is, that the beneficiary of this action is still oneself. When one acts on the basis of ahava, Hashem and his wisdom are not benefitted in any way. The mind is the only beneficiary. We best benefit ourselves, when our ahava for the universal Chochma causes us to be least focused upon ourselves.

This realization of the nature of Chochma causes two types of service each of which emerge from a mind whose identity or "gavra" is primarily forged via focus on a specific application of Chochma:

1) talmud- discovering how His principles of Chochma apply to everyman in every case of human circumstance conceivable- true judgement of a judge.

2) Avodah shebalev- found as one might expect in Sefer ahava- self judgement in the sense of discovering how His principles of Chochma apply not to everyman but to the self

It is in this sense that Avoda can refer simultaneously both to the entire Mitzva system as well as to Tfillah. Most properly speaking, Avoda refers to the "Halachic Man" whose life in totality is application of Chochmas Hashem through Halachic principles. However, developmentally, there is a special act by which the Gavra is forged- tefilla where one sees the Chochmas Hashem as it applies to ones own desires. Every further act of avoda will be built upon the fundamental insight of tfilla.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sunday Class March 15 2009-tfillah

The Rambam defines t'filla as Avoda. This is clear from the formulation of Mitzvat T'filla in Mishne Torah as we see in the כותרת:
א) לעבוד את ה' בתפילה בכל יום

But what exactly is the meaning of formulating a mitzva of doing Avoda by means of tefilla at a specific time? If t'filla is in reality Avoda, why not just call it mitzvat Avoda and give halachot of how and when this Avoda should be done?

This strange equation of T'filla and Avoda is only amplified in the sefer Ha-mitzvot, where Rambam, in fact, does refer to t'filla as a Mitzva of Avoda. I present this in abbreviated form

המצווה החמישית
היא הציווי שנצטווינו לעבדו יתעלה.

In the ensuing discussion Rambam shows yet a deeper problem with this equation of t'fillah and Avoda.

ונכפל הציווי הזה כמה פעמים
ואף על פי שגם הציווי הזה הוא מן הציוויים הכללים - כמו שביארנו בכלל הרביעי - הרי יש בו ייחוד, כי הוא ציווי על התפילה.

The problem with equating t'filla and Avoda is far beyond the particular nature of t'filla in isolation, it goes to the first principles of Mitzva itself. Even if we were to forget the strange equation of t'fillah and Avoda, the very idea of there being a Mitzva of Avoda at all is impossible. As Rambam points out in the fourth principle of Mitzvot, a mitzva must constitute a distinct component part of serving G. It cannot be the totality of this service. Calling T'fillah, Avoda, would seem to be a direct contradiction of this principle. Avoda is, after all, the complete service to G. How can there be a distinct Mitzvah of Avoda then?

Rambam's solution to this problem of first principles is mystifying. Though T'fillah is Avodah, it nonetheless can be a mitzvah in its own right, because of a specifying property -a ייחוד as Rambam puts it. What is the meaning of this ייחוד ? How does it address our problem?

To make matters even worse, it does not seem that t'filla is the only mitzva with the right to be called Avoda. Talmud Torah also claims this mantle. This is also brought down in the sefer ha-mitzvot:
ולשון ספרי:

"ולעבדו - זו תפלה".
ואמרו עוד: "ולעבדו - זה תלמוד