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HaShem teaches us to serve Him (Shemot 23:25), because we're His servants (Vayikra 25:42, 25:55), HaShem also teaches that we're His children (Devarim 14:1).

There is a long explanation about these verses in the Zohar (volume 6, 75-85), but I don't understand them.

So could someone please explain to me what it means to be both servants and children of HaShem (according to the Zohar)

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    אם כבנים רחמנו כרחם אב על בנים ואם כעבדים ...
    – kouty
    Aug 3, 2016 at 10:16
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    the relationship is multifaceted and goes beyond those 2 choices myorthodoxlife.com/p/198/…
    – rosends
    Aug 3, 2016 at 11:39
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    אבינו מלכנו. Is He our Father or our King? Yes.
    – DonielF
    Aug 3, 2016 at 14:11
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    our relationship with Gd is not single faceted. There are many different parables that are used to bring out a different aspect of this relationship
    – Dude
    Aug 4, 2016 at 21:24
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    You specifically want the Zohar's interpretation, or is the Gemara's interpretation fine? May 2, 2017 at 2:58

5 Answers 5

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I once read about fear (awe) and love as two pillars of faith. Our relationship with the Eternal is like a love affair. A person does not transgress (maintain the prohibitions) for fear of hurting the other, for fear of disappointing the other, for fear of breaking the contract that has been drawn up together, for fear of breaking the relationship, etc. But a person keeps his obligations (the commandments) out of unconditional love for the other, he does things not for himself or because they have to, but to show his love, because he likes to satisfy the other and wants to show that he is to give shape to his marriage vows.

So likewise fear (awe,respect) is what a slave should have, while a child should have love.

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  • Beautiful, thank you!
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Oct 7, 2022 at 12:37
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If you are at home in Hebrew, the fifth chabad rebbe has a 25 or so page discussion on the differences between a son and a servant (based on the arizal’s kabalistic interpretation of the Zohar like all chabad chassidut). It starts here, bottom paragraph:

http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=31623&st=&pgnum=319

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    @Eliyahu-Shmuel you wrote "We are children of God ...on the other hand we are committed to do what it says. We see how He loves us ...because we are his sons, and on the other hand, we see that it also requires us to work it." This sounds like the part of Hashem loving is the part we are sons, and the commitment to obey Him is the servant part. Doesn't a son also have to obey his father? Why only a servant? Jun 28, 2018 at 12:06
  • @RibbisRabbiAndMore according to the Chabad teachings based on Zohar, this is not the point. The point is that with a Father/son, it is a natural (so to speak) relationship, but with servant/Master, it is a chosen relationship. A chosen relationship is a marriage, and of course, husband and wife serve eachother devotedly as much as a Father/son. Just the character of the relationship is different. In a marriage, you give your entire self to your spouse, b'misiras nefesh. It's much deeper than Father/son, where your self is automatically bound with your Father.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Oct 7, 2022 at 12:37
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The answer (in very short): Each one of the two - serving hashem like a son or slave - has an advantage and a disadvantage.

The advantage of serving hashem like a slave is that the reason, motive and drive for why I am seving has nothing to do with me rather only because this is what hashem wants. However the disadvantage of it is that only my actions (my external self) are serving hashem, but my intelect and feelings (my inner self) isn't, because I put my (inner) self aside.

By serving hashem like a son it is exactly the opposite, the advantage is that I understand and feel for what hashem wants (just like the relationship between a son and a father) and my entire-inner self is serving hashem. However the disadvantage is that my reason, motive and drive to serve hashem is because I understand and I feel ETC.

Based off this when it comes to serving hashem one wants both advantages, that his reason, motive and drive is like a slave to serve because hashem wants him to, and for the same reason to understand it and feel for it (for after all hashem wants our enitre-inner self to also serve him).

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  • This is the idea of נעשה ונשמע, that the gemara says the yidden received two crowns for prioritiesing נעשה to נשמע. Which the explanation is that because they excepted עול מלכות שמים not only because of נשמע (serving hashem like a son) or not even because of נעשה alone (serving hashem like a slave), rather they received the crowns of serving hashem with נעשה prioritiesed to נשמע, as explained in the answer above.
    – user24005
    Sep 7, 2022 at 2:07
  • According to this ma'amer by the Lubavitcher Rebbe youtube.com/watch?v=zWdkCVrMEbc, the eved relationship is the same as the marriage relationship i.e. it is to do with our chosenness (Father/son is not a choice so to speak), and therefore if we choose Hashem too, then this is the highest relationship where our complete penimi is able to serve Hashem b'misiras nefesh.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Oct 7, 2022 at 12:34
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אם כבנים רחמנו כרחם אב על בנים ואם כעבדים, עינינו לך תלויות, עד שתחננו ותוציא לאור משפטנו There is a party where we are slaves of God and we party of his sons. Because we are talking about things in a spiritual sense it does not contradict their It's not like in reality. We are children of God and He has chosen us from all the nations on the other hand we are committed to do what it says. We see how He loves us and watching over us because we are his sons, and on the other hand, we see that it also requires us to work it.

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    The OP was specifically looking for a discussion of the Zohar.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 2, 2016 at 22:40
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According to the ma'amer of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in this video as explained by R' Manis Friedman shlita (one of our best teachers of hashkafa!), which is certainly based with the entire Zohar and Arizal's teachings in mind, is that we are both.

We are more Hashem's children than our children are our own (because in Kaballah, a child originates from the Sechel of the parents, see Tanya Ch.2). This puts us in an "automatic" or "natural" (so to speak) connection with Hashem. This makes it a more superficial relationship, but is nonetheless true and important. We enjoy the natural love of a Parent and child, the sense of home and belonging, and the immense Rachamim that comes from a Father for His first born son (note, of course, all humans are Hashem's children, not just Jews).

However, Hashem also chose us, using His supreme Ratzon and Bechiras Chofshis, which means that Hashem Himself, b'Etzem, with His entire Self, chose to become ours (Anochi Hashem Elokecha), and we are to choose to be His too. This is the servant-Master relationship (in a marriage, each spouse should view the other as the object of their entire devotion and service, their master). This is a relationship of pure mesiras nefesh, I am for you (not Myself)*, you are for Me (not yourself). Everything I am is yours. So this is the marriage relationship between Hashem and His people. It is much deeper and shalem.

I just want to dwell for a moment on the importance of Ratzon (and may I recommend this ma'amer shiur for more info). When we make a choice using our Ratzon, what are we doing? Assuming this is a true, bechiras chofshis choice, it means that we are identifying our complete self with the choice we make. This is what the deepest realest most essential and complete true me wants, all of me, and what I want is basically the highest most complete expression of who I really am. So this choice is me, and therefore I blur the line between me and Hashem and we can become truly One. (This is what Hashem wants our marriages to look like by the way!)

So the servant Master relationship is the most important one, the one that takes the hardest work, is the most fiery and passionate and complete, and will take us to our true destination and purpose. Until then, don't worry, you are also Hashem's child so even when things get intense in the more important relationship you have with Him, He will never abandon us and will always have infinite Rachamim for us.

* I believe this is what the Ramchal means when he says in Derech Hashem 1:2:1: הנה התכלית בבריאה היה להטיב מטובו ית׳‎ לזולתו i.e. that Hashem wanted to do good, from Himself (give Himself) to another. He wants to devote Himself to His kallah (Yisrael), that's why He created the world, and of course, our job is to complete that relationship and devote our entire selves to Him! I don't have a source that this is what the Ramchal means himself, but it is a concept in chassidus that would fit well with those words.

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