WJW All I Ask
"All that I have made, I made only for you. All that I ask of you is that you love one another, that you respect one another, and that you honor one another."
Tanna De-Bei Eliyahu Rabba 28
All that I ask of you is to get straight As, to be good to your parents, and to get a full basketball scholarship to college. Is that too much to ask?...We're all familiar with variations of the "all I ask of you" speech, which is usually a whole lot. Andrew Lloyd Webber popularized the expression with his song from The Phantom of the Opera, "Love me - that's all I ask of you."
The most famous Biblical manifestation of these thoughts we find in the book of Micha: "What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (6:8). Surely that's not asking a lot. To be just, compassionate and modest isn't a big request, is it? We find this earlier in Deuteronomy 1012: "And now, O Israel, what does the Lord ask of you? Only this: to revere the Lord your God, to walk in His paths, to love Him and to serve the Lord with all your heart and soul." That's not a big ask either.
So what do we mean when we say, "all I ask of you"? Usually there's something reciprocal that we are hinting at in the way that we use this phrase. If I do so much for you, it's hardly asking a lot to make this simple request. It may not seem demanding because the asker is aware of what he or she has given in return. If God has created us and given us life and all of the blessings that we have, perhaps it's fair that we follow God's dictates. Deuteronomy emphasizes this in our relations to God. Micha stresses this in relation to our responsibilities to other people.
I first encountered the quote above at an art festival in Jerusalem many years ago. It was written on parchment paper and set in a simple birch frame with a few dried flowers beneath it. I passed it by several times, having never heard or seen it before. The quote is from an esoteric work, Tanna De-Bei Eliyahu Rabba, the first part of a two-part work of midrash, rabbinic embellishments on the Torah, edited in roughly the 10th century. This complex document is attributed in large part to teachings of a Babylonian scholar from the third century who created a spiritual history of the world in this ancient text.
At that time, I wasn't thinking about the source of the quote as much as its meaning. I bought this small piece of art and still have it hanging as reminder of some of my heartfelt wishes as a parent. I was then a mother of very young children, and it deeply resonated with me. We give everything to our children very willingly. We do it out of love. We ask little in return but that they show love and respect for each other. And even that seems like asking too much in the throes of sibling rivalry and temper tantrums. Nothing pains a parent more than to see his or her children hurting each other. When we make the request to love each other as a way of being grateful, we think it's so easy; we don't understand why children don't comply, but they don't know that they owe us anything. It never said that in the contract.
It's not always easy to pay it forward. Perhaps the ultimate meaning of this tender expression is that we hope by loving unconditionally, by respecting others even when we disagree and by showing honor to others, we will model those qualities for our children and that when they grow-up they, too, will do that for theirs.
If it were so easy then maybe we could observe this expression in our relationship with God. God has given us so much, have we paid forward our gratitude by showing others love, respect and honor, even when we don't see things their way? It's all we're asked to do, and it's a lot. But it's not too much.
November 3, 2010; 9:09 PM ET
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