No less than four times does the Torah enjoin the people of Israel to be an עם סגלה - literally a people of the Segol. The last three are found in Devarim with the initial post found in our parasha prior to the giving of the commandments at Har Sinai (19:5) "If you obey me and keep my covenant, and you will be established on my behalf as a Segol among the nations."
What is the Segol? It is usually translated as special or treasured. Curiously though it is also the term used for one of the vowels in the Hebrew alphabet depicted by three dots. One on the right; one on the left; and the third in the center below. It is in this context that we will explain the Divine message to be an Am Segol.
Three Dots - Three Columns
In our mystical tradition the right side represents giving and beneficence while the left side represents receiving with the center representing a balance of these forces. So in this context the Divine message is that we are to be a people who are to establish these three columns.
Initially there are only Two Columns of Creation
In terms of the divine-human relationship, we basically find only the forces of the right and left columns. Our sages describe the Will of the Creator as a (right column) force associated with a desire to give. As it is written in Tehillim 145 - טוב ה׳ לכל - Hashem is good to all. There is also the (left column) force of humanity associated with our desire to receive. We will explain that the thought of creation necessitates the receivers or the left column representatives not to remain passive but rather to actively establish a third column. If not, creation will remain lacking its essential element.
Creation Demands the Establishment of a Third Column
Let us look at the Segol in terms of our relationship with the Creator and his thought of creation. The sages teach that the purpose of creation was for humanity (represented here as the left column) to receive all the goodness that the Creator (represented by the right column) desired to share. As we will see this can only be accomplished through our establishment of a center column. The Creator realized that he cannot simply put humanity directly into a dimension where we can just bask in the glory and splendor of his light. The Ramhal explains why two columns alone would not suffice.
Namely, the consequence of receiving directly something that is not earned results in the bread of Shame for the receiver. The only way to efface this is to place humanity into a situation that we can labor for a lifetime in divine service. This means that creation cannot be limited to two columns. A third column must be established via one's divine service whereby the receiver can accept the good without a feeling of shame. This divine service is associated with the establishment of the central column.
A Parable - How the Receivers can Establish the Third Column
A very wealthy man with countless servants sits down alone to eat a delicious meal in a huge dining room. He peers out his window and sees a poor man who seems to be in need of a good meal. The wealthy man invites the poor one in to partake of this meal. The poor man refuses gently indicating that he really doesn't need the assistance of the wealthy benefactor.
Knowing well that the poor man is in need of a meal nonetheless and having a desire to do good he repeatedly insists that the poor man accept his offer. The poor man although desirous of this meal refuses because of the innate feeling of "The bread of shame". After numerous requests the poor man finally agrees to the advances thereby giving tremendous pleasure to the wealthy man. Hence the poor man by receiving is actually giving tremendous pleasure to the wealthy benefactor (R. Ashlag). The process just described is what is conveyed in the Leshem Yihud formula prior to the fulfillment of a misvah when one declares that with the performance of this misvah, we are bringing pleasure to the Creator.
One asserts the following : I am drawing down the light and I want to receive the light not for the sake of reward in this world and not even for the sake of reward in the world to come! But rather because it is your will that I become a proper vessel to receive your abundant good that you desire to share with me! This is the apex of perfection for the created being. In summary, the poor man (humanity) establishes the third column by restricting his desire to draw in for selfish reasons. He desires to receive from the wealthy benefactor (Creator) simply to allow him to fulfill his desire to share.
Abraham at the Akeda - An Initial Lesson
Abraham, as the embodiment of giving and benevolence (right column) was commanded to sacrifice Yishak (left column). Abraham initially understood this to mean, that the concept of the left column or receiving must be sacrificed. His thoughts being that it must be that the Creator does not want two columns but rather only a single right column associated with giving. Abraham proceeds to bind Yishak, but was told to halt before killing him. He was thereby taught that the aspect of reception (left column) must not be cut off completely, but must be controlled and tempered.
Immediately we are told that Rivka is born - to wed Yishak; All to bring about Yaakov or the embodiment of the center column and the balancing force of the patriarchs. Abraham was taught that receiving is holy when restricted; resulting in establishing the third column of balance.
Torah is the Divine Document that Proscribes how to Establish the Segol
We noted that the Torah reminds us of our task to establish the Segol prior to Matan Torah. The misvot Aseh will be the tools to draw down the divine light from the right column, the misvot lo ta'aseh will often reflect the rules on restricting the left column thereby creating the balance or middle column. We are often reminded through the words of our Sages of this triad; whether it be the three pillars that the world stands on; the three categories of Kohen, Levi and Yisrael or the three patriarchs noted earlier.
How do we take on the roll as members of the people of the Segol? Well, it depends in relation to whom and what. In our role as receivers of the blessings of the Creator, we must try to achieve the level where we can claim that we want to receive from him simply to fulfill his will to give. When our desires are aroused to receive from others, we must restrict ourselves according to the dictates of halakha.
A simple example is of a glass of water (right column) standing before me. I being thirsty (left column) desire to drink it. Halakha dictates that I do not drink until I restrict and control my desire by stopping to make a berakha of Shehakol. This is the way to establish the central column or middle dot and merit to be an integral part of the people of the Segol.