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Happiness vs. Ambition

Ladder.jpg

Happiness vs. Ambition

The art of living a good life is the art of maintaining a balance between happiness and ambition. 

Happiness and ambition, while they are both important to our physical and mental well being, are contradictory feelings that, in some cases, can undermine each other. To be happy is to be content with one’s lot, while to be ambitious one must feel that what one has is not enough. To be happy one must feel satisfied while to be ambitious one must feel hungry. To feel happiness is to feel that there is no gap between what you have and what you want, while ambition is motivated by seeing the great gap between what you have already achieved and what remains to be achieved.  

The tension between happiness and ambition, between feeling close to one’s goals and distant from them, expresses itself in many other areas of life; one example is in the realm of education.

Say I want to motivate my daughter to tackle a new subject, study a new course of learning and take a test on advanced material. There are two methods I can use to inspire her. I can tell her that the test will not be too hard for her. I can remind her of her gift of intelligence and tell her that if she puts herself to it she will be able to achieve success. What I am doing for her is narrowing the gap between the way she perceives her abilities and the goal. I am telling her that the goal is closer to her than she realizes.

Another method of inspiration would be to do the exact opposite. The second option would be to widen the gap. I would emphasize to her that the subject material is more difficult and challenging than anything she has experienced in the past. I am cautioning her not to underestimate the daunting task ahead. I am reminding her of the awesomeness of the challenge at hand. I am doing so not in order to scare her away, on the contrary, I am emphasizing the distance of the task in order to inspire her to grow beyond her comfort zone and to outperform the effort she is used to investing. I am emphasizing the distance in order to encourage her to do what it takes to grow into the person who can undertake this challenge.  

These two paths, emphasizing the closeness and emphasizing the distance, were the two paths of our patriarchs, Abraham and Isaac.

Abraham embodied love. He taught people to develop a love for G-d. Love is only possible when someone feels a degree of closeness to the beloved. Abraham taught people to see that G-d loves them, to feel his closeness and to be inspired by the bond between the creator and his creation. Abraham taught people to rejoice and celebrate in their relationship with G-d.

Isaac embodied the attribute of awe. Isaac felt the intense unbridgeable gap between the finite creation and the infinite G-d. Isaac felt acutely that no matter how much one achieves, no matter how high one climbs on the ladder of holiness, he is still insignificant compared to the infinite. Isaac perceived the distance that exists between man and his creator. Yet the perception of distance encouraged not a feeling of sadness but rather a feeling of ambition. Feeling the distance encouraged the person to keep evolving and growing in their spiritual journey.

Which path is the right path?

To survive in this world we need both happiness and ambition. To enjoy a healthy relationship with G-d we need to experience both love and awe. We need to feel the comfort of G-d’s embrace as well as the ambition to keep climbing, to escape the finite and cling to the infinite.

To be a healthy Jew we must embody both the attribute of Abraham as well as the attribute of Isaac. We need to be spiritually happy and at the same time spiritually ambitious. 

Abraham the Landowner

Chevron.jpgAbraham the Landowner 

The first recorded real estate deal negotiated by a Jew appears in this week’s Torah portion, when Abraham sought to purchase a piece of land in order to bury his beloved wife Sarah.

What emerges from the transcript of the conversation between Abraham and the sellers, the children of Chet, is that the children of Chet had enormous respect for Abraham, they refer to him as “a prince of G-d”, they were happy to allow him to bury Sarah anywhere he would chose, including in the “the choicest of our graves”. Yet, while they were happy to gift the land to Abraham they were reluctant to sell any real estate to him. As the Torah relates:

And the sons of Chet answered Abraham, saying to him, "Listen to us, my lord; you are a prince of God in our midst; in the choicest of our graves bury your dead. None of us will withhold his grave from you to bury your dead."

Indeed, when Abraham identified the piece of land he wanted to purchase, the cave of Machpela, situated in the field of a man by the name of Ephron, the same attitude prevailed: Ephron did not want to sell the land, instead he offered to gift the field to Abraham free of charge. Only after Abraham insisted that he wanted to pay the full price did Ephron agree to sell the land for an astronomical sum.  

Why were the children of Chet and Ephron reluctant to sell to Abraham? Was it just a negotiating tactic to extract a higher price for the desired field?

Nachmanides, the great 13th century Biblical commentary, explains that the sale of the land to Abraham was a political statement, because, in that culture, owning a plot of land for burial was a symbol of permanent residence. The children of Chet considered owning a plot for burial to be a symbol of deep rooted connection to the land, they therefore would grant any sojourner an individual place for burial, but would only sell a burial plot to members of their own tribe. Thus selling land to Abraham for burial was an acknowledgement that the connection of Abraham and his family to the land was deep as well as eternal.

Like every story in the Torah, this story too has multiple layers. In addition to the political interpretation offered by Nachmanides there is also a philosophical interpretation which explains the reluctance of the children of Chet to sell land to Abraham, specifically because of the high esteem in which they held Abraham. 

The children of Chet had great respect for Abraham, and understood that he was a deeply spiritual person, who believed in, and was completely devoted to, an intangible, infinite G-d. They referred to him as “prince of G-d”, they were privileged to honor him and allow him to use any piece of land he desired. Yet they did not think it befitting for Abraham to actually own the land, because a title holder was granted the right to voice an opinion and have a vote on matters relevant to the local economy and everyday life. The children of Chet strongly believed that someone as intensely spiritual as Abraham should remain in the world of abstract ideas and not get involved in the tangible details of daily life and the local economy.   

Abraham insisted otherwise and he eventually persuaded the children of Chet to agree with him. Abraham explained to them that the sacred is not reserved for the house of worship, that holiness is not exclusive to the realm of ideas. Abraham taught that the calling of a Jew is to bring heaven down to earth, to infuse every aspect of life with spirituality. Abraham taught that a Jew must be a “landowner”. He or she must take ownership of the tangible earth and sanctify it with holiness and meaning. 

Too Much Testing?

test.jpgToo Much Testing?

The life of Abraham, the first Jew, seems to be a series of tests; indeed the Mishnah[1] states: “With ten tests our father Abraham was tested and he withstood them all”. Abraham’s tests culminated, at the conclusion of this week’s Torah portion, with the binding of Isaac. As the Torah says: 

And it came to pass after these things, that G-d tested Abraham, and He said to him, "Abraham," and he said, "Here I am." And He said, "Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, yea, Isaac, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you."

Why was Abraham continuously tested?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of the word “test” is: 

a means of testing: such as

(1) :something (such as a series of questions or exercises) for measuring the skill, knowledge, intelligence, capacities, or aptitudes of an individual or group

(2) :a procedure, reaction, or reagent used to identify or characterize a substance or constituent

A conventional test, then, is a means of learning something about the person or object being tested. Presumably G-d, the knower of all things, knew the magnitude of love and the depth of commitment in Abraham’s heart, why then did G-d need to test Abraham?     

The answer lies within the multiple meanings of the single Hebrew word “Nes”, which is the root of the word “Nisayon”, the Hebrew word for test.

The Hebrew word for test, Nes, has more than one meaning. A “Nes” also means a banner, as in the verse “I will raise my banner”[2]. A test, then, includes more than measuring the qualities of the subject of the test. A test is also raising a banner, displaying and showing the world, the amazing qualities of the one being tested. Thus, the second meaning of the word “Nes”, the root word for test, informs us that G-d tested Abraham in order to display to all the world Abraham’s great commitment to G-d.

There is, however, another layer of depth in a test.

In addition to “test” and “raising a banner”, the word “Nes” has one more meaning: “Nes” is also a miracle. What possible connection can there be between a test and a miracle?

There are two words for “test” in Hebrew: “Bechinah” and “Nisayon”. “Bechinah” is used for tests such as those offered in school, where the test is designed to determine how much the student knows. “Bechinah”, then, gives insight into the ability of the student. “Nisayon” on the other hand, the second form of test, shares the same root word as miracle, because the purpose of this form of test is not to determine the ability of the person being tested, but rather it is to see if the test itself, the obstacle and struggle, could propel the person to grow beyond his or her natural ability. The test offers an opportunity for the person to perform a miracle, to achieve that which was thought to be impossible and to grow into something greater.[3]

As a wise man[4] once said: ordinary teachers test students to find out what they know, excellent teachers test students so that the students will discover not only how much they know but also what they can become.  

The test of Abraham then was not merely a test to measure his commitment to G-d (“Nisayon” as in test), and not only to demonstrate his commitment to G-d to the world (“Nisayon” as in raising a banner) but, most importantly, it was a test to allow Abraham to break out of his own personality constraints, and become something he never thought possible (“Nisayon” as in miracle).

The story of Abraham’s test is the story of the journey of each and every soul. The Kabbalists teach that the soul’s descent from it’s place in the tranquility of heaven to the chaos here on earth, is, first and foremost, a test for the soul. The descent is designed to test the soul, to see how strong its connection is to G-d, to see whether the soul remains true to itself in the face of tremendous challenge and temptation, to see whether or not the soul has what it takes to overcome the spiritual darkness of the world and transform it to light.  

Yet, just as with the test of Abraham, the test of the soul is not merely for the purpose of discovering the existing properties of the soul. The descent into this world is the soul's opportunity to experience the miracle. The test that the descent presents, raises the banner and demonstrates to the soul and to the world, that by being presented with and then overcoming the obstacles and darkness of the world, one can achieve the miracle of exponential spiritual growth, On this earth, one can achieve a bond with G-d that is far greater, far deeper, and far more profound than is possible when the soul is in heaven.   

 


[1] Avos 5:3.  

[2] Isaiah 29:22.

[3] See Malbim on Genesis 22:1.

[4] My dear friend, Rabbi Levi Mendelow of Chabad of New Canaan, CT. 

Self Discovery

Lech.jpgSelf Discovery

Say you call your friend and ask him to go somewhere. The most important piece of information you must convey is the destination where he is to go.

Yet that is not what happened when G-d spoke, for the very first time, to Abraham, the very first Jew. G-d told Abraham to “go forth”. G-d elaborated on the place from which Abraham would depart, but said nothing about the place where Abraham would travel to. As the opening verse of this week’s Torah portion relates:

And the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you.[1]

Why, at this point in the story, did G-d not reveal the destination?

To understand why the focus is on the point of departure rather than on the destination, we must first contemplate the nature of the commandment to Abraham to “go forth”. G-d did not simply ask Abraham to move and change his place of residence. G-d was defining for Abraham the story of his life as well as the story of the people Abraham was about to father. To be a Jew, to be in touch with the message of Monotheism which Abraham was preaching, is to heed the call to “go forth to you”.

Each of us, including Abraham, define ourselves in certain ways. We know our strengths but we also know our limitations. We tell ourselves stories. We tell ourselves what we can and what we cannot accomplish, what we should strive for and what we should dare not dream of. These stories are influenced by our surroundings.[2] Consciously or subconsciously, much of the way we view ourselves is based on the feedback from our surroundings. Society tells us certain things about ourselves, the people in our neighborhood, our teachers, our school principals, the bank manager, and most importantly our parents, all influence how we see ourselves and how we self define.

The first thing Abraham needed to know was that his potential was limitless. At his very core lay a spark of the infinite G-d. If Abraham would see past the natural order, If he would break free of real and perceived limitation, then he would touch his inner core, tap into his essence, and would be able to achieve what, until then, was deemed impossible. He would be able to go beyond his own nature, to be completely devoted and in love, to stand firm against tremendous odds, and to break free of the bonds of his own personality, perceptions and fears.

Thus, G-d tells Abraham that, in order to reach greatness, he must break free of old patterns of thought, he must journey away from the constraints imposed by his mind and heart, and of the influence of the people around him. He must first[3] leave “his land”, the influence of the broader society, and then leave the influence of his town, and finally, he must reject the limitations imposed by his close family. Instead he must travel to”the land that I will show you”.

The “you” in “the land that I will show you”, refers not only to the land but also to Abraham himself. Translated literally, the verse can also read “the land where you will be shown”, the place where your essence will be revealed. When Abraham packed his bags and left his native land, when he left behind the notions of the superiority of nature that prevailed in his father's home, he would reach “the land where I will show you”. He would discover his true self, which is a spark of the infinite G-d. Thus, the destination of the journey remained unstated, for any description is a limitation, and the entire point of the commandment was that Abraham must leave the notion that he, and what he was capable of, was limited. He needed to understand that the true self is undefined because it is limitless.

Over the next two portions of the Torah the story of Abraham highlights the message of “go forth to yourself” - begin the journey of self exploration and discover the true “you”. Time and again, Abraham was challenged. Time and again he was tested. Time and again he discovered that he could rise above the challenge, go beyond the instincts of his personality, and achieve greatness.

This, in one sentence, is the story of the Jewish people, a people whose very existence is a miracle. A people tasked by the calling to “go forth to yourself”, to journey forth and to discover the true “you” the infinity within each and every one of us. A people who no matter the difficulties they faced, defied the odds, they continue to thrive, with their faith and teachings intact, a people who heed the call to Abraham, and believe in achieving the impossible. For they are the people of Abraham, heeding the call to Abraham to journey to the land. A land that cannot be defined, only experienced.

They are on a journey “to the land that I will show you”, where the true “you” will be revealed.[4]

 



[1] Genesis 12:1. 

[2] See Maor Vashemeh on Lech Licha.

[3] Another difficulty in the verse is the order in which G-d describes the place from where Abraham must depart: “from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house”. Seemingly, the order should have been reversed, for one must leave their father's home and birthplace before on can leave their land (it would seem illogical to say, for example, “leave the United States, then leave your city, and then leave your home”)? The answer is that the verse describes the order of difficulty, it is hardest to leave the influence of those closest to us.

[4] Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, Parshas Lech Licha 5749. 

Be Fruitful

Noah.jpgBe Fruitful

Something went terribly wrong.

The beautiful, pristine world we read about in the beginning of Genesis had turned corrupt. G-d decided to hit reset and begin anew. In the second portion of the Torah, the portion of Noah, we read about the great flood and about how this time G-d falls in love with the earth again, this time, G-d sets the rainbow as a covenant that He will never again destroy the earth. 

Why? What changed? What caused G-d to decide never again to destroy the earth?

As Noah and his children stepped out of the ark, they experienced what Adam and Eve experienced when they first opened their eyes: a new world. There is a striking parallel between Adam and Eve and Noah and his wife: as Noah emerged from the ark G-d said to him “be fruitful and multiply”, just as he said those very same words to Adam and Eve as soon as they were created. 

Why were the words “be fruitful and multiply” repeated? Why was the commandment to Adam and Eve not sufficient? Why must the commandment be reiterated to Noah?

A careful comparison of the verses will reveal the mystery of the difference in the nature of the earth brought about by the flood.

When G-d created Adam and Eve the verse tells us:

And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it...”[1]

After the flood we read:

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and He said to them: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”[2]

The most important change between the words G-d spoke to Adam and Eve and the words he spoke to Noah, a change that captures the core of the story, is that while Adam as well as Noah were both told to “be fruitful and Multiply” and to “fill the earth”, Adam alone was told “conquer” the earth, yet conquest was omitted from the commandment to Noah. 

Filing the earth means more than merely increasing and spreading the human population. To “fill the earth” means to imbue the earth with holiness and spirituality, to direct all its resources and creatures toward a Divine purpose, to infuse all corners of the earth with goodness and kindness, with G-dliness and meaning. Filling the earth with a spiritual energy is something only humanity can achieve.

It the beginning of creation Man was commanded to “conquer the earth”. Conquest implies that the earth itself, the materialistic perspective, resisted the holy and the spiritual. Man was called upon to superimpose his appreciation of the Divine upon the creation and to force it to live in harmony with its creator. Ultimately, however, Man was unsuccessful. Creation turned corrupt and G-d brought the mighty waters of the flood upon the earth.

Yet the waters of the flood also possessed a purifying property. When the water receded and Noah emerged from the ark, he stepped into a purified world. This time, G-d commanded humanity to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” This time there was no mention of conquest. Because, after the flood, the earth needed not to be forced but rather to be educated, not to be broken but rather to be redirected. After the flood waters covered the earth, the earth was no longer an enemy that, in extreme circumstances, needed to be destroyed. Now, post flood, the earth itself, intuitively, yearns for meaning. The earth itself longs to reunite with its creator.

Our task is to reveal the innate goodness within the world.[3] 

 


[1] Genesis 1:28.

[2] Ibid. 9:1.

[3] Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, Shabbos Parshas Noach 5751. 

Peeling the Fruit

FT.jpgPeeling the Fruit  

If you had to choose one word that would describe all negativity in this world, if you had had to choose a word with which to capture the heart and soul of evil, which word would you choose?

These are some of the synonyms for the word evil suggested by the thesaurus:

wicked, bad, wrong, immoral, sinful, foul, vile, dishonorable, corrupt, iniquitous, depraved, reprobate, villainous, nefarious, vicious, malicious.

The word the kabbalah uses to describe all negative energy, all unholiness in the universe is, surprisingly, a neutral word, a word that does not evoke a strong image of evil. The Kabbalah refers to all evil with the innocent sounding word “Kelipah”, which is the Hebrew word for a peel.

The metaphor of a peel captures all we need to know about the unholy: its origin, its purpose, the challenges it presents and ultimately the way to deal with it.

Where does all evil come from? There were many who believed that evil could not possibly come from G-d. Since G-d is good, they argued, all evil must therefore come from Satan, from a power independent from, and contradictory to, G-d. Judaism fiercely rejects this explanation. The most fundamental premise of Judaism is that “Hashem Echad”, G-d is one, and there can be no force independent of G-d. Where then does evil and negativity come from?

The answer lies within the metaphor of the peel[1]. The peel, while it is not the primary part of the fruit, does serve a purpose. The peel protects the flesh of the fruit, and guards it against the elements, when man removes the peel and consumes the flesh of the fruit, both the peel and the fruit have served their purpose.

The same is true for all cosmic energy. Everything G-d created, including evil, serves a purpose. Yet there is a distinction between good and evil: the purpose of good is intrinsic, while the purpose of evil is to benefit the good. The purpose of evil is to enable the human being to choose good from evil; choosing the good, consuming the fruit, and removing the peel, rejecting the evil.

Within the realm of the unholy itself there are generally two categories. The evil and negativity that must be rejected outright, and the negative energy which could become positive if used to serve the holy.

This sheds light onto one of the earliest dramas of the bible, a story that has captured the imagination of humanity since the beginning of time: the story of the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden.

What did this mysterious tree represent? And why was its fruit so enticing to Eve?

The Torah tells us that after some conversation with the serpent, Eve perceived the beauty of the fruit:

And the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was desirable to make one wise; so she took of its fruit, and she ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.[2]

Eve perceived that there was beauty in the "peel" and therefore she desired the "peel" for its own sake. Before Eve’s conversation with the serpent all the fruit was perceived as nothing more than a tool that served the holy. Until the sin all material pleasures served as a tool for people to escape the confines of self, relate to other people and connect to the creator. The heart of the sin was that the human being perceived pleasure in materialism for its own sake. Confusing the peel for the actual fruit, the means for the end; ignoring the cosmic truth that the peel - the material - is but a tool to serve the spiritual- the actual fruit.

Each and every day we face the allure of the fruit.

The choice is ours. We can live in the tranquility of paradise or be expelled into a world of tension and chaos.

We can desire materialism for its own sake, seek the sensual with no higher purpose. We can pursue selfishness for its own sake, choose the peel and reject the fruit. The result will be conflict between people and between families, as selfish egos will inevitably clash, as well as causing inner struggle and chaos between body and soul.

We can, however, face the allure of the fruit and choose to remain in paradise. We can understand that all the material blessing in our life must be enjoyed and used as a vehicle for spiritual life, thus bringing peace between people, as well as peace to the material and spiritual drives in our personality; recreating the internal paradise, which, in turn, will spread to the rest of the world, transforming the world into the world G-d intended it to be: a world of paradise. 

 


[1] See Shalah 19b; Sefer Hamamarim 5659 p. 176. 

[2] Genesis 3:6. 

The Soul of the Day

YK.jpgThe Soul of the Day

Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, is the day of atonement, a day on which we are purified of our past mistaken deeds and attitudes, as the Torah tells us:

For on this day He shall effect atonement for you to cleanse you. Before the Lord, you shall be cleansed from all your sins. [1]

What exactly happens on Yom Kippur, and how does the cleansing come about? Is it something that we have to create or does it come from above?  

On the surface Yom Kippur seems to be a grim day. A day of confession. A day on which we face our mistakes, shortcomings, and faults and try to correct them. Yet, to focus only on sin and its correction is to miss the soul of Yom Kippur.

There are many layers to a relationship between a child and a parent. On one level the parent works hard to educate the child, to instill wisdom and compassion into the heart and mind of the child. The parent invests tremendous effort to teach the child to master skills that will eventually enable him to become an independent, healthy adult. At times, when the child excels, the parent experiences great pleasure and pride. When the child fails, when the child rejects that which he knows to be good and does something that is hurtful to the parent, the parent is pained. This is the layer of the relationship that is measured according to the effort and accomplishment of the child. At this layer, when the child makes the right choice he will receive allowance money, and when the child breaks the rules he will be deprived of the privileges reserved for those who play by the rules.

There is, however, a deeper layer to the relationship.

There is a place in the heart of both parent and child where the bond is unconditional, where the connection is unbreakable. There is a place in the heart of the parent that will love the child no matter what the child will do or say.

The soul of Yom Kippur is the celebration of the unconditional bond between G-d and the Jewish soul. The soul of Yom Kippur is discovering our essence. The place within ourselves where the connection to G-d and to holiness is unbreakable.

On Yom Kippur while we have to correct our past mistakes, while we have to work to heal the pain we caused, we understand that the mistakes and their correction do not define our relationship with G-d.

The Kabbalists teach that there are five levels of the soul. The first three correspond to conscious thoughts, feelings and actions. The fourth corresponds to will and desire, and the fifth, called Yechidah, the singular, is the essence of the soul which is always connected to the one G-d. Yom Kippur is the only day of the year on which we pray five prayers corresponding to the five levels of the soul. Through prayer, reflection and fasting we come to realize that the challenges, failings and disappointments of the past year do not define us. We discover that our true essence is a part of G-d, one with holiness and always wholesome.

The soul of Yom Kippur is the recognition that we are our soul. The soul of Yom Kippur is the child and parent realizing that despite the pain and hurt, they have an unbreakable connection. On Yom Kippur we recognize that the bond between us and and our father in heaven is unconditional. 

The soul of Yom Kippur is a celebration. It is a day when the deepest dimension of our connection to G-d is expressed. It is a celebration of the recognition that our connection to G-d is unconditional, our bond unbreakable, our relationship intrinsic.

 

  


[1] Leviticus 16:30.  

The Sound of Inspiration

images.jpgThe Sound of Inspiration  

What is the most important ingredient in a relationship? Is it love, respect, trust, commitment, understanding, fun, loyalty? What is the foundation of the connection, without which all other aspects of the relationship would collapse?

The answer, the Kabbalists explain, is desire.

I may take you out to dinner, spend time with you, discuss your favorite ideas, I may be respectful and committed to you. I may be providing you with all you would ever want in a relationship, but if you sense that I don’t want to be here, that my will is not present, that I’d prefer to be elsewhere, then you would feel rejected and the foundation of the relationship would collapse. Thus, for a relationship to exist and thrive, the will, the underlying desire and delight to be in this relationship to begin with, must be nurtured and cultivated.

This, say the Kabbalists, is the essence of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

The infinite G-d, the creator of heaven and earth, is invested in a relationship with his creation. The relationship is multidimensional, it is imbued with G-d’s wisdom and love, with his ideas and his compassion. Yet, just as the new year is about to begin, G-d’s desire for the connection evaporates. After all, what possible benefit could the creation contribute to an infinite G-d? Why would he desire to relate to a universe that is utterly insignificant in comparison to his infinity?

As we move from the end of one year to the beginning of the next, the creation is bereft of its vitality, for, although it continues to be created by G-d, it nevertheless lacks the Divine enthusiasm, pleasure and desire. He is still in the relationship, He is still providing us with life and vitality, but He is unsure if He wants to be here.

The job of the Jew on Rosh Hashanah is to awaken that will. It is to communicate with G-d in a way that will inspire an even deeper dimension of desire and will for the new year. We do so through sounding the blasts of the shofar, a cry from our heart calling to G-d, telling him that we want to be connected to him. In the language of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy: we want Him to be our king and the king of the universe. We are saying that our deepest will and delight is to be connected to G-d.

Throughout the year the details of everyday life often obscure the big picture. We are busy paying bills, working, raising children and trying to carve out time for physical and spiritual well being. We sometimes forget to ask the big question: are we distracted and frustrated by our daily tasks to the extent that we are distracted from the vision of what we are working to achieve? Do we engage in our daily activities with will, desire and enthusiasm? Are we in touch with the spark of spirituality within everything we do?

As we hear the Shofar’s blast on Rosh Hashanah we know the answer. The Shofar is a scream from the depth of our hearts. Words won't do it. Words are too scripted. It must come from the deepest part of our soul. On Rosh Hashana we look into our soul and realign our will and pleasure with holiness. The cry of the Shofar peels away the outer layers of our consciousness and reveals the part of us which desires unity with G-d. G-d, in turn, desires us and showers us with blessing and potential for material and spiritual well being.[1]

 


[1] Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Shir Hammalos 5734.  

The Center of His Universe

gpnc8462020.jpgThe Center of His Universe 

When a baby is born the baby can be excused for assuming that it is the center of the universe. All the people around it, mother, father, grandparents, seem to be doing nothing other than caring for the baby. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, adults will respond to its calling. 

As the child begins to grow, as he or she develops from infant to child to teenager to adult, the child begins to recognize that he or she is indeed not the center of existence.  As children grow into adulthood they are burdened with the intellectual recognition that they are only one of seven billion people, that the entire human species, as well as the planet they inhabit, are but a speck in a solar system within a galaxy, containing one hundred billion stars, which is insignificant compared to the vastness of the universe.

Yet, despite this knowledge, something deep inside of us protests. Something deep within the psyche of the individual insists that he or she is special and indispensable. A healthy person cannot fully escape the perspective of the infant, something within himself will always look out at humanity, at the world, and at the universe, from a self centered, perspective.

And that is a good thing.

Moses’ greatest fear, as the Jewish people were about to enter the land of Israel, was that the Jew would not see himself as the center of the universe. Moses was afraid that once the Jews cross the Jordan River the individual would see himself as nothing more than one among millions; as merely one individual citizen whose choices don’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. Moses understood that in order for a nation to survive, for it to maintain a high moral ground, for it to live up to its calling of being a light unto the nations, each individual must appreciate that the destiny of the nation is in his or her hands. The greatest threat to morality is if every individual believes that the purpose of creation, that the mission of the Jewish people and the fate of humanity is out of his or her control. The greatest assurance that people will make the correct choices in life is when each individual understands that G-d looks to him or her as the center of the universe.

In the opening verses of this week's Parsha, Nitzavim, Moshe creates a covenant with the people, he gathers them together and tells them:

You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers. [1]

And then, after speaking to them in the plural, Moses says the following statement in the singular:

in order to establish you this day as His people, and that He will be your God, as He spoke to you, and as He swore to your forefathers to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

The “you” in “in order to establish you this day as His people” is written in the singular. Moses is telling each and every Jew “you are not just one in a nation of millions”, you cannot outsource Judaism's great ideals to be implemented by others. Moses is telling each and every individual: “you”, in the singular, are G-d’s nation. Don’t look to others to carry the Jewish heritage for you. Don’t look for others to make the right decisions. There is no one else. You, personally and singularly, are G-d’s nation. He is looking to you to carry the torch.

You are the center of His universe. 

 



[1] Deuteronomy 29:9-10.

The Heart of the Covenant

Tavo.jpgThe Heart of the Covenant 

It is a word that describes the heart of the bond between the Jewish people and G-d, yet no one knows for sure what the word means.

As the Jewish people were about to enter the land of Israel, as the time of Moses passing was fast approaching, Moses facilitated a covenant between the Jewish people and G-d, in addition to the covenant created at Sinai.

At Sinai it was G-d who pursued the relationship, he took the people out of Egypt and expressed his great love to them by selecting them to be a “kingdom of princes and a holy nation”. The people were passive recipients of this love. Forty years later, however, the relationship had matured, the people were active in its creation[1], they were the ones who pursued the bond with G-d, and G-d reciprocated to the commitment shown by his people.

The verb used to describe what the people did for G-d, and in turn what G-d did for the Jewish people is “Heemarta” (הֶֽאֱמַ֖רְתָּ) and “Heemircha” (הֶאֱמִירְך). What exactly does this verb mean? 

Rashi, the classic Biblical commentator, tells us that in the entire Bible there is no word precisely the same as this one, thus we don’t know for sure what the word means, yet he does suggest two possible meanings: 

We do not find any equivalent expression in the Scriptures [which might give us a clue to the meaning of these words]. However, it appears to me that [the expression הֶאֱמִיר] denotes separation and distinction. [Thus, here, the meaning is as follows:] From all the pagan deities, you have set apart the Lord for yourself, to be your God, and He separated you to Him from all the peoples on earth to be His treasured people.

Rashi continues:

 [Notwithstanding,] I did find a similar expression [to הֶאֱמִיר], which denotes “glory,” as in the verse “[How long will] all workers of violence glorify themselves (יִתְאַמְּרוּ)?”[2]

Why does the Torah choose to use a word that is so rare that it defies a precise definition? How is it that the Torah does not describe the heart of the covenant with a word whose meaning is clear? 

Perhaps the reason is that our relationship with G-d is multifaceted and multidimensional and does not always look the same. Thus the Torah specifically uses a word that has multiple shades of meaning so that it will encompass all phases of our relationship.  

Rashi’s first suggestion is that the verb describing the covenant “denotes separation and distinction”. This interpretation describes a person who is totally committed to a bond with G-d, and is not distracted or enticed by anything else. To him G-d is separate and distinct from anything else in the world, holiness is all that is worth pursuing, everything else in his life serves his relationship with holiness. Thus G-d is the only one who he has a relationship with, and he, in turn, is the one who G-d has a sole relationship with. The relationship is just like two people newly in love, who, while navigating through work and life, see nothing other than each other and experience an exclusive and wholesome relationship.

Yet there is more than one way to experience a relationship.

While sometime we feel a wholesome connection to the holy and to the spiritual, at other times we feel the struggle and pain. Our spiritual life is sometimes more like a warzone than a vacation resort. We try and fail. We sometimes face disappointment frustration and confusion. We experience a deep struggle in our attempt to bond with G-d.

This is why Rashi continues with his second interpretation.

Rashi tells us that the verb describing our relationship can also mean “Glory”, and the verse he quotes is one that describes “workers of violence”, which is a verse with a negative connotation. What Rashi is telling us is that while we prefer a wholesome, loving, tension free relationship, sometimes we “find” another meaning. Sometimes life teaches us that there is beauty in overcoming challenge. That struggle produces a deeper bond.

The verses describing our covenant can be read as describing the times when we are in love with everything good and holy. When we designate G-d as our exclusive love. In those times the verses read:

You have designated the Lord this day, to be your God, and to walk in His ways… And the Lord has designated you this day to be His treasured people.

Those same verses can also be read to describe the times of challenge and the beauty of engaging in the struggle. Describing this dimension the verses read:

You have glorified the Lord this day, to be your God, and to walk in His ways… And the Lord has glorified you this day to be His treasured people.

For indeed, the heart of the covenant is that the Jew is connected to G-d both in peaceful times and in challenging times. The nature of the relationship may be “separation and distinction” - where there is nothing that distracts from the exclusive relationship - or it may entail the “glory” of struggling with darkness, Either way the bond between the Jew and G-d is unbreakable.[3]

 

 


[1] See Malbim. 

[2] Rashi on Deuteronomy 26:17

[3] Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutey Sichos Ki Savo, vol. 9 Sicha 1. 

Mother Bird

MB.jpgMother Bird  

Raising children in a modern democracy introduces unique challenges; chief among them is how to impose some measure of authority in a society that promotes individual choices, freedom and rights?

As parents it is our responsibility to show our children unconditional love, but also to set boundaries for our children. We often hesitate and wonder what right do we have to teach our children to respect us? What right do we have to impose our perspective on our children? Perhaps our children know best when they argue that our suggested bedtime is too early and our taste in fashion is outdated? 

We watch with amazement as our children surpass us in the ease with which they navigate technology, and wonder: perhaps we are holding them back, perhaps they know what's best for themselves in this changing world, perhaps they are better suited to creating their own boundaries just as they are in writing their own computer code? 

In this week’s portion, Ki Teitze, the Torah provides deep insight about the importance of honoring parents. The Torah instructs us how to treat a mother bird: 

If a bird's nest chances before you on the road, on any tree, or on the ground, and [it contains] fledglings or eggs, if the mother is sitting upon the fledglings or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother upon the young. You shall send away the mother, and [then] you may take the young for yourself, in order that it should be good for you, and you should lengthen your days. [1]

A person may not take the eggs or young birds together with the mother, instead he must send away the mother before he takes the children. Taking the mother bird together with the children exploits the mother's natural kindness to her children which causes her to stay with her children and not escape. The Torah commands us to send away the mother in respect of the mother bird's natural motherly devotion. 

The Torah is teaching us more than just to respect our parents who brought us into this world, as described in the fifth of the Ten Commandments: “honor your father and your mother”. With its instruction to send away the mother bird the Torah is teaching us that we have to respect parenthood in general, even if the parent isn't our parent and even if she is not a member of our species. Respecting a parent brings to our attention that every phenomenon has a parent, a source, from which it derives. That, in turn, makes us conscious that the entire world has a source, a parent, a creator. G-d, the first cause, the parent of all existence, who possesses the power to create, bestowed that power to a created being, gifting him or her with the ability to give life.

Thus, when we teach our children to honor their parents we are not asserting our own right to authority, we are not claiming that we are always correct or that we always know all the answers. We are teaching our children to respect their parents because their parents are a vessel to the Divine power to create.

Immediately following the Mitzvah to send away the mother bird the Torah continues: 

When you build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house, that the one who falls should fall from it [the roof]. [2]

Once our children learn to recognize that their parents were gifted with a Divine creating power, they will discover that same creative spirit within themselves. They will learn that G-d placed within their souls the imagination and spirit to create, they too, can “build a new home” and leave their unique imprint and contribution upon the world. When they realize that their creative ability is a Divine gift, they will ensure that it is used in a responsible way, in a way that is not harmful to other people. They will create a “fence” on the “roof” of the “home they built” to ensure that others are not harmed, and that the gift of creativity is used consistent with the will of G-d, the “parent” of the ability to create.

Teach your children to respect their parents. They will learn to respect the Divine spark wherever they see it: within their parents, within nature and within themselves[3]

  



[1] Deuteronomy 22:6-7. 5

[2] Ibid. 22:8.

[3] Inspired by the commentary of the Kli Yakar. 

Plead the Fifth

b.jpgPlead the Fifth 

To “plead the fifth” is to evoke the fifth amendment of the United States Constitution[1] which protects against an individual being forced to testify against himself.

Legal protection against forced self incrimination is anything but obvious; it did not appear in Roman law or in early Common law. Historically it was common practice to torture defendants until they would confess. 17th century England saw the beginning of the rejection of forced confessions, the shift in attitude and practice made its way across the Atlantic and ultimately became part of the Bill of Rights.

In 1966, in the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona, the United States Supreme Court expanded this right and ruled that a statement of a defendant who is in police custody can be admitted as evidence at trial only if the defendant was aware of, and explicitly waived, his right to remain silent. To comply with the ruling, Police officers are required to tell the defendant that he or she has the right to remain silent.

The Torah's perspective on self incrimination is astonishing.

Not only does the Torah disqualify a forced confession, but the Torah goes much further; even if a person confesses voluntarily, the court cannot use the testimony against him.

At first glance this seems very difficult to understand: after all, it seems that a voluntary confession is the most powerful evidence.

There are multiple ways of understanding the Torah’s view of self incrimination. We will focus on three perspectives, one legal, one psychological and one mystical.

The Legal Explanation

The Talmud[2] offers two legal interpretations as to why we reject self incriminatory testimony. The first is the opinion of the Talmudic sage Rav Yosef and it is based on a legal doctrine that states that the testimony of a wicked person is not admissible in court because the wicked person is not trustworthy.

Now, if a person enters the courtroom and confesses to murder, he is obviously wicked. Had he offered testimony on behalf of or against anyone else we would not be able to accept his testimony, as he is clearly wicked. We therefore cannot accept his testimony against himself either, if we believe his self incriminatory testimony then we must accept that he is a wicked person whose testimony is not trustworthy.

Rava, one of the most famous of Talmudic sages, offers an alternative explanation as to why we reject self incriminating testimony even if a person offered the confession voluntarily. This interpretation is based on the Biblical law that a person cannot testify about his relative.

Rava explains that “a person is his own relative”. Rava argues that if the Torah rejects a relative's testimony because the relative is close to the subject about whom he is testifying then the same must apply to the one testifying against himself, as “he is his own relative”. He is also “close” to the subject he is testifying about, namely himself, therefore, we must reject his testimony.

Psychological Explanation

The Talmud’s explanations on why we reject self incriminating evidence, although logical from a scholarly perspective, it is undoubtedly counter intuitive. Maimonides therefore offers a revolutionary psychological explanation:

The Sanhedrin (high court)… may not execute a person who admits committing a transgression, lest he have become crazed concerning this matter. Perhaps he is one of those embittered people who are anxious to die and pierce their reins with swords or throw themselves from the rooftops. Similarly, we fear that such a person may come and admit committing an act that he did not perform, so that he will be executed.[3]

It was, and in many cases still is, very hard to imagine that someone would confess to a crime they did not commit; therefore studies show that juries consider a confession as the most conclusive evidence of guilt. Maimonides argues that there can be many unanticipated reasons why an innocent person would confess.

In recent years science has been confirming the Torah’s position on confessions. In recent years there has been an effort to overturn convictions on the basis of DNA evidence. After studying the Torah’s perspective, it should be no surprise that about 25 percent of 240 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence in the U.S. have involved some form of a false confession.[4] We are beginning to discover that people will confess for many reasons; psychological coercion is the most common, yet there have been many cases that prove the basic point of Maimonides: not only is a confession not the ultimate proof of guilt, as most people believed up until relatively recently, but it is (by itself) no proof at all. 

Mystical Dimension

The mystical explanation to the law is gleaned from contrasting the law of confession about a capital crime, which we reject, to the confession of a monetary obligation, which we accept, as the Talmud explains (regarding a monetary confession): ”One’s own admission is equivalent to the testimony of one hundred witnesses.”

Why the difference? Why would we accept testimony against one’s self in monetary cases if we reject it in criminal cases? Are we not concerned about monetary injustice?

The answer is that a person has the right to give a gift to whomever he wants; and once a person declares that he will give a gift he must do so. Meaning, a person can obligate himself to pay even if there is nothing obligating him to so – other then his own voluntary commitment. 

The Radvaz, in his commentary on Maimonides, explains that one's money belongs to himself, thus he is able to choose to gift it to anyone he would like. Therefore we accept a person's testimony that obligates him to give money to someone else, because it is within his right to spend his money as he pleases. Life, however, does not belong to the person. It is given to us loan from G-d, it isn’t ours to forfeit.

This, according to the Torah, must be our approach to life: our body, our soul, and therefore life itself, is a gift from G-d, given to us to as a loan, in order to accomplish the purpose of our creation.

 

 


[1] nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”. Fifth Amendment, United States Constitution

[2] Sanhedrin 9b.

[3] Rambam, Laws of Sanhedrin, Chapter 18, Halacha 6.

[4] www.innocenceproject.org/causes/false-confessions-admissions

Choice?

C.jpgChoice?  

In the 20th century, as brain scanning technology was rapidly developing, many scientists began to question, and ultimately reject, the notion of free choice. Looking at brain scans they argued that everything the human being does is determined by the physical properties of our brains. 

As a recent article put it:

we no more will it to operate in a particular way than we will our heart to beat. The contemporary scientific image of human behavior is one of neurons firing, causing other neurons to fire, causing our thoughts and deeds, in an unbroken chain that stretches back to our birth and beyond. In principle, we are therefore completely predictable. If we could understand any individual’s brain architecture and chemistry well enough, we could, in theory, predict that individual’s response to any given stimulus with 100 percent accuracy.[1]

What’s most interesting about this argument is that it is as old as human history. In the first story in the Torah, in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we discover that the first to make the claim that a person has no free choice was none other than the serpent.

The serpent engaged Eve in conversation and planted within her a morally dangerous idea. As the Torah tells us:

Now the serpent was cunning, more than all the beasts of the field that the Lord God had made, and it said to the woman, "Did God indeed say, 'You shall not eat of any of the trees of the garden?'" And the woman said to the serpent, "Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. But of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, God said, "You shall not eat of it, and you shall not touch it, lest you die.'"[2]

Reading the conversation between the serpent and Eve the most important word is the word that does not appear. If we turn back to the verse that describes how G-d forbade the fruit if the tree of Knowledge the Torah says:

And the Lord God commanded man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat. But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it."[3]

There is a crucial difference between the verb the Torah employs to describe the prohibition of the tree of knowledge and the verb the serpent employes. The Torah uses the verb commanded - “And the Lord God commanded man” - while the serpent uses the verb said - “Did God indeed say”. While it is easy to overlook this seemingly subtle change, in fact, the serpents chief claim lies within this change.[4]

What is the difference between “commanded” and “said”? Command implies free choice, for there is no meaning in issuing a command about something that the recipient of the commandment has no control over. “G-d said”, by contrast, does not imply free choice. In the story of creation, all through the first chapter of Genesis, the Torah uses the phrase and “G-d said” - “and G-d said let there be light”, “and G-d said let there be a firmament” - to describe the creation of natural phenomena that have no free choice at all. When deliberately substituting “G-d said” for “G-d commanded”, the serpent was telling Eve that the human being is essentially no different than an animal, that she too, like the serpent and like the rest of nature, doesn't have choice regarding her actions. When the serpent said "Did God indeed say, 'You shall not eat of any of the trees of the garden?'" he is asking Eve did G-d indeed say, did he create you to naturally be attracted to and unable to consume the fruit of the tree? Eve, accepted the terms imposed by the serpent and in all her discussion she does not refer to the prohibition as a commandment. She does not tell the serpent clearly and explicitly that the human being is indeed unique for he/she was created in the Divine image and blessed with the potent ability to choose freely.  

Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation and ate the forbidden fruit; yet the underlying mistake was succumbing to the idea that they were just like the serpent. That the human is no more than a sophisticated animal trapped by its instincts.

In the midst of Moses’s final words to his beloved people, Moses repeatedly emphasizes the idea that is the foundation of any code of morality, namely, that we were endowed by our creator with the freedom to chose our own path, thus we are responsible for both our failings as well as our triumphs.

As Moses says in the opening phrase of this week’s portion:

Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse.[5]

The choice is yours. 

 


[1] theatlantic.com  /2016/06/ there’s no such thing as free will

[2] Genesis 3:1-3.

[3] Ibid. 2:16:17.

[4] See Malbim to Genesis 3:1.

[5] Deuteronomy 11:26. 

Two Tablets

L.gifTwo Tablets

The Ten commandments are the foundation of the Torah. They encompass the most important principles of the Torah and therefore, unlike the rest of the Torah that was transmitted through Moses, the entire Jewish people heard the Ten Commandments spoken directly from G-d himself.

The Ten Commandments were inscribed on two tablets, each tablet containing five of the commandments. In this week’s portion, while retelling the story of Sinai Moses emphasizes that there were two tablets: “And it came to pass at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the Lord gave me two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant.” The question arises: why the need for two tablets? Couldn't Moses have inscribed all ten commandments on one tablet?

The Torah contains two general forms of Commandments: 1) the Commandments that relate to the relationship between man and G-d, such as loving G-d, fearing G-d, not mentioning His name in vain, etc. 2) and Commandments that relate to the relationship between man and his fellow, such as the Commandment to love a fellow as one’s self, and various forms of charity. Examining the ten commandments we find that they contain both categories of commandments. In fact, the first five are between man and G-d, and the second five are between man and fellow man.

Had all the Ten Commandments been written on one tablet, the only way to read them would be vertically from top to bottom, which would lead to the mistaken impression that somehow there is a hierarchy between the categories, that somehow G-d is more concerned about how we treat Him than about how we treat our fellow person.

The Torah therefore emphasizes that the commandments were inscribed on two tablets, which allows the commandments to be read not just vertically but also horizontally, thus the first commandment, “I am the L-rd your G-d”, which was inscribed on top of one tablet, and the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder”, which was inscribed on top of the other tablet, are both on the same level.  

In fact, when we read the Commandments horizontally, we see that the column of man’s responsibility to G-d and the column of man’s responsibility to fellow man share the same theme:

1. I am the L-rd your G‑d. 6. You shall not murder:

Murder is a terrible sin specifically because “I am the L-rd your G-d” and every Human being was created in the Image of G-d. Thus taking a human life is denying the sanctity of G-d.

2. You shall have no other gods before Me. 7. You shall not commit adultery:

The binding theme between these two commandments is the theme of loyalty. We must be loyal to are relationship with G-d and to our sacred relationship with our spouse.

3. You shall not take the name of the L-rd your G‑d in vain. 8. You shall not steal:

Stealing from someone else compromises our honesty and will inevitably lead to swearing falsely in G-d’s name in order to deny the theft.

4. Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. 9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

By resting on Shabbat we testify that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, thus celebrating Shabbat is an act of testimony.

5. Honor your father and mother. 10. You shall not covet.

Coveting something that belongs to another person implies that one believes that he does not have what he needs, and he feels that in order to achieve happiness and meaning he must possess that which belongs to someone else. The truth however is that meaning in life and happiness comes from celebrating the talents, personality, possessions and circumstances we are blessed with. Honoring the parents who brought us into the world implies that we accept that the person we are, the G-d given talents we possess, our unique life story, being born into a specific family at a specific time, is exactly the person we need to be in order to fulfill our purpose on this earth.

 

Hear the Oneness

s.jpgHear the Oneness

To experience life on this earth is to experience opposite extremes. There are moments of creativity, love, joy and meaning, while there are other moments of frustration, pain, sadness and confusion. Likewise, when we look into our hearts we also find opposing drives: the selfish and the selfless, the animalistic and the G-dly, the inclination for good and the inclination for evil. These extremes are a source of tension that, to one degree or another, each of us experiences.

What advice does Judaism offer on how to manage these tensions? What insight does the Torah provide to help us make it through the times of darkness and confusion? In this week’s portion Moses speaks the phrase which, perhaps more than any other, captures Judaism's heart and soul, as well as relaying its message on how to navigate the stormy sea we call life.

Moses tells us that despite the tension we feel every day, despite the world being divided and fractured - as expressed so poetically by King Solomon in Ecclesiastes: “there is a time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot… A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time of wailing and a time of dancing… A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace”[1] - despite all of this, the true essence of our existence is oneness. As Moses states:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one.[2]

This message is so radical, so counter intuitive, so life changing that we are commanded to recite these words, as well as teach them to our children, not once but twice each and every day - once in the morning and once at night. 

When we recite the words of the “Shema” prayer, we are telling ourselves and telling our children, that both the “morning”, the moments of life in which we feel the blessings of G-d shining upon us, as well as the “night”, the moments of darkness and challenge, are expressions of the one G-d.[3] The Kabbalistic meaning of the phrase “the Lord (Hashem) is our G-d (Elokeynu)” is that the Divine power of expression and revelation (Hashem), as well as his power to conceal and hide his presence (Elokim), are, in truth, one and the same. The difference between revelation and concealment, between good and evil, between night and day, is only from our prospective. The truth however is that both are expressions of Godliness. There are times when G-d’s love, providence and protection is concealed, yet the central pillar of our faith is that G-d’s presence, although it may be hidden, exists and pervades all of reality.

The same is true for the opposing drives within our own heart. Immediately after declaring that at the core all of reality is oneness, Moses continues in the Shema: “And you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart”, Rashi, quoting the Midrash and the Mishnah, explains that “with all your heart” means “love Him with your two inclinations [the good and the evil].” What is true for the macro universe is also true for the micro universe, the one within the heart of man. Although we feel the evil inclination and the good inclination pulling us in completely different directions, although it seems that the animal soul and the G-dly soul do not share a common goal, the truth, however, is that at the core they are one. They were both created for the same purpose, and both are necessary in order for us to reach the purpose of our creation. The passion of the animal soul must be transformed to the love of G-d, not by suppressing the passion but by channeling it. At its core, the animal soul wants what is good for itself, once we teach it to develop a taste and an appreciation for spirituality, the passion and might of the animal soul will be reoriented, and the love to all that is positive, constructive and holy will be far greater than the love that the G-dly soul can produce on its own.

This then is Judaism's unique perspective: G-d is the one truth that pervades all existence and we, in turn, must create that oneness within our heart, channeling the animal soul’s immense passion toward the love of G-d.[4]  



[1] Ecclesiastes 3:2-8.

[2] Deuteronomy 6:4. 

[3] See Lekutey Sichos vol. 14, Vaeschanan Sicha 2. 

[4] See Lekutey Torah Vaeschanan, 7:4.

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