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Battling the Inner Amalek - בשלח

 

Battling the Inner Amalek


Amalek attacked the Jewish people when they were traveling from Egypt to Sinai. According to the Mystics, the Torah commands us to remember what Amalek did to us, because the energy of Amalek seeks to block our journey from our inner Egypt to our personal Sinai. 


The episode of Amalek concludes with the words of Moses describing the war between G-d and Amalek: "And he said, For there is a hand on the throne of G-d {spelled yud hey, the first two letters of the four letters of G-d's name} (Exodus 17:16). Rashi comments: 


Why is the Divine name divided in half? {I.e., why is the Name יָ-הּ used instead of י-ה-ו-ה ?} {The answer is that} the Holy One, blessed be He, swore that His Name will not be complete and His throne will not be complete until the name of Amalek is completely obliterated. 


The Kabbalists explain that the first two letters of the divine name, "yud" and "hey" represent the Divine attributes of "wisdom and "understanding" and were referred to as the "concealed worlds", whereas the last two letters represent the "revealed worlds", "vov'' represents emotion, and the final "hey" represents action. Amalek, then, does not oppose G-d as an abstract idea (the first two letters of G-d's name), rather, Amalek opposes G-d's presence in the real world - in the "revealed worlds'' of emotion and action. 


This is relevant to each of us. We each strive to grow and develop in our spiritual journey of self-improvement and becoming closer to G-d. Yet sometimes, we experience a block. What we know in our mind (the "wisdom" and "understanding"; the "concealed worlds'') does not seem to play out in our emotions and affect our actions (the final two letters of the Divine name; the "revealed worlds").


The Torah describes the antidote to Amalek. 


Moses commanded Joshua to choose men and battle Amalek. Yet the Jewish people were only victorious when Moses raised his hands: 


It came to pass that when Moses would raise his hand, Israel would prevail, and when he would lay down his hand, Amalek would prevail. (Exodus 17:11)


The conventional interpretation is that when the Jewish people saw Moses's hands raised heavenward, they turned to G-d and were, therefore, victorious. The Chassidic interpretation is that in order to be victorious over Amalek, we must figuratively "raise our hands above the head". We must not wait for the knowledge of the mind to trigger an emotion that will lead to action; rather, we must commit to doing the action despite the lack of feeling at this moment. 


The antidote to the inner Amalek, the cold indifference that interferes with our relationship with the people we love and with G-d, is raising the hand. Despite the temporary emotional block of Amalek, we commit to what is right for the relationship. 


Adapted from Shaar Haemunah (Miteler Rebbe) chapter 14



The New Moon - the Key to Redemption - בא

The New Moon - the Key to Redemption

While the Jewish people were still in Egypt, two weeks before the Exodus, the Jewish people were commanded to set up a lunar calendar, where the rebirth of the moon is the beginning of the new month: 

The Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, 

This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year. (Exodus 12:1-2)

The Hebrew word month is the same letters as the word for ”new”, implying that the renewal of the moon ushers in the new month. 

The first step of the process of redemption was the establishment of the Jewish calendar, because it represents the spiritual key to both literal and spiritual liberation. 

One of the most foundational Chassidic teachings is that creation is not an event that happened in the past, but rather the act of creation is continuous. In the words of the Tanya: 

It is written: "Forever, O G‑d, Your word stands firm in the heavens." The Baal Shem Tov, of blessed memory, has explained that "Your word" which you uttered, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters.. .", these very words and letters stand firmly forever within the firmament of heaven and are forever clothed within all the heavens to give them life, as it is written, "The word of our G‑d shall stand firm forever" and "His words live and stand firm forever. ..." For if the letters were to depart [even] for an instant, G‑d forbid, and return to their source, all the heavens would become naught and absolute nothingness, and it would be as though they had never existed at all, exactly as before the utterance, "Let there be a firmament." And so it is with all created things, in all the upper and lower worlds.

The spiritual definition of exile is when we don’t see the constant renewal. When we look at the world, or when we look at ourselves, our relationships, our mission in life, as “old” and “stale”. When we look at our lives and see the same patterns and experiences that we saw yesterday. We are then trapped in yesterday's perspective and modes of behavior, and often depleted of excitement and enthusiasm. Redemption occurs when we can see the novelty. When we sense the miracle of creation. When we feel that G-d is recreating us every moment, we can tap into the depth of potential of the spark of infiniti within us. We view ourselves and the people we love with fresh and curious eyes, excited to experience a greater depth, meaning and joy by breaking free of the past and tapping into the new blessing which is every moment. 

Adapted from the Sfas Emes 



 

Treating the Hardened Heart - וארא

 

Treating the Hardened Heart


Philosophers, theologians, and Biblical commentators grappled with the meaning of the Biblical phrase, repeated multiple times in the story of the Exodus: "and I {G-d} will harden Pharaoh's heart". Is it possible that G-d took away Pharaoh's free choice, causing him to refuse to let the Jewish people go free, bringing upon himself and his people plague after plague? Isn't freedom of choice a foundation of morality? Wouldn't it be unjust to punish Pharaoh for actions for which he had no choice?


There are a wide array of interpretations. Abarrbenel explains that Pharaoh did not lose his ability to choose. "I will harden Pharaoh's heart", means that G-d removed each of the plagues, allowing Pharaoh to continue to sin by refusing to free the Jewish people. Maimonides argues that as a consequence of his wickedness, Pharaoh was punished with losing his free will. The plagues that followed were punishments, not for his refusal to release the Jews after losing the free choice, but for his prior choice to enslave the Jews of his own free will. 


When Rashi describes the plagues, he uses two words, "testify" and "warn":


for the plague would be in effect for a quarter of a month, and for three quarters [of the month], he [Moses] would testify and warn them. (Rashi 7:25) 


While "testify" implies that the plague will undoubtedly come about, "warn" implies that it is conditional; Pharaoh is being warned to let the people go lest the plague unfold. 


As the plagues continue to unfold, the Torah continues to assert that Pharaoh's heart was hardened: 


The Lord said to Moses: "Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, in order that I may place these signs of Mine in his midst, (Exodus 10:1)


Nevertheless, Rashi insists that Pharaoh retained his free will and had the option to free the Jewish people. Rashi explains that the purpose of Moses speaking to Pharah was to warn him: "The Lord said to Moses: Come to Pharaoh: and warn him." 


Rashi teaches us a profound lesson. Sometimes we feel that our "hearts are hardened". We feel that destructive habits, and harmful patterns of behavior, have molded our personality and formed neuro-pathways that we cannot undo. Sometimes we feel that G-d himself has "hardened our heart" by creating circumstances over which we have no control and that we are therefore subjected and enslaved to our circumstances. 


We often will feel that our hearts, or the hearts of others, have been hardened. Rashi reminds us that the "hardening of the heart" is superficial. The essence of our soul, and the soul of every person, is a spark of the infinite G-d that has the capacity to shatter the shell and ignite a fire of holiness. We are free to break out of our negative habits and positive and healthy routines. For the essence of our soul remains infinite and free. 


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Bo 16 Sicha 1 

The Act of Freedom - שמות

 

The Act of Freedom 


The challenge is too great, the task too daunting, and the odds of success are too slim. The natural response is to do nothing. This was at the heart of Moses' reluctance to accept G-d's mission and lead the people out of Egypt. Throughout the conversation at the burning bush, Moses raised many objections; he did not think he was the right person who would succeed in liberating the Jews. Moses began by asserting that even before the challenge of confronting Pharaoh, the Jewish people themselves would not believe his message: 


Moses answered and said, "Behold they will not believe me, and they will not heed my voice, but they will say, 'The Lord has not appeared to you.'"


G-d responded by presenting three signs to Moses that would persuade the people that G-d did, in fact, appear to him. The second of these signs read as follows:


And the Lord said further to him, "Now put your hand into your chest," and he put his hand into his chest, and he took it out, and behold, his hand was leprous like snow.

And He said, "Put your hand back into your chest," and he put his hand back into his chest, and [when] he took it out of his chest, it had become again like [the rest of] his flesh.


With this sign, G-d was conveying a profound message to Moses and to each of us, seeking to break out of our own personal "Egypt", our constraints, limitations, and blockages. The message of this sign is that inaction, "put your hand into your chest", leads to leprosy, a depletion of the life-giving blood, which is synonymous with death. In order for the skin to heal, Moses had to take his hand out of his chest: "he took it out of his chest, it had become again like [the rest of] his flesh". The message was clear. The path to national and personal liberty is to take action. You may not see how this one positive act will solve the problem, but the positive action makes you a partner with G-d in perfecting and healing the world. We must take the first step in the right direction, and G-d will help that one action create a positive dynamism that will ultimately lead to the breaking out of Egypt. 


The key to breaking out of our inner Egypt, our negative habits, limitations, and debilitating despair, is to "remove our hand from our chest" and engage in a specific positive action. 


Adapted from the Malbim   



Find Your Blessing - ויחי

Find Your Blessing

At the conclusion of the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Torah, Jacob, as he is about to pass away, called his twelve sons and blessed each one with a unique blessing. The book of Genesis is full of stories about brothers contending for their father’s affection and legacy. Throughout the book, we read how, in each generation, only one child was selected to carry on his parents' legacy. Finally, at the conclusion of the book, we read how all the brothers were blessed. Each of Jacob's twelve sons possessed  a unique quality and gift, indispensable to the fulfillment of the Divine mission to transform the world to holiness.   

While the Torah implies that all twelve sons were blessed, "(All these are the twelve tribes of Israel… each man, according to his blessing, he blessed them"), it seems that Reuben, the first Son, was not blessed, and Simeon and Levi were, in fact, cursed with harsh words: 

Simeon and Levi are brothers; stolen instruments are their weapons.

Let my soul not enter their counsel; my honor, you shall not join their assembly, for in their wrath they killed a man, and with their will they hamstrung a bull.

Cursed be their wrath for it is mighty, and their anger because it is harsh. I will separate them throughout Jacob, and I will scatter them throughout Israel. (Genesis 49:5-7)

Upon deeper reflection, however, we discover that, like the other brothers, Simon and Levi were indeed also blessed by Jacob, revealing their unique gift and spiritual purpose.  

Jacob identified and cursed the anger and wrath of Simeon and Levi ("Cursed be their wrath for it is mighty, and their anger because it is harsh"), Jacob addressed their tendency to violence that caused them to kill the entire city of Shechem in retribution for the defilement of their sister Dinah. Yet, Jacob also identified the path for them to "elevate" their personality, refine their character, and direct their passion to holiness. 

Rashi explains that Jacob's words "I will separate them throughout Jacob, and I will scatter them throughout Israel", refer to the tribe of Levi which was destined to serve in the temple, and would, therefore, not receive a portion in the land of Israel, instead they would scatter around the land to collect the tithings. The tribe of Simeon, too, would travel around Israel as teachers of young children. In other words, Jacob was demonstrating that the same qualities expressed in a negative way could be channeled to public service, with a determination and uncompromising commitment on behalf of "Jacob" and "Israel", in matters of holiness. 

As descendants of Jacob, each of us possesses a unique, indispensable personality that is critical to the Jewish mission. We must find our unique blessing and allow it to shine forth. 

Adapted from the Kli Yakar

 

Feminine Redemption - ויגש

 

Feminine Redemption 

 

The family of Jacob was heading toward the land of Egypt, a journey that would eventually lead to the slavery which had been foretold to Abraham. As they were entering Egypt, a child was born that symbolized the ability to persevere through exile and ultimately transform it. 

 

When Jacob and his family travel to Egypt, the Torah tells us that they numbered seventy souls:  

 

All the souls coming to Egypt with Jacob, those descended from him, excluding the wives of Jacob's sons, all the souls were sixty six. And Joseph's sons, who were born to him in Egypt, two souls; all the souls of the house of Jacob who came to Egypt were seventy. (Genesis 46:26-27)

 

The problem, however, is that when we run the numbers, we see only sixty-nine, not seventy, names. Rashi addresses this discrepancy by explaining that both are true; sixty-nine people traveled to Egypt, but seventy arrived in Egypt because at the city's walls, a baby was born who completed the number seventy. The baby was Yocheved, who later became the mother of Moses. As Rashi explains: 

 

This [missing one] is Jochebed, who was born between the walls when they entered the city, as it is said: "whom she bore to Levi in Egypt". Her birth was in Egypt, but her conception was not in Egypt. (Rashi, Genesis 46:15)

 

Yocheved, born at the gates of Egypt, symbolized the unique ability to be in Egypt but not be from Egypt, to live within the spiritual darkness of Egypt yet to remain connected to the light and inspiration of the holy land. The Kabbalists explain that she embodied the feminine Divine attribute of Malchut, sovereignty, which descends from the spiritual world of "emanation", where G-d is the only reality, to the three lower worlds of "creation", "formation", and "action", where G-d's vitalizing energy is concealed. The energy of Malchut is present within creation but yearns for, and occasionally ascends to, its source in the world of unity. 

 

This feature of the feminine attribute, the ability to bridge two worlds and perspectives, ultimately led to redemption. 

 

In Kabbalistic thought, Masculine energy represents the ability to conquer and dominate. The masculine energy seeks to undermine and destroy its challenger and opponent. The feminine energy, by contrast, seeks not to dominate but to cultivate. Where the masculine energy seeks to highlight the superiority of the spiritual over the physical, of holiness over the mundane, the feminine energy demonstrates how the created mundane reality itself can be cultivated and refined to become a vessel for holiness. While the masculine energy would seek to break Egypt, the purpose of the exile would ultimately be fulfilled through the feminine perspective, that Egypt should not be destroyed but should come to recognize that "I am the L-rd in the midst of the land". 

 

In Biblical Hebrew, numbers can take either masculine or feminine form. When the Torah describes the sixty-six souls that descendent to Egypt (excluding Joseph and his sons and Yocheved), the Torah defies the laws of grammar and writes the number sixty-six in the feminine (Shisim Vashesh, in the feminine, as opposed to Shisim Vishisah in the masculine), to highlight that for the Jewish people to achieve the purpose of exile, they would have to cultivate within themselves the feminine energy as exemplified by the young Yocheved.  

 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 20 Vayigash 2

 

Joseph and Self Esteem - מקץ

 

Joseph and Self Esteem


No other character in the Torah experiences extreme circumstance changes, as does Joseph. He starts as the cornerstone of his home, his father's favorite son, and abruptly descends to become a slave in Egypt. If that were not enough, he is slandered by his master's wife and is imprisoned. Just as abruptly, he ascends from the lowest position in society to become the leader of Egypt, as Pharaoh told him: "besides you, no one may lift his hand or his foot in the entire land of Egypt."


What is Joseph's secret to success, remaining upbeat and loyal to his ethics, beliefs, and inner character, despite the dramatic and changing circumstances? What was the secret of his ability not only to preserve his own identity but to affect the people around him in a positive way? 


Our culture values people based on external criteria, such as physical appearance, material possessions, or professional success. Defining ourselves by these criteria, however, is never a route to healthy and enduring self-esteem and could potentially be psychologically dangerous because our circumstances and achievements are not permanent. The healthiest and most durable way of creating lasting self-esteem is by connecting to our spiritual soul, the spark of G-d within, whose value is infinite and unconditional. When we live this way, no one can diminish our self-esteem, and we experience a great sense of freedom. There is no need for validation from others. When we connect to the spiritual side of ourselves, we recognize that our value is infinite and unconditional. 


Back to Joseph.


When Joseph was rushed from prison to meet Pharaoh, the Torah states: 


So Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they rushed him from the dungeon, and he shaved and changed his clothes, and he [then] came to Pharaoh. (Genesis 41:14)


The deeper meaning of "changed his clothes" is that the circumstances of slavery and prison were "garments", they were external to his essence. Joseph did not allow those "garments" to define him. The same was true about his successes. His success in the eyes of the Egyptians was not what defined him. Joseph self-defined as someone with a Divine soul, a conduit to the Divine plan, to bring salvation, comfort, and holiness wherever he was, regardless if he was imprisoned or on the throne of Egypt.


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 35 Mikeitz Sicha 1



Was She a Villain? - וישב

 

Was She a Villain?


Joseph experienced a dramatic downfall. 


This week's Torah portion begins with the description of Joseph as his father's favored son, and concludes with Joseph in prison after his brothers sold him as a slave. 

Indeed a dramatic downfall. 


One of the characters in the story who advances the plot is Potifar's wife, who, after failing to seduce Joseph, causes his imprisonment. The Torah describes the story in great detail: 


Now it came to pass after these events that his master's wife lifted up her eyes to Joseph, and she said, "Lie with me."...

Now it came about when she spoke to Joseph day in and day out, that he did not obey her, to lie beside her [and] to be with her. And it came about on a certain day, that he came to the house to do his work, and none of the people of the house were there in the house. So she grabbed him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me!" But he left his garment in her hand and fled and went outside. So she left his garment beside her, until his master came home. And she told him the same thing, saying, "The Hebrew slave that you brought to us came to me to mock me. Genesis 39:7, 10-17)


It would be natural to view Potifar's wife as a villain, yet, surprisingly, the sages explain that her motivation was holy ("for the sake of heaven"). As the Midrash, quoted by Rashi, explains: 


Scripture juxtaposes the incident of Potiphar's wife with the incident of Tamar, to tell you that just as that one [Tamar] meant for the sake of heaven, so too this one [Potiphar's wife] meant for the sake of heaven. For she saw through her astrology that she was destined to raise children from him (Joseph), but she did not know whether [they would be] from her or from her daughter {Indeed, later in the story, Joseph married her daughter}. 


While the perspective that Potifar's wife had a holy intention may seem radical, it captures the essence of the story of Joseph and replays itself in each of our lives. The Mystics explain that the source of all unholy energy and phenomenon is rooted in holiness, the source of all existence. At the core of unholiness lies its concealed spark, whose intention is not to destroy holiness but to challenge the person to grow and intensify his connection to holiness due to the challenge. 


Indeed, every obstacle and challenge in Joseph's path was, in reality, a pedestal that would ultimately allow him to ascend to the most incredible heights. The same is true in our life. When we cultivate the awareness that at the core of our challenge or opponent is a concealed Divine spark; that in reality, there is no experience separate from G-d, the challenge becomes the fuel of commitment, dedication and spiritual growth. 


Recognizing the Divine spark in every experience will help reveal that Divine purpose and allow us to see how the challenge is transformed into positivity. 


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Vayeshev volume 1 


The Two Columns - וישלח

 

The Two Columns 

 

When Jacob, the third Patriarch, prepared to meet his brother Esau, he divided his family and the people with him into two camps. 

 

Jacob became very frightened and was distressed; so he divided the people who were with him and the flocks and the cattle and the camels into two camps.

And he said, "If Esau comes to one camp and strikes it down, the remaining camp will escape." (Genesis 32:89)

 

Esau represents the world of "chaos", whereas Jacob embodies the "world of order". Before the world as we know it was created, G-d emanated ten intense energies; each was too intense to compromise and interconnect with the others. As a result, the energies clashed and were shattered. Then, G-d emanated the powers of order, whose energy was dimmed and thus able to interact with a different energy to become the building blocks of creation. 

 

Jacob was the third Patriarch, for he embodied the "middle column", which exists specifically in the world of order, that can synthesize the two extreme "columns", the kindness and love of his grandfather Abraham with the discipline and awe of his father, Isaac. Yet, in preparation to meet his brother Esau, a product and embodiment of the intensity of the world of chaos, Jacob divided his camp in two, because he understood that it was his responsibility not to ignore or destroy but rather to elevate and channel the chaotic energy. To align his camp with the chaotic energy, Jacob divided his camp in two, for the number two represents the two extremes that cannot interact with each other. The meeting of Jacob and Esau represents the fusion of the intensity and passion of chaos with the focused application of order. 

 

The Torah teaches us, the descendants of Jacob, how to balance order and chaos. Each morning we dedicate time to pray, to awaken the chaotic desire to "run", to escape the confines of life, and cleave to G-d. Yet that feeling is followed by the commitment to "return", channeling that desire for transcendence and applying it within the framework and limitation of daily life. 

 

Adapted from Torah Ohr Vayishlach 

 

 

The Benefit of the Journey - ויצא

The Benefit of the Journey 

What is the point of the journey? 

Jacob was the first of the Patriarchs to spend significant time outside of Israel, away from his natural environment. The opening statement of our portion, "And Jacob departed from Beer Sheba, and he went to Haran", tells the story of our Patriarch Jacob's departure from the land of Israel and travel to the spiritually hostile environment of Charan. We read of how he emerged twenty years later with a large family and tremendous wealth. 

The Kabbalists teach that this story is the prototype for the descent of every soul from the figurative "land of Israel", the soul's abode in heaven to its descent into the spiritually challenging environment of life on this earth. 

But what is the point of the descent? Why should the soul be forced to engage in the painful journey instead of basking in G-d's light in heaven? What is the purpose of the turbulent journey we call life? 

When the soul descends into this spiritually dark world, its connection to G-d is challenged. The soul is forced to struggle to maintain its relationship to holiness. The tension and struggle intensify its spiritual strength and its natural love and awe of G-d. The soul emerges from this world with a deeper and more meaningful bond with G-d. 

This benefit, however, is limited, as it is merely an intensification of the bond with G-d that already existed. The more profound benefit is created when the soul engages with the physical objects of the world, transforming them from physical creations to holy objects that are a conduit to the Divine will. This transformation is a true novelty and is possible only through the soul accessing the infinite power of G-d, which is accessible exclusively "in the lowest realm", right here on earth. 

These two elements are expressed in the words Jacob spoke as he began his journey. As he departed the land of Israel, he requested that G-d protect him (verse 20), enabling him to serve G-d (verses 21 and 22). 

First, Jacob’s prayer to be able to survive and thrive in this world: 

20. And Jacob uttered a vow, saying, "If God will be with me, and He will guard me on this way, upon which I am going, and He will give me bread to eat and a garment to wear;

Then, Jacob explains the benefit of the struggle and the purpose of the journey. Firstly, the soul will emerge "in peace" from the challenges, and secondly, the "Lord will be my God", the soul's connection to G-d will withstand the challenges: 

21. And I return in peace to my father's house, and the Lord will be my God;

And then, Jacob describes the more remarkable achievement of life: 

22. Then this stone, which I have placed as a monument, shall be a house of God, and everything that You give me, I will surely tithe to You.

"The stone", a physical object, is transformed to become "the house of G-d". "Everything that you give me" becomes sanctified. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likutei Sichos Vayetze 15 Sicha 3. 

 

Why Esau Wanted to Tithe Salt - תולדות

Why Esau Wanted to Tithe Salt

Rebecca and Isaac were blessed with twins who were very different from each other: “And the youths grew up, and Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents {of study}. (Genesis 25:27).” Surprisingly, the intensely spiritual Issac loved Esau: “And Isaac loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth”. Rashi explains that Issac loved Esau because Esau deceived his father by presenting himself as righteous: 

who understood hunting: [He knew how] to trap and to deceive his father with his mouth and ask him, “Father, how do we tithe salt and straw?” His father thereby thought he was scrupulous in his observance of the commandments. 

Of all the questions Esau could have asked his father, why did he choose to ask about tithing salt and straw, which, according to Jewish law, are exempt from tithing? 

Issac loved Esau and sought to bless him because he hoped that Esau and Jacob would form a partnership whereby Esau would use his material success to support Jacob’s spiritual pursuits. From Isaac’s perspective, materialism is worthwhile and meaningful only when it serves a greater purpose of serving G-d. 

Unfortunately, Esau was not on board. As Rebecca sensed, Esau did not wish to partner with his brother as he desired and valued material success for its own sake.

Esau, therefore, asked about tithing salt and straw, items that are exempt from tithing specifically because they only have value when they are used to perfect something else. Salt seasons a dish, and hay is used to create bricks. Esau expected the salt and straw to be tithed and to be considered inherently significant, as Esau failed to distinguish between what is of primary importance and what is of secondary importance.

Judaism teaches that each and every aspect of our life, including the mundane and material, is significant when and because it serves a higher purpose. Every achievement and success is significant when subordinate to a higher purpose. Our efforts during the six days of the week become significant when they contribute to our experiencing the holiness of Shabbat. It is our job to sanctify every part of our life by viewing it as part of our overarching purpose of serving our Divine mission and purpose. 

Adapted from the Shem Mishmuel

 

Love and Marriage - חיי שרה

Love and Marriage

This is a Parsha about a matchmaker, Abraham's servant Eliezer, and his efforts to create a marriage between two very different people. Isaac was raised in a holy environment. From the moment he was offered as an offering to G-d at the binding of Isaac, he was considered sacred and was not permitted to leave the land of Israel. Rebecca, by contrast, was raised in a distant land surrounded by less-than-honest people. Isaac was an introvert; discipline and "strength" was the dominant emotion in his personality, whereas Rebecca was the opposite, the epitome of outstanding kindness and giving. Yet, despite this seemingly unlikely match, theirs is the first marriage in the Torah that describes love. 

Perhaps the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca offers lessons on how to reach and maintain true and lasting love. Perhaps the first lesson is that the foundation of a healthy relationship is not love but respect. While both love and respect are essential for a relationship, love without respect, the expansion of self that does not consider the other person and their needs, can be overwhelming and even hurtful. Love, the desire to connect to another person, must be predicated on respecting the other person's needs, personality, and perspective. Indeed, the first time Rebecca meets Isaac, the scene describes not euphoric love but rather awe and respect. As the verse states: 

Rebecca lifted her eyes, and saw Isaac, and she let herself down from the camel. And she said to the servant, "Who is that man walking in the field towards us?" And the servant said, "He is my master." And she took the veil and covered herself.

The Torah then describes their marriage and love: 

And Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah, his mother, and he took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for [the loss of] his mother.

Perhaps counterintuitively, and sometimes overlooked, is that "and he loved her" is written not as a reason for the marriage but rather as a result of the marriage. The Torah may be signaling that true love is a process that takes time to develop. True love is developed by many small acts of consideration, giving, and kindness. The act of giving is not merely the result of love; but rather, it can be the cause that intensifies love. The more kindness we bestow in a relationship, the more love we will experience. 

The Advantage of Brit Milah at Eight Days - וירא

 

The Advantage of Brit Milah at Eight Days

 

Sibling rivalry is not a new phenomenon. It is a recurring theme in the book of Genesis.

 

The Midrash describes a rivalry between Abraham's two sons, Yishmael and Isaac, as to whose relationship with G-d was more "beloved". Yishmael contended that his connection was more profound as he was circumcised at the age of thirteen years old, when he had the ability to protest. Yet, Isaac countered that his relationship with G-d was more profound since he was circumcised at eight days old: 

 

Yitzchak and Yishmael contended with each other. Yishmael argued, "I am more beloved than you because I was circumcised when I was thirteen years old." Yitzchak countered, "I am more beloved than you because I was circumcised at eight days." (Bereishis Rabbah, Vatera 55:4)

 

While Yishmael’s argument is clear, Isaac's is not at all obvious. What possible advantage is there to circumcision at eight days, when the child has no understanding of the act and no ability to consent? 

 

Yishmael and Isaac represent two perspectives on the relationship with G-d. Yishmael argued that the relationship is predicated on, and proportional to, the person's appreciation of G-d and desire to connect to him. Isaac, however, understood that a human being cannot overcome the unbridgeable gap between a finite person and the infinite creator. Only G-d Himself can fuse creator and creation. Isaac understood that we don't create a relationship with G-d; but rather, by fulfilling a commandment, G-d binds himself to the person. 

 

The Torah describes the covenant of circumcision as an everlasting covenant: "My covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant." Isaac understood that nothing a human being can accomplish is eternal. The everlasting covenant is achieved by G-d alone. Isaac, therefore, argued that when a child is circumcised at eight days old, without any input on his part, it is clear and evident that the bond is real, that it is everlasting, because it is achieved by the infinite G-d. 

 

One lesson from Yishmael and Isaac's debate is that Yishmael argued that since the human being creates the relationship, it has to be developed gradually over time. Yishmael argued that it takes years to build a connection based on appreciation and desire. Isaac teaches us that the most profound, eternal bond can happen instantaneously. All we need to do is perform a commandment which invites G-d to create the eternal bond. 

 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Vayera 25:3 and Achron Shel Pesach 5741.

 

 

Why Israel? - לך לך

 

Why Israel? 

 

There are various interpretations as to why Israel was selected to be the Holy Land, the homeland of the Jewish people. The Midrash explains that when Abraham arrived in the land, he saw its inhabitants laboring in agriculture. He desired the land because he valued the toil and labor that the land required. The Medrash relates:

 

When Abraham was traveling through Aram Naharaim… he saw the people eating, drinking and acting foolishly. He said, “I hope my portion will not be in this land.” When he reached the high ground of Tzur and saw the people busy weeding… and hoeing…, he said, “If only my portion were to be in this land.” Hashem said to him, “To your descendants, I will give this land.” (Bereishis Rabbah 39:8.)

 

This raises the question, what is the value of toil? Why did G-d, who is the ultimate good, place us in an environment where we must exert effort in order to achieve success? The sole reason cannot be because it is human nature to enjoy and appreciate the fruit of own labor more than an unearned gift, for that nature itself is a Divine creation. Why, then, would G-d create humanity with a practical and psychological need to toil and invest effort to achieve success? 

 

The ultimate goodness that a created being can achieve is to connect to and therefore reflect G-dliness. The only way to do that, the way to “partner with G-d in creation”, is when we become givers. By definition, created beings are recipients from the Creator, whereas the Creator is the ultimate giver. Thus, in each of our lives, to the extent that we receive, we are creations, and to the extent that we give, we become like the Creator. 

 

To truly become givers, we must create something that was not gifted to us but is a product of our own toil and effort. G-d created challenges and difficulties not to give us a hard time but rather to give us the opportunity to connect to the Creator by becoming a partner with G-d in creation. 

 

In the Rebbe’s words: 

 

The true and ultimate good is that a person reaches a level on which he becomes, so to speak, similar to his Creator, as our Sages put it, “ G-d’s partner in the process of Creation.” Therefore, G-d established the order of creation such that a person’s needs do not come easily but through hard work and toil. This is in order that this way he will be elevated (not only to the perfection of a worthy “recipient” — the perfection of a created being — but even) to the level of being a “giver” (and bring something into existence), similar to his Creator. This is achieved when a person toils and creates by his own effort. (Lekutei Sichos Lech Licha, 15:4)

 

 

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