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Blog - Torah Insights

The Torch

The Torch

The Hebrew language, also called “the Holy Tongue”, has a significantly smaller vocabulary than the English language, yet it contains great mystical insight.. Every Hebrew word has a root word, comprised of two or three letters, which can then take different forms. When we dig down to the root, we often find similarities between the roots of two words, which on the surface seem unrelated. These connections between seemingly unrelated words, often express deep mystical truths.

In this week’s Parsha, there is a beautiful example of a connection between two seemingly unrelated words. The Torah tells the story of Jacob returning to the land of Israel, traveling to meet his brother Esau, after a twenty year stay in Charan. The night before he meets his brother, Jacob encounters a mysterious man, and they wrestle all night long:

And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.[1]

Who was this man? What is the meaning of this encounter?

We must first examine the meaning of the Hebrew word for “wrestle”. The Hebrew word is “VayeAVeK” (ויאבק) which means struggle; wrestle; fight. The root of the word is AVK (אבק). The same root is also the root of a seemingly unrelated word; the root AVK (אבק) is also the root of the word “torch” (AVuKa - אבוקה).  

What possible connection can there be between the words “wrestle” and “torch”?

There are many forms of battle. In the modern era battles are fought from great distances. Soldiers sitting at computers in Nevada are operating drones that conduct warfare over the skies of the Middle East and Africa. Wrestling, however, is a completely different form of battle. To wrestle is to come up close to the enemy. Two people wrestling with each other are literally hugging each other. 

Let’s return to the story of Jacob wrestling with the mysterious man. The sages teach that the man wrestling with Jacob was no ordinary man, the man was Esau’s guardian angel disguised as a man. Before Jacob could reconcile with his brother Esau he must first wrestle with Esau's guardian angel. The Kabbalists elaborate and explain that Jacob and Esau represent the spiritual and material respectively, the body and soul. Body and soul are in constant warfare, each trying to draw the other to what they appreciate and enjoy. The body tries to pull the soul to materialism, while the soul tries to pull the body to spirituality. 

This struggle between body and soul is not fought via intercontinental ballistic missiles. The body and soul are not waging warfare from different continents. Body and soul are literally hugging each other, they are as close to each other as two entities can possibly be. Body and soul are wrestling.

With its use of a single root word for “wrestle” and “torch” the “Holy Tongue” teaches us what the goal of the wrestling match between body and soul is. The goal is not to obliterate the material aspects and pleasures from one’s life. The goal is to create a torch. A torch is not a single candle, but rather it is many candles merged together. To create spiritual light the soul must not retreat from the world, but instead it must embrace the material world, it must fuse the material into a torch of light. It must use the objects and pleasures of the material world as a tool to spread spiritual light. It must use the material blessings it has and fuse them into a torch producing light, warmth and inspiration to illuminate the world.

We wrestle with the material, we embrace it and elevate it. We weave it into our soul’s torch.[2]

  


[1] Genesis 32:25.

[2] Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, 19 Kislev 5721.

Leah and Rachel

Leah and Rachel

The story of the complex relationship between Jacob and his wives Leah and Rachel can be understood on many levels, both emotionally and spiritually.

One way to read the story is to realize, that every character in the Torah is also an aspect of every human soul. The stories of the patriarchs and the matriarchs, their trials and triumphs, their struggles and their successes, is indeed the story of every Jew.

Jacob loved Rachel. He wanted to marry her and he was willing to pay any price to be able to do so. And yet, the story gets complicated. He is tricked into marrying Leah, and only then is he able to marry Rachel. The story of Jacob and his children is the story of the tension between his two primary wives and their children.

The Kabbalists explain that Leah represents the “concealed world” of thought, while Rachel represents the “revealed world” of speech.

Leah’s children were all highly spiritual. The names Reuben, Shimon, Levi and Judah are names which represent seeing, hearing, commenting and submitting to the Divine [1]. That is why, say the Kabbalists, Leah had no problem giving birth in the spiritually challenging environment of Charan. Because no matter how dark the surrounding society is, a person always has the option to retreat into their own “concealed world”, to retreat to their own thoughts and consciousness, where one can always see, hear, connect and submit to the Divine.  

Rachel, however, represents the “revealed world” of speech. Her mission was to articulate her spiritual reality in language that the people around her could understand and appreciate. No wonder that it was challenging for her to conceive. Her children represent the ability to reveal the Divine in the most physical reality. Rachel’s son Joseph is unique among all the sons of Jacob in his ability to remain loyal to the teachings of Judaism while being fully engaged in the material world. Joseph, alone amongst the sons of Jacob, was able to articulate his spiritual truth while simultaneously serving as the Vicar to the king of Egypt, the superpower of the ancient world.    

Jacob loves Rachel.

Jacob understood that Judaism is about affecting the real world. Jacob understood that the purpose of creation is to imbue this physical world with holiness. He therefore had no interest in Leah’s ability to introspect and connect thought and consciousness to G-d. He was attracted to Rachel’s more difficult and challenging path. He was fascinated by her insistence that everything that she understood and felt must be experienced and articulated in the real world.

Opposites attract. Jacob - the man who “dwells in the tent” - was attracted to Rachel, to the woman who had the capacity to reveal and express the hidden truths.

Jacob’s intense desire to marry Rachel was complicated by the Divine plan. Jacob had to first marry Leah and experience her spiritual world, before he could marry Rachel and hope to articulate those ideas to the rest of the world.

This story, like all the stories in the Torah, is a lesson to each Jew. We must love the Rachel within us, we must not be satisfied with living a spiritually introverted life. We must understand that, like Rachel, we have to live in the “revealed world” of speech. We must, however, also cultivate our Leah, our inner spiritual core. [2]  

 

 


[1]The Torah explains the choice of the names of the sons of Leah: “Because the Lord has seen”, “Since the Lord has heard“, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me”, This time, I will thank the Lord!”. The Kabbalists explain that these verses and names express connecting to G-d through the spiritual attributes of seeing, hearing, connecting and submitting to G-d.  

[2] Based on Torah Or, Vayetze.  

The Marriage of Heaven and Earth

The Marriage of Heaven and Earth

Abraham is, undoubtedly, one of the most successful people in history. He began with an idea that pitted him against the entire world. He was called Abraham the Hebrew - etymologically the word Hebrew means “from the other side” - not just because he arrived in Israel from the other side of the river, but because, figuratively, he was “on the other side” of society’s belief system. While society was pagan, only Abraham was the Hebrew, “on the other side”, the outcast the believer in one G-d.  

Today, three millenniums later, Abraham’s ideas succeeded in becoming mainstream. A majority of the world’s population, more than 3.8 billion people, consider themselves adherents to an Abrahamic religion.

How did Abraham view his achievements during his lifetime? What did he see as his mission, and how did he evaluate his accomplishments?  

In this week's Parsha we read about Abraham dispatching his servant Eliezer to the Land of Charan to find a wife for his son Isaac. While instructing Eliezer about the details of his mission, Abraham assures Eliezer that G-d will help him succeed in finding a proper match for Isaac. Abraham says:

The Lord, God of the heavens, Who took me from my father's house and from the land of my birth, and Who spoke about me, and Who swore to me, saying, 'To your seed will I give this land' He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.  [1]

Rashi, the classic commentator of the Torah, is intrigued by Abraham’s description of G-d. In this verse Abraham refers to G-d only as the “G-d of heavens”, yet in an earlier verse Abraham refers to G-d as the “the God of the heaven and the God of the earth”. Why the change? Rashi explains that Abraham was telling Eliezer:  

“Now He is the God of the heaven and the God of the earth, because I have made Him familiar in the mouths of the people, but when He took me from my father’s house, He was the God of the heavens but not the God of the earth, because mankind did not acknowledge Him, and His name was not familiar on the earth.” [2]

Abraham is telling Eliezer that when he first heeded G-d’s calling, leaving his father’s home and journeying to what would become the land of Israel, G-d was only the G-d of the heavens. Now,  after decades of work in the land of Israel, G-d is not only the G-d of heaven but he is also the G-d of the earth, he is at home not only in heaven but also on earth.

This is Abraham’s achievement. Abraham is not satisfied with a G-d in heaven, Abraham wants G-d to be felt right here on earth.

Each of our lives is comprised of "heaven" and "earth". There are moments when we are in "heaven", we are connecting to spirituality. praying, performing acts of kindness, studying Torah, and feeling connected to the Divine.

Then, there are the "earth" moments. Moments when we feel that our existence is mundane. we may be at work, eating lunch, running errands, sitting in traffic, and the list goes on.

Abraham teaches us that the essence of Judaism is to bridge the gap between heaven and earth. The message of Judaism is that G-d wants to feel at home not only in heaven but also on earth. that we can and should infuse our earthly activities with spirituality and meaning.

Abraham teaches us, that to be a Jew is to experience that G-d is "God of the heaven and the God of the earth". [3]

 


[1] Genesis 24:7.

[2] Rashi Genesis 24:7 

[3] Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, Shabbat Chayey Sarah, 5739. 

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