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Blog - Torah Insights

The Emissary

RyGK8564520.jpgThe Emissary

Who is the most important character in the book of Genesis? Who is the character that we can most identify with?

That character is not one of our three patriarchs or four matriarchs, not one of their children or relatives and not one of the twelve tribes of Israel.

That character, in whom we see our own story, is none other than, the hero of this week’s Torah portion, Eliezer the servant of Abraham.

The patriarchs and matriarchs are more than just the founding fathers and mothers of our people. According to the Kabbalistic teachings, they are our patriarchs and matriarchs because the soul of each and every individual Jew is comprised of the qualities and attributes embodied by them. 

And yet, often, it can be hard for us to identify with our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Midrash teaches us that “The Patriarchs are truly the [Divine] chariot”, just as a chariot has no will of it’s own, and is but a vehicle for the rider, so too the Patriarchs served as a vehicle for nothing but the Divine Will. 

So while our soul possesses love, the attribute of Abraham, awe and discipline, the attribute of Isaac, and compassion, the attribute of Jacob, we also hang on to our own identity. We navigate through life, and we want to know “what’s in it for me”. We don’t always identify with the “chariot” of our history, with those men and women who saw themselves exclusively as chariots to the divine will.   

Enter Eliezer.

Eliezer was the servant of Abraham, dispatched to a distant land to find a bride for Isaac. Eliezer was entrusted with facilitating the marriage that would produce the Jewish people, whose job it would be to bring heaven and earth together in marriage. 

Eliezer himself had mixed feelings about his mission. On the one hand he understood the importance of fulfilling Abraham’s request of finding a wife for Isaac from amongst Abraham’s family, but on the other hand he had a psychological resistance to the success of the mission. According the Midrash, Eliezer hoped that his own daughter would be the one to marry Isaac, thus, the success of his mission would spell the end of his own personal aspiration.

Before Eliezer embarked on his mission he said to Abraham: 'Perhaps the woman will not follow me?'. Rashi points out that there was deeper meaning to this innocent sounding question:

Perhaps the woman will not follow me: It [the word אֻלַי (perhaps)] is written [without a “vav” and may be read] אֵלַי (to me). Eliezer had a daughter, and he was looking for a pretext so that Abraham would tell him, to turn to him, to marry off his daughter to him (Isaac).[1]

Eliezer is not a son who is capable of completely surrendering himself to his parents. Eliezer is an independent person. An Emissary. An individual with his own personality, perspective and agenda. And yet, it is specifically Eliezer, despite his misgivings about the mission, who succeeds in his mission of arranging the marriage. Despite his own doubts and misgivings, he is the one who, relying on his own initiative, using his own creativity, employing his own judgment, is instrumental in the marriage that would perpetuate Abraham’s legacy for all future generations.

If the purpose of creation is to bring together spirit and matter, then that purpose must be carried out by people like you and me, who, like Eliezer, possess both polar opposites within themselves. By combining our own identity and perspective with the perspective of the Divine we are able to use our personal gifts, talents and unique touch to carry out the vision of the creator. Only when the two diametrical parts of ourselves, the voice of Abraham and the voice of our own individuality, collaborate to achieve one goal,  are we able to unite our internal ”heaven” and “earth”, are we able to accomplish the purpose of creation of the universe  and fuse the material with the spiritual.[2]

 


[1] Rashi on Genesis 24:29.  

[2] Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Chayey Sarah 5752 at the international conference of the Rebbe’s emissaries. 

The Sodom Mentality

The Sodom Mentality

We read of the wicked city of Sodom, a city where giving charity was a capital crime, and we wonder how did its people become so evil? What caused them to be so opposed to even simple acts of kindness? What did they find so offensive about sharing one's possessions with someone less fortunate?

 Sodom and its laws did not just spring out of a vacuum. Sodom, its philosophy and its way of life, was a direct reaction to the generation of the flood[1]

During the generation of the flood, the Torah tells us:

“The earth was corrupt before God, and the earth became full of robbery. And God saw the earth, and behold it had become corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth has become full of robbery because of them, and behold I am destroying them from the earth”[2].

The people of Sodom took the lesson of the flood to heart, they understood that the cause of the destruction of the generation of the flood was their robbery, their utter disrespect for private property. The people of the generation of the flood felt entitled to other people's possessions and rejected the notion that one person could own an object and exclude others from using it. The flood, the people of Sodom understood, was a Divine rebuke for robbery and theft.

As a result of the great flood the people of Sodom recommitted to the respect of property ownership and rights. They correctly understood that to violate someone else's ownership was a grave sin, one that would undermine a healthy and moral society.

The problem, however, was that they swung to the opposite extreme.

So strong was their commitment to the notion of private property, so powerful was their devotion to private ownership that they outlawed charity and pronounced it an illegitimate act. To them an act of charity was an immoral act because it transferred possessions from the “deserving” owner to the “undeserving” stranger.

The truth, however, is that both the generation of the flood and the people of Sodom were terribly mistaken. The people of the flood were wrong in denying property ownership, but the people of Sodom were just as wrong in outlawing charity. They missed the truth embodied by Abraham who performed “Charity and Law”[3]. Abraham understood the value of “law”, of private property, but he also understood that the purpose of the “law”, the philosophical underpinnings for the right to possess, is the “charity”. The purpose of private ownership is to allow for people to be charitable and give from what is legally theirs to the less fortunate.

How do we react to a society like Sodom? How do we respond when we see people who seek to outlaw compassion and legalize cruelty to the “other”?

Our Patriarch Abraham taught us just that.

When Abraham’s pleas to G-d were unable to save Sodom, after Sodom was overturned, the Torah tells us that Abraham migrated from that region as Rashi explains: “Abraham traveled from there: When he saw that the cities had been destroyed and that travelers had ceased to pass by, he migrated from there”[4]. Abraham wanted to bring his message of kindness based on the belief in one G-d to the people. Eventually, the Torah tells us that Abraham settled in Bear Sheva and planted an “Eshel”. What is an Eshel? Rashi offers two opinions:

An eishel: Heb. אֵשֶׁל [There is a dispute between] Rav and Samuel. One says that it was an orchard from which to bring fruits for the guests at the meal, and one says that it was an inn for lodging, in which there were all sorts of fruits. We find the expression of planting (נְטִיעָה) used in conjunction with tents, as it is written (Dan. 11:45):“And he will pitch (וְיִטַע) his palatial tents.”

What both the interpretations have in common is that Abraham was sharing with his guests not only necessities, bread and water necessary for survival, but rather Abraham was sharing luxury. He was in the habit of sharing fruit which were the delicacies of his time.

Abraham responded to the culture of Sodom not merely by sharing bread and water, but with treating the “other” with dignity and respect, reserving for them the delicacies of life that one reserves for one’s own family[5].

Abraham taught a simple, yet profound, lesson. In the face of the cruelty of Sodom we must respond not merely with kindness but with intense kindness. In the face of extreme cruelty we must, like Abraham in his day, respond not only with love but with extreme love.   

 


[1] See Kehot Chumash page 112.

[2] Genesis 6:11-13.

[3] Ibid. 18:19.

[4] Ibid. 20:1.

[5] See Lekutey Sichos, Vayera Vol. 3. 

See the Land

6263577165_b7d138afe8_b.jpg

See the Land 

Abraham was a newcomer in the land.

After heeding G-d’s call to “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you”, after making the long journey from Charan to Canaan, G-d reiterates the promise that he will give the land to Abraham and his descendants. The Torah tells us (Genesis, 13:14-17):  

And the Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, "Please raise your eyes and see, from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward.

For all the land that you see I will give to you and to your seed to eternity.

And I will make your seed like the dust of the earth, so that if a man will be able to count the dust of the earth, so will your seed be counted. 

Rise, walk in the land, to its length and to its breadth, for I will give it to you."

On the surface, these verses, containing the promise of the land, seem straightforward; upon deeper examination, however, they appear to be contradictory.

At first, in verse 14, G-d tells Abraham “Please raise your eyes and see”, meaning, that in order to acquire the land, all he has to do is look, “raise your eyes and see”, no further action required. As reiterated in the next verse: “For all the land that you see I will give to you and to your seed to eternity”.

Very soon afterward, however, G-d seems to have changed his tone. All of the sudden seeing the land is not enough; in order to acquire the land Abraham was required to walk its length and breadth. As stated in verse 17: ”Rise, walk in the land, to its length and to its breadth, for I will give it to you", all of the sudden, it was not enough for Abraham to look at the land, he was required to actually walk it.

The reason for the double commandment, to “lift up your eyes” and to “rise, walk the land”, is because in truth, G-d was granting Abraham not one gift but two gifts, one was to be acquired through seeing, while the other was acquired through walking.[1]

The land of Israel possesses plains and hills, a sea and rivers. It is a land flowing with milk and honey. The physical land of Israel was to be acquired by the physical act of walking the length and breadth of the land.

But that is only part of the story. 

In addition to the physical land, in addition to the beautiful hills and valleys, there is another gift: the spiritual land of Israel. The spirit of Israel, the holiness of Israel, cannot be attained merely by walking the land. To connect to the spirituality of Israel, G-d tells Abraham, one must “raise your eyes and see”. One must look beyond the obvious, one must “raise” and uplift oneself to see and connect to the holiness and spirituality of the Holy land.

Thus, when G-d told Abraham to walk the land, to take possession of the physical land, G-d said “for I will give it to you”. Yet when commanding Abraham to “raise your eyes and see” in order to acquire the spiritual land of Israel, G-d promised “For all the land that you see I will give to you and to your seed to eternity”. For, historically, while the ownership of the physical land was not always in our hands, the spiritual connection, was always in the possession of the seed of Abraham, and will be so for eternity.

We are not always on the physical land of Israel, not always able to walk its length and breadth. But we always possess the spiritual Israel: a yearning to connect to the Divine and the desire and will to create a home for G-d on this earth.  

Next time you visit Israel savor every moment, take in the beauty of the land, enjoy its landscapes. Eat Hummus overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, visit the green hills of the Galilee, and the stone hills of Jerusalem. Explore the Negev Desert and the cafes of Tel Aviv. But most importantly, just like our Patriarch Abraham, make sure to “raise your eyes and see”. Experience the spiritual Israel, tap into her holiness and touch her heart and soul. See how she reconnects you to the creator of all life.

 


[1] See the commentary of the Kli Yakar. 

Natural Light

Natural Light

The story of Noach (Noah) and the flood is not a legend from ancient history. It is the story of the life of every soul’s journey on this earth. The word Noach is derived from the Hebrew word for rest. The soul, prior to its voyage on the journey we call life is in a state of peace and tranquility. In the state of Noach, the state of rest, there is clarity of purpose, there is no worry and no inner conflict. 

Then, the soul is sent down to a stormy world, a world filled with challenges and turmoil, confusion and tension. Like the Biblical Noach, the soul rides the turbulent waves in its ark. The soul must overcome torrents of distraction, survive in a materialistic world, and stay true to its inner self despite the external challenges.

In order for the soul to stay on course, to keep inspired, to remain connected, to discover spiritual light, it must turn to Noach and his ark to see how Noach himself was able to illuminate his ark.

When commanding Noach to build the ark G-d said: “You shall make a light (“Tzohar”) for the ark”.[1] The big question was, what kind of light should Noach use? How does one create light amidst the darkness of the flood? Rashi, the primary Biblical commentator, quotes the Midrash which offers two opinions as to the meaning of the word “Tzohar”, light, in G-d’s commandment to Noach:

a light: Heb. צֹהַר, lit. light. Some say [that it was] a window, and some say [that it was] a precious stone, which gave them light.

These two opinions, a window or a precious stone, Chasidic Philosophy explains, represent two approaches on how to bring spiritual light into one’s life. A window, allows light to enter from the outside. In life, there are “window” moments. Moments when we experience the extraordinary. A moment of deep inspiration, the birth of a child, a new discovery, and the like. “Window” moments are moments of small miracles, moments when the ordinary is pulled away, a window is created, and we feel the light from above, we feel the touch of the Divine, the warmth of inspiration from above.

That is the first step, and the first opinion of the “light” in the Ark.

Then, as Rashi continues, there is a second opinion. “Some say”, after the first, more obvious light is attained, after we learn to celebrate, appreciate and derive inspiration from the miraculous moments of our lives, “some say”, some reach a more profound perspective and say that there is no need to wait for the light from above, there is no need to depend on the extraordinary for inspiration. “Some say” that the light in the ark was that of “a precious stone, which gave them light.” According to the second opinion the light does not come in from above, but rather, one can find light within the ark itself. The “precious stone” moments, are within day-to-day existence itself.

After learning to identify the extraordinary experiences, “the windows” of our lives, we can learn to find “precious stones”. We can learn to see the Divine in the mundane, the miracle in the natural reality, in the seemingly mundane, we learn to see the remarkable Divine touch.[2]      

 


[1] Genesis 6:16.

[2] Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutey Sichos Noach vol. 10 Sicha 1. 

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