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The Heat of the Day - וירא

The Heat of the Day

The story of Abraham’s life is primarily told in two portions of the Torah. Lech Licha and Vayera. In the first portion of Abraham's story, Abraham comes across as a deeply spiritual person. The Torah tells how he traveled the land and of the altars he built for  G-d in every place that he went. Toward the end of the first portion, G-d introduced a new idea to Abraham. No longer would it suffice for Abraham to be a spiritual person. From now on, Abraham task was to connect the spiritual with the physical. Abraham was commanded to circumcise himself, fulfilling G-d's commandment “my covenant will be in your flesh”. From here on Abraham’s mission was to teach how the spiritual covenant must express itself in the tangible physical world.

The second portion, Vayera, opens with Abraham, on the third day after his circumcision, sitting at the opening of his tent seeking guests. It was an exceedingly hot day and there was no one in sight, yet Abraham sat there, waiting and hoping to find someone to invite into his home. As the Torah tells us:

Now the Lord appeared to him in the plains of Mamre, and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent when the day was hot.

And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground.

The opening phrase is “the Lord appeared to him”. As a result of this Divine revelation Abraham reached a greater expression of kindness to others. Typically a kind person will express kindness when he or she sees someone in need, or at least someone who can receive the kindness. In this scene Abraham reaches a new level of kindness. Abraham was sitting at the opening of his tent looking to express kindness even when there was no one in sight who was in need of kindness. Abraham’s heart was overflowing with love. For The more Abraham experienced the presence of G-d the more he sought to share with others, the more he transcended himself and sought to connect and to share with other people.[1] 

The verse continues “and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent when the day was hot.” the literal translation of the verse is that “and he was sitting  at the entrance of the tent like the heat of the day”. The verse does not read “in the heat of the day”, but rather it says “like the heat of the day”.The verse implies that Abraham himself was like the “heat of the day”.[2] Abraham himself was like the sun spreading warmth, love and enlightenment.

Many spiritual seekers seek to escape worldly distractions and seek enlightenment in solitude. The more enlightenment they experience the more removed they become from the rest of society. But Abraham taught us to realize that the closer one comes to spirituality, holiness and transcendence, the more the person will “sit at the opening of the tent”, seeking to express kindness even when the need is not immediately present before him or her. The closer one become to G-d the the more he or she  will be “like the heat of the day”, like the sun, expressing warmth and friendship to all.


[1] Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Vayera 5725.

[2] See commentary of the Kli Yakar.

Focused Love - לך לך

s.jpgFocused Love

Abraham embodied love and kindness as an expression of the one G-d, creator of the entire universe. Abraham, spent his career teaching people about monotheism, the belief in the one, all omnipresent G-d, and fought against the idea of idol worship, teaching that the human being should serve no force of nature and no other human being, only G-d himself. 

Abraham felt a deep closeness to his eldest son Yishmael, the son of Hagar Sarah’s maidservant. Yishmael embodied his teachings. As a result of the time spent in his father’s home, Yishmael refused to submit to any person but to the one G-d.

Indeed, even before Yishmael’s birth the angel of G-d told Hagar that her son would be a free spirited person:

And the angel of the Lord said to her, "Behold, you will conceive and bear a son, and you shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard your affliction.

And he will be a wild man; his hand will be upon all, and everyone's hand upon him, and before all his brothers he will dwell." (Genesis 16:11-12)

Despite the influence of Abraham’s ideas and beliefs, Yishmael  would not be the one to receive the Divine covenant, and bear the eternal legacy of Abraham. Indeed, while Abraham was content in having Yishmael be his only heir, G-d insisted that the Abrahamic covenant would continue through the son that would be born to Sarah:  

And G-d said, "Indeed, your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac, and I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his seed after him. (ibid. 17:19)

That is because the Jewish nation could only be established through the union of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham’s love was not sufficient to father the nation that would have an eternal covenant with G-d. Abraham's love was unlimited, he spread his love to all. But Sarah understood, that love must be focused and disciplined. To love properly, one must be willing to exclude influences that would undermine the love. The potent force of love must be focused and directed. Just as a mother protects her child, Sarah’s love motivated her to expel negative influence from her home environment. Abraham without Sarah, love without discipline and focus, is like freedom without commitment, which is but a distorted expression of freedom.  

Abraham and Sarah did not always share the same perspective. They disagreed strongly about important issues. Abraham’s love spread to everybody, while Sarah’s love expressed strength and discipline. Only the marriage of Abraham and Sarah could produce the holy nation.

The healthy tension between Abraham and Sarah teaches us that both love and discipline are necessary in our own life. When we read the stories of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, we are also reading our own personal story. Ensuring that the “marriage” between the Abraham and Sarah within ourselves is harmonious and balanced, will allow us to continue the mission of Abraham and Sarah: filling this earth with goodness and kindness motivated by the awareness of G-d.

(Adapted from Torah Or, Anochi Magen Lach.)


Waves of Change - נח

Noah.jpgWaves of Change

There are extreme fluctuations in the creator’s attitude toward his creation in the first two portions of the book of Genesis.

At first G-d is in love with the world. He created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Each day of creation G-d looked at the creation of that day and “saw that it was good”. And upon the conclusion of the sixth day G-d saw that  all that He created was not only good, but “exceedingly good”:

And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was exceedingly good (Genesis, 1:31).

Yet, very quickly things turned in the opposite direction. Toward the end of the first portion we read that G-d decided to take the drastic measure of destroying all that He had created on earth.

We then read, in the second portion of the Torah, about the terrible flood. After which, G-d seemed to, once again, take the opposite approach. Somehow, he again fell in love with  creation and promised never again to bring flood the earth.

Why was G-d’s response to the evil of man so dramatically different before and after the flood? If G-d could somehow tolerate the evil after the flood, why could he not have done the same before the flood? Why was it necessary to destroy all the creations of earth?

The generations from Adam to Noah are compared to a student who is close to a most inspirational teacher. As long as the student is in close proximity to the teacher, he will be uplifted and filled with the wisdom and enlightenment flowing from the teacher. But the student himself did not yet learn to innovate, he did not yet cultivate the skills needed in order to discover wisdom on his own. If, for whatever reason, he departs from his teacher's presence, he will be unable to innovate and discover wisdom from within.  

In the beginning of creation, the world was solely an expression of the creator. He created the human being who had the potential to choose to do good. But at that point in history, “good” meant the ability to receive intuition  from the creator, to “see” G-d’s vision for humanity.

This explains why the generations chronicled in the first book of the Torah, lived exceptionally long lives, although they were not deserving of the blessing they received. Because in that period the flow of energy descending from above was an expression of G-d’s “giving”. It was not inspired by, nor dependent on, the actions of man.

On the sixth day of creation “Everything He made was exceedingly good”, because it was created and was inspired from above by the almighty G-d.

Then the people sinned, they filled the earth with corruption and separated themselves from their Divine source..

G-d therefore flooded the earth, because the people lost the spiritual sensitivity that was required to hear the voice from above. At that point in history there was no hope that they would find the calling to goodness and morality from within themselves. At that point there was no hope for correction, because they did not yet have the ability to self inspire, self refine, and self transform.  

When Noach emerged from the ark, the spiritual vitality that was previously available was no longer present. No longer did people live exceptionally long lives. The divine vitality was hidden, leaving people in a weakened state.

But something else happened as well; the waters of the flood were waves of purification.  

While the people were no longer able to receive the “goodness” that flowed from above, they were able to create “man-made” inspiration. The potential for their spiritual enlightenment was not as great, but they were refined enough to be able to find the voice of goodness within themselves. After the flood, humanity is likened to a student who learns how to cultivate wisdom on his own. The wisdom may not be as lofty as that which he received from his teacher, but it is wisdom he can generate no matter where he is.

The waters of the flood have created a world that is no longer solely dependent on inspiration from above. No matter how low they fall, even when the figurative clouds block the rays of Divine consciousness, ultimately people have the ability to transform themselves; to transform, the concealment into a magnificent work of art. They can now, using the very cloud of concealment, reflect the light of the sun and generate a rainbow.    

(Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Noach vol. 15 Sicha 3).


A Memo to Cain - בראשית

h.jpgA Memo to Cain

If you had Cain’s ear moments before he killed his brother Abel, what would you tell him? If you had to condense everything you know about justice, morality, and decency into a few short phrases what would you say?

G-d had a chance to do just that. Cain was terribly angry at his brother, so angry that just a little while later he murdered his brother in cold blood. G-d sensed Cain’s anger and He addressed him with just two short verses. Understood correctly, these verses capture all Cain needed to know in order to help him overcome his anger, and, understood correctly, these verses are all we need to know in order for us to make the correct choice in the face of raging negative emotions in our heart.  

Here are the cryptic words that G-d spoke to Cain:

And the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you annoyed, and why has your countenance fallen?

Is it not so that if you improve, it will be forgiven you? If you do not improve, however, at the entrance, sin is lying, and to you is its longing, but you can rule over it." (Genesis 4:6-7).

Cain, unfortunately, did not take this message to heart and chose to act on his emotional impulses. But these words were written in the Torah so that we can learn their critical, life changing, message.

Cain felt terrible anger toward Abel. Cain innovated the idea of offering a gift to G-d. “Cain brought of the fruit of the soil an offering to the Lord.”. Cain watched as Abel copied his idea and received the credit and recognition for it: “And Abel he too brought of the firstborn of his flocks and of their fattest, and the Lord turned to Abel and to his offering. But to Cain and to his offering He did not turn, and it annoyed Cain exceedingly, and his countenance fell.”

When the rage against his brother was threatening to take control of him, the most important thing Cain needed to hear was this: the rage is not you. The anger is not you. The evil inclination is something you have inside of you but it does not define you and it is not you. G-d told Cain that although there is a powerful force inside you, you must understand that “to you is its longing”. “It” the evil inclination, the negative passion, “longs” “to you”, but, understand, it is not you.

That leads to the next point: “you can rule over it.” The negative passion is not your true self. You can take control over the passion. The common translation of the verse is “if you improve, it will be forgiven you”. Yet the literal translation is “if you improve, lift up”. G-d explained to Cain that the negative passion in his heart could not only be controlled, but it could and should be elevated. When channeled to positivity the awesome strength of the passion will direct the person to greater heights.

This is an essential lesson for each of us. This one verse contains all we need to know about the inner turmoil of our emotions:

1) The negative passion is not who we are. (“its longing is to you”)

2) it can be controlled (“you can rule over it”).

3) its awesome might is, in fact, a great blessing for us (“if you improve, uplift”). Channeled correctly it can propel us to achieve unimaginable greatness.       


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