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Blog - Torah Insights

How to Bless a Rebellious Child - תולדת

How to Bless a Rebellious Child

The aging Isaac decided to bless his eldest son Esau, but, strangely, Isaac would not bless Esau until Esau  would prepare food for Isaac, as the Torah relates: 

It came to pass when Isaac was old, and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called Esau his elder son, and he said to him, "My son," and he said to him, "Here I am." 

And he said, "Behold now, I have grown old; I do not know the day of my death.

So, now, sharpen your implements, your sword [and take] your bow, and go forth to the field, and hunt game for me.

And make for me tasty foods as I like, and bring them to me, and I will eat, in order that my soul will bless you before I die."  (Genesis 27:1-3)

How is it possible that Isaac, the quintessential spiritual person, who was prepared to offer himself as a sacrifice to G-d, refused to bless his child until his child would offer him a piece of meat?  

In order to understand Isaac’s request for Esau to prepare delicacies, we must first explore the broader question: why would Isaac love Esau the hunter more than Jacob the tent dweller? We would expect that Isaac would appreciate Jacob’s spiritual pursuits more than Esau’s hunting. 

Isaac loved Esau because Isaac saw the potential within Esau’s chaotic passion. Isaac recognized that if Esau would channel his energy to constructive and holy pursuits, he would, with the power of his intense passion, be able to achieve far greater heights than Jacob.

Isaac told Esau “So, now, sharpen your tools, your sword [and take] your bow”. The Hebrew word for Sharpen (“Sa”) also means “raise up”. Isaac told Esau that he would be worthy of blessing if he would elevate his talents and passions. Instead of directing his passion to a destructive goal, he should channel his talents and passions toward the transcendent and holy, toward helping feed another. Isaac was not looking for lunch, he was looking to help Esau discover the pleasure of channeling his energy toward a constructive goal. He was looking to give Esau a model for how to live his life. A model of how to navigate the intense energy within his soul. Isaac was teaching Esau not to suppress his nature  but rather to elevate it. Not to fight it but to channel it. 

We each have both an Isaac and an Esau within our own heart. The Jacob within us seeks the transcendent and the holy, but it lacks the intensity and passion with which the Esau within us pursues its destructive desires. Isaac teaches us that ultimately our purpose is to harmonize the Jacob and the Esau within ourselves. The passion of Esau is should be channeled and focused on the goals of Jacob. 

 

The Journey Toward Joy - חיי שרה

The Journey Toward Joy

From the dawn of history people have been searching for a sense of joy which is as elusive as it is desirable. 

When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden in a state of tranquility and spiritual enlightenment, free of worry and hardship, they were unsatisfied, and therefore susceptible to the temptation of the forbidden 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. (Genesis 3:6)

According to the Kabbalah, what Eve wanted more than anything, was not the fruit per se but rather she was seeking  a feeling of the subjective self. In Eden there was no feeling of self, only an awareness of the Divine presence. The serpent showed Eve that one could experience a sense of self which created  desire. Fulfilling one’s own desire and pleasure, argued the serpent, is the way joy can be achieved. Unfortunately, experiencing the sense of ego resulted in tragic consequences. In a matter of a few generations humanity had deteriorated, the world was filled with moral corruption, and G-d brought the flood upon the earth.   

As soon as Noah disembarked from the ark, we read: 

And Noah began to be a master of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent. (ibid. 9:21)

Noah was no simple drunk who was finally able to get back the bottle after a full year in the ark. Drinking wine was Noah’s attempt to correct the spiritual effect of the sin of the tree of knowledge which brought about the moral depravity which ultimately led to the flood. Noah understood that ever since Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden mankind  possessed the feeling of self, which among other things, focused their attention on their own needs. This led to selfishness which robbed them of happiness. For the ego is never satisfied with what it has, however much it has it always desires more. 

Noah wanted to reverse the course of human psychology, he desired to break free of the confines of the ego, and, at least temporarily  escape the feeling of self. He hoped that getting drunk would suspend the sense of self and would bring about bliss and joy. 

Very quickly, however, Noah learned that the route to joy is not the suspension of consciousness through consuming alcohol. That episode did not end well.

And then came Sarah our matriarch. According to the Kabbalists Sarah was the first person to achieve the wholesome experience of a joyous life. She was the first to “correct” the negative behavior of Eve and Noah. Sarah understood that the path to joy does not run through the experience of self, like the pleasure of the fruit of the tree of knowledge; nor can it be achieved by escaping self awareness as Noah attempted to do. Sarah understood that while we cannot go back in time and return to Eden,while we cannot liberate ourselves from the sense of self, we can achieve joy by devoting ourselves to something greater than ourselves. When our sense of self is part of a transcendent experience, we are able to escape the ego without destroying awareness.

As a consequence of the sin of the tree of knowledge, G-d told Eve “in sadness you shall bear children. (ibid. 3:16)”.  For in a world where people perceive themselves, there is pleasure but also sadness. Yet, many generations later, Sarah understood that devoting oneself to raising a child, devoting oneself to a purpose beyond one's own self, is a model for becoming holy and achieving joy. Indeed when Sarah gave birth she named her son Isaac, which means joy and laughter. She modeled the transformation from pain to joy not only for herself but also for everyone around her, as the Torah relates,And Sarah said, "God has made joy for me; whoever hears will rejoice over me." (ibid. 20:6)

Sarah teaches us that in order to transcend the ego which stifles joy, one must transcend oneself by being part of a greater story and a greater mission; a mission to make the world a better place by carrying out the Divine purpose of creation.  

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Vayihiyu Chayey Sarah 5741).

Feeling Connected Throughout the Day - וירא

Feeling Connected Throughout the Day

The story of Abraham spans two portions in the book of Genesis: Lech Licha, which concludes with the story of Abraham circumcising himself, and Vayera, which begins with the story of G-d visiting Abraham when he was in the process of healing from the circumcision. 

Why do the portions divide in a seemingly unnatural place? Why separate between the circumcision and the healing? The story divides at this point because after the circumcision Abraham was a completely transformed person. After the circumcision his experiences were radically different from before the circumcision.

G-d is the infinite creator who created a finite universe. Conventional wisdom would argue that in order to connect to the infinite G-d one must separate from the physical, escape the trappings of day to day life, and meditate on the infinite. Indeed, that was the experience of Abraham himself. When he would experience prophecy he would fall on his face and lose touch with physical reality for the duration of the prophetic experience. 

Circumcision however, ushered in a new stage in Abraham’s connection to G-d. Circumcision embodies the purpose of all the Torah: to sanctify the material world, to the extent that the holiness permeates the flesh, and the bond with G-d is seen and felt in the physical world. Circumcision represents the true infinity of G-d. It expresses that G-d is not confined to the infinite but rather He can be found in the finite as well. 

Thus, immediately after the circumcision, in the opening phrase of this week’s portion, a new stage in Abraham’s life begins. The Torah relates: 

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. (Genesis 18:1)

The extraordinary novelty of this verse is not that, for the first time, G-d appeared to Abraham in the middle of the day, while sitting at the door of his tent waiting for guests. In fact, what was exceptional was that Abraham experienced the revelation while simultaneously receiving his guests. As a result of the circumcision, physical reality was no longer a distraction from the Divine. The seemingly impassable gulf between heaven and earth, between material and spiritual, was bridged. Abraham could now experience G-d’s revelation while interacting with other human beings. 

Only after the circumcision was Abraham capable of fathering Isaac. It was Isaac’s descendants who would accept the Torah at Sinai, and who would be tasked with the responsibility of connecting heaven and earth, infusing the physical reality with holiness through performing the commandments of the Torah.

The Torah relates that while experiencing the Divine revelation Abraham saw three people. Abraham ran toward them to invite them into his home. Abraham said: 

"My lord, if only I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass on from beside your servant.” (ibid. 18:3)

One interpretation is that Abraham was talking to the leader of the three guests, asking the guests to enter his tent. Another interpretation is that Abraham was talking to G-d; asking G-d to stand by and not leave Abraham’s presence while Abraham tended to his guests. 

Contemporary commentators suggest that when Abraham said to G-d, “do not pass on from beside your servant”, do not leave me while I interact with  people, Abraham was requesting that he be allowed to experience this newfound spiritual awareness. He was asking G-d for the ability to feel connected to G-d not only while engaging in spiritual pursuits but also while interacting with people. Abraham desired  to feel the connection to G-d in every activity he engaged in, thus sanctifying every aspect of life. 

(Adapted from Likutey Sichos Lech Licha vol. 1, Abarbenel, and commentary by Sivan Rahav Meir). 

The Journey of Your Soul - לך לך

The Journey of Your Soul

Expressing abstract wisdom in simple language is difficult and could be painful. To do so, the scholar must leave the comfort of his  knowledge and expertise and descend into the world, where the audience is not be on the same level as he is. Expressing abstract wisdom in simple language requires limiting the light, masking some of the beauty of the wisdom and expressing it in simple terms in order that the listener can understand. 

This decent, however, will ultimately lead the scholar to a deeper appreciation of the wisdom. Because when one is forced to explain an abstract idea in concrete terms, when one is forced to create an analogy to help people grasp an intangible idea, one will attain a deeper level of understanding. To be able to communicate a lofty concept in simple terms the wise person has to reach the essence and soul of the idea, only then will he succeed in condensing the concept and expressing it with an appropriate analogy.

The explain the Kabbalists, is the deeper meaning of the G-d’s first communication with Abram (Abraham’s original name): 

"Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1) 

This commandment contains multiple layers of meaning. Yes, Abram was to leave Mesopotamia and travel to what would become the land of Israel, but there is a mystical meaning to the verse as well. Abram, represents abstract wisdom. The word Abram is comprised of two words “Av”, father, which in Kabbalistic terminology is a metaphor for wisdom, and “Ram” which means elevated. Abram is exalted wisdom. [At the time Abram was living in Charan, which Kabbalisticly, represents the “neck” which blocks the abstract wisdom from expressing itself in terms that would allow it to descend into concrete language that could inspire emotions in the heart]. 

Abram’s physical journey was a symbol of his spiritual journey. The journey meant leaving the comfort of his own thoughts and expressing his abstract ideas of monotheism and morality to people who were on a far lower spiritual and intellectual level than himself. Yet, this downward journey, this descent, led Abram to greater heights. As G-d promised Abram, that as a result of his journey: 

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing. 

Abram’s journey was far from challenge free. He was faced with many physical and spiritual challenges. He was forced to descend to Egypt where his wife was abducted. His close relationships with his nephew Lot and Concubine Hagar were tested. G-d informed him that his descendants would be enslaved for four hundred years. Yet Abraham understood that the more challenging the journey, the greater the spiritual gain. Abram understood that a descent is critical to, and, therefore, part and parcel of, the journey upward.  

The story of Abram is the story of every soul. 

The soul originates in the spiritual worlds, surrounded by Divine wisdom and awareness. The soul is then called upon to begin the journey we call life. This journey, from the spiritual worlds to life in this physical world seems to be a descent for the soul. No longer can it bask in the glow of spiritual enlightenment and closeness to the infinite light. No longer can it remain in the realm of abstract ideas. On this earth the soul must attend to the concrete needs of the body; food, shelter and comfort. The soul is no longer in the world of “Av” “Ram”, the world of abstract knowledge and enlightenment. The soul is right here on planet earth.

Yet, like Abram our patriarch, like the wise teacher forced to condense his wisdom into a parable, the soul must now express its relationship to G-d in a concrete way. By using physical objects to fulfill the Divine will, by developing an awareness of the Divine on this earth, the soul reaches greater heights than if it had never  embarked on the journey. 

(Adapted form Torah Or, Parshas Lech Licha)   

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