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The Double Blessing - תולדות

The Double Blessing

Isaac assumed that the person standing before him was Esau, his eldest son, who he intended to bless before his passing. Unbeknownst to him it was actually Jacob, his younger son, disguised as Esau. Isaac began the blessing with an unusual choice of words, which offer insight into the nature of this particular blessing which was intended for Esau. 


The opening phrase of the blessing is: ‘May Elokim {G-d} grant you”. Elokim is the name of G-d which expresses concealment, judgment, and withholding. It is an unusual name to be used in association with a blessing. In fact, most blessings in the Torah are associated with the name Hashem, which represents benevolence and revelation. 


The first word of the blessing is “and”, which implies that the statement is a continuation of a previous statement, when in fact, the word “and” is the beginning of the blessing. Rashi explains that the “and” represents a double giving: “May He {G-d} give and repeatedly give ”. This explanation, however, prompts another question: why the need for an additional blessing? What is lacking in the first blessing that requires a second blessing? 


The conventional meaning of a blessing is the bestowal of a gift which does not require effort on the part of the recipient. Yet, Isaac’s blessings differed considerably. Unlike Abraham, who embodied loving kindness and giving, Isaac embodied the attributes of discipline and restraint. Isaac's idea of blessing was empowering the recipient to achieve through his or her own effort. Isaac did not suffice with the blessing from above, for he wanted his son to acquire the blessing through his own effort. This can be compared to a student who not only receives information, knowledge  and enlightenment from his teacher, but rather he also learns how to innovate and create new ideas. Isaac blessed his son that he should receive blessing from G-d, {“may He give”}, additionally, his son should tread his own path and create his own blessing {“and return and give”}.


Generally speaking there are two ways of serving G-d: The first is the path of the righteous who follow G-d's directives as spelled out in the Torah. They seek to receive direction and inspiration from above.  Yet, often we are confronted with challenges and confusion, finding ourselves in a state of spiritual darkness, feeling disconnected from the gift of the Torah. At those times we are unable to appreciate the inspiration from above.  When that happens we have no choice but to engage in the second, more profound, form of Divine service: the service of Teshuvah, return to G-d, motivated by the inspiration generated from within the person himself. The service of Teshuvah is a true human innovation for it has the power to elevate negativity by transforming unholy, destructive experiences into fuel for good, motivating a deep longing and yearning for G-d. 


Isaac knew that his son Esau was out of touch with his spiritual source and the Divine potential gifted to him from above. He therefore began the blessing with the name Elokim, which represents G-d’s ability to conceal his awesome presence. Isaac was telling his son that the greatest blessing is the ability to transform the state of
concealment {which can occur as a result of the name Elokim} through one’s own effort. The greatest blessing is not the one given from above {“may he give”}, but rather the one created by man {“and repeatedly give”}. 


Rebekah, however, understood that Jacob was the one who must receive the blessing intended for Esau. For only the righteous Jacob can harness the profound energy and passion generated by returning to G-d from a place of darkness. In the final analysis, Jacob was the one who could cultivate both qualities, the quality of the righteous as well as the quality of the returnee, thus granting each and every one of his descendants the ability to experience both forms of the divine blessing. 

Based on Lekutei Sichos Toldos, vol. 10 sicha 2.  


The Double Cave - חיי שרה

The Double Cave 

Mearat Hamachpela, “the double cave”, was the place Abraham chose to purchase for the burial of his wife Sarah. The Torah describes how Abraham negotiated and ultimately purchased the cave, yet the Torah does not explain why Abraham chose that particular spot, which ultimately became the burial spot of our patriarchs and matriarchs (excluding Rachel). 

In order to discover the mystical and spiritual significance of the cave we must first explore why the cave was called “the double cave”. The Talmud relates:  

With regard to the Machpelah Cave, in which the patriarchs and matriarchs are buried, Rav and Shmuel disagreed. One said: The cave consists of two rooms, one further in than the other. And one said: It consists of a room and a second story above it.

The Chassidic masters explain that the configuration of the cave explained in the Talmud is a physical representation of a spiritual reality. The patriarchs and matriarchs embodied the concept of “the double cave” in their lifetime, they therefore merited to be buried in that holy spot, which, as explained in the Zohar, is the “opening of Eden”, it is the place on earth that represents the entrance to heaven. This is the meaning of “the double cave”, the space of the cave is “double”, it possesses a dual reality, it is the place where dimensions of both earth and heaven, of physical and spiritual, are present. 

The Chassidic masters elaborate: one opinion in the Talmud is that the word “double” refers to the cave consisting of two stories, one above the other. This represents the awareness that every person possesses two dimensions, one above the other; the first level represents ordinary material life, in which we are preoccupied primarily with the needs of our body, and “above” the physical reality is the domain of the soul, the higher more spiritual side of self. The patriarchs and matriarchs teach us to live in both these dimensions simultaneously, not to be satisfied with a materialistic definition of self, but rather to seek and experience our heavenly dimension, to feel the yearning of our soul to ascend to its source within G-d himself. 

Once we are in touch with the “higher story” dimension of life we can appreciate the other interpretation in the Talmud, which is that the cave was called “double” because it consisted of an outer chamber and an inner chamber. The symbolism of “two rooms, one further in than the other” is that in every person we meet, and every experience we encounter, we have a choice to focus exclusively on the externality of the person or experience, or we can look deeper and see the “inner room”, the inner soul and spark of G-d that  lies hidden within every person we meet and every experience we encounter. 

The double cave represents the legacy our patriarchs and matriarchs pass on to us. We should live to its fullest, not being satisfied with the shallow and superficial dimension of existence. We must seek to experience both the “room and a second story above it”, both our physical awareness as well as the heavenly source of our soul. The awareness of both dimensions of self will allow us to see, not only the outer chamber, the external, but also the inner chamber, the deepest holy core of every person and of every experience. 

(Adapted from the Sfas Emes)


Relationships Require Two Wings - וירא

Relationships Require Two Wings 

A bird cannot fly with one wing alone, and relationships cannot survive on love alone. To escape the pull of gravity, a relationship requires both the passion of love and the discipline of devotion and commitment. 

The story of Abraham is told primarily in two portions of the Torah, Lech Lecha and Vayera. Lech Lecha tells of Abraham’s life up until his circumcision at age ninety nine. Vayera opens with the scene of Abraham, experiencing the pain of circumcision, sitting at the opening of his tent and seeking guests to invite: 

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. (Genesis, 18:2).

The sages explain that the three people were in fact three angels, each assigned with a specific task. The Zohar, however, states that the three people appearing at Abraham’s tent represent the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What is the significance of the three angels representing the three patriarchs? 

Each of the Patriarchs embodied one of the three primary emotional attributes: Abraham embodied love (or giving), Isaac embodied awe (or discipline), and Jacob embodied compassion. [Kindness seeks to give to everyone, because it sees good in everyone; discipline, the opposite extreme, seeks to restrict the giving to those who deserve it. Compassion blends the two, on the one hand it acknowledges that not everyone is deserving, on the other hand, it is prepared to give to someone who is in need, even if undeserving].   

Abraham was the embodiment of love, his entire life was about kindness, inviting guests, feeding travelers, and seeking to enlighten the people around him. Yet, love alone is not enough for a meaningful relationship. Ultimately all love is motivated by self love. A person loves someone or something because of how the person or the experience makes them feel. To transcend the self and connect to someone else, one needs commitment and devotion, or, in the language of the Torah, awe. The ability  to put oneself  aside and to do what the other person wants, despite it not being something one wants to do. 

Indeed, the circumcision begins the process of Abraham being called upon to sacrifice for G-d (indeed, while the first portion of Abraham’s life primarily depicts Abraham’s love for G-d, the second portion, culminating in the ultimate sacrifice, the binding of Isaac, expresses how Abraham was called upon to express, not love, but disciplined commitment).  

This, explains the Chassidic Masters, is the significance of the three men, representing the three patriarchs, who appeared at Abraham’s tent after the circumcision. They represent a combination of all three attributes. By not being satisfied with love alone, but rather, by exhibiting disciplined commitment, Abraham reached the level of true service of G-d; embodying the ability to blend the two opposite emotions of love (Abraham) and awe (Isaac), blended together through compassion (Jacob).

The stories of the Patriarchs are relevant to each of our lives. In our relationship with G-d, as well as in our relationship with other people, we must cultivate both “wings” to allow the relationship to soar. We must cultivate both  love and commitment, the desire to become one and the discipline to respect our differences. Both wings are held together with the compassionate ability to balance the two.   

(Adapted from Kedushas Levi)

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