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Blog - Torah Insights

Three Dimensions of a Wholesome Relationship - תרומה

Three Dimensions of a Wholesome Relationship 

Every Jewish home has the potential of becoming a home for G-d, similar to the tabernacle which we read about in this week’s portion. Our sages teach that “when man and woman merit, the Divine presence dwells among them”, for  human relationships are a reflection of the relationship between the supernal bride and groom, the Jewish people and G-d. 

The tabernacle had three sections: (1) the innermost chamber, the holy of holies, which contained nothing but the ark of covenant (2) the outer chamber, the holy, which contained the Menorah, the table for the showbread, and the incense altar (3) the courtyard which contained the outer alter upon which the offerings were offered. These sections, and the vessels they contain, represent  three dimensions in our relationship with G-d, as well as three dimensions in the human relationship between husband and wife.

The outer chamber (2) represents the emotional bond. The three vessels within the outer chamber represent the three primary emotions necessary for a wholesome relationship. The Menorah represents the attribute of Chesed (love, kindness, giving), the desire to become one, the yearning to connect. Love alone is insufficient. Because love is an expression of self. In order to truly relate to someone else, one needs the figurative table of bread, which represents Gevurah (respect, discipline). Respect is just as critical as love. Respect is the ability to understand that our partner has  their own identity with a perspective, and needs, different from our own. If love is the drive to become one, respect is making space for the other’s individuality.  Respect allows one to reach the third, and deepest emotion. The incense altar symbolizes Tiferet, (compassion and empathy). Tiferet is the ability to feel connected to someone who is distinct, to sense the harmony in two distinct voices uniting. 

The courtyard (3) is where offerings were brought on the altar, representing the ability to use the physical aspects of the world in the service of G-d. When one uses a physical object to do a good deed he is “elevating” the object and connecting it to holiness. The same is true in human relationships. The outer courtyard represents the ability to use experiences to enhance the relationship. Any experience can cause tension and separation or it can be used to enhance a bond. For example, when eating together, the food could be a distraction, where each person is chiefly concerned about their food, or it could be an experience that brings a couple closer to each other.     

While the courtyard represents how physical objects and experiences can enhance the relationship, and the outer chamber represents the emotional relationship, the inner chamber, the holy of holies, represents a deeper truth. The Cherubim covering the ark,  in the shape of a male and female, emerged from a single piece of gold. At the core of our identity our soul is one with G-d. We are not two separate entities seeking to connect  but rather, the soul is a part of G-d. The same is true regarding human relationships: the inner chamber is the intimate union which expresses the mystical truth that man and woman are one entity; two halves of one soul.    

 

The Sapphire Brick - משפטים

The Sapphire Brick 

One of the most mysterious verses in all the five books of Moses appears in this week’s Parsha describing the vision of the elders of the Jewish people at Mount Sinai: 

and they perceived the God of Israel, and beneath His feet was like the forming of a sapphire brick and like the appearance of the heavens for clarity. (Exodus 24:10). 

What are we to make of this vision? Brick? Sapphire? Clarity of the heavens? This is obviously a metaphor, but what  message is embedded in this description of the vision?

Rashi explains that although G-d is infinite and transcendent, He is not removed from the experiences, the pain and the joy of the Jewish people. In Rash’si words: 

like the forming of a sapphire brick: that was before Him at the time of the bondage, to remember Israel’s straits [i.e.,] that they were enslaved in the making of bricks. 

and like the appearance of the heavens for clarity: Since they were [finally] redeemed, there was light and joy before Him. 

According to Rashi, there are two clauses in the verse which refer to two distinct times. The first is the brick, which refers to the time when the Jewish people were suffering in Egyptian slavery, when their primary labor was the creation of bricks. The second clause, the appearance of the heavens for clarity, represents the joy that G-d experienced when the Jewish people were finally redeemed from slavery. 

The most important message at the greatest Divine revelation in our history, was that our G-d is a personal G-d, who is aware of, and emotionally involved in, our challenges, suffering and triumphs.

The Kabbalists see another message hidden within this vision, a message which captures the core of what Judaism is all about. According to the Kabbalistic interpretation it is but one vision: a sapphire brick that is as pure and as transparent as the heavens”. A brick, in contrast to a stone, is a human invention. In the book of Genesis we read how people decided to create the tower of Babel in a valley, where there were no stones: And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and fire them thoroughly"; so the bricks were to them for stones”. Bricks are man made, while stones are excavated from mountains, which are part of nature created by G-d. 

Bricks are made from earth. The farthest thing from heaven is earth. Yet this vision tells us that the brick, the earth, is as pure as the heavens! This vision captures the essence of Judaism. Many spiritual seekers seek to flee earthly life and try to escape to the heavens by immersing themselves in spirituality. Yet Judaism’s essential message is that G-d places us upon earth in order to create bricks that are as pure as the heavens. 

When we live life here on earth, when we engage in eating, business, raising a family or any other activity, we are creating man made spirituality. We are using earthly material yet we are placing the earth into a fire to create a brick. The passion and love for holiness is the fire that transforms the earthy into the spiritual. We do not escape to the heavens to become pure instead we transform the earth to be like the heavens. The essential message of Judaism is that, yes, the brick, earthly material, when used with  fiery passion for G-d, can be just as shiny as sapphire, and just as pure as the heavens.  

Adapted from Torah Or, Mishpatim, discourse “Vetachas Raglav”. 

Does G-d Create on Shabbat? - יתרו

Does G-d Create on Shabbat?

The fourth commandment of the ten commandments seems straightforward, we are commanded to rest on the seventh day of the week, just as G-d rested on the seventh day of creation: 

Six days may you work and perform all your labor,

but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord, your God; you shall perform no labor, neither you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, your beast, nor your stranger who is in your cities.

For [in] six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it. (Exodus 20:8-10)

Chassidic philosophy teaches that creation is not an event that happened in the distant past, but rather creation is perpetual. The word of G-d that created the universe must continuously breath life into the creation. If the vivifying energy would cease to create for even one moment, the universe would cease to exist. This deeper understanding of the meaning of creation raises a fascinating question: how does the universe exist on Shabbat? If G-d rests from creating the world on Shabbat, if the flow of life is turned off, the world should cease to exist on the seventh day! 

In the book of Genesis, the Torah tells us that the universe was created with words: “G-d said let there be light, and there was light”, “And God said, "Let the water that is beneath the heavens gather into one place, and let the dry land appear, and it was so.” Speech was chosen to be the metaphor for G-d’s creative power, because speech is the tool that allows one to communicate with someone who is outside oneself. When one is thinking deep thoughts the idea remains within himself, speech is the tool which allows him to communicate with someone who has a distinct and separate personality and perspective. Speech, therefore, is the perfect metaphor for creation. Before creation the Divine energy was included within G-d’s “thought”, absorbed within the infinite light, and did not express itself in a reality outside of G-d. When G-d spoke, the energy within G-d was projected outward, creating a reality which felt separate and apart from the creator. 

On Shabbat, G-d ceases to speak. The words, the divine energy, return back to their source within G-d himself.

How then does creation exist on Shabbat? On Shabbat the world is sustained not by Divine speech but rather by Divine thought. On Shabbat the energy of the world, and the world itself, is elevated and reconnected to its source within the Divine. The Kabbalists  refer to it as “the elevation of the worlds”: on Shabbat we can escape the awareness of Divine speech, where we feel separate and apart form G-d, and we can enter the awareness of Divine thought, where we feel surrounded and enveloped within the Divine presence. We can enter the state of Divine thought where we are not a separate entity but rather included in the Divine holiness. 

This Kabbalistic insight has practical ramifications as well. During the six days of creation the energy flows outward, on Shabbat the Divine energy returns to its source and flows inward. We too follow the same pattern: during the six days of the week we are in the mode of “speech”, focused on achieving and accomplishing in the world outside of us. We tackle our tasks and to-do lists and strive to impact the world around us. We strive to succeed in the surrounding environment. On Shabbat we turn inward. We enter the space of thought. We occupy ourselves with the things that are important to our internal self. We stop working on improving our circumstances and we return to our inner core. During the sacred twenty four hours of Shabbat we spend our time and attention on our inner core, reconnecting to our soul, our family and our relationship with G-d. 

(Adapted from Lekutei Torah, Devarim 66:3 )  

What is Your Craft? - בשלח

What is Your Craft?

People tend to define themselves by their craft, as they introduce themselves they will tell you: I am a doctor, a lawyer, an artist. What they are telling you is that their craft is something they engage in constantly, to the extent that  they identify fully with that craft. 

As the Jewish people were facing the red sea on one side and the pursuing Egyptian army on the other the verse tells us: 

Pharaoh drew near, and the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold! the Egyptians were advancing after them. They were very frightened, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord.

Rashi explains: 

Cried out: They seized the craft of their ancestors [i.e., they prayed]. Regarding Abraham the verse states: ‘Abraham rose early in the morning to the place where he had stood before G-d.’ Regarding Issac it states: “...to speak in the field’. Regarding Jacob it states: ‘and he arrived at the place’. (Rashi indicates that the terms “stood”, “to speak” and “arrived” all allude to prayer).

Rashi’s commentary presents many difficulties, to name a few: 1: why does Rashi define prayer as a craft, instead of the conventional interpretation that prayer is a request from G-d. 2: the verses which Rashi quotes are verses which merely allude to prayer. Why doesn’t Rashi quote verses which state clearly that the patriarchs prayed and requested that G-d help them? 

The revolutionary idea that Rashi introduces here, is that prayer is not something we do to achieve a specific purpose or in response to a specific need, but rather, it is our craft. The words of prayer and Torah study are our craft, we constantly engage in them, not for a specific goal, to express a need, or to acquire knowledge, but rather because our relationship with G-d touches us at our core and defines our identity. 

This explains why Rashi quotes the verses that merely allude to prayer. The verses that state explicitly that the patriarchs prayed, are referring to prayer for a specific need, while the verses quoted by Rashi allude to prayer without identifying the specific purpose of the prayer. These verses demonstrate that the Patriarchs prayed not for a need but because it was their “craft”. 

You may spend your day as a merchant or a banker; as a volunteer, teacher or philosopher. But, as a descendant of our Patriarchs, your true craft is expressing your relationship with G-d by speaking the holy words of prayer and Torah. Don’t wait for an opportunity or reason to connect, do so today. Express your craft. Express your true core.    

(Adapted from Likutei Sichos Bishalach 11.1)

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