Blog - Torah Insights

The Impossible Dream - וישב

The Impossible Dream 

Dreams play a central role in the story of the Jewish people's descent to Egypt. Firstly, Joseph's brothers sold him as a slave to Egypt as a result of him sharing his dreams with them, in which his brothers bowed down to him. Secondly, after being sent to prison, Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh's ministers, who were imprisoned with him. And finally, Joseph rose to become the ruler of Egypt because he interpreted Pharaoh's dreams.

The exile to Egypt was brought about through dreams because exile is likened to a dream. The verse in Psalms (126:1) states, "When the Lord will return the exiles of Zion, we will have been like dreamers." When a person awakens from a dream, he realizes that what seems so vivid and real was but a dream, so too, when we will return from the exile, we will look back at our time in exile and realize that it was but a dream.

A dream is a state of mind where a person's discerning mind is not conscious, and therefore he can imagine a contradictory and impossible reality. Spiritual exile is when one is living a contradiction, where two opposite desires can co-exist. When one is in a state of spiritual exile, he may have a deep love for G-d, yearning to transcend and cleave to holiness. Yet moments later, he may be wholly invested in love and desire for physical existence and pleasure. When one is spiritually "awake," when the discerning mind functions, these two opposing desires cannot co-exist, yet in exile, they both exist. One may suspect that the love to G-d is not genuine for, if it were, it would permeate all of his desires. Yet, the reality is that the devotion to the material and the spiritual are both real. They may be a contradiction, yet, like in a dream, they can exist simultaneously. 

Kabbalah explains that the illogical dream, which occurs when the discerning mind is asleep, can sometimes express truths that the logical mind cannot grasp. The same is true regarding the spiritual dream of exile. When we will be redeemed, we will awake and see that we were dreaming. We will recognize that reality, as we experienced it, was not the ultimate truth, for in truth, the material and the spiritual are not contradictory. They were both created by G-d, and each expresses their Divine source in their unique way. In exile, we are in a dream; we are genuinely drawn to the contradictory experiences of heaven and earth. When we awake from our dream, with the arrival of Moshiach, there will be no more dream because the physical and the spiritual will be at peace. 

Adapted from Torah Ohr Parshas Vayeshev as explained by Rabbi Adin Even-Yisrael.   

Why Jacob Bowed to Esau - וישלח


Why Jacob Bowed to Esau

The twin brothers Esau and Jacob embody the two energies of chaos and order. 

The Kabbalists explain that initially, G-d created the spiritual world of chaos, in which each of the ten fundamental energies was in a state of great intensity. In the “world of chaos”, each of the ten energies exists in the fullest possible measure. The “world of chaos,” however, is unsustainable because the intensity of the energy cannot express itself in a limited and defined way. In the language of the Kabbalists, the intense "lights" (energies) shattered the "vessels", which were supposed to contain and express the light. The  ״vessels" “broke” and "fell”, they no longer fulfill their purpose, and, like the metaphor of a shattered vessel, they can be harmful. The "broken vessels" become the sparks scattered throughout the physical world and within the forces of unholiness and negativity. 

Following the “world of chaos”, “G-d created the “world of order”, in which the energies were diminished and the vessels were, therefore, able to contain and express the light. 

The world of order is what we refer to as positivity and holiness. The world of chaos contains a duality; in its fallen and broken state, it expresses itself in harmful and destructive ways; in its origin, however, it is far more potent divine energy than the "world of order". The world will experience its ultimate healing and perfection when we utilize the holiness of the "world of order" to elevate the "shattered vessels" of chaos, marrying the intensity of the "world of chaos" with the discipline and order of the "world of order". 

In our Torah portion, we read about the intensely emotional, climactic reunion between Jacob and Esau. Just like the world of chaos he embodied, Esau was the firstborn; he was intense and passionate; Jacob, by contrast, was a wholesome man dwelling in the tents of study, embodying the "world of order." The Torah describes the encounter: 

And he went ahead of them and prostrated himself to the ground seven times, until he came close to his brother.

And Esau ran toward him and embraced him, and he fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. (Genesis 33:3-4)

Jacob bowed to Esau because Jacob sensed that in its source, Esau's chaotic personality is far superior to Jacob's source in holiness. While Jacob hoped to partner with Esau, to channel the energy of chaos constructively through the world of order, the time was not yet ripe; the harmony was short-lived. The complete reunion between the "world of chaos," the chaotic passion of the physical world, with the "world of order," the awareness and holiness of the spiritual world, will occur in the messianic era. This will be brought about when each of us, within our personality, directs the chaotic energy of the heart to fuel and enhance our spiritual purpose. 

(Adapted from Torah Ohr, Vayishlach)



Like the Dust of the Earth - ויצא


Like the Dust of the Earth

Each of the three Patriarchs offered a unique contribution to the creation of the Jewish people; we, as their descendants, inherit each of their spiritual qualities. 

Abraham pioneered. 

Abraham discovered G-d on his own, he had the courage to stand up to his entire pagan society and chart a new spiritual path. Abraham heeded the call of G-d to go to "the land that I will show you" and founded a nation based on the values of charity and justice. Abraham gives us the ability to discover new ideas, and to chart new paths.  

Yet, the pioneering spirit alone is not enough to create an enduring legacy. So often, an idea generates excitement in its initial stages, yet over time, when the idea is no longer novel, when the initial excitement dissipates, the enterprise fails.

Issac perpetuated. 

Issac's unique contribution was the ability to preserve and perpetuate the legacy of his father. Isaac represents the commitment to an idea that someone else revolutionized. The Torah relates how Isaac re-dug the wells his father had dug: "And Isaac again dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of his father, Abraham; and the Philistines had stopped them up after Abraham's death; and he gave them names like the names that his father had given them (Genesis 26:18).” The project might not carry his name, but it would not have survived without him affecting its  perpetuation. 

While Abraham and Isaac began the formation of the Jewish people in the promised land, in the spiritual environment appropriate for the homeland of the Jewish people, Jacob represents the ability to live the values of his ancestors in a foreign land. Jacob, alone amongst the patriarchs, married and raised his children in the land of Charan, a land foreign to his values and void of holiness. From Jacob, we inherit the ability to live a life with the values of Abraham and Isaac in any environment we may find ourselves in. 

When Jacob was en route from Israel to Charan he dreamed of a ladder reaching heaven. G-d promised him: 

Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall burst forth to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants. (Genesis 28:14)

While Abraham was told that his descendants would be like the stars of heaven, Jacob was promised descendants who would be "like the dust of the earth”. For Jacob's descents would be in exile; they would be in environments as  lowly (in a spiritual sense) as the dust of the earth. Yet specifically in these hostile environments, precisely because of these challenges, they would reach far greater heights than if they had remained in a wholesome, challenge-free environment. Specifically because they were compared to the dust of the earth, they were destined to burst forth with great strength. 

Like Jacob, we all face the difficulty  of living in a spiritually challenging environment. Each of our souls descended from heaven, the metaphorical land of Israel, to the "dust of the earth", physical existence and reality. Yet precisely because of the challenge, we  are able to reveal a deeper dimension of our soul and experience a more meaningful and authentic relationship with G-d. 

Fragrance of Eden - תולדות

Fragrance of Eden  

It is the most suspenseful moment of the story. 

At the behest of his mother Rebecca, Jacob donned the garments of his older brother Esau, he covered his arms and neck with goat skin in order to appear as hairy as Esav. He entered his father’s room hoping to trick his father into blessing him with the blessings with which his father intended to bless Esav. 

Would the deception work? Would Isaac be fooled? 

Isaac hesitated: 

And Isaac said to Jacob, "Please come closer, so that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not." 

Jacob drew near to Isaac his father, and he felt him, and he said, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau."

Isaac ate the food. He turned to bless his son, but his attention turned toward the garments Jacob was wearing: 

and he (Isaac) smelled the fragrance of his garments, and he blessed him, and he said, "Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field, which the Lord has blessed!

Why did Isaac's attention drift to the fragrance of the garments? Rashi addresses this question: 

Is it not so that there is no odor more offensive than that of washed goat skins? But this teaches us that the fragrance of the Garden of Eden entered with him.

The fragrance of the garments was the fragrance of the Garden of Eden. Rashi is telling us that in order to understand the story of the blessings, we must keep in mind the fragrance of Eden.  Eden was a place of egoless purity. Adam and Eve felt only their souls when they were in Eden. Their bodies and all bodily functions, eating, drinking and even intimacy and pro creation, were but a garment and a tool for the soul to fulfil its purpose. In Eden, Adam and Eve were naked yet they experienced no shame. The physical reality was not perceived, it was merely an expression of the holiness of the soul.

When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they shattered the purity of Eden. They desired the fruit of the tree of knowledge because they wanted to experience a sense of self. They were therefore expelled from the purity of the Garden of Eden. 

Isaac was about to bestow blessings of great material abundance (“And may the Lord give you of the dew of the heavens and the fatness of the earth and an abundance of grain and wine...”). Isaac sensed that his son standing before him possessed the fragrance of Eden. His desire for material success was selfless, and, as in Eden, it was solely for the purpose of serving the soul’s sublime needs. Isaac sensed that within the Jewish people, embodied by Jacob, the desire for material success was not for a self centered materialistic purpose, but rather the desire contained the fragrance of Eden. Because for the Jew, “the dew of the heaven, the fatness of the earth”, as well as the “abundance of grain and wine” is a tool to assist the soul in achieving its mission of filling the earth with goodness and kindness. 


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