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The Benefit of the Journey - ויצא

The Benefit of the Journey 

What is the point of the journey? 

Jacob was the first of the Patriarchs to spend significant time outside of Israel, away from his natural environment. The opening statement of our portion, "And Jacob departed from Beer Sheba, and he went to Haran", tells the story of our Patriarch Jacob's departure from the land of Israel and travel to the spiritually hostile environment of Charan. We read of how he emerged twenty years later with a large family and tremendous wealth. 

The Kabbalists teach that this story is the prototype for the descent of every soul from the figurative "land of Israel", the soul's abode in heaven to its descent into the spiritually challenging environment of life on this earth. 

But what is the point of the descent? Why should the soul be forced to engage in the painful journey instead of basking in G-d's light in heaven? What is the purpose of the turbulent journey we call life? 

When the soul descends into this spiritually dark world, its connection to G-d is challenged. The soul is forced to struggle to maintain its relationship to holiness. The tension and struggle intensify its spiritual strength and its natural love and awe of G-d. The soul emerges from this world with a deeper and more meaningful bond with G-d. 

This benefit, however, is limited, as it is merely an intensification of the bond with G-d that already existed. The more profound benefit is created when the soul engages with the physical objects of the world, transforming them from physical creations to holy objects that are a conduit to the Divine will. This transformation is a true novelty and is possible only through the soul accessing the infinite power of G-d, which is accessible exclusively "in the lowest realm", right here on earth. 

These two elements are expressed in the words Jacob spoke as he began his journey. As he departed the land of Israel, he requested that G-d protect him (verse 20), enabling him to serve G-d (verses 21 and 22). 

First, Jacob’s prayer to be able to survive and thrive in this world: 

20. And Jacob uttered a vow, saying, "If God will be with me, and He will guard me on this way, upon which I am going, and He will give me bread to eat and a garment to wear;

Then, Jacob explains the benefit of the struggle and the purpose of the journey. Firstly, the soul will emerge "in peace" from the challenges, and secondly, the "Lord will be my God", the soul's connection to G-d will withstand the challenges: 

21. And I return in peace to my father's house, and the Lord will be my God;

And then, Jacob describes the more remarkable achievement of life: 

22. Then this stone, which I have placed as a monument, shall be a house of God, and everything that You give me, I will surely tithe to You.

"The stone", a physical object, is transformed to become "the house of G-d". "Everything that you give me" becomes sanctified. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likutei Sichos Vayetze 15 Sicha 3. 


Why Esau Wanted to Tithe Salt - תולדות

Why Esau Wanted to Tithe Salt

Rebecca and Isaac were blessed with twins who were very different from each other: “And the youths grew up, and Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents {of study}. (Genesis 25:27).” Surprisingly, the intensely spiritual Issac loved Esau: “And Isaac loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth”. Rashi explains that Issac loved Esau because Esau deceived his father by presenting himself as righteous: 

who understood hunting: [He knew how] to trap and to deceive his father with his mouth and ask him, “Father, how do we tithe salt and straw?” His father thereby thought he was scrupulous in his observance of the commandments. 

Of all the questions Esau could have asked his father, why did he choose to ask about tithing salt and straw, which, according to Jewish law, are exempt from tithing? 

Issac loved Esau and sought to bless him because he hoped that Esau and Jacob would form a partnership whereby Esau would use his material success to support Jacob’s spiritual pursuits. From Isaac’s perspective, materialism is worthwhile and meaningful only when it serves a greater purpose of serving G-d. 

Unfortunately, Esau was not on board. As Rebecca sensed, Esau did not wish to partner with his brother as he desired and valued material success for its own sake.

Esau, therefore, asked about tithing salt and straw, items that are exempt from tithing specifically because they only have value when they are used to perfect something else. Salt seasons a dish, and hay is used to create bricks. Esau expected the salt and straw to be tithed and to be considered inherently significant, as Esau failed to distinguish between what is of primary importance and what is of secondary importance.

Judaism teaches that each and every aspect of our life, including the mundane and material, is significant when and because it serves a higher purpose. Every achievement and success is significant when subordinate to a higher purpose. Our efforts during the six days of the week become significant when they contribute to our experiencing the holiness of Shabbat. It is our job to sanctify every part of our life by viewing it as part of our overarching purpose of serving our Divine mission and purpose. 

Adapted from the Shem Mishmuel


Love and Marriage - חיי שרה

Love and Marriage

This is a Parsha about a matchmaker, Abraham's servant Eliezer, and his efforts to create a marriage between two very different people. Isaac was raised in a holy environment. From the moment he was offered as an offering to G-d at the binding of Isaac, he was considered sacred and was not permitted to leave the land of Israel. Rebecca, by contrast, was raised in a distant land surrounded by less-than-honest people. Isaac was an introvert; discipline and "strength" was the dominant emotion in his personality, whereas Rebecca was the opposite, the epitome of outstanding kindness and giving. Yet, despite this seemingly unlikely match, theirs is the first marriage in the Torah that describes love. 

Perhaps the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca offers lessons on how to reach and maintain true and lasting love. Perhaps the first lesson is that the foundation of a healthy relationship is not love but respect. While both love and respect are essential for a relationship, love without respect, the expansion of self that does not consider the other person and their needs, can be overwhelming and even hurtful. Love, the desire to connect to another person, must be predicated on respecting the other person's needs, personality, and perspective. Indeed, the first time Rebecca meets Isaac, the scene describes not euphoric love but rather awe and respect. As the verse states: 

Rebecca lifted her eyes, and saw Isaac, and she let herself down from the camel. And she said to the servant, "Who is that man walking in the field towards us?" And the servant said, "He is my master." And she took the veil and covered herself.

The Torah then describes their marriage and love: 

And Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah, his mother, and he took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for [the loss of] his mother.

Perhaps counterintuitively, and sometimes overlooked, is that "and he loved her" is written not as a reason for the marriage but rather as a result of the marriage. The Torah may be signaling that true love is a process that takes time to develop. True love is developed by many small acts of consideration, giving, and kindness. The act of giving is not merely the result of love; but rather, it can be the cause that intensifies love. The more kindness we bestow in a relationship, the more love we will experience. 

The Advantage of Brit Milah at Eight Days - וירא


The Advantage of Brit Milah at Eight Days


Sibling rivalry is not a new phenomenon. It is a recurring theme in the book of Genesis.


The Midrash describes a rivalry between Abraham's two sons, Yishmael and Isaac, as to whose relationship with G-d was more "beloved". Yishmael contended that his connection was more profound as he was circumcised at the age of thirteen years old, when he had the ability to protest. Yet, Isaac countered that his relationship with G-d was more profound since he was circumcised at eight days old: 


Yitzchak and Yishmael contended with each other. Yishmael argued, "I am more beloved than you because I was circumcised when I was thirteen years old." Yitzchak countered, "I am more beloved than you because I was circumcised at eight days." (Bereishis Rabbah, Vatera 55:4)


While Yishmael’s argument is clear, Isaac's is not at all obvious. What possible advantage is there to circumcision at eight days, when the child has no understanding of the act and no ability to consent? 


Yishmael and Isaac represent two perspectives on the relationship with G-d. Yishmael argued that the relationship is predicated on, and proportional to, the person's appreciation of G-d and desire to connect to him. Isaac, however, understood that a human being cannot overcome the unbridgeable gap between a finite person and the infinite creator. Only G-d Himself can fuse creator and creation. Isaac understood that we don't create a relationship with G-d; but rather, by fulfilling a commandment, G-d binds himself to the person. 


The Torah describes the covenant of circumcision as an everlasting covenant: "My covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant." Isaac understood that nothing a human being can accomplish is eternal. The everlasting covenant is achieved by G-d alone. Isaac, therefore, argued that when a child is circumcised at eight days old, without any input on his part, it is clear and evident that the bond is real, that it is everlasting, because it is achieved by the infinite G-d. 


One lesson from Yishmael and Isaac's debate is that Yishmael argued that since the human being creates the relationship, it has to be developed gradually over time. Yishmael argued that it takes years to build a connection based on appreciation and desire. Isaac teaches us that the most profound, eternal bond can happen instantaneously. All we need to do is perform a commandment which invites G-d to create the eternal bond. 


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Vayera 25:3 and Achron Shel Pesach 5741.



Why Israel? - לך לך


Why Israel? 


There are various interpretations as to why Israel was selected to be the Holy Land, the homeland of the Jewish people. The Midrash explains that when Abraham arrived in the land, he saw its inhabitants laboring in agriculture. He desired the land because he valued the toil and labor that the land required. The Medrash relates:


When Abraham was traveling through Aram Naharaim… he saw the people eating, drinking and acting foolishly. He said, “I hope my portion will not be in this land.” When he reached the high ground of Tzur and saw the people busy weeding… and hoeing…, he said, “If only my portion were to be in this land.” Hashem said to him, “To your descendants, I will give this land.” (Bereishis Rabbah 39:8.)


This raises the question, what is the value of toil? Why did G-d, who is the ultimate good, place us in an environment where we must exert effort in order to achieve success? The sole reason cannot be because it is human nature to enjoy and appreciate the fruit of own labor more than an unearned gift, for that nature itself is a Divine creation. Why, then, would G-d create humanity with a practical and psychological need to toil and invest effort to achieve success? 


The ultimate goodness that a created being can achieve is to connect to and therefore reflect G-dliness. The only way to do that, the way to “partner with G-d in creation”, is when we become givers. By definition, created beings are recipients from the Creator, whereas the Creator is the ultimate giver. Thus, in each of our lives, to the extent that we receive, we are creations, and to the extent that we give, we become like the Creator. 


To truly become givers, we must create something that was not gifted to us but is a product of our own toil and effort. G-d created challenges and difficulties not to give us a hard time but rather to give us the opportunity to connect to the Creator by becoming a partner with G-d in creation. 


In the Rebbe’s words: 


The true and ultimate good is that a person reaches a level on which he becomes, so to speak, similar to his Creator, as our Sages put it, “ G-d’s partner in the process of Creation.” Therefore, G-d established the order of creation such that a person’s needs do not come easily but through hard work and toil. This is in order that this way he will be elevated (not only to the perfection of a worthy “recipient” — the perfection of a created being — but even) to the level of being a “giver” (and bring something into existence), similar to his Creator. This is achieved when a person toils and creates by his own effort. (Lekutei Sichos Lech Licha, 15:4)



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