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The Sparks That Pursue Us - ויצא


The Sparks That Pursue Us

Jacob was the only one of the three patriarchs to leave the land of Israel for an extended period of time, and his story represents the ability of the Jew to survive and ultimately thrive during the extended period of our exile. Every aspect of this week’s Torah portion, beginning with the opening statement, “And Jacob left Beer Sheba, and he went to Haran”, is relevant to the story of every Jew in the spiritually challenging environment of exile. 

After twenty years of separation from his parents and the land of Israel, Jacob escaped his domineering father-in-law, Laban, taking his family and possessions with him. Laban chased Jacob, and after an intense confrontation, they created a monument attesting to their peace. 

The Magid of Mezritch explained the mystical meaning of this episode. Every physical object and experience possesses a Divine spark embedded within it. The task of the Jew is to “refine” and “elevate” the sparks by using the physical object for a positive and holy purpose. When Jacob left Charan there were still sparks that he had not yet elevated; when Laban chased him and confronted him, Laban brought these mystical sparks to Jacob to be elevated: 

Jacob had left behind “Torah letters” that he had not yet extracted from Laban. Laban chased Jacob to give him the letters that he had left in Laban’s possession. With these letters, an entire section was added to the Torah. 

Why was it necessary for Laban to bring the additional sparks to Jacob? Why could Jacob not elevate those sparks during his twenty-year stay in Charan? 

The Rebbe explains that there are two forms of sparks. There are those sparks and experiences that a person can incorporate and elevate through intentional focus. Yet there are other experiences whose sparks are so lofty and profound that they surpass the ability to be understood and appreciated through the logical mind. Those are sparks that the person will not pursue, for he cannot fathom how these experiences can enhance his spiritual well-being: 

During his stay in Laban’s house, Jacob refined sparks that had to be refined by engaging with them willingly and knowingly. However, Laban also possessed such lofty sparks that Jacob couldn’t elevate them utilizing his service based on will and knowledge. Therefore, these sparks remained in Laban’s possession. Such sparks could only be refined and elevated by a Supernal power. 

We, too, encounter both forms of sparks. We pursue happiness, success, and well-being in order to fulfill our purpose of creation and our spiritual mission to bring holiness, goodness, and kindness into the world. Those are the sparks we pursue. But then there are sparks that pursue us. There are experiences and challenges that we cannot imagine leading to anything positive. We seek to run away from them. But occasionally, they pursue us. The lesson of the story is that it is precisely those experiences that possess the greatest and deepest sparks. The sparks of holiness within these experiences have far greater potency and potential for incredible transformation and growth. Often, the most profoundly meaningful moments of our life are the experiences we did not seek out or anticipate, but rather the experiences that pursued us. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos vol. 15 Vayetze 5

The Fragrant Garments - תולדות

The Fragrant Garments

In one of the most dramatic scenes in the book of Genesis, Jacob, disguised as his older brother Esau, came to his father, who intended to bless Esau. Isaac blessed Jacob with extraordinary blessings: 

And may the Lord give you of the dew of the heavens and [of] the fatness of the earth and an abundance of grain and wine. Nations shall serve you and kingdoms shall bow down to you; you shall be a master over your brothers, and your mother's sons shall bow down to you. Those who curse you shall be cursed, and those who bless you shall be blessed." (Genesis 27:28-29)

Immediately proceeding these blessings, the Torah tells us that Isaac smelled the fragrance of his son, implying that the scent inspired and motivated the blessing: 

And he came closer, and he kissed him, and he 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! (Genesis 27:27)

What was it about the garments that inspired the blessing? In fact, as Rashi points out, Jacob was wearing goat skins, which do not have a pleasant aroma at all. Rather, the aroma referred to is a spiritual aroma: 

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.

Garments are external to the person and, therefore, represent wealth and material assets, which, like garments, allow a person to interact with and navigate the world. Isaac sensed that the garments of his son possessed a spiritual aroma because, to the Jew, material possessions, the “dew of the heavens and [of] the fatness of the earth and an abundance of grain and wine” are not an end in themselves but rather they serve a higher purpose. They are the means through which the soul fulfills its purpose of creation, which is to sanctify the earth and infuse it with holiness, goodness, and kindness. The beauty of Jacob, which Isaac sensed, was that not only had Jacob cultivated a spiritual connection to G-d, but additionally he had sanctified the “garments”, the material aspects of life.

Adapted from the Malbim

Finding a Wife, and G-d, at the Well - חיי שרה

Finding a Wife, and G-d, at the Well

Abraham dispatched his servant Eliezer to the distant land of Charan to find a bride for his son Isaac. Eliezer arrived at the well in the center of town, and prayed to G-d for success. He requested that G-d give him a sign that the girl was the right one for Isaac. If, when he would ask a girl for water to drink, she would also  offer to provide water for his camels, it would be clear that she was the one destined for Isaac. 

When the events played out exactly as Eliezer had hoped, his response was surprising. Eleiezer was not happy, elated, or grateful. Eliezer was astonished! The Torah tells us: 

And the man was astonished at her, standing silent, [waiting] to know whether the Lord had caused his way to prosper or not. (Genesis 24:21)

Why was Eliezer so surprised when his prayer was accepted and his plan was successful? 

Eliezer believed in G-d. He understood that one can have a deep relationship with G-d through meditation and prayer. Yet, what was astonishing to him was seeing G-d’s hand play out not in the house of worship but in the daily affairs in the market place or at the well. Eliezer believed in an exalted,  transcendent G-d, and was astonished to experience the infinite G-d helping him through what seemed to be a chance occurrence. 

Perhaps this is one of the messages of the story, and why the Torah repeats the episode with Eliezer multiple times. As Rashi quotes the Midrash: 

Rabbi Acha said: The ordinary conversation of the servants of the Patriarchs is more beloved before G-d than the Torah of their sons, for the section dealing with Eliezer is repeated in the Torah, whereas many fundamentals of the Torah were given only through allusions. (24:42)

“The Torah of the sons” is how we connect to G-d by internalizing His wisdom. Yet the “conversations of servants of the Patriarchs” are more beautiful, because they teach us  that the infinite G-d is present not only in meditation but also when one is looking for a soul mate; not only in the halls of study but also in the everyday interactions of man. 


A Higher Purpose - וירא


A Higher Purpose 

Abraham led an extraordinary life. 

He discovered G-d on his own. He had the courage to go against the popular beliefs and notions of his time. And he changed the course of history. 

But how did Abraham keep busy on a daily basis?

The Torah tells us that Abraham's life’s focus was to "call in the name of Hashem", to teach people about G-d. 

In last week's portion, we read: 

"To the place of the altar that he had made at first, and Abram called there in the name of the Lord." (Genesis 12:4) 

and then again (12:8): 

"And he moved from there to the mountain, east of Beth el, and he pitched his tent; Beth el was to the west and Ai was to the east, and there he built an altar to the Lord, and he called in the name of the Lord." 

In this week's portion we read (21:33):

And he planted an Eishel {an orchard, or an inn} in Beer-Sheba, and he called there in the name of the Lord, the God of the world. 

Earlier in the Torah, we read the cryptic story of the tower of Babel. The people, who at that point spoke one language, sought to build a city and a tower that reached the heavens. G-d was displeased with their plan and confused their language, which caused them to disperse and develop into many nations and languages. What the story does not explicitly state is what was so terrible with their plan that caused G-d to be so disturbed by their effort. 

One interpretation is that they had no higher purpose in their life. In presenting their plan, the Torah states: 

And they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name.

Their sole purpose was to "make a name" for themselves. They had no transcendent meaning in their life, nothing was greater than themselves. In addition to living a superficial life, being that their sole purpose was the advancement of self, there was no limit to what they would do to achieve that goal, setting aside morality and values. 

The Midrash teaches that at first, Abraham, like everyone else, was involved in the construction of the tower, completely and wholeheartedly devoted to the endeavor. Eventually, Abraham became disillusioned, and he abandoned the project. 

Abraham's search led him to focus on "the name of G-d" instead of "a name for ourselves". Abraham taught and shared with the world that we must incorporate spiritual values into our life. To live a life of decency, meaning, and joy, we must think about a purpose that is greater than ourselves. We must call in the name of Hashem.  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Noach vol. 3 

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