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Relationships Require Two Wings - וירא

Thursday, 5 November, 2020 - 9:46 pm

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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