Why does Isaac love Esau? « Wonders from Your Torah
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Why does Isaac love Esau?

In Parashat Noach, drug humanity undergoes two great catastrophes. The first is the flood – the holocaust that annihilates all of humanity and all land-life except those who survive in Noach’s ark. The second catastrophe is the dispersal of humanity to all ends of the earth as a result of the collapse of the Tower of Babel. In last week’s parashah, Parashat Bereishit we learnt of the first crisis in human history -  man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden following Adam and Eve’s sin. These are the first three catastrophes that visited humanity.

Apart from these three catastrophes described in the Book of Genesis the Pentateuch's central narrative revolves around a fourth critical event—the Jewish people’s slavery and their subsequent exodus from Egypt. Upon contemplation, clearly the slavery in Egypt and the exodus from it were meant from the beginning to enable the Jewish people to reach the heights they rose to. Following this same line of reasoning, properly understanding and rectifying each of the first three catastrophes can lead to improving reality.

Deepening our sense of these four crises will allow us to see how each is an archetype for the various crises and catastrophes we have faced in the past and are experiencing in the present, both on the personal and the collective levels.

The first catastrophe:Paradise lost

The first crisis is the loss of a dream. Although in the Torah the Garden of Eden is described as a concrete reality with trees, man, woman and the serpent, nonetheless no GPS has ever navigated us to the Garden of Eden and no one has ever photographed the cherubim guarding the path to the Tree of Life. It seems therefore, that the Garden of Eden remains a utopian reality that has receded into another dimension of reality, but the gateway to this dimension is blocked to our access. In the same way, we can say that before Adam's sin and before his expulsion from Eden, our world was not within reality and there was no road that led from the Garden of Eden to the geographic regions familiar to us. This is implied by the verse, "And every plant of the field was not yet on earth... and man was not…." Our present reality did not exist because human consciousness had not yet accessed it. After the primordial sin and after Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden the image was reversed; Eden receded into theory while our globe assumed reality. In fact, the Arizal said that before Adam's sin, reality was fourteen levels above where it is now; the reality inhabited by Adam and Eve remains beyond our hand’s-reach – the numerical value of “hand” (??) is 14.

Today, Utopia is considered a theoretical ideal. But, the truth is that this ideal did actually exist in the past in the form of the Garden of Eden, which is why it continues to play a very important role in our present state of consciousness. Although we live in this world, we are not from here; we have all been exiled from Paradise. But we cannot allow ourselves to indulge in nostalgic musings and live in a dream-like state; rather we must take action in reality as it is now, where we now find ourselves. "God sent him from the Garden of Eden to cultivate the land from which he had been taken." This is our rectification!

We all begin our lives with the expulsion from Paradise: the soul has been exiled from its utopian world and has hit the harsh reality that we are all familiar with. From now on, our entire lives are dedicated to our rehabilitation from the trauma of our burst bubble. Even in our present situation, like in Eden, there is a serpentine catalyst precipitating our expulsion, in the form of our evil inclination. The more this serpent succeeds, the more our initial innocence is defiled and we find reality to be even more cruel and alien, leaving us to work and cope with rectifying the crisis of our lost paradise.

The second catastrophe: the destruction of the world

The second catastrophe is the destruction of the world. Adam says, "I was expelled from paradise," but Noach was not expelled and was not transported to a different level of reality; his entire world was destroyed around him. Before the flood the world was not a nice place to live in, and certainly could not be described as idyllic. Yet, the world was inhabited, it was filled with people and animals, there were bustling cities and a steady din of life. But after the flood, the world was barren and a dreadful silence filled the air. Only one small family, who had been spared the forces of chaos that raged over the earth for an entire year in an ark carrying an entire zoo of animals, had to begin building a new world.

Not everyone has to go through such a crisis, but many people can relate to the idea that their world has been destroyed. For example, someone who has lost his entire family and now, after his own personal flood has to begin anew. This is a very challenging undertaking, which requires rallying the energy to start over. Some are tempted to try to escape reality by turning to alcohol and rolling around drunk, as did Noach ... But, there is really no choice left. The old world has been destroyed and no longer exists, and now you're left to build a new world upon its ruins. The previous generation has been destroyed, and you—who were part of that generation—are its rectification, provided you have an optimistic approach. We need not go to great lengths to find examples of a modern-day Noach; it is awe-inspiring to see the many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, who lost all they had—their family, wives, children, possessions—and recovered to build their lives all over again.

The third catastrophe: dispersion

The third crisis is dispersion. In the generation after Noach all people spoke "a single language and similar words." They all lived in one place forming a single society. However, their unity was based on the city and tower they had built with the purpose of defying God. This time, the catastrophe did not come in the form of exile or destruction, but as dispersal. Instead, of one nation there were now seventy, each with its own distinct language, its own country and its own culture. This crisis may seem easier to cope with than the expulsion from Eden or the destruction of the world, but it should not be viewed lightly: the social framework changed completely and social codes had to be rewritten.

How can dispersion be repaired? Can it be that diversity is the goal? Immediately after the flood at the end of parashat Noach, the first patriarch appears: Abraham. According to the sages' reckoning, Abraham was present during the construction of the Tower of Babel, standing as a lone revolutionary in opposition to the Tower’s builders. Abraham, followed by Isaac and Jacob, heralded a real unity that can reunite a dispersed world. The three patriarchs, from whom the Jewish people were destined to come, will eventually achieve a rectified state of unity - not an imaginary humanistic state of superficial peace void of submission to God’s sovereignty, but a state of harmony at whose center stand the chosen people who declare before all that, "God is One and His Name is one."

It is not hard to see crises of dispersion plaguing societies throughout history: a once unified society, or state, or empire deteriorates into opposing factions as the social fabric is unwound. Taking the place of cooperation based on constructive positive communication are opposing rhetoric; as if they have begun to speak different languages, people stop listening to one another, until the only level of communication that remains is rock-throwing (a description given by the sages to the collapse of the Tower of Babel). What is true of society is true of the individual. We have all seen those poor souls who are torn between the various voices within, their inner peace disturbed, and their character in turmoil. One often finds them wandering aimlessly around the world, hard-pressed to pick up the pieces of the broken lives that are no more. Dispersion, whether it befalls a society or an individual can be rectified by discovering a central backbone to reorganize and unite the shards.

The fourth catastrophe: enslavement

At the end of the era of the Patriarchs, the Jewish people moved to Egypt and the coming generations were enslaved by Pharaoh, creating a fourth type of crisis. No dream had been shattered, no world had been destroyed, and no dispersal had taken place, but exile and bondage had infiltrated the people’s consciousness. An entire nation became totally enslaved in substance and spirit through laborious drudgery that breaks the body and gives no respite to the soul; one cannot breathe because every drop of air and attention is dedicated to Pharaoh, so much so that one forgets one’s identity, even one’s sense of self, with one’s very heart being replaced by a totally foreign mentality.

Only the Exodus can rectify this situation. Yet, despite the various miracles and wonders that transpired during the Exodus, the greatest marvel is the very exit of a "nation from within a nation" as the Jewish people was born from within the straits of the Egyptian exile. The essential image associated with rectification by the Exodus is that of Moses—a Divinely appointed redeemer sent to take the Jewish people out of Egypt. In addition, the redemption process must have a goal, in this case, the giving of the Torah, "When you take the people out of Egypt you shall serve God on this mountain." The process is complete when the Jewish people enter their homeland, the Land of Israel.

Perhaps we consider ourselves to be freemen, but the truth is that many of us are actually enslaved (in fact, who isn’t?). The taskmaster is not just a "Big Brother" from without, but the many diversions and pressures that fill the crazy world in which we live and infiltrate our sense of self. The anxiety caused by our finances, the need to work hard to make enough money, can turn an individual into a slave. But, even when money is not an issue, we are still an overstressed generation. Worries and constant tension burden us like an iron yoke and the sages state that the yoke of the government and the yoke of making a livelihood leave no room for the yoke of Torah. The mind is never at rest to relax and focus on what really matters. In addition to all this, we are all tied down by the constraints of social conventions, influenced by the cheap pop-culture we are bombarded by (be it consciously or unconsciously) affecting our thoughts and behavior. It is this modern taskmaster sporting a broad smile and a golden whip from whom we need salvation!

Catastrophes in modern Jewish history

With this model of four types of catastrophe or crisis before us, we can better understand the processes that have affected the Jewish people in recent history.

Until the 19th century, the Jewish world in the Diaspora was centered around the good old shtetl—a dream that was and is no more. One can encounter vivid descriptions of the shtetl (whether from the memoirs of the Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch, the stories told by Agnon or the artwork painted by Chagall), and receive the impression that this was a relatively utopian world, a dream with a whiff of Paradise (though certainly not everything there was always good). However that dream was shattered by the terrible spiritual destruction that visited the shtetl, even long before the Holocaust. The guise of the serpent in this tale (who seduced us to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge) was "the Enlightenment." Jews suddenly found themselves outside the Garden of Eden, the old familiar fragrance of Yiddishkeit having disappeared. The cotton-wool that had shielded us was ripped open and foreign influences entered the Jewish home, casting so many Jews out of their tradition, out of the Torah, and out of this relatively sheltered and nurturing spiritual environment. Now, any attempt to return to the old Jewish shtetl is to no avail; we can never return to life as it used to be. Our only chance to repair are by toiling in the modern world we find ourselves today.

The second catastrophe is the Holocaust, in which the Jewish world was literally eradicated. Entire communities were wiped out and the human cinders that were retrieved from the ashes had to pick themselves up and begin a new life after their world had been destroyed, just like Noach after the flood. The only way for each of these survivors to continue was not to give in to the gloomy situation, but to realize that if they had managed to miraculously survive against the odds (even if they cannot fathom why they specifically survived while others perished) their task is to look forward and build a new world.

While the Jewish people were undergoing the catastrophe of the Holocaust, the Jewish community in the land of Israel began to grow, saved from the same fate by Divine providence. Despite the miraculous phenomenon of the Jewish return toZion, the establishment of the State of Israel is reminiscent of a disappointing Tower of Babel. Instead of explicitly founding the state on the basis of Torah, thereby recognizing and declaring that we are God’s people, an attempt was made to create a union held together by superficial, material cooperation, while the God of Israel and the Torah, the only truly uniting force behind the Jewish people, were deliberately left out of the picture. The first few years of the State’s existence seemed to prove successful, but the ensuing crisis of dispersion was not long in coming. After a short while came years of disappointment, as national unity began to disintegrate. The polarization of the various factions among the people grew and the national crisis manifested severely in the growing phenomenon of emigration; a phenomenon that transmitted a sense of futility to all efforts that were made. Rectification is by way of the uniting force imbued in our natures by the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by establishing our "National Home" on the foundation of our unique Jewish culture, raising the banner of Torah and faith as the flag of the rectified Jewish state.

Finally, we find ourselves grappling with the fourth crisis?enslavement. We may not always sense how enslaved we really are - and sometimes that is the greatest problem, which indicates that we have internalized a foreign culture; we talk and think in terms borrowed from a foreign mentality that binds and enslaves us. One of the strongest expressions of this enslavement is the fear expressed by the constant question of, "What will other nations say?" which quite probably has been the most consistent driving force behind the foreign and military policies of all Israeli governments since the establishment of the state. In order to correct the current situation we need to openly discuss the need for a savior, a king?the Mashiach?who will free our minds and open our mouths so that we may think Jewish thoughts and speak Jewish words. We need a redeemer who will extricate us from our cultural subservience and will lead a true revolution, until the Jewish people realize their status as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The Exodus from the Egyptian exile was "with our head held high," open, public, and with great fanfare, and so too will be our future redemption, speedily in our days, when everything will become clear for all to see.

The Exodus from Egypt was completed with the giving of the Torah and so too the climax of the ultimate redemption will be the revelation of a “new Torah”; the essence of the inner dimension of the Torah that we received at Mount Sinai.
In Parashat Noach, help humanity undergoes two great catastrophes. The first is the flood – the holocaust that annihilates all of humanity and all land-life except those who survive in Noach’s ark. The second catastrophe is the dispersal of humanity to all ends of the earth as a result of the collapse of the Tower of Babel. In last week’s parashah, information pills Parashat Bereishit we learnt of the first crisis in human history -  man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden following Adam and Eve’s sin. These are the first three catastrophes that visited humanity.

Apart from these three catastrophes described in the Book of Genesis the Pentateuch's central narrative revolves around a fourth critical event—the Jewish people’s slavery and their subsequent exodus from Egypt. Upon contemplation, prescription clearly the slavery in Egypt and the exodus from it were meant from the beginning to enable the Jewish people to reach the heights they rose to. Following this same line of reasoning, properly understanding and rectifying each of the first three catastrophes can lead to improving reality.

Deepening our sense of these four crises will allow us to see how each is an archetype for the various crises and catastrophes we have faced in the past and are experiencing in the present, both on the personal and the collective levels.

The first catastrophe:Paradise lost

The first crisis is the loss of a dream. Although in the Torah the Garden of Eden is described as a concrete reality with trees, man, woman and the serpent, nonetheless no GPS has ever navigated us to the Garden of Eden and no one has ever photographed the cherubim guarding the path to the Tree of Life. It seems therefore, that the Garden of Eden remains a utopian reality that has receded into another dimension of reality, but the gateway to this dimension is blocked to our access. In the same way, we can say that before Adam's sin and before his expulsion from Eden, our world was not within reality and there was no road that led from the Garden of Eden to the geographic regions familiar to us. This is implied by the verse, "And every plant of the field was not yet on earth... and man was not…." Our present reality did not exist because human consciousness had not yet accessed it. After the primordial sin and after Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden the image was reversed; Eden receded into theory while our globe assumed reality. In fact, the Arizal said that before Adam's sin, reality was fourteen levels above where it is now; the reality inhabited by Adam and Eve remains beyond our hand’s-reach – the numerical value of “hand” (??) is 14.

Today, Utopia is considered a theoretical ideal. But, the truth is that this ideal did actually exist in the past in the form of the Garden of Eden, which is why it continues to play a very important role in our present state of consciousness. Although we live in this world, we are not from here; we have all been exiled from Paradise. But we cannot allow ourselves to indulge in nostalgic musings and live in a dream-like state; rather we must take action in reality as it is now, where we now find ourselves. "God sent him from the Garden of Eden to cultivate the land from which he had been taken." This is our rectification!

We all begin our lives with the expulsion from Paradise: the soul has been exiled from its utopian world and has hit the harsh reality that we are all familiar with. From now on, our entire lives are dedicated to our rehabilitation from the trauma of our burst bubble. Even in our present situation, like in Eden, there is a serpentine catalyst precipitating our expulsion, in the form of our evil inclination. The more this serpent succeeds, the more our initial innocence is defiled and we find reality to be even more cruel and alien, leaving us to work and cope with rectifying the crisis of our lost paradise.

The second catastrophe: the destruction of the world

The second catastrophe is the destruction of the world. Adam says, "I was expelled from paradise," but Noach was not expelled and was not transported to a different level of reality; his entire world was destroyed around him. Before the flood the world was not a nice place to live in, and certainly could not be described as idyllic. Yet, the world was inhabited, it was filled with people and animals, there were bustling cities and a steady din of life. But after the flood, the world was barren and a dreadful silence filled the air. Only one small family, who had been spared the forces of chaos that raged over the earth for an entire year in an ark carrying an entire zoo of animals, had to begin building a new world.

Not everyone has to go through such a crisis, but many people can relate to the idea that their world has been destroyed. For example, someone who has lost his entire family and now, after his own personal flood has to begin anew. This is a very challenging undertaking, which requires rallying the energy to start over. Some are tempted to try to escape reality by turning to alcohol and rolling around drunk, as did Noach ... But, there is really no choice left. The old world has been destroyed and no longer exists, and now you're left to build a new world upon its ruins. The previous generation has been destroyed, and you—who were part of that generation—are its rectification, provided you have an optimistic approach. We need not go to great lengths to find examples of a modern-day Noach; it is awe-inspiring to see the many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, who lost all they had—their family, wives, children, possessions—and recovered to build their lives all over again.

The third catastrophe: dispersion

The third crisis is dispersion. In the generation after Noach all people spoke "a single language and similar words." They all lived in one place forming a single society. However, their unity was based on the city and tower they had built with the purpose of defying God. This time, the catastrophe did not come in the form of exile or destruction, but as dispersal. Instead, of one nation there were now seventy, each with its own distinct language, its own country and its own culture. This crisis may seem easier to cope with than the expulsion from Eden or the destruction of the world, but it should not be viewed lightly: the social framework changed completely and social codes had to be rewritten.

How can dispersion be repaired? Can it be that diversity is the goal? Immediately after the flood at the end of parashat Noach, the first patriarch appears: Abraham. According to the sages' reckoning, Abraham was present during the construction of the Tower of Babel, standing as a lone revolutionary in opposition to the Tower’s builders. Abraham, followed by Isaac and Jacob, heralded a real unity that can reunite a dispersed world. The three patriarchs, from whom the Jewish people were destined to come, will eventually achieve a rectified state of unity - not an imaginary humanistic state of superficial peace void of submission to God’s sovereignty, but a state of harmony at whose center stand the chosen people who declare before all that, "God is One and His Name is one."

It is not hard to see crises of dispersion plaguing societies throughout history: a once unified society, or state, or empire deteriorates into opposing factions as the social fabric is unwound. Taking the place of cooperation based on constructive positive communication are opposing rhetoric; as if they have begun to speak different languages, people stop listening to one another, until the only level of communication that remains is rock-throwing (a description given by the sages to the collapse of the Tower of Babel). What is true of society is true of the individual. We have all seen those poor souls who are torn between the various voices within, their inner peace disturbed, and their character in turmoil. One often finds them wandering aimlessly around the world, hard-pressed to pick up the pieces of the broken lives that are no more. Dispersion, whether it befalls a society or an individual can be rectified by discovering a central backbone to reorganize and unite the shards.

The fourth catastrophe: enslavement

At the end of the era of the Patriarchs, the Jewish people moved to Egypt and the coming generations were enslaved by Pharaoh, creating a fourth type of crisis. No dream had been shattered, no world had been destroyed, and no dispersal had taken place, but exile and bondage had infiltrated the people’s consciousness. An entire nation became totally enslaved in substance and spirit through laborious drudgery that breaks the body and gives no respite to the soul; one cannot breathe because every drop of air and attention is dedicated to Pharaoh, so much so that one forgets one’s identity, even one’s sense of self, with one’s very heart being replaced by a totally foreign mentality.

Only the Exodus can rectify this situation. Yet, despite the various miracles and wonders that transpired during the Exodus, the greatest marvel is the very exit of a "nation from within a nation" as the Jewish people was born from within the straits of the Egyptian exile. The essential image associated with rectification by the Exodus is that of Moses—a Divinely appointed redeemer sent to take the Jewish people out of Egypt. In addition, the redemption process must have a goal, in this case, the giving of the Torah, "When you take the people out of Egypt you shall serve God on this mountain." The process is complete when the Jewish people enter their homeland, the Land of Israel.

Perhaps we consider ourselves to be freemen, but the truth is that many of us are actually enslaved (in fact, who isn’t?). The taskmaster is not just a "Big Brother" from without, but the many diversions and pressures that fill the crazy world in which we live and infiltrate our sense of self. The anxiety caused by our finances, the need to work hard to make enough money, can turn an individual into a slave. But, even when money is not an issue, we are still an overstressed generation. Worries and constant tension burden us like an iron yoke and the sages state that the yoke of the government and the yoke of making a livelihood leave no room for the yoke of Torah. The mind is never at rest to relax and focus on what really matters. In addition to all this, we are all tied down by the constraints of social conventions, influenced by the cheap pop-culture we are bombarded by (be it consciously or unconsciously) affecting our thoughts and behavior. It is this modern taskmaster sporting a broad smile and a golden whip from whom we need salvation!

Catastrophes in modern Jewish history

With this model of four types of catastrophe or crisis before us, we can better understand the processes that have affected the Jewish people in recent history.

Until the 19th century, the Jewish world in the Diaspora was centered around the good old shtetl—a dream that was and is no more. One can encounter vivid descriptions of the shtetl (whether from the memoirs of the Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch, the stories told by Agnon or the artwork painted by Chagall), and receive the impression that this was a relatively utopian world, a dream with a whiff of Paradise (though certainly not everything there was always good). However that dream was shattered by the terrible spiritual destruction that visited the shtetl, even long before the Holocaust. The guise of the serpent in this tale (who seduced us to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge) was "the Enlightenment." Jews suddenly found themselves outside the Garden of Eden, the old familiar fragrance of Yiddishkeit having disappeared. The cotton-wool that had shielded us was ripped open and foreign influences entered the Jewish home, casting so many Jews out of their tradition, out of the Torah, and out of this relatively sheltered and nurturing spiritual environment. Now, any attempt to return to the old Jewish shtetl is to no avail; we can never return to life as it used to be. Our only chance to repair are by toiling in the modern world we find ourselves today.

The second catastrophe is the Holocaust, in which the Jewish world was literally eradicated. Entire communities were wiped out and the human cinders that were retrieved from the ashes had to pick themselves up and begin a new life after their world had been destroyed, just like Noach after the flood. The only way for each of these survivors to continue was not to give in to the gloomy situation, but to realize that if they had managed to miraculously survive against the odds (even if they cannot fathom why they specifically survived while others perished) their task is to look forward and build a new world.

While the Jewish people were undergoing the catastrophe of the Holocaust, the Jewish community in the land of Israel began to grow, saved from the same fate by Divine providence. Despite the miraculous phenomenon of the Jewish return toZion, the establishment of the State of Israel is reminiscent of a disappointing Tower of Babel. Instead of explicitly founding the state on the basis of Torah, thereby recognizing and declaring that we are God’s people, an attempt was made to create a union held together by superficial, material cooperation, while the God of Israel and the Torah, the only truly uniting force behind the Jewish people, were deliberately left out of the picture. The first few years of the State’s existence seemed to prove successful, but the ensuing crisis of dispersion was not long in coming. After a short while came years of disappointment, as national unity began to disintegrate. The polarization of the various factions among the people grew and the national crisis manifested severely in the growing phenomenon of emigration; a phenomenon that transmitted a sense of futility to all efforts that were made. Rectification is by way of the uniting force imbued in our natures by the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by establishing our "National Home" on the foundation of our unique Jewish culture, raising the banner of Torah and faith as the flag of the rectified Jewish state.

Finally, we find ourselves grappling with the fourth crisis?enslavement. We may not always sense how enslaved we really are - and sometimes that is the greatest problem, which indicates that we have internalized a foreign culture; we talk and think in terms borrowed from a foreign mentality that binds and enslaves us. One of the strongest expressions of this enslavement is the fear expressed by the constant question of, "What will other nations say?" which quite probably has been the most consistent driving force behind the foreign and military policies of all Israeli governments since the establishment of the state. In order to correct the current situation we need to openly discuss the need for a savior, a king?the Mashiach?who will free our minds and open our mouths so that we may think Jewish thoughts and speak Jewish words. We need a redeemer who will extricate us from our cultural subservience and will lead a true revolution, until the Jewish people realize their status as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The Exodus from the Egyptian exile was "with our head held high," open, public, and with great fanfare, and so too will be our future redemption, speedily in our days, when everything will become clear for all to see.

The Exodus from Egypt was completed with the giving of the Torah and so too the climax of the ultimate redemption will be the revelation of a “new Torah”; the essence of the inner dimension of the Torah that we received at Mount Sinai.
In Parashat Noach, pills humanity undergoes two great catastrophes. The first is the flood – the holocaust that annihilates all of humanity and all land-life except those who survive in Noach’s ark. The second catastrophe is the dispersal of humanity to all ends of the earth as a result of the collapse of the Tower of Babel. In last week’s parashah, Parashat Bereishit we learnt of the first crisis in human history -  man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden following Adam and Eve’s sin. These are the first three catastrophes that visited humanity.

Apart from these three catastrophes described in the Book of Genesis the Pentateuch's central narrative revolves around a fourth critical event—the Jewish people’s slavery and their subsequent exodus from Egypt. Upon contemplation, clearly the slavery in Egypt and the exodus from it were meant from the beginning to enable the Jewish people to reach the heights they rose to. Following this same line of reasoning, properly understanding and rectifying each of the first three catastrophes can lead to improving reality.

Deepening our sense of these four crises will allow us to see how each is an archetype for the various crises and catastrophes we have faced in the past and are experiencing in the present, both on the personal and the collective levels.

The first catastrophe:Paradise lost

The first crisis is the loss of a dream. Although in the Torah the Garden of Eden is described as a concrete reality with trees, man, woman and the serpent, nonetheless no GPS has ever navigated us to the Garden of Eden and no one has ever photographed the cherubim guarding the path to the Tree of Life. It seems therefore, that the Garden of Eden remains a utopian reality that has receded into another dimension of reality, but the gateway to this dimension is blocked to our access. In the same way, we can say that before Adam's sin and before his expulsion from Eden, our world was not within reality and there was no road that led from the Garden of Eden to the geographic regions familiar to us. This is implied by the verse, "And every plant of the field was not yet on earth... and man was not…." Our present reality did not exist because human consciousness had not yet accessed it. After the primordial sin and after Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden the image was reversed; Eden receded into theory while our globe assumed reality. In fact, the Arizal said that before Adam's sin, reality was fourteen levels above where it is now; the reality inhabited by Adam and Eve remains beyond our hand’s-reach – the numerical value of “hand” (??) is 14.

Today, Utopia is considered a theoretical ideal. But, the truth is that this ideal did actually exist in the past in the form of the Garden of Eden, which is why it continues to play a very important role in our present state of consciousness. Although we live in this world, we are not from here; we have all been exiled from Paradise. But we cannot allow ourselves to indulge in nostalgic musings and live in a dream-like state; rather we must take action in reality as it is now, where we now find ourselves. "God sent him from the Garden of Eden to cultivate the land from which he had been taken." This is our rectification!

We all begin our lives with the expulsion from Paradise: the soul has been exiled from its utopian world and has hit the harsh reality that we are all familiar with. From now on, our entire lives are dedicated to our rehabilitation from the trauma of our burst bubble. Even in our present situation, like in Eden, there is a serpentine catalyst precipitating our expulsion, in the form of our evil inclination. The more this serpent succeeds, the more our initial innocence is defiled and we find reality to be even more cruel and alien, leaving us to work and cope with rectifying the crisis of our lost paradise.

The second catastrophe: the destruction of the world

The second catastrophe is the destruction of the world. Adam says, "I was expelled from paradise," but Noach was not expelled and was not transported to a different level of reality; his entire world was destroyed around him. Before the flood the world was not a nice place to live in, and certainly could not be described as idyllic. Yet, the world was inhabited, it was filled with people and animals, there were bustling cities and a steady din of life. But after the flood, the world was barren and a dreadful silence filled the air. Only one small family, who had been spared the forces of chaos that raged over the earth for an entire year in an ark carrying an entire zoo of animals, had to begin building a new world.

Not everyone has to go through such a crisis, but many people can relate to the idea that their world has been destroyed. For example, someone who has lost his entire family and now, after his own personal flood has to begin anew. This is a very challenging undertaking, which requires rallying the energy to start over. Some are tempted to try to escape reality by turning to alcohol and rolling around drunk, as did Noach ... But, there is really no choice left. The old world has been destroyed and no longer exists, and now you're left to build a new world upon its ruins. The previous generation has been destroyed, and you—who were part of that generation—are its rectification, provided you have an optimistic approach. We need not go to great lengths to find examples of a modern-day Noach; it is awe-inspiring to see the many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, who lost all they had—their family, wives, children, possessions—and recovered to build their lives all over again.

The third catastrophe: dispersion

The third crisis is dispersion. In the generation after Noach all people spoke "a single language and similar words." They all lived in one place forming a single society. However, their unity was based on the city and tower they had built with the purpose of defying God. This time, the catastrophe did not come in the form of exile or destruction, but as dispersal. Instead, of one nation there were now seventy, each with its own distinct language, its own country and its own culture. This crisis may seem easier to cope with than the expulsion from Eden or the destruction of the world, but it should not be viewed lightly: the social framework changed completely and social codes had to be rewritten.

How can dispersion be repaired? Can it be that diversity is the goal? Immediately after the flood at the end of parashat Noach, the first patriarch appears: Abraham. According to the sages' reckoning, Abraham was present during the construction of the Tower of Babel, standing as a lone revolutionary in opposition to the Tower’s builders. Abraham, followed by Isaac and Jacob, heralded a real unity that can reunite a dispersed world. The three patriarchs, from whom the Jewish people were destined to come, will eventually achieve a rectified state of unity - not an imaginary humanistic state of superficial peace void of submission to God’s sovereignty, but a state of harmony at whose center stand the chosen people who declare before all that, "God is One and His Name is one."

It is not hard to see crises of dispersion plaguing societies throughout history: a once unified society, or state, or empire deteriorates into opposing factions as the social fabric is unwound. Taking the place of cooperation based on constructive positive communication are opposing rhetoric; as if they have begun to speak different languages, people stop listening to one another, until the only level of communication that remains is rock-throwing (a description given by the sages to the collapse of the Tower of Babel). What is true of society is true of the individual. We have all seen those poor souls who are torn between the various voices within, their inner peace disturbed, and their character in turmoil. One often finds them wandering aimlessly around the world, hard-pressed to pick up the pieces of the broken lives that are no more. Dispersion, whether it befalls a society or an individual can be rectified by discovering a central backbone to reorganize and unite the shards.

The fourth catastrophe: enslavement

At the end of the era of the Patriarchs, the Jewish people moved to Egypt and the coming generations were enslaved by Pharaoh, creating a fourth type of crisis. No dream had been shattered, no world had been destroyed, and no dispersal had taken place, but exile and bondage had infiltrated the people’s consciousness. An entire nation became totally enslaved in substance and spirit through laborious drudgery that breaks the body and gives no respite to the soul; one cannot breathe because every drop of air and attention is dedicated to Pharaoh, so much so that one forgets one’s identity, even one’s sense of self, with one’s very heart being replaced by a totally foreign mentality.

Only the Exodus can rectify this situation. Yet, despite the various miracles and wonders that transpired during the Exodus, the greatest marvel is the very exit of a "nation from within a nation" as the Jewish people was born from within the straits of the Egyptian exile. The essential image associated with rectification by the Exodus is that of Moses—a Divinely appointed redeemer sent to take the Jewish people out of Egypt. In addition, the redemption process must have a goal, in this case, the giving of the Torah, "When you take the people out of Egypt you shall serve God on this mountain." The process is complete when the Jewish people enter their homeland, the Land of Israel.

Perhaps we consider ourselves to be freemen, but the truth is that many of us are actually enslaved (in fact, who isn’t?). The taskmaster is not just a "Big Brother" from without, but the many diversions and pressures that fill the crazy world in which we live and infiltrate our sense of self. The anxiety caused by our finances, the need to work hard to make enough money, can turn an individual into a slave. But, even when money is not an issue, we are still an overstressed generation. Worries and constant tension burden us like an iron yoke and the sages state that the yoke of the government and the yoke of making a livelihood leave no room for the yoke of Torah. The mind is never at rest to relax and focus on what really matters. In addition to all this, we are all tied down by the constraints of social conventions, influenced by the cheap pop-culture we are bombarded by (be it consciously or unconsciously) affecting our thoughts and behavior. It is this modern taskmaster sporting a broad smile and a golden whip from whom we need salvation!

Catastrophes in modern Jewish history

With this model of four types of catastrophe or crisis before us, we can better understand the processes that have affected the Jewish people in recent history.

Until the 19th century, the Jewish world in the Diaspora was centered around the good old shtetl—a dream that was and is no more. One can encounter vivid descriptions of the shtetl (whether from the memoirs of the Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch, the stories told by Agnon or the artwork painted by Chagall), and receive the impression that this was a relatively utopian world, a dream with a whiff of Paradise (though certainly not everything there was always good). However that dream was shattered by the terrible spiritual destruction that visited the shtetl, even long before the Holocaust. The guise of the serpent in this tale (who seduced us to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge) was "the Enlightenment." Jews suddenly found themselves outside the Garden of Eden, the old familiar fragrance of Yiddishkeit having disappeared. The cotton-wool that had shielded us was ripped open and foreign influences entered the Jewish home, casting so many Jews out of their tradition, out of the Torah, and out of this relatively sheltered and nurturing spiritual environment. Now, any attempt to return to the old Jewish shtetl is to no avail; we can never return to life as it used to be. Our only chance to repair are by toiling in the modern world we find ourselves today.

The second catastrophe is the Holocaust, in which the Jewish world was literally eradicated. Entire communities were wiped out and the human cinders that were retrieved from the ashes had to pick themselves up and begin a new life after their world had been destroyed, just like Noach after the flood. The only way for each of these survivors to continue was not to give in to the gloomy situation, but to realize that if they had managed to miraculously survive against the odds (even if they cannot fathom why they specifically survived while others perished) their task is to look forward and build a new world.

While the Jewish people were undergoing the catastrophe of the Holocaust, the Jewish community in the land of Israel began to grow, saved from the same fate by Divine providence. Despite the miraculous phenomenon of the Jewish return toZion, the establishment of the State of Israel is reminiscent of a disappointing Tower of Babel. Instead of explicitly founding the state on the basis of Torah, thereby recognizing and declaring that we are God’s people, an attempt was made to create a union held together by superficial, material cooperation, while the God of Israel and the Torah, the only truly uniting force behind the Jewish people, were deliberately left out of the picture. The first few years of the State’s existence seemed to prove successful, but the ensuing crisis of dispersion was not long in coming. After a short while came years of disappointment, as national unity began to disintegrate. The polarization of the various factions among the people grew and the national crisis manifested severely in the growing phenomenon of emigration; a phenomenon that transmitted a sense of futility to all efforts that were made. Rectification is by way of the uniting force imbued in our natures by the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by establishing our "National Home" on the foundation of our unique Jewish culture, raising the banner of Torah and faith as the flag of the rectified Jewish state.

Finally, we find ourselves grappling with the fourth crisis?enslavement. We may not always sense how enslaved we really are - and sometimes that is the greatest problem, which indicates that we have internalized a foreign culture; we talk and think in terms borrowed from a foreign mentality that binds and enslaves us. One of the strongest expressions of this enslavement is the fear expressed by the constant question of, "What will other nations say?" which quite probably has been the most consistent driving force behind the foreign and military policies of all Israeli governments since the establishment of the state. In order to correct the current situation we need to openly discuss the need for a savior, a king?the Mashiach?who will free our minds and open our mouths so that we may think Jewish thoughts and speak Jewish words. We need a redeemer who will extricate us from our cultural subservience and will lead a true revolution, until the Jewish people realize their status as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The Exodus from the Egyptian exile was "with our head held high," open, public, and with great fanfare, and so too will be our future redemption, speedily in our days, when everything will become clear for all to see.

The Exodus from Egypt was completed with the giving of the Torah and so too the climax of the ultimate redemption will be the revelation of a “new Torah”; the essence of the inner dimension of the Torah that we received at Mount Sinai.
In Parashat Noach, pills humanity undergoes two great catastrophes. The first is the flood – the holocaust that annihilates all of humanity and all land-life except those who survive in Noach’s ark. The second catastrophe is the dispersal of humanity to all ends of the earth as a result of the collapse of the Tower of Babel. In last week’s parashah, Parashat Bereishit we learnt of the first crisis in human history -  man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden following Adam and Eve’s sin. These are the first three catastrophes that visited humanity.

Apart from these three catastrophes described in the Book of Genesis the Pentateuch's central narrative revolves around a fourth critical event—the Jewish people’s slavery and their subsequent exodus from Egypt. Upon contemplation, clearly the slavery in Egypt and the exodus from it were meant from the beginning to enable the Jewish people to reach the heights they rose to. Following this same line of reasoning, properly understanding and rectifying each of the first three catastrophes can lead to improving reality.

Deepening our sense of these four crises will allow us to see how each is an archetype for the various crises and catastrophes we have faced in the past and are experiencing in the present, both on the personal and the collective levels.

The first catastrophe:Paradise lost

The first crisis is the loss of a dream. Although in the Torah the Garden of Eden is described as a concrete reality with trees, man, woman and the serpent, nonetheless no GPS has ever navigated us to the Garden of Eden and no one has ever photographed the cherubim guarding the path to the Tree of Life. It seems therefore, that the Garden of Eden remains a utopian reality that has receded into another dimension of reality, but the gateway to this dimension is blocked to our access. In the same way, we can say that before Adam's sin and before his expulsion from Eden, our world was not within reality and there was no road that led from the Garden of Eden to the geographic regions familiar to us. This is implied by the verse, "And every plant of the field was not yet on earth... and man was not…." Our present reality did not exist because human consciousness had not yet accessed it. After the primordial sin and after Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden the image was reversed; Eden receded into theory while our globe assumed reality. In fact, the Arizal said that before Adam's sin, reality was fourteen levels above where it is now; the reality inhabited by Adam and Eve remains beyond our hand’s-reach – the numerical value of “hand” (??) is 14.

Today, Utopia is considered a theoretical ideal. But, the truth is that this ideal did actually exist in the past in the form of the Garden of Eden, which is why it continues to play a very important role in our present state of consciousness. Although we live in this world, we are not from here; we have all been exiled from Paradise. But we cannot allow ourselves to indulge in nostalgic musings and live in a dream-like state; rather we must take action in reality as it is now, where we now find ourselves. "God sent him from the Garden of Eden to cultivate the land from which he had been taken." This is our rectification!

We all begin our lives with the expulsion from Paradise: the soul has been exiled from its utopian world and has hit the harsh reality that we are all familiar with. From now on, our entire lives are dedicated to our rehabilitation from the trauma of our burst bubble. Even in our present situation, like in Eden, there is a serpentine catalyst precipitating our expulsion, in the form of our evil inclination. The more this serpent succeeds, the more our initial innocence is defiled and we find reality to be even more cruel and alien, leaving us to work and cope with rectifying the crisis of our lost paradise.

The second catastrophe: the destruction of the world

The second catastrophe is the destruction of the world. Adam says, "I was expelled from paradise," but Noach was not expelled and was not transported to a different level of reality; his entire world was destroyed around him. Before the flood the world was not a nice place to live in, and certainly could not be described as idyllic. Yet, the world was inhabited, it was filled with people and animals, there were bustling cities and a steady din of life. But after the flood, the world was barren and a dreadful silence filled the air. Only one small family, who had been spared the forces of chaos that raged over the earth for an entire year in an ark carrying an entire zoo of animals, had to begin building a new world.

Not everyone has to go through such a crisis, but many people can relate to the idea that their world has been destroyed. For example, someone who has lost his entire family and now, after his own personal flood has to begin anew. This is a very challenging undertaking, which requires rallying the energy to start over. Some are tempted to try to escape reality by turning to alcohol and rolling around drunk, as did Noach ... But, there is really no choice left. The old world has been destroyed and no longer exists, and now you're left to build a new world upon its ruins. The previous generation has been destroyed, and you—who were part of that generation—are its rectification, provided you have an optimistic approach. We need not go to great lengths to find examples of a modern-day Noach; it is awe-inspiring to see the many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, who lost all they had—their family, wives, children, possessions—and recovered to build their lives all over again.

The third catastrophe: dispersion

The third crisis is dispersion. In the generation after Noach all people spoke "a single language and similar words." They all lived in one place forming a single society. However, their unity was based on the city and tower they had built with the purpose of defying God. This time, the catastrophe did not come in the form of exile or destruction, but as dispersal. Instead, of one nation there were now seventy, each with its own distinct language, its own country and its own culture. This crisis may seem easier to cope with than the expulsion from Eden or the destruction of the world, but it should not be viewed lightly: the social framework changed completely and social codes had to be rewritten.

How can dispersion be repaired? Can it be that diversity is the goal? Immediately after the flood at the end of parashat Noach, the first patriarch appears: Abraham. According to the sages' reckoning, Abraham was present during the construction of the Tower of Babel, standing as a lone revolutionary in opposition to the Tower’s builders. Abraham, followed by Isaac and Jacob, heralded a real unity that can reunite a dispersed world. The three patriarchs, from whom the Jewish people were destined to come, will eventually achieve a rectified state of unity - not an imaginary humanistic state of superficial peace void of submission to God’s sovereignty, but a state of harmony at whose center stand the chosen people who declare before all that, "God is One and His Name is one."

It is not hard to see crises of dispersion plaguing societies throughout history: a once unified society, or state, or empire deteriorates into opposing factions as the social fabric is unwound. Taking the place of cooperation based on constructive positive communication are opposing rhetoric; as if they have begun to speak different languages, people stop listening to one another, until the only level of communication that remains is rock-throwing (a description given by the sages to the collapse of the Tower of Babel). What is true of society is true of the individual. We have all seen those poor souls who are torn between the various voices within, their inner peace disturbed, and their character in turmoil. One often finds them wandering aimlessly around the world, hard-pressed to pick up the pieces of the broken lives that are no more. Dispersion, whether it befalls a society or an individual can be rectified by discovering a central backbone to reorganize and unite the shards.

The fourth catastrophe: enslavement

At the end of the era of the Patriarchs, the Jewish people moved to Egypt and the coming generations were enslaved by Pharaoh, creating a fourth type of crisis. No dream had been shattered, no world had been destroyed, and no dispersal had taken place, but exile and bondage had infiltrated the people’s consciousness. An entire nation became totally enslaved in substance and spirit through laborious drudgery that breaks the body and gives no respite to the soul; one cannot breathe because every drop of air and attention is dedicated to Pharaoh, so much so that one forgets one’s identity, even one’s sense of self, with one’s very heart being replaced by a totally foreign mentality.

Only the Exodus can rectify this situation. Yet, despite the various miracles and wonders that transpired during the Exodus, the greatest marvel is the very exit of a "nation from within a nation" as the Jewish people was born from within the straits of the Egyptian exile. The essential image associated with rectification by the Exodus is that of Moses—a Divinely appointed redeemer sent to take the Jewish people out of Egypt. In addition, the redemption process must have a goal, in this case, the giving of the Torah, "When you take the people out of Egypt you shall serve God on this mountain." The process is complete when the Jewish people enter their homeland, the Land of Israel.

Perhaps we consider ourselves to be freemen, but the truth is that many of us are actually enslaved (in fact, who isn’t?). The taskmaster is not just a "Big Brother" from without, but the many diversions and pressures that fill the crazy world in which we live and infiltrate our sense of self. The anxiety caused by our finances, the need to work hard to make enough money, can turn an individual into a slave. But, even when money is not an issue, we are still an overstressed generation. Worries and constant tension burden us like an iron yoke and the sages state that the yoke of the government and the yoke of making a livelihood leave no room for the yoke of Torah. The mind is never at rest to relax and focus on what really matters. In addition to all this, we are all tied down by the constraints of social conventions, influenced by the cheap pop-culture we are bombarded by (be it consciously or unconsciously) affecting our thoughts and behavior. It is this modern taskmaster sporting a broad smile and a golden whip from whom we need salvation!

Catastrophes in modern Jewish history

With this model of four types of catastrophe or crisis before us, we can better understand the processes that have affected the Jewish people in recent history.

Until the 19th century, the Jewish world in the Diaspora was centered around the good old shtetl—a dream that was and is no more. One can encounter vivid descriptions of the shtetl (whether from the memoirs of the Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch, the stories told by Agnon or the artwork painted by Chagall), and receive the impression that this was a relatively utopian world, a dream with a whiff of Paradise (though certainly not everything there was always good). However that dream was shattered by the terrible spiritual destruction that visited the shtetl, even long before the Holocaust. The guise of the serpent in this tale (who seduced us to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge) was "the Enlightenment." Jews suddenly found themselves outside the Garden of Eden, the old familiar fragrance of Yiddishkeit having disappeared. The cotton-wool that had shielded us was ripped open and foreign influences entered the Jewish home, casting so many Jews out of their tradition, out of the Torah, and out of this relatively sheltered and nurturing spiritual environment. Now, any attempt to return to the old Jewish shtetl is to no avail; we can never return to life as it used to be. Our only chance to repair are by toiling in the modern world we find ourselves today.

The second catastrophe is the Holocaust, in which the Jewish world was literally eradicated. Entire communities were wiped out and the human cinders that were retrieved from the ashes had to pick themselves up and begin a new life after their world had been destroyed, just like Noach after the flood. The only way for each of these survivors to continue was not to give in to the gloomy situation, but to realize that if they had managed to miraculously survive against the odds (even if they cannot fathom why they specifically survived while others perished) their task is to look forward and build a new world.

While the Jewish people were undergoing the catastrophe of the Holocaust, the Jewish community in the land of Israel began to grow, saved from the same fate by Divine providence. Despite the miraculous phenomenon of the Jewish return toZion, the establishment of the State of Israel is reminiscent of a disappointing Tower of Babel. Instead of explicitly founding the state on the basis of Torah, thereby recognizing and declaring that we are God’s people, an attempt was made to create a union held together by superficial, material cooperation, while the God of Israel and the Torah, the only truly uniting force behind the Jewish people, were deliberately left out of the picture. The first few years of the State’s existence seemed to prove successful, but the ensuing crisis of dispersion was not long in coming. After a short while came years of disappointment, as national unity began to disintegrate. The polarization of the various factions among the people grew and the national crisis manifested severely in the growing phenomenon of emigration; a phenomenon that transmitted a sense of futility to all efforts that were made. Rectification is by way of the uniting force imbued in our natures by the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by establishing our "National Home" on the foundation of our unique Jewish culture, raising the banner of Torah and faith as the flag of the rectified Jewish state.

Finally, we find ourselves grappling with the fourth crisis?enslavement. We may not always sense how enslaved we really are - and sometimes that is the greatest problem, which indicates that we have internalized a foreign culture; we talk and think in terms borrowed from a foreign mentality that binds and enslaves us. One of the strongest expressions of this enslavement is the fear expressed by the constant question of, "What will other nations say?" which quite probably has been the most consistent driving force behind the foreign and military policies of all Israeli governments since the establishment of the state. In order to correct the current situation we need to openly discuss the need for a savior, a king?the Mashiach?who will free our minds and open our mouths so that we may think Jewish thoughts and speak Jewish words. We need a redeemer who will extricate us from our cultural subservience and will lead a true revolution, until the Jewish people realize their status as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The Exodus from the Egyptian exile was "with our head held high," open, public, and with great fanfare, and so too will be our future redemption, speedily in our days, when everything will become clear for all to see.

The Exodus from Egypt was completed with the giving of the Torah and so too the climax of the ultimate redemption will be the revelation of a “new Torah”; the essence of the inner dimension of the Torah that we received at Mount Sinai.

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, and even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth, the binding of Isaac, the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytic intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

from the 13th of Cheshvan 5773 shiur

In Parashat Noach, pills humanity undergoes two great catastrophes. The first is the flood – the holocaust that annihilates all of humanity and all land-life except those who survive in Noach’s ark. The second catastrophe is the dispersal of humanity to all ends of the earth as a result of the collapse of the Tower of Babel. In last week’s parashah, Parashat Bereishit we learnt of the first crisis in human history -  man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden following Adam and Eve’s sin. These are the first three catastrophes that visited humanity.

Apart from these three catastrophes described in the Book of Genesis the Pentateuch's central narrative revolves around a fourth critical event—the Jewish people’s slavery and their subsequent exodus from Egypt. Upon contemplation, clearly the slavery in Egypt and the exodus from it were meant from the beginning to enable the Jewish people to reach the heights they rose to. Following this same line of reasoning, properly understanding and rectifying each of the first three catastrophes can lead to improving reality.

Deepening our sense of these four crises will allow us to see how each is an archetype for the various crises and catastrophes we have faced in the past and are experiencing in the present, both on the personal and the collective levels.

The first catastrophe:Paradise lost

The first crisis is the loss of a dream. Although in the Torah the Garden of Eden is described as a concrete reality with trees, man, woman and the serpent, nonetheless no GPS has ever navigated us to the Garden of Eden and no one has ever photographed the cherubim guarding the path to the Tree of Life. It seems therefore, that the Garden of Eden remains a utopian reality that has receded into another dimension of reality, but the gateway to this dimension is blocked to our access. In the same way, we can say that before Adam's sin and before his expulsion from Eden, our world was not within reality and there was no road that led from the Garden of Eden to the geographic regions familiar to us. This is implied by the verse, "And every plant of the field was not yet on earth... and man was not…." Our present reality did not exist because human consciousness had not yet accessed it. After the primordial sin and after Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden the image was reversed; Eden receded into theory while our globe assumed reality. In fact, the Arizal said that before Adam's sin, reality was fourteen levels above where it is now; the reality inhabited by Adam and Eve remains beyond our hand’s-reach – the numerical value of “hand” (??) is 14.

Today, Utopia is considered a theoretical ideal. But, the truth is that this ideal did actually exist in the past in the form of the Garden of Eden, which is why it continues to play a very important role in our present state of consciousness. Although we live in this world, we are not from here; we have all been exiled from Paradise. But we cannot allow ourselves to indulge in nostalgic musings and live in a dream-like state; rather we must take action in reality as it is now, where we now find ourselves. "God sent him from the Garden of Eden to cultivate the land from which he had been taken." This is our rectification!

We all begin our lives with the expulsion from Paradise: the soul has been exiled from its utopian world and has hit the harsh reality that we are all familiar with. From now on, our entire lives are dedicated to our rehabilitation from the trauma of our burst bubble. Even in our present situation, like in Eden, there is a serpentine catalyst precipitating our expulsion, in the form of our evil inclination. The more this serpent succeeds, the more our initial innocence is defiled and we find reality to be even more cruel and alien, leaving us to work and cope with rectifying the crisis of our lost paradise.

The second catastrophe: the destruction of the world

The second catastrophe is the destruction of the world. Adam says, "I was expelled from paradise," but Noach was not expelled and was not transported to a different level of reality; his entire world was destroyed around him. Before the flood the world was not a nice place to live in, and certainly could not be described as idyllic. Yet, the world was inhabited, it was filled with people and animals, there were bustling cities and a steady din of life. But after the flood, the world was barren and a dreadful silence filled the air. Only one small family, who had been spared the forces of chaos that raged over the earth for an entire year in an ark carrying an entire zoo of animals, had to begin building a new world.

Not everyone has to go through such a crisis, but many people can relate to the idea that their world has been destroyed. For example, someone who has lost his entire family and now, after his own personal flood has to begin anew. This is a very challenging undertaking, which requires rallying the energy to start over. Some are tempted to try to escape reality by turning to alcohol and rolling around drunk, as did Noach ... But, there is really no choice left. The old world has been destroyed and no longer exists, and now you're left to build a new world upon its ruins. The previous generation has been destroyed, and you—who were part of that generation—are its rectification, provided you have an optimistic approach. We need not go to great lengths to find examples of a modern-day Noach; it is awe-inspiring to see the many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, who lost all they had—their family, wives, children, possessions—and recovered to build their lives all over again.

The third catastrophe: dispersion

The third crisis is dispersion. In the generation after Noach all people spoke "a single language and similar words." They all lived in one place forming a single society. However, their unity was based on the city and tower they had built with the purpose of defying God. This time, the catastrophe did not come in the form of exile or destruction, but as dispersal. Instead, of one nation there were now seventy, each with its own distinct language, its own country and its own culture. This crisis may seem easier to cope with than the expulsion from Eden or the destruction of the world, but it should not be viewed lightly: the social framework changed completely and social codes had to be rewritten.

How can dispersion be repaired? Can it be that diversity is the goal? Immediately after the flood at the end of parashat Noach, the first patriarch appears: Abraham. According to the sages' reckoning, Abraham was present during the construction of the Tower of Babel, standing as a lone revolutionary in opposition to the Tower’s builders. Abraham, followed by Isaac and Jacob, heralded a real unity that can reunite a dispersed world. The three patriarchs, from whom the Jewish people were destined to come, will eventually achieve a rectified state of unity - not an imaginary humanistic state of superficial peace void of submission to God’s sovereignty, but a state of harmony at whose center stand the chosen people who declare before all that, "God is One and His Name is one."

It is not hard to see crises of dispersion plaguing societies throughout history: a once unified society, or state, or empire deteriorates into opposing factions as the social fabric is unwound. Taking the place of cooperation based on constructive positive communication are opposing rhetoric; as if they have begun to speak different languages, people stop listening to one another, until the only level of communication that remains is rock-throwing (a description given by the sages to the collapse of the Tower of Babel). What is true of society is true of the individual. We have all seen those poor souls who are torn between the various voices within, their inner peace disturbed, and their character in turmoil. One often finds them wandering aimlessly around the world, hard-pressed to pick up the pieces of the broken lives that are no more. Dispersion, whether it befalls a society or an individual can be rectified by discovering a central backbone to reorganize and unite the shards.

The fourth catastrophe: enslavement

At the end of the era of the Patriarchs, the Jewish people moved to Egypt and the coming generations were enslaved by Pharaoh, creating a fourth type of crisis. No dream had been shattered, no world had been destroyed, and no dispersal had taken place, but exile and bondage had infiltrated the people’s consciousness. An entire nation became totally enslaved in substance and spirit through laborious drudgery that breaks the body and gives no respite to the soul; one cannot breathe because every drop of air and attention is dedicated to Pharaoh, so much so that one forgets one’s identity, even one’s sense of self, with one’s very heart being replaced by a totally foreign mentality.

Only the Exodus can rectify this situation. Yet, despite the various miracles and wonders that transpired during the Exodus, the greatest marvel is the very exit of a "nation from within a nation" as the Jewish people was born from within the straits of the Egyptian exile. The essential image associated with rectification by the Exodus is that of Moses—a Divinely appointed redeemer sent to take the Jewish people out of Egypt. In addition, the redemption process must have a goal, in this case, the giving of the Torah, "When you take the people out of Egypt you shall serve God on this mountain." The process is complete when the Jewish people enter their homeland, the Land of Israel.

Perhaps we consider ourselves to be freemen, but the truth is that many of us are actually enslaved (in fact, who isn’t?). The taskmaster is not just a "Big Brother" from without, but the many diversions and pressures that fill the crazy world in which we live and infiltrate our sense of self. The anxiety caused by our finances, the need to work hard to make enough money, can turn an individual into a slave. But, even when money is not an issue, we are still an overstressed generation. Worries and constant tension burden us like an iron yoke and the sages state that the yoke of the government and the yoke of making a livelihood leave no room for the yoke of Torah. The mind is never at rest to relax and focus on what really matters. In addition to all this, we are all tied down by the constraints of social conventions, influenced by the cheap pop-culture we are bombarded by (be it consciously or unconsciously) affecting our thoughts and behavior. It is this modern taskmaster sporting a broad smile and a golden whip from whom we need salvation!

Catastrophes in modern Jewish history

With this model of four types of catastrophe or crisis before us, we can better understand the processes that have affected the Jewish people in recent history.

Until the 19th century, the Jewish world in the Diaspora was centered around the good old shtetl—a dream that was and is no more. One can encounter vivid descriptions of the shtetl (whether from the memoirs of the Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch, the stories told by Agnon or the artwork painted by Chagall), and receive the impression that this was a relatively utopian world, a dream with a whiff of Paradise (though certainly not everything there was always good). However that dream was shattered by the terrible spiritual destruction that visited the shtetl, even long before the Holocaust. The guise of the serpent in this tale (who seduced us to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge) was "the Enlightenment." Jews suddenly found themselves outside the Garden of Eden, the old familiar fragrance of Yiddishkeit having disappeared. The cotton-wool that had shielded us was ripped open and foreign influences entered the Jewish home, casting so many Jews out of their tradition, out of the Torah, and out of this relatively sheltered and nurturing spiritual environment. Now, any attempt to return to the old Jewish shtetl is to no avail; we can never return to life as it used to be. Our only chance to repair are by toiling in the modern world we find ourselves today.

The second catastrophe is the Holocaust, in which the Jewish world was literally eradicated. Entire communities were wiped out and the human cinders that were retrieved from the ashes had to pick themselves up and begin a new life after their world had been destroyed, just like Noach after the flood. The only way for each of these survivors to continue was not to give in to the gloomy situation, but to realize that if they had managed to miraculously survive against the odds (even if they cannot fathom why they specifically survived while others perished) their task is to look forward and build a new world.

While the Jewish people were undergoing the catastrophe of the Holocaust, the Jewish community in the land of Israel began to grow, saved from the same fate by Divine providence. Despite the miraculous phenomenon of the Jewish return toZion, the establishment of the State of Israel is reminiscent of a disappointing Tower of Babel. Instead of explicitly founding the state on the basis of Torah, thereby recognizing and declaring that we are God’s people, an attempt was made to create a union held together by superficial, material cooperation, while the God of Israel and the Torah, the only truly uniting force behind the Jewish people, were deliberately left out of the picture. The first few years of the State’s existence seemed to prove successful, but the ensuing crisis of dispersion was not long in coming. After a short while came years of disappointment, as national unity began to disintegrate. The polarization of the various factions among the people grew and the national crisis manifested severely in the growing phenomenon of emigration; a phenomenon that transmitted a sense of futility to all efforts that were made. Rectification is by way of the uniting force imbued in our natures by the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by establishing our "National Home" on the foundation of our unique Jewish culture, raising the banner of Torah and faith as the flag of the rectified Jewish state.

Finally, we find ourselves grappling with the fourth crisis?enslavement. We may not always sense how enslaved we really are - and sometimes that is the greatest problem, which indicates that we have internalized a foreign culture; we talk and think in terms borrowed from a foreign mentality that binds and enslaves us. One of the strongest expressions of this enslavement is the fear expressed by the constant question of, "What will other nations say?" which quite probably has been the most consistent driving force behind the foreign and military policies of all Israeli governments since the establishment of the state. In order to correct the current situation we need to openly discuss the need for a savior, a king?the Mashiach?who will free our minds and open our mouths so that we may think Jewish thoughts and speak Jewish words. We need a redeemer who will extricate us from our cultural subservience and will lead a true revolution, until the Jewish people realize their status as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The Exodus from the Egyptian exile was "with our head held high," open, public, and with great fanfare, and so too will be our future redemption, speedily in our days, when everything will become clear for all to see.

The Exodus from Egypt was completed with the giving of the Torah and so too the climax of the ultimate redemption will be the revelation of a “new Torah”; the essence of the inner dimension of the Torah that we received at Mount Sinai.

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, and even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth, the binding of Isaac, the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytic intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

from the 13th of Cheshvan 5773 shiur

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, sildenafil no rx even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth,
for sale the binding of Isaac, help the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytical intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

In Parashat Noach, pills humanity undergoes two great catastrophes. The first is the flood – the holocaust that annihilates all of humanity and all land-life except those who survive in Noach’s ark. The second catastrophe is the dispersal of humanity to all ends of the earth as a result of the collapse of the Tower of Babel. In last week’s parashah, Parashat Bereishit we learnt of the first crisis in human history -  man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden following Adam and Eve’s sin. These are the first three catastrophes that visited humanity.

Apart from these three catastrophes described in the Book of Genesis the Pentateuch's central narrative revolves around a fourth critical event—the Jewish people’s slavery and their subsequent exodus from Egypt. Upon contemplation, clearly the slavery in Egypt and the exodus from it were meant from the beginning to enable the Jewish people to reach the heights they rose to. Following this same line of reasoning, properly understanding and rectifying each of the first three catastrophes can lead to improving reality.

Deepening our sense of these four crises will allow us to see how each is an archetype for the various crises and catastrophes we have faced in the past and are experiencing in the present, both on the personal and the collective levels.

The first catastrophe:Paradise lost

The first crisis is the loss of a dream. Although in the Torah the Garden of Eden is described as a concrete reality with trees, man, woman and the serpent, nonetheless no GPS has ever navigated us to the Garden of Eden and no one has ever photographed the cherubim guarding the path to the Tree of Life. It seems therefore, that the Garden of Eden remains a utopian reality that has receded into another dimension of reality, but the gateway to this dimension is blocked to our access. In the same way, we can say that before Adam's sin and before his expulsion from Eden, our world was not within reality and there was no road that led from the Garden of Eden to the geographic regions familiar to us. This is implied by the verse, "And every plant of the field was not yet on earth... and man was not…." Our present reality did not exist because human consciousness had not yet accessed it. After the primordial sin and after Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden the image was reversed; Eden receded into theory while our globe assumed reality. In fact, the Arizal said that before Adam's sin, reality was fourteen levels above where it is now; the reality inhabited by Adam and Eve remains beyond our hand’s-reach – the numerical value of “hand” (??) is 14.

Today, Utopia is considered a theoretical ideal. But, the truth is that this ideal did actually exist in the past in the form of the Garden of Eden, which is why it continues to play a very important role in our present state of consciousness. Although we live in this world, we are not from here; we have all been exiled from Paradise. But we cannot allow ourselves to indulge in nostalgic musings and live in a dream-like state; rather we must take action in reality as it is now, where we now find ourselves. "God sent him from the Garden of Eden to cultivate the land from which he had been taken." This is our rectification!

We all begin our lives with the expulsion from Paradise: the soul has been exiled from its utopian world and has hit the harsh reality that we are all familiar with. From now on, our entire lives are dedicated to our rehabilitation from the trauma of our burst bubble. Even in our present situation, like in Eden, there is a serpentine catalyst precipitating our expulsion, in the form of our evil inclination. The more this serpent succeeds, the more our initial innocence is defiled and we find reality to be even more cruel and alien, leaving us to work and cope with rectifying the crisis of our lost paradise.

The second catastrophe: the destruction of the world

The second catastrophe is the destruction of the world. Adam says, "I was expelled from paradise," but Noach was not expelled and was not transported to a different level of reality; his entire world was destroyed around him. Before the flood the world was not a nice place to live in, and certainly could not be described as idyllic. Yet, the world was inhabited, it was filled with people and animals, there were bustling cities and a steady din of life. But after the flood, the world was barren and a dreadful silence filled the air. Only one small family, who had been spared the forces of chaos that raged over the earth for an entire year in an ark carrying an entire zoo of animals, had to begin building a new world.

Not everyone has to go through such a crisis, but many people can relate to the idea that their world has been destroyed. For example, someone who has lost his entire family and now, after his own personal flood has to begin anew. This is a very challenging undertaking, which requires rallying the energy to start over. Some are tempted to try to escape reality by turning to alcohol and rolling around drunk, as did Noach ... But, there is really no choice left. The old world has been destroyed and no longer exists, and now you're left to build a new world upon its ruins. The previous generation has been destroyed, and you—who were part of that generation—are its rectification, provided you have an optimistic approach. We need not go to great lengths to find examples of a modern-day Noach; it is awe-inspiring to see the many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, who lost all they had—their family, wives, children, possessions—and recovered to build their lives all over again.

The third catastrophe: dispersion

The third crisis is dispersion. In the generation after Noach all people spoke "a single language and similar words." They all lived in one place forming a single society. However, their unity was based on the city and tower they had built with the purpose of defying God. This time, the catastrophe did not come in the form of exile or destruction, but as dispersal. Instead, of one nation there were now seventy, each with its own distinct language, its own country and its own culture. This crisis may seem easier to cope with than the expulsion from Eden or the destruction of the world, but it should not be viewed lightly: the social framework changed completely and social codes had to be rewritten.

How can dispersion be repaired? Can it be that diversity is the goal? Immediately after the flood at the end of parashat Noach, the first patriarch appears: Abraham. According to the sages' reckoning, Abraham was present during the construction of the Tower of Babel, standing as a lone revolutionary in opposition to the Tower’s builders. Abraham, followed by Isaac and Jacob, heralded a real unity that can reunite a dispersed world. The three patriarchs, from whom the Jewish people were destined to come, will eventually achieve a rectified state of unity - not an imaginary humanistic state of superficial peace void of submission to God’s sovereignty, but a state of harmony at whose center stand the chosen people who declare before all that, "God is One and His Name is one."

It is not hard to see crises of dispersion plaguing societies throughout history: a once unified society, or state, or empire deteriorates into opposing factions as the social fabric is unwound. Taking the place of cooperation based on constructive positive communication are opposing rhetoric; as if they have begun to speak different languages, people stop listening to one another, until the only level of communication that remains is rock-throwing (a description given by the sages to the collapse of the Tower of Babel). What is true of society is true of the individual. We have all seen those poor souls who are torn between the various voices within, their inner peace disturbed, and their character in turmoil. One often finds them wandering aimlessly around the world, hard-pressed to pick up the pieces of the broken lives that are no more. Dispersion, whether it befalls a society or an individual can be rectified by discovering a central backbone to reorganize and unite the shards.

The fourth catastrophe: enslavement

At the end of the era of the Patriarchs, the Jewish people moved to Egypt and the coming generations were enslaved by Pharaoh, creating a fourth type of crisis. No dream had been shattered, no world had been destroyed, and no dispersal had taken place, but exile and bondage had infiltrated the people’s consciousness. An entire nation became totally enslaved in substance and spirit through laborious drudgery that breaks the body and gives no respite to the soul; one cannot breathe because every drop of air and attention is dedicated to Pharaoh, so much so that one forgets one’s identity, even one’s sense of self, with one’s very heart being replaced by a totally foreign mentality.

Only the Exodus can rectify this situation. Yet, despite the various miracles and wonders that transpired during the Exodus, the greatest marvel is the very exit of a "nation from within a nation" as the Jewish people was born from within the straits of the Egyptian exile. The essential image associated with rectification by the Exodus is that of Moses—a Divinely appointed redeemer sent to take the Jewish people out of Egypt. In addition, the redemption process must have a goal, in this case, the giving of the Torah, "When you take the people out of Egypt you shall serve God on this mountain." The process is complete when the Jewish people enter their homeland, the Land of Israel.

Perhaps we consider ourselves to be freemen, but the truth is that many of us are actually enslaved (in fact, who isn’t?). The taskmaster is not just a "Big Brother" from without, but the many diversions and pressures that fill the crazy world in which we live and infiltrate our sense of self. The anxiety caused by our finances, the need to work hard to make enough money, can turn an individual into a slave. But, even when money is not an issue, we are still an overstressed generation. Worries and constant tension burden us like an iron yoke and the sages state that the yoke of the government and the yoke of making a livelihood leave no room for the yoke of Torah. The mind is never at rest to relax and focus on what really matters. In addition to all this, we are all tied down by the constraints of social conventions, influenced by the cheap pop-culture we are bombarded by (be it consciously or unconsciously) affecting our thoughts and behavior. It is this modern taskmaster sporting a broad smile and a golden whip from whom we need salvation!

Catastrophes in modern Jewish history

With this model of four types of catastrophe or crisis before us, we can better understand the processes that have affected the Jewish people in recent history.

Until the 19th century, the Jewish world in the Diaspora was centered around the good old shtetl—a dream that was and is no more. One can encounter vivid descriptions of the shtetl (whether from the memoirs of the Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch, the stories told by Agnon or the artwork painted by Chagall), and receive the impression that this was a relatively utopian world, a dream with a whiff of Paradise (though certainly not everything there was always good). However that dream was shattered by the terrible spiritual destruction that visited the shtetl, even long before the Holocaust. The guise of the serpent in this tale (who seduced us to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge) was "the Enlightenment." Jews suddenly found themselves outside the Garden of Eden, the old familiar fragrance of Yiddishkeit having disappeared. The cotton-wool that had shielded us was ripped open and foreign influences entered the Jewish home, casting so many Jews out of their tradition, out of the Torah, and out of this relatively sheltered and nurturing spiritual environment. Now, any attempt to return to the old Jewish shtetl is to no avail; we can never return to life as it used to be. Our only chance to repair are by toiling in the modern world we find ourselves today.

The second catastrophe is the Holocaust, in which the Jewish world was literally eradicated. Entire communities were wiped out and the human cinders that were retrieved from the ashes had to pick themselves up and begin a new life after their world had been destroyed, just like Noach after the flood. The only way for each of these survivors to continue was not to give in to the gloomy situation, but to realize that if they had managed to miraculously survive against the odds (even if they cannot fathom why they specifically survived while others perished) their task is to look forward and build a new world.

While the Jewish people were undergoing the catastrophe of the Holocaust, the Jewish community in the land of Israel began to grow, saved from the same fate by Divine providence. Despite the miraculous phenomenon of the Jewish return toZion, the establishment of the State of Israel is reminiscent of a disappointing Tower of Babel. Instead of explicitly founding the state on the basis of Torah, thereby recognizing and declaring that we are God’s people, an attempt was made to create a union held together by superficial, material cooperation, while the God of Israel and the Torah, the only truly uniting force behind the Jewish people, were deliberately left out of the picture. The first few years of the State’s existence seemed to prove successful, but the ensuing crisis of dispersion was not long in coming. After a short while came years of disappointment, as national unity began to disintegrate. The polarization of the various factions among the people grew and the national crisis manifested severely in the growing phenomenon of emigration; a phenomenon that transmitted a sense of futility to all efforts that were made. Rectification is by way of the uniting force imbued in our natures by the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by establishing our "National Home" on the foundation of our unique Jewish culture, raising the banner of Torah and faith as the flag of the rectified Jewish state.

Finally, we find ourselves grappling with the fourth crisis?enslavement. We may not always sense how enslaved we really are - and sometimes that is the greatest problem, which indicates that we have internalized a foreign culture; we talk and think in terms borrowed from a foreign mentality that binds and enslaves us. One of the strongest expressions of this enslavement is the fear expressed by the constant question of, "What will other nations say?" which quite probably has been the most consistent driving force behind the foreign and military policies of all Israeli governments since the establishment of the state. In order to correct the current situation we need to openly discuss the need for a savior, a king?the Mashiach?who will free our minds and open our mouths so that we may think Jewish thoughts and speak Jewish words. We need a redeemer who will extricate us from our cultural subservience and will lead a true revolution, until the Jewish people realize their status as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The Exodus from the Egyptian exile was "with our head held high," open, public, and with great fanfare, and so too will be our future redemption, speedily in our days, when everything will become clear for all to see.

The Exodus from Egypt was completed with the giving of the Torah and so too the climax of the ultimate redemption will be the revelation of a “new Torah”; the essence of the inner dimension of the Torah that we received at Mount Sinai.

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, and even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth, the binding of Isaac, the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytic intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

from the 13th of Cheshvan 5773 shiur

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, sildenafil no rx even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth,
for sale the binding of Isaac, help the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytical intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, viagra even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth, the binding of Isaac, the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytic intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

from the 13th of Cheshvan 5773 shiur

In Parashat Noach, pills humanity undergoes two great catastrophes. The first is the flood – the holocaust that annihilates all of humanity and all land-life except those who survive in Noach’s ark. The second catastrophe is the dispersal of humanity to all ends of the earth as a result of the collapse of the Tower of Babel. In last week’s parashah, Parashat Bereishit we learnt of the first crisis in human history -  man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden following Adam and Eve’s sin. These are the first three catastrophes that visited humanity.

Apart from these three catastrophes described in the Book of Genesis the Pentateuch's central narrative revolves around a fourth critical event—the Jewish people’s slavery and their subsequent exodus from Egypt. Upon contemplation, clearly the slavery in Egypt and the exodus from it were meant from the beginning to enable the Jewish people to reach the heights they rose to. Following this same line of reasoning, properly understanding and rectifying each of the first three catastrophes can lead to improving reality.

Deepening our sense of these four crises will allow us to see how each is an archetype for the various crises and catastrophes we have faced in the past and are experiencing in the present, both on the personal and the collective levels.

The first catastrophe:Paradise lost

The first crisis is the loss of a dream. Although in the Torah the Garden of Eden is described as a concrete reality with trees, man, woman and the serpent, nonetheless no GPS has ever navigated us to the Garden of Eden and no one has ever photographed the cherubim guarding the path to the Tree of Life. It seems therefore, that the Garden of Eden remains a utopian reality that has receded into another dimension of reality, but the gateway to this dimension is blocked to our access. In the same way, we can say that before Adam's sin and before his expulsion from Eden, our world was not within reality and there was no road that led from the Garden of Eden to the geographic regions familiar to us. This is implied by the verse, "And every plant of the field was not yet on earth... and man was not…." Our present reality did not exist because human consciousness had not yet accessed it. After the primordial sin and after Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden the image was reversed; Eden receded into theory while our globe assumed reality. In fact, the Arizal said that before Adam's sin, reality was fourteen levels above where it is now; the reality inhabited by Adam and Eve remains beyond our hand’s-reach – the numerical value of “hand” (??) is 14.

Today, Utopia is considered a theoretical ideal. But, the truth is that this ideal did actually exist in the past in the form of the Garden of Eden, which is why it continues to play a very important role in our present state of consciousness. Although we live in this world, we are not from here; we have all been exiled from Paradise. But we cannot allow ourselves to indulge in nostalgic musings and live in a dream-like state; rather we must take action in reality as it is now, where we now find ourselves. "God sent him from the Garden of Eden to cultivate the land from which he had been taken." This is our rectification!

We all begin our lives with the expulsion from Paradise: the soul has been exiled from its utopian world and has hit the harsh reality that we are all familiar with. From now on, our entire lives are dedicated to our rehabilitation from the trauma of our burst bubble. Even in our present situation, like in Eden, there is a serpentine catalyst precipitating our expulsion, in the form of our evil inclination. The more this serpent succeeds, the more our initial innocence is defiled and we find reality to be even more cruel and alien, leaving us to work and cope with rectifying the crisis of our lost paradise.

The second catastrophe: the destruction of the world

The second catastrophe is the destruction of the world. Adam says, "I was expelled from paradise," but Noach was not expelled and was not transported to a different level of reality; his entire world was destroyed around him. Before the flood the world was not a nice place to live in, and certainly could not be described as idyllic. Yet, the world was inhabited, it was filled with people and animals, there were bustling cities and a steady din of life. But after the flood, the world was barren and a dreadful silence filled the air. Only one small family, who had been spared the forces of chaos that raged over the earth for an entire year in an ark carrying an entire zoo of animals, had to begin building a new world.

Not everyone has to go through such a crisis, but many people can relate to the idea that their world has been destroyed. For example, someone who has lost his entire family and now, after his own personal flood has to begin anew. This is a very challenging undertaking, which requires rallying the energy to start over. Some are tempted to try to escape reality by turning to alcohol and rolling around drunk, as did Noach ... But, there is really no choice left. The old world has been destroyed and no longer exists, and now you're left to build a new world upon its ruins. The previous generation has been destroyed, and you—who were part of that generation—are its rectification, provided you have an optimistic approach. We need not go to great lengths to find examples of a modern-day Noach; it is awe-inspiring to see the many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, who lost all they had—their family, wives, children, possessions—and recovered to build their lives all over again.

The third catastrophe: dispersion

The third crisis is dispersion. In the generation after Noach all people spoke "a single language and similar words." They all lived in one place forming a single society. However, their unity was based on the city and tower they had built with the purpose of defying God. This time, the catastrophe did not come in the form of exile or destruction, but as dispersal. Instead, of one nation there were now seventy, each with its own distinct language, its own country and its own culture. This crisis may seem easier to cope with than the expulsion from Eden or the destruction of the world, but it should not be viewed lightly: the social framework changed completely and social codes had to be rewritten.

How can dispersion be repaired? Can it be that diversity is the goal? Immediately after the flood at the end of parashat Noach, the first patriarch appears: Abraham. According to the sages' reckoning, Abraham was present during the construction of the Tower of Babel, standing as a lone revolutionary in opposition to the Tower’s builders. Abraham, followed by Isaac and Jacob, heralded a real unity that can reunite a dispersed world. The three patriarchs, from whom the Jewish people were destined to come, will eventually achieve a rectified state of unity - not an imaginary humanistic state of superficial peace void of submission to God’s sovereignty, but a state of harmony at whose center stand the chosen people who declare before all that, "God is One and His Name is one."

It is not hard to see crises of dispersion plaguing societies throughout history: a once unified society, or state, or empire deteriorates into opposing factions as the social fabric is unwound. Taking the place of cooperation based on constructive positive communication are opposing rhetoric; as if they have begun to speak different languages, people stop listening to one another, until the only level of communication that remains is rock-throwing (a description given by the sages to the collapse of the Tower of Babel). What is true of society is true of the individual. We have all seen those poor souls who are torn between the various voices within, their inner peace disturbed, and their character in turmoil. One often finds them wandering aimlessly around the world, hard-pressed to pick up the pieces of the broken lives that are no more. Dispersion, whether it befalls a society or an individual can be rectified by discovering a central backbone to reorganize and unite the shards.

The fourth catastrophe: enslavement

At the end of the era of the Patriarchs, the Jewish people moved to Egypt and the coming generations were enslaved by Pharaoh, creating a fourth type of crisis. No dream had been shattered, no world had been destroyed, and no dispersal had taken place, but exile and bondage had infiltrated the people’s consciousness. An entire nation became totally enslaved in substance and spirit through laborious drudgery that breaks the body and gives no respite to the soul; one cannot breathe because every drop of air and attention is dedicated to Pharaoh, so much so that one forgets one’s identity, even one’s sense of self, with one’s very heart being replaced by a totally foreign mentality.

Only the Exodus can rectify this situation. Yet, despite the various miracles and wonders that transpired during the Exodus, the greatest marvel is the very exit of a "nation from within a nation" as the Jewish people was born from within the straits of the Egyptian exile. The essential image associated with rectification by the Exodus is that of Moses—a Divinely appointed redeemer sent to take the Jewish people out of Egypt. In addition, the redemption process must have a goal, in this case, the giving of the Torah, "When you take the people out of Egypt you shall serve God on this mountain." The process is complete when the Jewish people enter their homeland, the Land of Israel.

Perhaps we consider ourselves to be freemen, but the truth is that many of us are actually enslaved (in fact, who isn’t?). The taskmaster is not just a "Big Brother" from without, but the many diversions and pressures that fill the crazy world in which we live and infiltrate our sense of self. The anxiety caused by our finances, the need to work hard to make enough money, can turn an individual into a slave. But, even when money is not an issue, we are still an overstressed generation. Worries and constant tension burden us like an iron yoke and the sages state that the yoke of the government and the yoke of making a livelihood leave no room for the yoke of Torah. The mind is never at rest to relax and focus on what really matters. In addition to all this, we are all tied down by the constraints of social conventions, influenced by the cheap pop-culture we are bombarded by (be it consciously or unconsciously) affecting our thoughts and behavior. It is this modern taskmaster sporting a broad smile and a golden whip from whom we need salvation!

Catastrophes in modern Jewish history

With this model of four types of catastrophe or crisis before us, we can better understand the processes that have affected the Jewish people in recent history.

Until the 19th century, the Jewish world in the Diaspora was centered around the good old shtetl—a dream that was and is no more. One can encounter vivid descriptions of the shtetl (whether from the memoirs of the Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch, the stories told by Agnon or the artwork painted by Chagall), and receive the impression that this was a relatively utopian world, a dream with a whiff of Paradise (though certainly not everything there was always good). However that dream was shattered by the terrible spiritual destruction that visited the shtetl, even long before the Holocaust. The guise of the serpent in this tale (who seduced us to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge) was "the Enlightenment." Jews suddenly found themselves outside the Garden of Eden, the old familiar fragrance of Yiddishkeit having disappeared. The cotton-wool that had shielded us was ripped open and foreign influences entered the Jewish home, casting so many Jews out of their tradition, out of the Torah, and out of this relatively sheltered and nurturing spiritual environment. Now, any attempt to return to the old Jewish shtetl is to no avail; we can never return to life as it used to be. Our only chance to repair are by toiling in the modern world we find ourselves today.

The second catastrophe is the Holocaust, in which the Jewish world was literally eradicated. Entire communities were wiped out and the human cinders that were retrieved from the ashes had to pick themselves up and begin a new life after their world had been destroyed, just like Noach after the flood. The only way for each of these survivors to continue was not to give in to the gloomy situation, but to realize that if they had managed to miraculously survive against the odds (even if they cannot fathom why they specifically survived while others perished) their task is to look forward and build a new world.

While the Jewish people were undergoing the catastrophe of the Holocaust, the Jewish community in the land of Israel began to grow, saved from the same fate by Divine providence. Despite the miraculous phenomenon of the Jewish return toZion, the establishment of the State of Israel is reminiscent of a disappointing Tower of Babel. Instead of explicitly founding the state on the basis of Torah, thereby recognizing and declaring that we are God’s people, an attempt was made to create a union held together by superficial, material cooperation, while the God of Israel and the Torah, the only truly uniting force behind the Jewish people, were deliberately left out of the picture. The first few years of the State’s existence seemed to prove successful, but the ensuing crisis of dispersion was not long in coming. After a short while came years of disappointment, as national unity began to disintegrate. The polarization of the various factions among the people grew and the national crisis manifested severely in the growing phenomenon of emigration; a phenomenon that transmitted a sense of futility to all efforts that were made. Rectification is by way of the uniting force imbued in our natures by the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by establishing our "National Home" on the foundation of our unique Jewish culture, raising the banner of Torah and faith as the flag of the rectified Jewish state.

Finally, we find ourselves grappling with the fourth crisis?enslavement. We may not always sense how enslaved we really are - and sometimes that is the greatest problem, which indicates that we have internalized a foreign culture; we talk and think in terms borrowed from a foreign mentality that binds and enslaves us. One of the strongest expressions of this enslavement is the fear expressed by the constant question of, "What will other nations say?" which quite probably has been the most consistent driving force behind the foreign and military policies of all Israeli governments since the establishment of the state. In order to correct the current situation we need to openly discuss the need for a savior, a king?the Mashiach?who will free our minds and open our mouths so that we may think Jewish thoughts and speak Jewish words. We need a redeemer who will extricate us from our cultural subservience and will lead a true revolution, until the Jewish people realize their status as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The Exodus from the Egyptian exile was "with our head held high," open, public, and with great fanfare, and so too will be our future redemption, speedily in our days, when everything will become clear for all to see.

The Exodus from Egypt was completed with the giving of the Torah and so too the climax of the ultimate redemption will be the revelation of a “new Torah”; the essence of the inner dimension of the Torah that we received at Mount Sinai.

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, and even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth, the binding of Isaac, the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytic intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

from the 13th of Cheshvan 5773 shiur

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, sildenafil no rx even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth,
for sale the binding of Isaac, help the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytical intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, viagra even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth, the binding of Isaac, the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytic intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

from the 13th of Cheshvan 5773 shiur

Parashat Chayei Sarah begins with the account of Sarah’s death; the first Jewish individual to pass away. Later on in the parashah Abraham too passes away.

Sarah’s death is not the first death reported in the Torah, ambulance purchase but the account of her death is different from all other deaths that preceded it. Whereas the death of Adam, health cialis for example, troche marked the end of his life, “All the days that Adam lived… and he died,” Sarah’s death marks a new beginning. The Torah does not immediately turn to the following generation after her passing but instead begins an entire chapter that describes how Sarah was eulogized and wept over after her death and how much care was taken over her burial. This is the first reference in the Torah to the burial procedure and from the moment that Abraham acquired theMachpelahCave, this burial ground has become an important location for all generations to follow until this very day, for it is there where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs were buried.

This special attitude towards Sarah’s death is indicated in the parashah’s first verse, which actually doubly accentuates her lifetime, “Sarah’s life was…the years of Sarah’s life,” clearly indicating that Sarah’s death was not the end of the road.

Life and life after life

“Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron, in thelandofCanaan.” The Zohar explains the secret of Sarah’s death by explaining that “Kiryat Arba” (???? ????), which means “city of four,” actually refers to the four elements from which all physical matter is composed: fire, air, water and earth. As long as a person is alive these different elements are connected until the moment of death, when they begin to decompose. That in this verse Kiryat Arba is also called Chevron teaches us that Sarah’s death was unique. Her physical elements (Kiryat Arba) remained friendly and bound together (Chevron) even after her death, since “Chevron” (?????) is cognate with “connection” (????). This was a new phenomenon that defied the universal law of entropy and unveiled the eternal quality of the Jewish soul, which lives on even after the individual has passed away from the physical dimension of creation. This is why it is forbidden to cremate a dead body, because there is life after death, there is a world of souls and death is no longer a “black hole” on the way to total obliteration, but merely a transition into another category of life. The principal innovation here is that the soul lives on and continues to be connected to the very same body that died and lies buried in the ground.

The Jewish attitude towards death and graves is not an unfounded nostalgic preoccupation with that which was but is no longer; rather it conveys an ongoing connection between the dead and those who are still alive. Although we are aware of the fact that the body disintegrates after death, as Jews we also know that the difference between man and beast remains after death, because the soul lives on. The anti-entropic status of the Jewish body is inherent in every one of us, and in unique individuals, of whom Sarah was the first, it is physically revealed. This phenomenon has even been observed, as we learn from the many accounts of righteous individuals or martyrs of the Jewish faith, whose bodies remained intact even after decades in the grave.

In short, every heart-beat of life is a reflection of the infinite, but although it seems that death is the finite end, Sarah’s death reveals that even after death that power of infinity remains vibrant, like buried treasure waiting to be unearthed. This may merely be a feeble impression of the physical life that preceded it, a hidden force that our physical senses are unable to discern, but someplace out there, in the depths of theMachpelahCave, that point exists: life after life.

“Let my soul be like dust”

Chassidut explains the secret of Sarah’s afterlife, the key to which lies in the concept of “dust.” It is by no accident that Abraham bought theMachpelahCavefrom Efron (?????) the Hittite, whose name is derived from the same root as “dust” (???). Man was created, “dust from the earth” and after his sin he was destined to die, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Yet “dust” takes on new significance when Abraham states his famous expression of submissiveness and lowliness, “I am dust and ashes.” The attribute of submissiveness is implied in our context too, in the abovementioned phrase, “Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron, in thelandofCanaan.”Canaan(????) is from the same root as “submissiveness” (?????). As the indicated by the Zohar above, the four elements of the “city of four” (Kiryat Arba) remain connected by merit of “thelandofCanaan” i.e., the dust-like attribute of a submissive soul.

Obviously, not all submissiveness is positive. A compliant attitude could be the result of misplaced self-pity or a lack of stamina, but in general, submissiveness, when it results from the realization that everyone in the world is unique in ways that I am not, is an undisputedly positive attribute, bringing us to recognize that we are like dust beneath their feet. Through such submissiveness, the truly wise are able to learn something new from everyone they meet, “Who is wise? He who learns from every individual.” Submissiveness also implies a sense of surrender, not being a sore loser, but knowing how to acknowledge defeat and realize that I am below my victor.

Dust represents death, the inanimate that has no life-force and so too, the psychological attribute of submissiveness is a kind of dust-like death. In fact, the attribute of submissiveness reaches its peak at the moment of death itself. Throughout our lives we are victorious on many different frontiers?in particular in our victory over death?until we finally reach the end and the moment when we lose everything including our very selves. At this point, the individual experiences entropy first-hand and identifies with it to its farthest extreme.

Throughout his lifetime, Abraham was “dust and ashes,” but Sarah was first to reach the greatest extreme of surrender: death itself. Such submissiveness is apparently so precious that the Ba’al Shem Tov was loath to relinquish it,  “I could rise heavenwards in a stormy wind, like Elijah the prophet,” he said before he died, “But I desire to experience the verse, ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return.’” Experiencing the tasteless flavor of dust is the ultimate sense of submissiveness and lowliness as the sages state, “Be very, very lowly of spirit, for man’s anticipation is worms.”

The song of the inanimate

When we resign ourselves completely to surrender; when we reach the peak of submissiveness?like the Ba’al Shem Tov who did not attempt to overcome death or avoid it, but consciously chose to die (although until then he had chosen life, as we are commanded, “[you shall] live by them [the commandments]”)?then one can reach a new revelation of life. After flowing through with entropy until its very end, one is suddenly elevated far above it.

Usually life is considered to be a function of two phenomena: warmth and movement. The inanimate dust of death is cold, dry and silent. From a psychological perspective, the more submissive one becomes, the more surrender one experiences and the closer one is to death. But there is another life, a higher life that is more delicate and refined but has no sense of movement. It appears to be silent and cold yet it contains a far more profound life-force, a sense of pleasure that has never yet been experienced. Although this would appear to be an inanimate level, because from the perspective of the living it looks like death, nonetheless, at this level one experiences a different type of life, “Silence is praise to You,” “a silent, thin voice.” In order to reach this life one must first submit and die, then the soul sings and praises God with a unique song, “’For to Me every knee will bend’ – this refers to the day of death.”

Thus, when Sarah reaches the final submission, losing everything and dying, her life then becomes a silent life of the highest level; life that continues to emerge within the grave. Sarah at long last reaches “thelandofCanaan”- the land of submissiveness that is the real “land of the living.” At this stage, retrospectively, we discover that there is a way to rectify the flaw of the primordial sin that brought death to the world; here in the Machpelah cave, Sarah and later Abraham, meet up with Adam and Eve. Rectification of the punishment of “to dust you shall return” began at the moment the cave was redeemed from the hands of Efron (?????), literally meaning “the little dust.” Then, when Sarah reached the level of “higher dust,” dust became a positive, fertile kind of dust that infused every death that had taken place in the world before Sarah’s with new significance.”

I believe in the resurrection of the dead

Having explained how Sarah’s life did not end with her death, one can begin to sense the mystery of the resurrection of the dead that will take place in the future, as we mention every day in our prayers, “You resurrect the dead… and you are faithful to revive the dead.” The resurrection of the dead is the stage that supersedes death; at which the level of silent, higher life returns and is revealed within our lower reality. Then, retrospectively, it becomes clear that the period of death and burial is nothing more than a temporary slumber until “He establishes His faith to those who sleep in the dust” when the dead arise from their sleep at the “end of days.”

Nonetheless, even before the resurrection of the dead, if we were to ask now, “Is Sarah alive?” the reply would not be unambiguous, because Sarah passed into a different dimension in which the regular definitions of life and death are no longer relevant. The silent life that praises God in a “silent, thin voice” may appear to be “death” from our perspective, but perhaps it is more correct to call it “life”?

This paradox is apparent in the haftarah for this week’s parashah, from the beginning of Kings. King David was elderly and unable to warm his body, he is hardly alive. Taking little interest in his kingdom, he already has one foot in the “kingdom to come.” Yet the passage ends with Bathsheba’s famous proclamation, “May my master King David live forever.” What point is there in proclaiming this when it is quite clear that David has reached the end of life? Yet, if we consider that David is following in Sarah’s footsteps and that as he approaches death he comes closer to the level of life that continues even after death, then stating that “David, King of Israel, lives and exists” is actual reality, not a parable or a dream. This is what the sages mean in the Jerusalem Talmud when they state that if Mashiach is of the living then his name is David and if he is will come from the dead, then his name is David, meaning that Mashiach is David himself, in whom the borderline between life and death is undefined. This is beautifully alluded to in the numerical value of the phrase, “May my master King David live forever” (??? ???? ???? ??? ????), which is equal to 372, “Mashiach” (????; 358) plus “David” (???; 14), meaning that “May my master the king live forever” (??? ???? ???? ????) equals “Mashiach” (????).

In Parashat Noach, pills humanity undergoes two great catastrophes. The first is the flood – the holocaust that annihilates all of humanity and all land-life except those who survive in Noach’s ark. The second catastrophe is the dispersal of humanity to all ends of the earth as a result of the collapse of the Tower of Babel. In last week’s parashah, Parashat Bereishit we learnt of the first crisis in human history -  man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden following Adam and Eve’s sin. These are the first three catastrophes that visited humanity.

Apart from these three catastrophes described in the Book of Genesis the Pentateuch's central narrative revolves around a fourth critical event—the Jewish people’s slavery and their subsequent exodus from Egypt. Upon contemplation, clearly the slavery in Egypt and the exodus from it were meant from the beginning to enable the Jewish people to reach the heights they rose to. Following this same line of reasoning, properly understanding and rectifying each of the first three catastrophes can lead to improving reality.

Deepening our sense of these four crises will allow us to see how each is an archetype for the various crises and catastrophes we have faced in the past and are experiencing in the present, both on the personal and the collective levels.

The first catastrophe:Paradise lost

The first crisis is the loss of a dream. Although in the Torah the Garden of Eden is described as a concrete reality with trees, man, woman and the serpent, nonetheless no GPS has ever navigated us to the Garden of Eden and no one has ever photographed the cherubim guarding the path to the Tree of Life. It seems therefore, that the Garden of Eden remains a utopian reality that has receded into another dimension of reality, but the gateway to this dimension is blocked to our access. In the same way, we can say that before Adam's sin and before his expulsion from Eden, our world was not within reality and there was no road that led from the Garden of Eden to the geographic regions familiar to us. This is implied by the verse, "And every plant of the field was not yet on earth... and man was not…." Our present reality did not exist because human consciousness had not yet accessed it. After the primordial sin and after Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden the image was reversed; Eden receded into theory while our globe assumed reality. In fact, the Arizal said that before Adam's sin, reality was fourteen levels above where it is now; the reality inhabited by Adam and Eve remains beyond our hand’s-reach – the numerical value of “hand” (??) is 14.

Today, Utopia is considered a theoretical ideal. But, the truth is that this ideal did actually exist in the past in the form of the Garden of Eden, which is why it continues to play a very important role in our present state of consciousness. Although we live in this world, we are not from here; we have all been exiled from Paradise. But we cannot allow ourselves to indulge in nostalgic musings and live in a dream-like state; rather we must take action in reality as it is now, where we now find ourselves. "God sent him from the Garden of Eden to cultivate the land from which he had been taken." This is our rectification!

We all begin our lives with the expulsion from Paradise: the soul has been exiled from its utopian world and has hit the harsh reality that we are all familiar with. From now on, our entire lives are dedicated to our rehabilitation from the trauma of our burst bubble. Even in our present situation, like in Eden, there is a serpentine catalyst precipitating our expulsion, in the form of our evil inclination. The more this serpent succeeds, the more our initial innocence is defiled and we find reality to be even more cruel and alien, leaving us to work and cope with rectifying the crisis of our lost paradise.

The second catastrophe: the destruction of the world

The second catastrophe is the destruction of the world. Adam says, "I was expelled from paradise," but Noach was not expelled and was not transported to a different level of reality; his entire world was destroyed around him. Before the flood the world was not a nice place to live in, and certainly could not be described as idyllic. Yet, the world was inhabited, it was filled with people and animals, there were bustling cities and a steady din of life. But after the flood, the world was barren and a dreadful silence filled the air. Only one small family, who had been spared the forces of chaos that raged over the earth for an entire year in an ark carrying an entire zoo of animals, had to begin building a new world.

Not everyone has to go through such a crisis, but many people can relate to the idea that their world has been destroyed. For example, someone who has lost his entire family and now, after his own personal flood has to begin anew. This is a very challenging undertaking, which requires rallying the energy to start over. Some are tempted to try to escape reality by turning to alcohol and rolling around drunk, as did Noach ... But, there is really no choice left. The old world has been destroyed and no longer exists, and now you're left to build a new world upon its ruins. The previous generation has been destroyed, and you—who were part of that generation—are its rectification, provided you have an optimistic approach. We need not go to great lengths to find examples of a modern-day Noach; it is awe-inspiring to see the many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, who lost all they had—their family, wives, children, possessions—and recovered to build their lives all over again.

The third catastrophe: dispersion

The third crisis is dispersion. In the generation after Noach all people spoke "a single language and similar words." They all lived in one place forming a single society. However, their unity was based on the city and tower they had built with the purpose of defying God. This time, the catastrophe did not come in the form of exile or destruction, but as dispersal. Instead, of one nation there were now seventy, each with its own distinct language, its own country and its own culture. This crisis may seem easier to cope with than the expulsion from Eden or the destruction of the world, but it should not be viewed lightly: the social framework changed completely and social codes had to be rewritten.

How can dispersion be repaired? Can it be that diversity is the goal? Immediately after the flood at the end of parashat Noach, the first patriarch appears: Abraham. According to the sages' reckoning, Abraham was present during the construction of the Tower of Babel, standing as a lone revolutionary in opposition to the Tower’s builders. Abraham, followed by Isaac and Jacob, heralded a real unity that can reunite a dispersed world. The three patriarchs, from whom the Jewish people were destined to come, will eventually achieve a rectified state of unity - not an imaginary humanistic state of superficial peace void of submission to God’s sovereignty, but a state of harmony at whose center stand the chosen people who declare before all that, "God is One and His Name is one."

It is not hard to see crises of dispersion plaguing societies throughout history: a once unified society, or state, or empire deteriorates into opposing factions as the social fabric is unwound. Taking the place of cooperation based on constructive positive communication are opposing rhetoric; as if they have begun to speak different languages, people stop listening to one another, until the only level of communication that remains is rock-throwing (a description given by the sages to the collapse of the Tower of Babel). What is true of society is true of the individual. We have all seen those poor souls who are torn between the various voices within, their inner peace disturbed, and their character in turmoil. One often finds them wandering aimlessly around the world, hard-pressed to pick up the pieces of the broken lives that are no more. Dispersion, whether it befalls a society or an individual can be rectified by discovering a central backbone to reorganize and unite the shards.

The fourth catastrophe: enslavement

At the end of the era of the Patriarchs, the Jewish people moved to Egypt and the coming generations were enslaved by Pharaoh, creating a fourth type of crisis. No dream had been shattered, no world had been destroyed, and no dispersal had taken place, but exile and bondage had infiltrated the people’s consciousness. An entire nation became totally enslaved in substance and spirit through laborious drudgery that breaks the body and gives no respite to the soul; one cannot breathe because every drop of air and attention is dedicated to Pharaoh, so much so that one forgets one’s identity, even one’s sense of self, with one’s very heart being replaced by a totally foreign mentality.

Only the Exodus can rectify this situation. Yet, despite the various miracles and wonders that transpired during the Exodus, the greatest marvel is the very exit of a "nation from within a nation" as the Jewish people was born from within the straits of the Egyptian exile. The essential image associated with rectification by the Exodus is that of Moses—a Divinely appointed redeemer sent to take the Jewish people out of Egypt. In addition, the redemption process must have a goal, in this case, the giving of the Torah, "When you take the people out of Egypt you shall serve God on this mountain." The process is complete when the Jewish people enter their homeland, the Land of Israel.

Perhaps we consider ourselves to be freemen, but the truth is that many of us are actually enslaved (in fact, who isn’t?). The taskmaster is not just a "Big Brother" from without, but the many diversions and pressures that fill the crazy world in which we live and infiltrate our sense of self. The anxiety caused by our finances, the need to work hard to make enough money, can turn an individual into a slave. But, even when money is not an issue, we are still an overstressed generation. Worries and constant tension burden us like an iron yoke and the sages state that the yoke of the government and the yoke of making a livelihood leave no room for the yoke of Torah. The mind is never at rest to relax and focus on what really matters. In addition to all this, we are all tied down by the constraints of social conventions, influenced by the cheap pop-culture we are bombarded by (be it consciously or unconsciously) affecting our thoughts and behavior. It is this modern taskmaster sporting a broad smile and a golden whip from whom we need salvation!

Catastrophes in modern Jewish history

With this model of four types of catastrophe or crisis before us, we can better understand the processes that have affected the Jewish people in recent history.

Until the 19th century, the Jewish world in the Diaspora was centered around the good old shtetl—a dream that was and is no more. One can encounter vivid descriptions of the shtetl (whether from the memoirs of the Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch, the stories told by Agnon or the artwork painted by Chagall), and receive the impression that this was a relatively utopian world, a dream with a whiff of Paradise (though certainly not everything there was always good). However that dream was shattered by the terrible spiritual destruction that visited the shtetl, even long before the Holocaust. The guise of the serpent in this tale (who seduced us to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge) was "the Enlightenment." Jews suddenly found themselves outside the Garden of Eden, the old familiar fragrance of Yiddishkeit having disappeared. The cotton-wool that had shielded us was ripped open and foreign influences entered the Jewish home, casting so many Jews out of their tradition, out of the Torah, and out of this relatively sheltered and nurturing spiritual environment. Now, any attempt to return to the old Jewish shtetl is to no avail; we can never return to life as it used to be. Our only chance to repair are by toiling in the modern world we find ourselves today.

The second catastrophe is the Holocaust, in which the Jewish world was literally eradicated. Entire communities were wiped out and the human cinders that were retrieved from the ashes had to pick themselves up and begin a new life after their world had been destroyed, just like Noach after the flood. The only way for each of these survivors to continue was not to give in to the gloomy situation, but to realize that if they had managed to miraculously survive against the odds (even if they cannot fathom why they specifically survived while others perished) their task is to look forward and build a new world.

While the Jewish people were undergoing the catastrophe of the Holocaust, the Jewish community in the land of Israel began to grow, saved from the same fate by Divine providence. Despite the miraculous phenomenon of the Jewish return toZion, the establishment of the State of Israel is reminiscent of a disappointing Tower of Babel. Instead of explicitly founding the state on the basis of Torah, thereby recognizing and declaring that we are God’s people, an attempt was made to create a union held together by superficial, material cooperation, while the God of Israel and the Torah, the only truly uniting force behind the Jewish people, were deliberately left out of the picture. The first few years of the State’s existence seemed to prove successful, but the ensuing crisis of dispersion was not long in coming. After a short while came years of disappointment, as national unity began to disintegrate. The polarization of the various factions among the people grew and the national crisis manifested severely in the growing phenomenon of emigration; a phenomenon that transmitted a sense of futility to all efforts that were made. Rectification is by way of the uniting force imbued in our natures by the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by establishing our "National Home" on the foundation of our unique Jewish culture, raising the banner of Torah and faith as the flag of the rectified Jewish state.

Finally, we find ourselves grappling with the fourth crisis?enslavement. We may not always sense how enslaved we really are - and sometimes that is the greatest problem, which indicates that we have internalized a foreign culture; we talk and think in terms borrowed from a foreign mentality that binds and enslaves us. One of the strongest expressions of this enslavement is the fear expressed by the constant question of, "What will other nations say?" which quite probably has been the most consistent driving force behind the foreign and military policies of all Israeli governments since the establishment of the state. In order to correct the current situation we need to openly discuss the need for a savior, a king?the Mashiach?who will free our minds and open our mouths so that we may think Jewish thoughts and speak Jewish words. We need a redeemer who will extricate us from our cultural subservience and will lead a true revolution, until the Jewish people realize their status as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The Exodus from the Egyptian exile was "with our head held high," open, public, and with great fanfare, and so too will be our future redemption, speedily in our days, when everything will become clear for all to see.

The Exodus from Egypt was completed with the giving of the Torah and so too the climax of the ultimate redemption will be the revelation of a “new Torah”; the essence of the inner dimension of the Torah that we received at Mount Sinai.

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, and even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth, the binding of Isaac, the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytic intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

from the 13th of Cheshvan 5773 shiur

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, sildenafil no rx even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth,
for sale the binding of Isaac, help the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytical intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, viagra even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth, the binding of Isaac, the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytic intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

from the 13th of Cheshvan 5773 shiur

Parashat Chayei Sarah begins with the account of Sarah’s death; the first Jewish individual to pass away. Later on in the parashah Abraham too passes away.

Sarah’s death is not the first death reported in the Torah, ambulance purchase but the account of her death is different from all other deaths that preceded it. Whereas the death of Adam, health cialis for example, troche marked the end of his life, “All the days that Adam lived… and he died,” Sarah’s death marks a new beginning. The Torah does not immediately turn to the following generation after her passing but instead begins an entire chapter that describes how Sarah was eulogized and wept over after her death and how much care was taken over her burial. This is the first reference in the Torah to the burial procedure and from the moment that Abraham acquired theMachpelahCave, this burial ground has become an important location for all generations to follow until this very day, for it is there where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs were buried.

This special attitude towards Sarah’s death is indicated in the parashah’s first verse, which actually doubly accentuates her lifetime, “Sarah’s life was…the years of Sarah’s life,” clearly indicating that Sarah’s death was not the end of the road.

Life and life after life

“Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron, in thelandofCanaan.” The Zohar explains the secret of Sarah’s death by explaining that “Kiryat Arba” (???? ????), which means “city of four,” actually refers to the four elements from which all physical matter is composed: fire, air, water and earth. As long as a person is alive these different elements are connected until the moment of death, when they begin to decompose. That in this verse Kiryat Arba is also called Chevron teaches us that Sarah’s death was unique. Her physical elements (Kiryat Arba) remained friendly and bound together (Chevron) even after her death, since “Chevron” (?????) is cognate with “connection” (????). This was a new phenomenon that defied the universal law of entropy and unveiled the eternal quality of the Jewish soul, which lives on even after the individual has passed away from the physical dimension of creation. This is why it is forbidden to cremate a dead body, because there is life after death, there is a world of souls and death is no longer a “black hole” on the way to total obliteration, but merely a transition into another category of life. The principal innovation here is that the soul lives on and continues to be connected to the very same body that died and lies buried in the ground.

The Jewish attitude towards death and graves is not an unfounded nostalgic preoccupation with that which was but is no longer; rather it conveys an ongoing connection between the dead and those who are still alive. Although we are aware of the fact that the body disintegrates after death, as Jews we also know that the difference between man and beast remains after death, because the soul lives on. The anti-entropic status of the Jewish body is inherent in every one of us, and in unique individuals, of whom Sarah was the first, it is physically revealed. This phenomenon has even been observed, as we learn from the many accounts of righteous individuals or martyrs of the Jewish faith, whose bodies remained intact even after decades in the grave.

In short, every heart-beat of life is a reflection of the infinite, but although it seems that death is the finite end, Sarah’s death reveals that even after death that power of infinity remains vibrant, like buried treasure waiting to be unearthed. This may merely be a feeble impression of the physical life that preceded it, a hidden force that our physical senses are unable to discern, but someplace out there, in the depths of theMachpelahCave, that point exists: life after life.

“Let my soul be like dust”

Chassidut explains the secret of Sarah’s afterlife, the key to which lies in the concept of “dust.” It is by no accident that Abraham bought theMachpelahCavefrom Efron (?????) the Hittite, whose name is derived from the same root as “dust” (???). Man was created, “dust from the earth” and after his sin he was destined to die, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Yet “dust” takes on new significance when Abraham states his famous expression of submissiveness and lowliness, “I am dust and ashes.” The attribute of submissiveness is implied in our context too, in the abovementioned phrase, “Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron, in thelandofCanaan.”Canaan(????) is from the same root as “submissiveness” (?????). As the indicated by the Zohar above, the four elements of the “city of four” (Kiryat Arba) remain connected by merit of “thelandofCanaan” i.e., the dust-like attribute of a submissive soul.

Obviously, not all submissiveness is positive. A compliant attitude could be the result of misplaced self-pity or a lack of stamina, but in general, submissiveness, when it results from the realization that everyone in the world is unique in ways that I am not, is an undisputedly positive attribute, bringing us to recognize that we are like dust beneath their feet. Through such submissiveness, the truly wise are able to learn something new from everyone they meet, “Who is wise? He who learns from every individual.” Submissiveness also implies a sense of surrender, not being a sore loser, but knowing how to acknowledge defeat and realize that I am below my victor.

Dust represents death, the inanimate that has no life-force and so too, the psychological attribute of submissiveness is a kind of dust-like death. In fact, the attribute of submissiveness reaches its peak at the moment of death itself. Throughout our lives we are victorious on many different frontiers?in particular in our victory over death?until we finally reach the end and the moment when we lose everything including our very selves. At this point, the individual experiences entropy first-hand and identifies with it to its farthest extreme.

Throughout his lifetime, Abraham was “dust and ashes,” but Sarah was first to reach the greatest extreme of surrender: death itself. Such submissiveness is apparently so precious that the Ba’al Shem Tov was loath to relinquish it,  “I could rise heavenwards in a stormy wind, like Elijah the prophet,” he said before he died, “But I desire to experience the verse, ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return.’” Experiencing the tasteless flavor of dust is the ultimate sense of submissiveness and lowliness as the sages state, “Be very, very lowly of spirit, for man’s anticipation is worms.”

The song of the inanimate

When we resign ourselves completely to surrender; when we reach the peak of submissiveness?like the Ba’al Shem Tov who did not attempt to overcome death or avoid it, but consciously chose to die (although until then he had chosen life, as we are commanded, “[you shall] live by them [the commandments]”)?then one can reach a new revelation of life. After flowing through with entropy until its very end, one is suddenly elevated far above it.

Usually life is considered to be a function of two phenomena: warmth and movement. The inanimate dust of death is cold, dry and silent. From a psychological perspective, the more submissive one becomes, the more surrender one experiences and the closer one is to death. But there is another life, a higher life that is more delicate and refined but has no sense of movement. It appears to be silent and cold yet it contains a far more profound life-force, a sense of pleasure that has never yet been experienced. Although this would appear to be an inanimate level, because from the perspective of the living it looks like death, nonetheless, at this level one experiences a different type of life, “Silence is praise to You,” “a silent, thin voice.” In order to reach this life one must first submit and die, then the soul sings and praises God with a unique song, “’For to Me every knee will bend’ – this refers to the day of death.”

Thus, when Sarah reaches the final submission, losing everything and dying, her life then becomes a silent life of the highest level; life that continues to emerge within the grave. Sarah at long last reaches “thelandofCanaan”- the land of submissiveness that is the real “land of the living.” At this stage, retrospectively, we discover that there is a way to rectify the flaw of the primordial sin that brought death to the world; here in the Machpelah cave, Sarah and later Abraham, meet up with Adam and Eve. Rectification of the punishment of “to dust you shall return” began at the moment the cave was redeemed from the hands of Efron (?????), literally meaning “the little dust.” Then, when Sarah reached the level of “higher dust,” dust became a positive, fertile kind of dust that infused every death that had taken place in the world before Sarah’s with new significance.”

I believe in the resurrection of the dead

Having explained how Sarah’s life did not end with her death, one can begin to sense the mystery of the resurrection of the dead that will take place in the future, as we mention every day in our prayers, “You resurrect the dead… and you are faithful to revive the dead.” The resurrection of the dead is the stage that supersedes death; at which the level of silent, higher life returns and is revealed within our lower reality. Then, retrospectively, it becomes clear that the period of death and burial is nothing more than a temporary slumber until “He establishes His faith to those who sleep in the dust” when the dead arise from their sleep at the “end of days.”

Nonetheless, even before the resurrection of the dead, if we were to ask now, “Is Sarah alive?” the reply would not be unambiguous, because Sarah passed into a different dimension in which the regular definitions of life and death are no longer relevant. The silent life that praises God in a “silent, thin voice” may appear to be “death” from our perspective, but perhaps it is more correct to call it “life”?

This paradox is apparent in the haftarah for this week’s parashah, from the beginning of Kings. King David was elderly and unable to warm his body, he is hardly alive. Taking little interest in his kingdom, he already has one foot in the “kingdom to come.” Yet the passage ends with Bathsheba’s famous proclamation, “May my master King David live forever.” What point is there in proclaiming this when it is quite clear that David has reached the end of life? Yet, if we consider that David is following in Sarah’s footsteps and that as he approaches death he comes closer to the level of life that continues even after death, then stating that “David, King of Israel, lives and exists” is actual reality, not a parable or a dream. This is what the sages mean in the Jerusalem Talmud when they state that if Mashiach is of the living then his name is David and if he is will come from the dead, then his name is David, meaning that Mashiach is David himself, in whom the borderline between life and death is undefined. This is beautifully alluded to in the numerical value of the phrase, “May my master King David live forever” (??? ???? ???? ??? ????), which is equal to 372, “Mashiach” (????; 358) plus “David” (???; 14), meaning that “May my master the king live forever” (??? ???? ???? ????) equals “Mashiach” (????).

Parashat Chayei Sarah begins with the account of Sarah’s death; the first Jewish individual to pass away. Later on in the parashah Abraham too passes away.

Sarah’s death is not the first death reported in the Torah, ampoule but the account of her death is different from all other deaths that preceded it. Whereas the death of Adam, sickness for example, ampoule marked the end of his life, “All the days that Adam lived… and he died,” Sarah’s death marks a new beginning. The Torah does not immediately turn to the following generation after her passing but instead begins an entire chapter that describes how Sarah was eulogized and wept over after her death and how much care was taken over her burial. This is the first reference in the Torah to the burial procedure and from the moment that Abraham acquired theMachpelahCave, this burial ground has become an important location for all generations to follow until this very day, for it is there where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs were buried.

This special attitude towards Sarah’s death is indicated in the parashah’s first verse, which actually doubly accentuates her lifetime, “Sarah’s life was…the years of Sarah’s life,” clearly indicating that Sarah’s death was not the end of the road.

Life and life after life

“Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron, in thelandofCanaan.” The Zohar explains the secret of Sarah’s death by explaining that “Kiryat Arba” (???? ????), which means “city of four,” actually refers to the four elements from which all physical matter is composed: fire, air, water and earth. As long as a person is alive these different elements are connected until the moment of death, when they begin to decompose. That in this verse Kiryat Arba is also called Chevron teaches us that Sarah’s death was unique. Her physical elements (Kiryat Arba) remained friendly and bound together (Chevron) even after her death, since “Chevron” (?????) is cognate with “connection” (????). This was a new phenomenon that defied the universal law of entropy and unveiled the eternal quality of the Jewish soul, which lives on even after the individual has passed away from the physical dimension of creation. This is why it is forbidden to cremate a dead body, because there is life after death, there is a world of souls and death is no longer a “black hole” on the way to total obliteration, but merely a transition into another category of life. The principal innovation here is that the soul lives on and continues to be connected to the very same body that died and lies buried in the ground.

The Jewish attitude towards death and graves is not an unfounded nostalgic preoccupation with that which was but is no longer; rather it conveys an ongoing connection between the dead and those who are still alive. Although we are aware of the fact that the body disintegrates after death, as Jews we also know that the difference between man and beast remains after death, because the soul lives on. The anti-entropic status of the Jewish body is inherent in every one of us, and in unique individuals, of whom Sarah was the first, it is physically revealed. This phenomenon has even been observed, as we learn from the many accounts of righteous individuals or martyrs of the Jewish faith, whose bodies remained intact even after decades in the grave.

In short, every heart-beat of life is a reflection of the infinite, but although it seems that death is the finite end, Sarah’s death reveals that even after death that power of infinity remains vibrant, like buried treasure waiting to be unearthed. This may merely be a feeble impression of the physical life that preceded it, a hidden force that our physical senses are unable to discern, but someplace out there, in the depths of theMachpelahCave, that point exists: life after life.

“Let my soul be like dust”

Chassidut explains the secret of Sarah’s afterlife, the key to which lies in the concept of “dust.” It is by no accident that Abraham bought theMachpelahCavefrom Efron (?????) the Hittite, whose name is derived from the same root as “dust” (???). Man was created, “dust from the earth” and after his sin he was destined to die, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Yet “dust” takes on new significance when Abraham states his famous expression of submissiveness and lowliness, “I am dust and ashes.” The attribute of submissiveness is implied in our context too, in the abovementioned phrase, “Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron, in thelandofCanaan.”Canaan(????) is from the same root as “submissiveness” (?????). As the indicated by the Zohar above, the four elements of the “city of four” (Kiryat Arba) remain connected by merit of “thelandofCanaan” i.e., the dust-like attribute of a submissive soul.

Obviously, not all submissiveness is positive. A compliant attitude could be the result of misplaced self-pity or a lack of stamina, but in general, submissiveness, when it results from the realization that everyone in the world is unique in ways that I am not, is an undisputedly positive attribute, bringing us to recognize that we are like dust beneath their feet. Through such submissiveness, the truly wise are able to learn something new from everyone they meet, “Who is wise? He who learns from every individual.” Submissiveness also implies a sense of surrender, not being a sore loser, but knowing how to acknowledge defeat and realize that I am below my victor.

Dust represents death, the inanimate that has no life-force and so too, the psychological attribute of submissiveness is a kind of dust-like death. In fact, the attribute of submissiveness reaches its peak at the moment of death itself. Throughout our lives we are victorious on many different frontiers?in particular in our victory over death?until we finally reach the end and the moment when we lose everything including our very selves. At this point, the individual experiences entropy first-hand and identifies with it to its farthest extreme.

Throughout his lifetime, Abraham was “dust and ashes,” but Sarah was first to reach the greatest extreme of surrender: death itself. Such submissiveness is apparently so precious that the Ba’al Shem Tov was loath to relinquish it,  “I could rise heavenwards in a stormy wind, like Elijah the prophet,” he said before he died, “But I desire to experience the verse, ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return.’” Experiencing the tasteless flavor of dust is the ultimate sense of submissiveness and lowliness as the sages state, “Be very, very lowly of spirit, for man’s anticipation is worms.”

The song of the inanimate

When we resign ourselves completely to surrender; when we reach the peak of submissiveness?like the Ba’al Shem Tov who did not attempt to overcome death or avoid it, but consciously chose to die (although until then he had chosen life, as we are commanded, “[you shall] live by them [the commandments]”)?then one can reach a new revelation of life. After flowing through with entropy until its very end, one is suddenly elevated far above it.

Usually life is considered to be a function of two phenomena: warmth and movement. The inanimate dust of death is cold, dry and silent. From a psychological perspective, the more submissive one becomes, the more surrender one experiences and the closer one is to death. But there is another life, a higher life that is more delicate and refined but has no sense of movement. It appears to be silent and cold yet it contains a far more profound life-force, a sense of pleasure that has never yet been experienced. Although this would appear to be an inanimate level, because from the perspective of the living it looks like death, nonetheless, at this level one experiences a different type of life, “Silence is praise to You,” “a silent, thin voice.” In order to reach this life one must first submit and die, then the soul sings and praises God with a unique song, “’For to Me every knee will bend’ – this refers to the day of death.”

Thus, when Sarah reaches the final submission, losing everything and dying, her life then becomes a silent life of the highest level; life that continues to emerge within the grave. Sarah at long last reaches “thelandofCanaan”- the land of submissiveness that is the real “land of the living.” At this stage, retrospectively, we discover that there is a way to rectify the flaw of the primordial sin that brought death to the world; here in the Machpelah cave, Sarah and later Abraham, meet up with Adam and Eve. Rectification of the punishment of “to dust you shall return” began at the moment the cave was redeemed from the hands of Efron (?????), literally meaning “the little dust.” Then, when Sarah reached the level of “higher dust,” dust became a positive, fertile kind of dust that infused every death that had taken place in the world before Sarah’s with new significance.”

I believe in the resurrection of the dead

Having explained how Sarah’s life did not end with her death, one can begin to sense the mystery of the resurrection of the dead that will take place in the future, as we mention every day in our prayers, “You resurrect the dead… and you are faithful to revive the dead.” The resurrection of the dead is the stage that supersedes death; at which the level of silent, higher life returns and is revealed within our lower reality. Then, retrospectively, it becomes clear that the period of death and burial is nothing more than a temporary slumber until “He establishes His faith to those who sleep in the dust” when the dead arise from their sleep at the “end of days.”

Nonetheless, even before the resurrection of the dead, if we were to ask now, “Is Sarah alive?” the reply would not be unambiguous, because Sarah passed into a different dimension in which the regular definitions of life and death are no longer relevant. The silent life that praises God in a “silent, thin voice” may appear to be “death” from our perspective, but perhaps it is more correct to call it “life”?

This paradox is apparent in the haftarah for this week’s parashah, from the beginning of Kings. King David was elderly and unable to warm his body, he is hardly alive. Taking little interest in his kingdom, he already has one foot in the “kingdom to come.” Yet the passage ends with Bathsheba’s famous proclamation, “May my master King David live forever.” What point is there in proclaiming this when it is quite clear that David has reached the end of life? Yet, if we consider that David is following in Sarah’s footsteps and that as he approaches death he comes closer to the level of life that continues even after death, then stating that “David, King of Israel, lives and exists” is actual reality, not a parable or a dream. This is what the sages mean in the Jerusalem Talmud when they state that if Mashiach is of the living then his name is David and if he is will come from the dead, then his name is David, meaning that Mashiach is David himself, in whom the borderline between life and death is undefined. This is beautifully alluded to in the numerical value of the phrase, “May my master King David live forever” (??? ???? ???? ??? ????), which is equal to 372, “Mashiach” (????; 358) plus “David” (???; 14), meaning that “May my master the king live forever” (??? ???? ???? ????) equals “Mashiach” (????).
In Parashat Noach, pills humanity undergoes two great catastrophes. The first is the flood – the holocaust that annihilates all of humanity and all land-life except those who survive in Noach’s ark. The second catastrophe is the dispersal of humanity to all ends of the earth as a result of the collapse of the Tower of Babel. In last week’s parashah, Parashat Bereishit we learnt of the first crisis in human history -  man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden following Adam and Eve’s sin. These are the first three catastrophes that visited humanity.

Apart from these three catastrophes described in the Book of Genesis the Pentateuch's central narrative revolves around a fourth critical event—the Jewish people’s slavery and their subsequent exodus from Egypt. Upon contemplation, clearly the slavery in Egypt and the exodus from it were meant from the beginning to enable the Jewish people to reach the heights they rose to. Following this same line of reasoning, properly understanding and rectifying each of the first three catastrophes can lead to improving reality.

Deepening our sense of these four crises will allow us to see how each is an archetype for the various crises and catastrophes we have faced in the past and are experiencing in the present, both on the personal and the collective levels.

The first catastrophe:Paradise lost

The first crisis is the loss of a dream. Although in the Torah the Garden of Eden is described as a concrete reality with trees, man, woman and the serpent, nonetheless no GPS has ever navigated us to the Garden of Eden and no one has ever photographed the cherubim guarding the path to the Tree of Life. It seems therefore, that the Garden of Eden remains a utopian reality that has receded into another dimension of reality, but the gateway to this dimension is blocked to our access. In the same way, we can say that before Adam's sin and before his expulsion from Eden, our world was not within reality and there was no road that led from the Garden of Eden to the geographic regions familiar to us. This is implied by the verse, "And every plant of the field was not yet on earth... and man was not…." Our present reality did not exist because human consciousness had not yet accessed it. After the primordial sin and after Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden the image was reversed; Eden receded into theory while our globe assumed reality. In fact, the Arizal said that before Adam's sin, reality was fourteen levels above where it is now; the reality inhabited by Adam and Eve remains beyond our hand’s-reach – the numerical value of “hand” (??) is 14.

Today, Utopia is considered a theoretical ideal. But, the truth is that this ideal did actually exist in the past in the form of the Garden of Eden, which is why it continues to play a very important role in our present state of consciousness. Although we live in this world, we are not from here; we have all been exiled from Paradise. But we cannot allow ourselves to indulge in nostalgic musings and live in a dream-like state; rather we must take action in reality as it is now, where we now find ourselves. "God sent him from the Garden of Eden to cultivate the land from which he had been taken." This is our rectification!

We all begin our lives with the expulsion from Paradise: the soul has been exiled from its utopian world and has hit the harsh reality that we are all familiar with. From now on, our entire lives are dedicated to our rehabilitation from the trauma of our burst bubble. Even in our present situation, like in Eden, there is a serpentine catalyst precipitating our expulsion, in the form of our evil inclination. The more this serpent succeeds, the more our initial innocence is defiled and we find reality to be even more cruel and alien, leaving us to work and cope with rectifying the crisis of our lost paradise.

The second catastrophe: the destruction of the world

The second catastrophe is the destruction of the world. Adam says, "I was expelled from paradise," but Noach was not expelled and was not transported to a different level of reality; his entire world was destroyed around him. Before the flood the world was not a nice place to live in, and certainly could not be described as idyllic. Yet, the world was inhabited, it was filled with people and animals, there were bustling cities and a steady din of life. But after the flood, the world was barren and a dreadful silence filled the air. Only one small family, who had been spared the forces of chaos that raged over the earth for an entire year in an ark carrying an entire zoo of animals, had to begin building a new world.

Not everyone has to go through such a crisis, but many people can relate to the idea that their world has been destroyed. For example, someone who has lost his entire family and now, after his own personal flood has to begin anew. This is a very challenging undertaking, which requires rallying the energy to start over. Some are tempted to try to escape reality by turning to alcohol and rolling around drunk, as did Noach ... But, there is really no choice left. The old world has been destroyed and no longer exists, and now you're left to build a new world upon its ruins. The previous generation has been destroyed, and you—who were part of that generation—are its rectification, provided you have an optimistic approach. We need not go to great lengths to find examples of a modern-day Noach; it is awe-inspiring to see the many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, who lost all they had—their family, wives, children, possessions—and recovered to build their lives all over again.

The third catastrophe: dispersion

The third crisis is dispersion. In the generation after Noach all people spoke "a single language and similar words." They all lived in one place forming a single society. However, their unity was based on the city and tower they had built with the purpose of defying God. This time, the catastrophe did not come in the form of exile or destruction, but as dispersal. Instead, of one nation there were now seventy, each with its own distinct language, its own country and its own culture. This crisis may seem easier to cope with than the expulsion from Eden or the destruction of the world, but it should not be viewed lightly: the social framework changed completely and social codes had to be rewritten.

How can dispersion be repaired? Can it be that diversity is the goal? Immediately after the flood at the end of parashat Noach, the first patriarch appears: Abraham. According to the sages' reckoning, Abraham was present during the construction of the Tower of Babel, standing as a lone revolutionary in opposition to the Tower’s builders. Abraham, followed by Isaac and Jacob, heralded a real unity that can reunite a dispersed world. The three patriarchs, from whom the Jewish people were destined to come, will eventually achieve a rectified state of unity - not an imaginary humanistic state of superficial peace void of submission to God’s sovereignty, but a state of harmony at whose center stand the chosen people who declare before all that, "God is One and His Name is one."

It is not hard to see crises of dispersion plaguing societies throughout history: a once unified society, or state, or empire deteriorates into opposing factions as the social fabric is unwound. Taking the place of cooperation based on constructive positive communication are opposing rhetoric; as if they have begun to speak different languages, people stop listening to one another, until the only level of communication that remains is rock-throwing (a description given by the sages to the collapse of the Tower of Babel). What is true of society is true of the individual. We have all seen those poor souls who are torn between the various voices within, their inner peace disturbed, and their character in turmoil. One often finds them wandering aimlessly around the world, hard-pressed to pick up the pieces of the broken lives that are no more. Dispersion, whether it befalls a society or an individual can be rectified by discovering a central backbone to reorganize and unite the shards.

The fourth catastrophe: enslavement

At the end of the era of the Patriarchs, the Jewish people moved to Egypt and the coming generations were enslaved by Pharaoh, creating a fourth type of crisis. No dream had been shattered, no world had been destroyed, and no dispersal had taken place, but exile and bondage had infiltrated the people’s consciousness. An entire nation became totally enslaved in substance and spirit through laborious drudgery that breaks the body and gives no respite to the soul; one cannot breathe because every drop of air and attention is dedicated to Pharaoh, so much so that one forgets one’s identity, even one’s sense of self, with one’s very heart being replaced by a totally foreign mentality.

Only the Exodus can rectify this situation. Yet, despite the various miracles and wonders that transpired during the Exodus, the greatest marvel is the very exit of a "nation from within a nation" as the Jewish people was born from within the straits of the Egyptian exile. The essential image associated with rectification by the Exodus is that of Moses—a Divinely appointed redeemer sent to take the Jewish people out of Egypt. In addition, the redemption process must have a goal, in this case, the giving of the Torah, "When you take the people out of Egypt you shall serve God on this mountain." The process is complete when the Jewish people enter their homeland, the Land of Israel.

Perhaps we consider ourselves to be freemen, but the truth is that many of us are actually enslaved (in fact, who isn’t?). The taskmaster is not just a "Big Brother" from without, but the many diversions and pressures that fill the crazy world in which we live and infiltrate our sense of self. The anxiety caused by our finances, the need to work hard to make enough money, can turn an individual into a slave. But, even when money is not an issue, we are still an overstressed generation. Worries and constant tension burden us like an iron yoke and the sages state that the yoke of the government and the yoke of making a livelihood leave no room for the yoke of Torah. The mind is never at rest to relax and focus on what really matters. In addition to all this, we are all tied down by the constraints of social conventions, influenced by the cheap pop-culture we are bombarded by (be it consciously or unconsciously) affecting our thoughts and behavior. It is this modern taskmaster sporting a broad smile and a golden whip from whom we need salvation!

Catastrophes in modern Jewish history

With this model of four types of catastrophe or crisis before us, we can better understand the processes that have affected the Jewish people in recent history.

Until the 19th century, the Jewish world in the Diaspora was centered around the good old shtetl—a dream that was and is no more. One can encounter vivid descriptions of the shtetl (whether from the memoirs of the Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch, the stories told by Agnon or the artwork painted by Chagall), and receive the impression that this was a relatively utopian world, a dream with a whiff of Paradise (though certainly not everything there was always good). However that dream was shattered by the terrible spiritual destruction that visited the shtetl, even long before the Holocaust. The guise of the serpent in this tale (who seduced us to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge) was "the Enlightenment." Jews suddenly found themselves outside the Garden of Eden, the old familiar fragrance of Yiddishkeit having disappeared. The cotton-wool that had shielded us was ripped open and foreign influences entered the Jewish home, casting so many Jews out of their tradition, out of the Torah, and out of this relatively sheltered and nurturing spiritual environment. Now, any attempt to return to the old Jewish shtetl is to no avail; we can never return to life as it used to be. Our only chance to repair are by toiling in the modern world we find ourselves today.

The second catastrophe is the Holocaust, in which the Jewish world was literally eradicated. Entire communities were wiped out and the human cinders that were retrieved from the ashes had to pick themselves up and begin a new life after their world had been destroyed, just like Noach after the flood. The only way for each of these survivors to continue was not to give in to the gloomy situation, but to realize that if they had managed to miraculously survive against the odds (even if they cannot fathom why they specifically survived while others perished) their task is to look forward and build a new world.

While the Jewish people were undergoing the catastrophe of the Holocaust, the Jewish community in the land of Israel began to grow, saved from the same fate by Divine providence. Despite the miraculous phenomenon of the Jewish return toZion, the establishment of the State of Israel is reminiscent of a disappointing Tower of Babel. Instead of explicitly founding the state on the basis of Torah, thereby recognizing and declaring that we are God’s people, an attempt was made to create a union held together by superficial, material cooperation, while the God of Israel and the Torah, the only truly uniting force behind the Jewish people, were deliberately left out of the picture. The first few years of the State’s existence seemed to prove successful, but the ensuing crisis of dispersion was not long in coming. After a short while came years of disappointment, as national unity began to disintegrate. The polarization of the various factions among the people grew and the national crisis manifested severely in the growing phenomenon of emigration; a phenomenon that transmitted a sense of futility to all efforts that were made. Rectification is by way of the uniting force imbued in our natures by the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by establishing our "National Home" on the foundation of our unique Jewish culture, raising the banner of Torah and faith as the flag of the rectified Jewish state.

Finally, we find ourselves grappling with the fourth crisis?enslavement. We may not always sense how enslaved we really are - and sometimes that is the greatest problem, which indicates that we have internalized a foreign culture; we talk and think in terms borrowed from a foreign mentality that binds and enslaves us. One of the strongest expressions of this enslavement is the fear expressed by the constant question of, "What will other nations say?" which quite probably has been the most consistent driving force behind the foreign and military policies of all Israeli governments since the establishment of the state. In order to correct the current situation we need to openly discuss the need for a savior, a king?the Mashiach?who will free our minds and open our mouths so that we may think Jewish thoughts and speak Jewish words. We need a redeemer who will extricate us from our cultural subservience and will lead a true revolution, until the Jewish people realize their status as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The Exodus from the Egyptian exile was "with our head held high," open, public, and with great fanfare, and so too will be our future redemption, speedily in our days, when everything will become clear for all to see.

The Exodus from Egypt was completed with the giving of the Torah and so too the climax of the ultimate redemption will be the revelation of a “new Torah”; the essence of the inner dimension of the Torah that we received at Mount Sinai.

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, and even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth, the binding of Isaac, the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytic intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

from the 13th of Cheshvan 5773 shiur

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, sildenafil no rx even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth,
for sale the binding of Isaac, help the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytical intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

The wandering Jew

Parashat Vayeira is the second parashah that deals with Abraham’s lifetime (the next parashah focuses on Isaac, viagra even though Abraham was still alive). The parashah ends with the climax of Abraham’s service upon earth, the binding of Isaac, the tenth and final trial that he withstood.

Just as Abraham began his way in the previous parashah by walking towards an unknown land, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you,” so God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac uses similar language, “Take your son… and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you.” Indeed, Abraham spent his entire life in a never-ending excursion, from when he first stepped out towards an unknown destination, through “Abraham traveled back and forth southwards,” then God commanded him, “Arise and wander the length and the breadth of the land,” followed by, “walk before Me and be sincere,” until his final expedition to Mt. Moriah. The sages describe “Abraham’s steps” as giant-steps that covered immense distances without ever tiring.

Obviously, Abraham’s walking is not merely a superficial act but is also symbolic of a profound spiritual advance to a specific goal. Where was Abraham really going? Could he not take a moment’s respite from constantly being on the move?

Loving-kindness and faith

The key to this question lies in the verse, “Abram traveled back and forth southwards.” According to Kabbalah, south, the brightest direction, always bathed in sunlight, represents the attribute of loving-kindness, whereas north is dark and represents the attribute of might, fear and contraction. Thus, Abraham continually developed his attribute of “loving-kindness” and his love for people and for his Creator constantly evolved.

In our previous article we mentioned Abraham’s transition from truth to loving-kindness and now we see that throughout his life his love continued to develop and every day he revealed anew that it is possible to be even more “southern,” more charitable and less contracted.

The right faith

In the Torah, south is on the right as opposed to north which is on the left. Yet, the root for “right” (????) is conjugate to the word “faith” (?????) so much so that it is sometimes interchanged in the Bible. So, in addition to Abraham’s constant improvement of his loving-kindness, walking southwards also represents developing his faith.

Indeed, Abraham excelled in his faith as he excelled in loving-kindness, as the verse states, “He [Abraham] had faith in God and He [God] considered it charity.” Abraham is considered to be the “head of all believers” and he established the true faith in one God and taught it to all of mankind. Walking represents a vector force of advancement towards faith. Obviously, only someone with great faith can walk towards the unknown and step out to sacrifice his son by Divine decree. Abraham’s faith was not stagnant but advancing, growing and flourishing as it emerged. Abraham revealed the secret of infinite faith.

These two connotations of walking southwards – towards loving-kindness and towards faith – are obviously connected to one another. One example of how the two are connected is demonstrated by Hillel the Elder, the man of unlimited loving-kindness, one of “Aharon’s disciples, [who] love[s] people,” who was not only such a humble and patient individual that no-one could never upset him, but he was also a man of great faith who trusted God to send him his sustenance, daily; “Blessed is God, day by day.”

The wondering Jew

Just as the limiting effects of judgment are relatively “left,” while loving-kindness flows freely from the “right,” so the pervasive power of faith on the “right” is balanced by the limits and boundaries of the intellect on the “left” (the “left” here refers to the left-hand side of holiness and not the negative “left”).

In this context, Hillel, the man of loving-kindness and faith, has his “leftist” partner, Shamai, who is more judgmental and also has a sharp mind, as the Talmud states that Shamai’s disciples were “sharper” than Hillel’s (nonetheless, the law is determined according to Beit Hillel because they were “lenient and self-effacing”) – Hillel on the right and Shamai on the left.

With this new perception, we now find that from a spiritual perspective Abraham constantly traveled back and forth between his “intellect” and his “faith.” Obviously, Abraham acted on the basis of a great deal of intellect, beginning his service of God with an intellectual inquiry that led him to realize that there is a Creator to the world, as Maimonides states so clearly, “he began to inquire even while he was still young and considered day and night… and his mind wondered and understood until he reached the way of truth and understood the line of justice of his own accord. Until he realized that there is one God.”

Abraham’s intellect led him to reach faith, a state of consciousness that is no longer governed by intellect alone. Despite the profundity of human intellect and its great expansiveness, it remains limited, while faith in God knows no bounds. Faith touches the essence, the very core of the matter that is above the mind. As we find in Kabbalah, that the super-conscious crown (the source of faith in the soul) is above all conscious powers including the intellect. Abraham put aside all the knowledge that he acquired through his intellect in the realization that as much as I already know, I actually know nothing; above all my knowledge is my simple and sincere faith.

This was not a one-time act on Abraham’s behalf, but a constant process of advance from intellect to faith. Abraham did not remain idle for a moment and he constantly devoted his mind and knowledge to understanding Divinity, so much so that new horizons of knowledge opened up before him every day. What he knows of God today is more than he knew yesterday, bringing with it a new “left” that requires him to move even more “right,” elevating himself from what seems to him today to be faith that is above his intellect until that too is understood and a new level of faith is born. Abraham traveled “Back and forth” from intellect to faith, to new intellect and newer faith.

The final journey

Abraham’s final journey to Mt. Moriah was the greatest pinnacle of faith that took him “right” to the farthest extreme. In Chassidut it is explained that each trial that Abraham endured was a trial of faith, the greatest being the trial of the binding of Isaac, which tested his faith to the ultimate limit. Human intellect is incapable of perceiving the paradox of the moment: God commanded Abraham to take his beloved, long-awaited son?the actualization of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that he become “a great nation” and the embodiment of all his hope for the entire future?and to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice! How can this commandment not stand in direct opposition to the Divine promise that “In Isaac will be called your seed”? How can this not contradict the educational policies that Abraham has taught mankind? No logical explanation can be offered; but where the light of logic ends, the glow of faith begins to shimmer.

Inter-including the left within the right

Whereas Abraham represents the right, loving-kindness, his son, Isaac represents the left line, corresponding to fear and judgment. By binding Isaac to the altar and preparing to offer him as a sacrifice, it would seem that Abraham is finally victorious over the left and has reached the definitive right, climbing to the peak of pure faith and entirely discarding his intellect. Yet, in Kabbalah the binding of Isaac is not represented at all as an expression of the right’s victory over the left; rather as the “inclusion of the left within the right.” Abraham did not slaughter Isaac after all, God forbid, “Do not send your hand to the lad,” but only placed him above the wood and bound him there. Thus, the binding of Isaac by Abraham symbolizes the bonding of right and left together.

By explaining the binding of Isaac in this way, we infuse new significance in Abraham’s act. Our usual perception is that in order to create a new identity, we must distance ourselves from our old one. So it was that every time Abraham went “southwards,” to the “right,” he moved away from the “left.” Every additional step that he took in the direction of “faith”, he by necessity had to leave his intellect behind to some extent or another. Yet, at this highest level, the binding of Isaac teaches us that there is a way to advance towards our goal without abandoning our  past. When we step forward towards a new destination, we bring the past with us, fusing the two together in a complementary bond.

Abraham reached the climactic moment when he bound his son representing the left “upon the altar, above the wood,” but then God reveals that the ultimate purpose is not that the right should slaughter the left and overcome it, rather it should join together with the left until they arrive together as one at their common destination.

We can now understand that the highest form of faith is where our limiting, analytic intellect is somehow included within faith, toying with faith like a whale in the ocean and delving deeper and deeper into its depths.

Who leads?

At the end of this process we eventually reveal that Isaac, the “left,” is actually higher than Abraham, the “right.” Indeed, Abraham elevated Isaac upon the altar but there is no verse that states that Isaac ever descended from there. The sages state that Isaac became a “burnt offering” without ever being sacrificed.

In other words, through the act of binding Isaac to the altar, Abraham revealed that the soul root of his son is higher than his own. God is referred to as, “the Fear of Isaac” (??? ????) but this phrase also means, “Fear will laugh.” The revelation that the left is included within the right is a complete innovation that brings indescribable joy and laughter to the world. Even though Isaac represents the attribute of judgment and fear, nonetheless, it is because of this that such great joy and playfulness emanate from him.

Indeed in Kabbalah it is explained that Isaac is a futuristic-messianic figure: Isaac (????) laughs (????) and Mashiach (????) rejoices (????). Who will have the last laugh?

from the 13th of Cheshvan 5773 shiur

Parashat Chayei Sarah begins with the account of Sarah’s death; the first Jewish individual to pass away. Later on in the parashah Abraham too passes away.

Sarah’s death is not the first death reported in the Torah, ambulance purchase but the account of her death is different from all other deaths that preceded it. Whereas the death of Adam, health cialis for example, troche marked the end of his life, “All the days that Adam lived… and he died,” Sarah’s death marks a new beginning. The Torah does not immediately turn to the following generation after her passing but instead begins an entire chapter that describes how Sarah was eulogized and wept over after her death and how much care was taken over her burial. This is the first reference in the Torah to the burial procedure and from the moment that Abraham acquired theMachpelahCave, this burial ground has become an important location for all generations to follow until this very day, for it is there where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs were buried.

This special attitude towards Sarah’s death is indicated in the parashah’s first verse, which actually doubly accentuates her lifetime, “Sarah’s life was…the years of Sarah’s life,” clearly indicating that Sarah’s death was not the end of the road.

Life and life after life

“Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron, in thelandofCanaan.” The Zohar explains the secret of Sarah’s death by explaining that “Kiryat Arba” (???? ????), which means “city of four,” actually refers to the four elements from which all physical matter is composed: fire, air, water and earth. As long as a person is alive these different elements are connected until the moment of death, when they begin to decompose. That in this verse Kiryat Arba is also called Chevron teaches us that Sarah’s death was unique. Her physical elements (Kiryat Arba) remained friendly and bound together (Chevron) even after her death, since “Chevron” (?????) is cognate with “connection” (????). This was a new phenomenon that defied the universal law of entropy and unveiled the eternal quality of the Jewish soul, which lives on even after the individual has passed away from the physical dimension of creation. This is why it is forbidden to cremate a dead body, because there is life after death, there is a world of souls and death is no longer a “black hole” on the way to total obliteration, but merely a transition into another category of life. The principal innovation here is that the soul lives on and continues to be connected to the very same body that died and lies buried in the ground.

The Jewish attitude towards death and graves is not an unfounded nostalgic preoccupation with that which was but is no longer; rather it conveys an ongoing connection between the dead and those who are still alive. Although we are aware of the fact that the body disintegrates after death, as Jews we also know that the difference between man and beast remains after death, because the soul lives on. The anti-entropic status of the Jewish body is inherent in every one of us, and in unique individuals, of whom Sarah was the first, it is physically revealed. This phenomenon has even been observed, as we learn from the many accounts of righteous individuals or martyrs of the Jewish faith, whose bodies remained intact even after decades in the grave.

In short, every heart-beat of life is a reflection of the infinite, but although it seems that death is the finite end, Sarah’s death reveals that even after death that power of infinity remains vibrant, like buried treasure waiting to be unearthed. This may merely be a feeble impression of the physical life that preceded it, a hidden force that our physical senses are unable to discern, but someplace out there, in the depths of theMachpelahCave, that point exists: life after life.

“Let my soul be like dust”

Chassidut explains the secret of Sarah’s afterlife, the key to which lies in the concept of “dust.” It is by no accident that Abraham bought theMachpelahCavefrom Efron (?????) the Hittite, whose name is derived from the same root as “dust” (???). Man was created, “dust from the earth” and after his sin he was destined to die, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Yet “dust” takes on new significance when Abraham states his famous expression of submissiveness and lowliness, “I am dust and ashes.” The attribute of submissiveness is implied in our context too, in the abovementioned phrase, “Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron, in thelandofCanaan.”Canaan(????) is from the same root as “submissiveness” (?????). As the indicated by the Zohar above, the four elements of the “city of four” (Kiryat Arba) remain connected by merit of “thelandofCanaan” i.e., the dust-like attribute of a submissive soul.

Obviously, not all submissiveness is positive. A compliant attitude could be the result of misplaced self-pity or a lack of stamina, but in general, submissiveness, when it results from the realization that everyone in the world is unique in ways that I am not, is an undisputedly positive attribute, bringing us to recognize that we are like dust beneath their feet. Through such submissiveness, the truly wise are able to learn something new from everyone they meet, “Who is wise? He who learns from every individual.” Submissiveness also implies a sense of surrender, not being a sore loser, but knowing how to acknowledge defeat and realize that I am below my victor.

Dust represents death, the inanimate that has no life-force and so too, the psychological attribute of submissiveness is a kind of dust-like death. In fact, the attribute of submissiveness reaches its peak at the moment of death itself. Throughout our lives we are victorious on many different frontiers?in particular in our victory over death?until we finally reach the end and the moment when we lose everything including our very selves. At this point, the individual experiences entropy first-hand and identifies with it to its farthest extreme.

Throughout his lifetime, Abraham was “dust and ashes,” but Sarah was first to reach the greatest extreme of surrender: death itself. Such submissiveness is apparently so precious that the Ba’al Shem Tov was loath to relinquish it,  “I could rise heavenwards in a stormy wind, like Elijah the prophet,” he said before he died, “But I desire to experience the verse, ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return.’” Experiencing the tasteless flavor of dust is the ultimate sense of submissiveness and lowliness as the sages state, “Be very, very lowly of spirit, for man’s anticipation is worms.”

The song of the inanimate

When we resign ourselves completely to surrender; when we reach the peak of submissiveness?like the Ba’al Shem Tov who did not attempt to overcome death or avoid it, but consciously chose to die (although until then he had chosen life, as we are commanded, “[you shall] live by them [the commandments]”)?then one can reach a new revelation of life. After flowing through with entropy until its very end, one is suddenly elevated far above it.

Usually life is considered to be a function of two phenomena: warmth and movement. The inanimate dust of death is cold, dry and silent. From a psychological perspective, the more submissive one becomes, the more surrender one experiences and the closer one is to death. But there is another life, a higher life that is more delicate and refined but has no sense of movement. It appears to be silent and cold yet it contains a far more profound life-force, a sense of pleasure that has never yet been experienced. Although this would appear to be an inanimate level, because from the perspective of the living it looks like death, nonetheless, at this level one experiences a different type of life, “Silence is praise to You,” “a silent, thin voice.” In order to reach this life one must first submit and die, then the soul sings and praises God with a unique song, “’For to Me every knee will bend’ – this refers to the day of death.”

Thus, when Sarah reaches the final submission, losing everything and dying, her life then becomes a silent life of the highest level; life that continues to emerge within the grave. Sarah at long last reaches “thelandofCanaan”- the land of submissiveness that is the real “land of the living.” At this stage, retrospectively, we discover that there is a way to rectify the flaw of the primordial sin that brought death to the world; here in the Machpelah cave, Sarah and later Abraham, meet up with Adam and Eve. Rectification of the punishment of “to dust you shall return” began at the moment the cave was redeemed from the hands of Efron (?????), literally meaning “the little dust.” Then, when Sarah reached the level of “higher dust,” dust became a positive, fertile kind of dust that infused every death that had taken place in the world before Sarah’s with new significance.”

I believe in the resurrection of the dead

Having explained how Sarah’s life did not end with her death, one can begin to sense the mystery of the resurrection of the dead that will take place in the future, as we mention every day in our prayers, “You resurrect the dead… and you are faithful to revive the dead.” The resurrection of the dead is the stage that supersedes death; at which the level of silent, higher life returns and is revealed within our lower reality. Then, retrospectively, it becomes clear that the period of death and burial is nothing more than a temporary slumber until “He establishes His faith to those who sleep in the dust” when the dead arise from their sleep at the “end of days.”

Nonetheless, even before the resurrection of the dead, if we were to ask now, “Is Sarah alive?” the reply would not be unambiguous, because Sarah passed into a different dimension in which the regular definitions of life and death are no longer relevant. The silent life that praises God in a “silent, thin voice” may appear to be “death” from our perspective, but perhaps it is more correct to call it “life”?

This paradox is apparent in the haftarah for this week’s parashah, from the beginning of Kings. King David was elderly and unable to warm his body, he is hardly alive. Taking little interest in his kingdom, he already has one foot in the “kingdom to come.” Yet the passage ends with Bathsheba’s famous proclamation, “May my master King David live forever.” What point is there in proclaiming this when it is quite clear that David has reached the end of life? Yet, if we consider that David is following in Sarah’s footsteps and that as he approaches death he comes closer to the level of life that continues even after death, then stating that “David, King of Israel, lives and exists” is actual reality, not a parable or a dream. This is what the sages mean in the Jerusalem Talmud when they state that if Mashiach is of the living then his name is David and if he is will come from the dead, then his name is David, meaning that Mashiach is David himself, in whom the borderline between life and death is undefined. This is beautifully alluded to in the numerical value of the phrase, “May my master King David live forever” (??? ???? ???? ??? ????), which is equal to 372, “Mashiach” (????; 358) plus “David” (???; 14), meaning that “May my master the king live forever” (??? ???? ???? ????) equals “Mashiach” (????).

Parashat Chayei Sarah begins with the account of Sarah’s death; the first Jewish individual to pass away. Later on in the parashah Abraham too passes away.

Sarah’s death is not the first death reported in the Torah, ampoule but the account of her death is different from all other deaths that preceded it. Whereas the death of Adam, sickness for example, ampoule marked the end of his life, “All the days that Adam lived… and he died,” Sarah’s death marks a new beginning. The Torah does not immediately turn to the following generation after her passing but instead begins an entire chapter that describes how Sarah was eulogized and wept over after her death and how much care was taken over her burial. This is the first reference in the Torah to the burial procedure and from the moment that Abraham acquired theMachpelahCave, this burial ground has become an important location for all generations to follow until this very day, for it is there where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs were buried.

This special attitude towards Sarah’s death is indicated in the parashah’s first verse, which actually doubly accentuates her lifetime, “Sarah’s life was…the years of Sarah’s life,” clearly indicating that Sarah’s death was not the end of the road.

Life and life after life

“Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron, in thelandofCanaan.” The Zohar explains the secret of Sarah’s death by explaining that “Kiryat Arba” (???? ????), which means “city of four,” actually refers to the four elements from which all physical matter is composed: fire, air, water and earth. As long as a person is alive these different elements are connected until the moment of death, when they begin to decompose. That in this verse Kiryat Arba is also called Chevron teaches us that Sarah’s death was unique. Her physical elements (Kiryat Arba) remained friendly and bound together (Chevron) even after her death, since “Chevron” (?????) is cognate with “connection” (????). This was a new phenomenon that defied the universal law of entropy and unveiled the eternal quality of the Jewish soul, which lives on even after the individual has passed away from the physical dimension of creation. This is why it is forbidden to cremate a dead body, because there is life after death, there is a world of souls and death is no longer a “black hole” on the way to total obliteration, but merely a transition into another category of life. The principal innovation here is that the soul lives on and continues to be connected to the very same body that died and lies buried in the ground.

The Jewish attitude towards death and graves is not an unfounded nostalgic preoccupation with that which was but is no longer; rather it conveys an ongoing connection between the dead and those who are still alive. Although we are aware of the fact that the body disintegrates after death, as Jews we also know that the difference between man and beast remains after death, because the soul lives on. The anti-entropic status of the Jewish body is inherent in every one of us, and in unique individuals, of whom Sarah was the first, it is physically revealed. This phenomenon has even been observed, as we learn from the many accounts of righteous individuals or martyrs of the Jewish faith, whose bodies remained intact even after decades in the grave.

In short, every heart-beat of life is a reflection of the infinite, but although it seems that death is the finite end, Sarah’s death reveals that even after death that power of infinity remains vibrant, like buried treasure waiting to be unearthed. This may merely be a feeble impression of the physical life that preceded it, a hidden force that our physical senses are unable to discern, but someplace out there, in the depths of theMachpelahCave, that point exists: life after life.

“Let my soul be like dust”

Chassidut explains the secret of Sarah’s afterlife, the key to which lies in the concept of “dust.” It is by no accident that Abraham bought theMachpelahCavefrom Efron (?????) the Hittite, whose name is derived from the same root as “dust” (???). Man was created, “dust from the earth” and after his sin he was destined to die, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Yet “dust” takes on new significance when Abraham states his famous expression of submissiveness and lowliness, “I am dust and ashes.” The attribute of submissiveness is implied in our context too, in the abovementioned phrase, “Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron, in thelandofCanaan.”Canaan(????) is from the same root as “submissiveness” (?????). As the indicated by the Zohar above, the four elements of the “city of four” (Kiryat Arba) remain connected by merit of “thelandofCanaan” i.e., the dust-like attribute of a submissive soul.

Obviously, not all submissiveness is positive. A compliant attitude could be the result of misplaced self-pity or a lack of stamina, but in general, submissiveness, when it results from the realization that everyone in the world is unique in ways that I am not, is an undisputedly positive attribute, bringing us to recognize that we are like dust beneath their feet. Through such submissiveness, the truly wise are able to learn something new from everyone they meet, “Who is wise? He who learns from every individual.” Submissiveness also implies a sense of surrender, not being a sore loser, but knowing how to acknowledge defeat and realize that I am below my victor.

Dust represents death, the inanimate that has no life-force and so too, the psychological attribute of submissiveness is a kind of dust-like death. In fact, the attribute of submissiveness reaches its peak at the moment of death itself. Throughout our lives we are victorious on many different frontiers?in particular in our victory over death?until we finally reach the end and the moment when we lose everything including our very selves. At this point, the individual experiences entropy first-hand and identifies with it to its farthest extreme.

Throughout his lifetime, Abraham was “dust and ashes,” but Sarah was first to reach the greatest extreme of surrender: death itself. Such submissiveness is apparently so precious that the Ba’al Shem Tov was loath to relinquish it,  “I could rise heavenwards in a stormy wind, like Elijah the prophet,” he said before he died, “But I desire to experience the verse, ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return.’” Experiencing the tasteless flavor of dust is the ultimate sense of submissiveness and lowliness as the sages state, “Be very, very lowly of spirit, for man’s anticipation is worms.”

The song of the inanimate

When we resign ourselves completely to surrender; when we reach the peak of submissiveness?like the Ba’al Shem Tov who did not attempt to overcome death or avoid it, but consciously chose to die (although until then he had chosen life, as we are commanded, “[you shall] live by them [the commandments]”)?then one can reach a new revelation of life. After flowing through with entropy until its very end, one is suddenly elevated far above it.

Usually life is considered to be a function of two phenomena: warmth and movement. The inanimate dust of death is cold, dry and silent. From a psychological perspective, the more submissive one becomes, the more surrender one experiences and the closer one is to death. But there is another life, a higher life that is more delicate and refined but has no sense of movement. It appears to be silent and cold yet it contains a far more profound life-force, a sense of pleasure that has never yet been experienced. Although this would appear to be an inanimate level, because from the perspective of the living it looks like death, nonetheless, at this level one experiences a different type of life, “Silence is praise to You,” “a silent, thin voice.” In order to reach this life one must first submit and die, then the soul sings and praises God with a unique song, “’For to Me every knee will bend’ – this refers to the day of death.”

Thus, when Sarah reaches the final submission, losing everything and dying, her life then becomes a silent life of the highest level; life that continues to emerge within the grave. Sarah at long last reaches “thelandofCanaan”- the land of submissiveness that is the real “land of the living.” At this stage, retrospectively, we discover that there is a way to rectify the flaw of the primordial sin that brought death to the world; here in the Machpelah cave, Sarah and later Abraham, meet up with Adam and Eve. Rectification of the punishment of “to dust you shall return” began at the moment the cave was redeemed from the hands of Efron (?????), literally meaning “the little dust.” Then, when Sarah reached the level of “higher dust,” dust became a positive, fertile kind of dust that infused every death that had taken place in the world before Sarah’s with new significance.”

I believe in the resurrection of the dead

Having explained how Sarah’s life did not end with her death, one can begin to sense the mystery of the resurrection of the dead that will take place in the future, as we mention every day in our prayers, “You resurrect the dead… and you are faithful to revive the dead.” The resurrection of the dead is the stage that supersedes death; at which the level of silent, higher life returns and is revealed within our lower reality. Then, retrospectively, it becomes clear that the period of death and burial is nothing more than a temporary slumber until “He establishes His faith to those who sleep in the dust” when the dead arise from their sleep at the “end of days.”

Nonetheless, even before the resurrection of the dead, if we were to ask now, “Is Sarah alive?” the reply would not be unambiguous, because Sarah passed into a different dimension in which the regular definitions of life and death are no longer relevant. The silent life that praises God in a “silent, thin voice” may appear to be “death” from our perspective, but perhaps it is more correct to call it “life”?

This paradox is apparent in the haftarah for this week’s parashah, from the beginning of Kings. King David was elderly and unable to warm his body, he is hardly alive. Taking little interest in his kingdom, he already has one foot in the “kingdom to come.” Yet the passage ends with Bathsheba’s famous proclamation, “May my master King David live forever.” What point is there in proclaiming this when it is quite clear that David has reached the end of life? Yet, if we consider that David is following in Sarah’s footsteps and that as he approaches death he comes closer to the level of life that continues even after death, then stating that “David, King of Israel, lives and exists” is actual reality, not a parable or a dream. This is what the sages mean in the Jerusalem Talmud when they state that if Mashiach is of the living then his name is David and if he is will come from the dead, then his name is David, meaning that Mashiach is David himself, in whom the borderline between life and death is undefined. This is beautifully alluded to in the numerical value of the phrase, “May my master King David live forever” (??? ???? ???? ??? ????), which is equal to 372, “Mashiach” (????; 358) plus “David” (???; 14), meaning that “May my master the king live forever” (??? ???? ???? ????) equals “Mashiach” (????).

“Isaac loved Esau because of the game in his mouth, cost
but Rebecca loves Jacob.” The sages of all generations have tackled the many questions that arise from this verse: Why did Isaac love Esau? Was he not aware of Esau’s conduct? Why did he want to bless Esau and not his brother Jacob, a tent-dweller dedicated to Torah? And why, after learning that Jacob had “stolen” the blessings did Isaac respond, “Indeed, he shall be blessed”?

Following in the footsteps of the sages, we too will meditate upon these questions in the light of traditional Chassidic interpretations.

Abraham: Spreading light

The key to understanding parashat Toldot lies in the persona of Isaac and in his unique way of serving God. In order to understand how this is so, we will compare the two patriarchs, Isaac and Abraham.

During the first moments of creation, when the world was steeped in darkness, God said, “Let there be light” and the sages teach us that Abraham’s advent similarly illuminated the world with a new light. Abraham wandered from place to place, teaching monotheism to people entrenched in ignorance and vanity. He called out in God’s Name, teaching them faith in God and all-encompassing love.  But, what weight does Abraham place upon mundane reality? The mundane seems to trouble him very little. The world is still far from recognizing God, from following God’s will and Abraham’s main mission in life remains to fill reality with as much light as possible. If, “a small amount of light can dismiss a great deal of darkness,” then even more light can dismiss huge amounts of darkness, illuminating all of reality with Divinity. Abraham ensconced everyone he met in the light of his “mitzvah campaigns” and enlightened them with his Torah, mitzvot and good deeds. Abraham’s only interest in the big wide world is to help it discover God’s oneness, the secret of the Divine nothingness.

Perhaps it is unclear how Abraham’s method could eventually lead to the ultimate rectification and to the advent of Mashiach, but it is obviously true that the world has to be awakened and illuminated. In fact, this is the teaching that the Ba’al Shem Tov learnt from Mashiach himself. The Ba’al Shem Tov asked, “When will you finally come, sir?” and Mashiach replied, “When your wellsprings [i.e., the Ba’al Shem Tov’s Chassidic teachings] are disseminated outwardly.”

Isaac: Digging wells

Isaac’s service of God was totally different from Abraham’s, so much so that it is surprising that Isaac is Abraham’s son. Indeed, the Torah makes a point of stating that Isaac is Abraham’s son, as the verse states, “This is the chronology of Isaac, the son of Abraham; Abraham bore Isaac,” as if there is a need to emphasize that despite the essential difference between them, surprisingly enough, Abraham did indeed bear Isaac.

Isaac did not illuminate the world with mitzvah campaigns. In fact, they seem to have no place in his life. Isaac dug wells. If we meditate on the deeper meaning of digging wells, we can say that Isaac saw the crude material world for exactly what it is, but he also perceived God’s existence in everything, even in coarse matter. Isaac’s goal was to expose the fact that, “God is all, and all is God.” Even the brightest light can only illuminate reality from outside but Isaac desired to penetrate the inner substance of the world and uncover the Divine spark that vitalizes it. Isaac’s consciousness was at the highest realm of truth and he recognized that there is truly “nothing apart from Him.” Although the physical world appears to be an entity separate from its Creator, appearances are misleading. The true nature of reality is exactly the opposite—it is one with God— and the truth must be revealed. Isaac digs and drills deeper and deeper into the earth to reveal that the earth which seems so dry, barren and far-removed from the Divine, is actually a fresh-water well waiting to be revealed; dark and dry reality actually conceals God Himself.

This then is why Isaac loved Esau. He knew that Esau was a full-blooded and tempestuous man of the field, that he lived and breathed the crudeness of the mundane, and that is exactly what Isaac loved about him. Isaac’s greatest desire was to take hold of a hunk of material reality and reveal how it—the created substance of reality (??? ?????)—perfectly reflects the Divine—the true substance of reality (??? ??????). That is why Isaac wanted to bless Esau. Isaac believed that by the power of his blessings, Esau would be transformed into a new man and his very crudeness would expose the true Divinity that vitalizes the world. Whereas Abraham illuminated reality with candles and flashlights, Isaac was searching for the main power switch that would convert night into day in one fell swoop.

Jacob: Long-term clarifications

Having contrasted Isaac with his father Abraham, let us continue to compare between Isaac and his son, Jacob. Jacob’s mission of Divine service was neither to illuminate reality from above, like his grandfather, Abraham, nor to follow Isaac’s philosophy by digging and delving into reality to reveal that everything is Divine. Jacob sets out to clarify and refine reality. On the one hand his philosophy is similar to Isaac’s, because he sullies his hands with physical reality and is not content with illuminating it from the outside. Yet Jacob’s goal is to refine darkness by gradually identifying and gathering more and more sparks of holiness that have fallen into the physical world, and to redeem and elevate them as he did when he salvaged his own herd from Laban’s flocks.

In Chassidic terms this is called the “service of clarifications.” Almost all our Torah study and performance of mitzvot is aimed at achieving this end—to elevate reality piece by piece. This service is by nature protracted and demands patience, as Jacob said to Esau when he tactfully refused his invitation to join him on his journey to Se’ir, “I will move on at my own slow pace… until I reach my master at Seir.” As alluded to by the numerical value of, “I will move on at my own slow pace” (?????? ????), which equals “Israel” (?????)—the name Jacob received from Esau’s own archangel, suggesting that Esau’s essence succumbs to Jacob’s plan—Jacob’s method is to progress slowly and gradually, until reality has indeed been refined and all its good points have been gathered together like flocks at a well. This is Jacob’s program for bringing redemption; a long-term plan that slowly but surely refines reality until all clarifications are complete and we merit the advent of Mashiach.

Delivering a knockout?

But let’s get back to Isaac. He is not at all impressed with Jacob’s service. Isaac does not see Jacob’s plan as fulfilling the purpose of life, because even after all reality has been refined and all the fallen sparks of holiness have been gathered up, the lowest reality itself remains dark and distant from the Divine. In fact, what has happened is that it is now completely empty of all the good that it previously contained and there is nothing left to be done with the empty shells and the refuse that have been left behind during the refining process. Rather, Chassidut teaches us that Isaac’s service was not the service of clarifications but the service of unifications, meaning that his goal was to unite the mundane (all of it) with God Himself.

Whereas Jacob carries on slowly but surely, Isaac’s philosophy is to overcome lower reality in one fell swoop by dealing it a triumphant blow, one hard punch that will knock it out and turn it all into pure Divinity. In our case, this blow is in the form of the superlative blessing that Isaac intended to give to Esau; a blessing that was intended to penetrate so deep into Esau’s psyche that it would reveal the essential Divinity that vitalizes his coarseness. Jacob can continue to sit in his tents, which is all well and good, but Esau’s reformation was Isaac’s primary goal.

But Isaac’s plan went awry and Jacob stole the stage with his mother Rebecca pulling the strings behind the scenes. Rebecca’s soul-root is the same as that of Isaac, which is why they are the Torah’s perfect couple. Yet, although Rebecca was aware of the ultimate goal, revealing that “all is God.” But, she also knew that Isaac was already living that future reality and could not see Esau for what he really was. Rebbeca realized that to reach her and Isaac’s common goal in practice, they would need to involve Jacob. Rebecca did see Esau for what he truly was and concluded that Esau could not be blessed “as is.” She believed that Isaac’s blessing, as potent as it may be, would not transform Esau, who would adamantly refuse to change. The blessings would only infuse him with even more power to continue down his virulent path. The full force of Isaac’s knockout punch would not finish Esau off, and history would have to go many more rounds with him.

Before reality can be transformed it must be refined, because there are some of its aspects that must completely disappear, as the prophet says, “I [God] will remove the unclean spirit from the earth.” In the future we will indeed reach Isaac’s level. At the same time, Esau himself—the good in him—will have been refined. Then, “the redeemed will climbMt.Zionto judge theMountainofEsau.” But in the meantime, we need to follow Jacob’s method.

Jacob was also well aware of this and he was aware that at the end of his long journey he would reach Isaac’s level. He too agreed that there is good in his brother Esau, which is why he wore his clothes, “The voice is the voice of Jacob and the hands are the hands of Esau.” Once Isaac understood the message that Rebecca and Jacob had conveyed to him, he acknowledged the truth of their insights and confirmed his blessing to Jacob, “Indeed, he [Jacob] shall be blessed.”

“We want Mashiach, please!”

Every Jew carries in him the essence of all three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But there are individuals in whom Isaac’s soul-root manifests in particular. In our generation, the Lubavitcher Rebbe led a mass-arousal to usher in the true and complete redemption. The Rebbe constantly stressed that redemption is right here waiting to make its entrance and all we have to do is open our eyes to see it. The Rebbe repeatedly proclaimed: “Mashiach, Now!” He also stressed that Esau himself is now ready for redemption and all that remains for Mashiach to arrive are our final actions.

Of course, the Rebbe knew (better than us) that Isaac eventually submitted to Rebecca and Jacob’s philosophy, but he also saw us as an updated version of Isaac. Thousands of years have passed since Isaac let Jacob lead the way, and we have already come a long, long way with his service of clarification. Indeed, the Rebbe explicitly stated that “the service of clarifications is over.” Jacob’s service has reached its final stage and we are close to achieving Isaac’s goal.

Nonetheless, the Rebbe did not speak of knocking reality out with a single blow. Rather, he taught that redemption should be brought about with pleasant and peaceful ways. Even when the Rebbe cried, “Mashiach, now!” he was not suggesting we forcefully overpower reality. He sent us out to influence the world in a way that the world could understand and accept.

This can be illustrated with a linguistic twist. One word that sounds similar to and means the same as the English “now” (in “Mashiach, now!”) is ??, as in the phrase, “Now I know” (??? ?? ?????), but this word, which is an almost precise transliteration of “now,” also means “please,” as in the phrase, “Please say you are my sister” (???? ?? ????? ??). Apparently, the Lubavitcher Rebbe not only wanted “Mashiach, now!” he also wanted “Mashiach, please!” When we say, “We want Mashiach now!” we also mean, “We want Mashiach, please!” If our request for Mashiach is accepted, then there is nothing to hold him back from appearing at this very moment.

From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class of 28th Cheshvan, 5773

2 Responses to “Why does Isaac love Esau?”

  1. Christina says:

    We should strive to love the Esau that is in every human heart. The goal is to increase the godliness in all. Thank you Rabbi Ginsburgh. This writing gives us much to think about.

    • Barz Ganya says:

      “He dwelleth not in unholy temples.”
      Esau is not in every human heart, and we ought to thank God he is not, because if it were so, God could not enter into our hearts and convert them to HaShem.
      Maybe the evil inclination that overcame Esau’s heart like Cain’s could be overcome through repentance and atonement? God is not a murderer, and so you can’t say a murderer is godly. But anyone may be forgiven.
      For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.
      And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
      Happy belated birthday Mr Ginsburgh and Happy Chanukkah to all!
      Baruch HaShem!