Feed on

In Parashat Vayeitzei we read the account of Jacob’s marriages and the birth of eleven of his twelve sons, here the twelve tribes of Israel. In fact, Benjamin, Jacob’s twelfth son’s birth is also alluded to in the parashah in Rachel’s words with which she gives meaning to Joseph’s name, “God will add [Yosef] me another son.”

In contrast to Abraham and Isaac’s households, which still contained Ishmael and Esau, foreign elements that needed to be dispelled, Jacob’s family is the consummate “Jewish home” from which the Jewish people have evolved to this very day. The concept of a “house” is unique to Jacob, beginning with his referring to theTempleMountas a “house of God” and following through to the next parashah, where it states, “and he shall build me a house.” Similarly, the prophet refers to the entire Jewish people as the “House of Jacob.”

Every detail that is mentioned in the parashah concerning the development of Jacob’s home has great significance, this time we will relate to the difference between his two wives, Rachel and Leah.

Mother of two

It is difficult to decide which of the two women is the more important. From Jacob’s perspective, it is clear that he loves Rachel from the very start and until the very end. He wants Rachel for his wife, and it is for this right that he worked fourteen years altogether tending Laban’s flocks.

In contrast, Leah enters Jacob’s house involuntarily, through Laban’s devious trick, and she remains second-best, as Rashi comments on the verse, “He called Rachel and Leah” – “First he called Rachel and then Leah, since Rachel was the mainstay of the home.” Let us not forget that Leah is also referred to as “despised” (at least in comparison to Rachel).

However, from the point of view of Divine providence, Leah apparently has a superior status. It is clear that the backbone of the Jewish people in all generations is primarily based on the tribes that were born from Leah, who also constitute the majority in terms of numbers. The tribe of Levi, for example, became the priests and Levites chosen to serve God (the “crown of priesthood”). Moses, who received the Torah directly from God’s mouth, was also from the tribe of Levi (the “crown of Torah”). Similarly, the tribe of Judah, another one of Leah’s sons, received the “crown of kingdom” and from them came King David and his pedigree. So we see that the three “crowns” afforded to the Jewish people were all given to Leah’s sons. Furthermore, it has been many generations since Rachel’s sons do not form an integral part of the Jewish people (since the exile of the ten tribes at the end of the First Temple period) and most of the Jewish people today are from Leah’s offspring. Even the Hebrew word meaning “Jew” (?????) relates to the tribe of Judah(?????).

But Rachel and Leah are both Matriarchs. Even though we may not be directly descended from Rachel, all the tribes are inter-included within one another and each one of them includes facets of all the others. Every Jew is welcome to pray at Rachel’s Tomb in Beit Lechem or at Leah’s tomb in the Machpelah Cave in Hebron. We can turn to either of them as we would to our own mother, like an infant in his mother’s arms, or as a lost child who comes home to his mother’s nest.

Here we are touching upon the very deepest foundations of the Jewish home, the soul-roots of the Jewish people and we reveal that they are constructed from two pillars, Rachel and Leah, each one contributing her own unique and indispensable emphasis.

A hidden world and a revealed world

Kabbalah and Chassidut explain that Rachel represents the revealed dimension of reality, while Leah represents its concealed dimension. One illustration of the difference between these two dimensions can be found in the distinction between the world of halachah, Jewish law, representing the Torah’s revealed dimension, and Midrash, Kabbalah, and Chassidut, representing the Torah’s inner, more concealed dimension.

Pairing Rachel and Leah with the revealed and concealed worlds is anchored in the revealed, the literal (pshat), meaning found in the Torah’s verses. Rachel is described as having, “beautiful features and a beautiful countenance,” qualities that are apparent to all who see her. She herds her father’s sheep alone, while her sister Leah is apparently hidden away at home. All that we know about Leah is that her eyes were “soft,” which doesn’t necessarily mean that she was not beautiful, but her beauty was certainly not as obvious as her younger sister’s. Rashi explains that Leah’s eyes were soft from weeping, another quality of someone who is involved with his or her inner world, in contrast to someone practical (like Rachel) who has little time for weeping and tears…

Jacob’s relationship with Rachel and Leah also reflects this very difference between the revealed and the concealed. Rachel is Jacob’s revealed wife, to whom he is consciously attracted and in whom he identifies his partner in life. In contrast, Leah is hidden from Jacob. Of course she too is his spouse, but Jacob apparently does not hold this fact in the forefront of his consciousness. Witness his initial surprise the morning after wedding Leah; he believed that he had married Rachel, and was not aware of Leah’s true identity. In other words, Jacob loves the revealed aspect of the world and therefore feels drawn to Rachel, but he is not so attracted with the world’s concealed dimension, which is why he takes no special interest in Leah.

Where can I find God?

One might imagine that only individuals who have an understanding of hidden mysteries will feel close to God, while those involved with the material world and its marked impression on our physical senses will not experience that closeness. Because God of course, is the most hidden of all. But this is a mistake. A connection with the Divine is just as important and possible for those involved with the inner dimension of reality and those involved with reality’s revealed aspects. However, the connection each forges with the Creator has a different vector force.

The individual leaning towards reality’s concealed dimensions shares Leah’s soul root. Such an individual must turn upwards to find God. He or she contemplates the Divine with increasing abstraction from physical matter. This individual realizes more and more that in the world we live in, God is completely invisible and that physicality conceals its Divine source, which is exactly why his soul root is drawn to hidden dimensions. There, paradoxically, God is more apparent. Such an individual can actually never reach his ultimate goal, because as quest to solve God’s mystery reaches higher and higher (or, some might say, deeper and deeper), there is always another level of mystery lying ahead. However high the seeker flies, God remains infinitely beyond his grasp. This is the secret of Leah’s soft eyes, eyes that constantly gaze deeper and deeper into God’s secrets until they are weary of gazing at these bright, supernal lights.

In contrast, the individual whose sensibilities drive him or her to reality’s revealed, material dimension shares Rachel’s soul-root. Such an individual is not find hidden matters very revealing. He believes that “The secrets are for God, our God.” Yet he too finds God, right here in our revealed world with great simplicity, by observing God’s commandments. The first halachah in the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law, presents a formula for finding God right here in reality’s revealed dimension with the halachah: “‘I set God before me at all times’ is a great principle in the Torah and the level attained by the righteous who walk before God.” This is a short, practical down-to-earth meditation that suits the individual attached with material reality: everywhere I am, God is the King who watches me. There are no secrets in this, everything is revealed and obvious, short and to the point.

It may not be easy to live with this constant awareness, which is why it is “a level attained by the righteous who walk before God.” Nonetheless, it is the task of reinforcing the revealed level, until we reach the awareness that everywhere we look, we see God before us. In this vein, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev would sing his song “Dudele” (“du” in Yiddish means “you”): “Up – You, down – You, east – You, west – You, south – You, north – You.” Everywhere I look it’s You, You and You again.

Yaakov needs both Rachel and Leah

Loving Rachel as he does, Jacob is apparently a man of the revealed world. As much as he is a “tent-dweller” and as much as he studies Torah for fourteen whole years, depriving himself of sleep the whole while, nonetheless, his main interest lies in this revealed world in which we must work and which needs clarification and rectification (see last week’s article). This is why Jacob does not attracted to Leah. Unending meditation on God’s secrets is a pleasant game, but we need to rectify the revealed world. This is also how Chassidut explains that the main part of the redemption depends on “the construction of the persona of Rachel” – since the hidden dimension stands already rectified, while our main task is to rectify the revealed.

Yet, in contrast to Jacob’s obvious opinion, God wanted him to marry Leah too. We should never dispense of our interest in the hidden dimension, and in the end we must join it together with the revealed. If we try to make do with the simple and revealed consciousness that God is the King and he is in front of me wherever I go without experiencing the depths of the inner world, we are liable to dry up. We must delve deeper and deeper into the Torah’s mysteries, fathoming the hidden depths of its ocean and then the return to the revealed world will appear totally different. Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev could sing the “Dudele” only because he was connected with all his heart to the hidden world.

By the same measure, we cannot dispense with finding God in reality’s revealed dimension, because the truth is that however wondrous Leah’s meditation on God’s secrets is, Rachel’s direct awareness of “I place God before me at all times” has something even more wondrous about it. Its wonder comes in the form of an awareness of the revealed world that admits that we are infinitely distant from God. Its wonder infuses us with a greater sense of wonder than we experience by pondering on the lights and worlds of the upper spheres, where God seems to somehow be closer and more accessible.

By rising higher we absorb more and more Divinity, but this is an infinite process and every time we achieve something finite it is like a drop in the ocean with reference to the infinite where every advance is relatively standing in one spot. Rachel understands that instead of rising heavenwards to discover “lofty lights” we need to know how to see the essence shining in our world. It is thus Rachel in particular who teaches us the wonder of God even more than her sister.

Mystery and marvel

In Chassidic terms, meditating on the Torah’s hidden dimensions is described as revealing God’s “transcendent” light, the light that surrounds all reality (and our consciousness), but can never be fully integrated. Meditating on the Torah’s revealed teachings is called meditating on God’s “imminent” light – the light that fills all reality and is immediately accessible to our intellects.

In Hebrew, “transcendent” (????) is numerically equivalent to “secret” (???)  and “imminent” is equal to the gematria of “marvel” (???). From now on, we can identify Leah as the “woman of mystery” while the Rachel is best described as a “woman of marvel.”

The higher we rise towards the transcendent light we reveal higher mysteries, and in contrast, the simple recognition that God’s imminent light is His kingdom on earth reveals the tremendous marvel – God Himself who chooses our world and recreates it at every moment.

““House of Jacob, let us go and we shall follow in God’s light:” may we all merit to join Rachel and Leah together – to grow with the marvel of the imminent light and to infuse ourselves more and more with the secret of the transcendent light, which only together manifest God’s perfect light.

from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class of the 6th of Kislev, 5773

Two hundred and fourteen years ago, pills check on the 19th of Kislev 5559, order the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, was released from prison in Russia. His arrest was in fact the result of libelous slander spread by opponents to the Chassidic movement. In spite of this revealed fact, the Alter Rebbe realized that his arrest reflected spiritual opposition to his new method of disseminating the Torah’s inner dimension openly. From both perspectives, his release from prison was a victory for Chassidut and a heavenly decree that indeed the light of Chassidic teachings should illuminate the farthest and darkest extremes. From that day on, Chabad Chassidim, and all those who hold dear the light Chassidut spreads around the world, celebrate the 19th of Kislev, the Alter Rebbe’s “festival of redemption,” as a festive day.

The Alter Rebbe wrote a letter to his good friend, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, announcing his acquittal. He wrote, “Who am I, a lowly person as I am, that God has brought me this far and Heaven’s Name was sanctified through me…. But it was God who gave us this privilege by virtue of the Holy Land and its residents, and may He help us at all times to broaden our borders, and extricate us from dire straits.” It is surprising that of all his myriad accomplishments, teaching Torah to thousands, his Torah learning, his prayer and his charity, the Alter Rebbe saw fit to attribute his release to the merit of the land of Israel in particular (followers enumerated the Alter Rebbe’s ten principal merits, so apparently, the merit of the Holy Land was the greatest of them all).

The merit of the Holy Land and its residents that the Alter Rebbe mentions in his letter, refers to his wholehearted encouragement that his followers send financial support to the Jewish communities residing in the land of Israel at that time, in particular to the community of Chassidim who had settled there some twenty years earlier under the auspices of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, the Alter Rebbe’s teacher and friend. for whom, the monetary support was vital. In fact, this financial support was the main cause behind the Alter Rebbe’s arrest, as his opponents used it to falsely charge him with assisting the Ottoman Empire, enemies of the Czar. Humorously, we might state that the Alter Rebbe was implying that just as the Holy Land was the source of his arrest, it was also his chief advocate in Heaven ensuring his release.

“The merit of the landof Israel” is a concept often gleaned from Parashat Vayishlach, which is always read with proximity to the 19th of Kislev. Before Jacob met Esau, the verse states, “Jacob was very fearful.” What did the righteous Jacob, an honest and sincere tent-dweller, the choice of the Patriarchs, have to fear from the evil Esau? The sages explain Jacob’s fear in the Midrash, “Yaakov said: All these years Esau has been dwelling in the land of Israel, perhaps he is coming against me with the spiritual merit of living in the land of Israel?”

Before Jacob’s rendezvous with Esau he said, “with Laban I have sojourned” and Rashi interprets, “I have sojourned (????) has a gematria of 613, meaning that I lived with the evil Laban and observed 613 mitzvot.” One can observe all 613 mitzvot, but as long as one remains outside the borders of the land of Israel, something essential is lacking; mitzvah observance outside the land of Israel is metaphorically described as “placing signposts” (see Jeremiah 31:20) relative to mitzvah observance in the Holy Land. So, despite all of Esau’s wicked deeds, he has one merit that stands up to Jacob’s exemplary conduct: his steadfast hold on the Holy land.

Sowing charity

To delve deeper into the nature of the merit of the land of Israel, let’s look at the Alter Rebbe’s open letters in which he encouraged his disciples to give charity to the Jewish community in the land of Israel. In these letters, the Alter Rebbe clarifies in depth the importance of charity in general and charity for the Holy land’s residents in particular.

The Alter Rebbe explains in length the special significance of observing the practical mitzvot. The soul’s descent into this world is meant to rectify it, through the physical body, by clarifying and elevating it. Thus, despite the supernal intentions filling one’s heart through the fear and love of God, intentions, life’s purpose is found in the actions performed with our physical body, by means of physical objects (such as the animal hide from which tefillin are made).

Yet the mitzvah of charity has the most special effect, so much so that whenever the Jerusalem Talmud speaks of a generic mitzvah it is actually referring to charity. This is because what a person gives to charity is literally his lifeblood. representing an investment of time and effort in mundane reality and used to sustain our existence in the physical world (like Jacob who worked with all his might and indeed, he took great care of his acquisitions, even crossing over the Yabok passage at night to retrieve “small vessels”). Thus, charity is not merely another in a long list of mitzvot, but an all inclusive mitzvah, by which the individual gives from his very being. By giving charity, we observe the injunction to “Love God with all your might,” which the sages explain means, “with all your money.”

The act of giving charity is compared to sowing a field. But, this is not an earthly field that we sow with our charity, rather it is the “supernal land,” the source of all Jewish souls. Once the seeds of charity have been sown, they begin to grow and bear fruit in the form of a Divine light of redemption descending from above. It is God who is referred to as, “Sower of charitable deeds and Grower of redemption.” When the fruits of charity ripen they become tangible moments of redemption for the soul and when all of this light descends upon us, we will together experience the true and complete redemption. This is the meaning of the phrase, “charity is great, for it brings redemption.”

All this holds true every time a Jew gives a penny to charity, but charity for the residents of the Holy Land has as an even more outstanding quality. This is because the mundane, earthly land of Israel identifies with and reflects the “supernal land,” mentioned above. Residents of the Holy Land have the privilege of “walking before God in the lands [plural!] of life,” meaning that they live simultaneously both in the land of Israel below and in its supernal counterpart above. Every good deed performed here, is immediately sown in the higher land where it ripens into redemption. Outside the Holy Land, the spirit of all good deeds follows a winding path until it eventually influences reality. But, good deeds performed in the land of Israel, follow a direct path from the “mundane arousal” motivating the individual performing the act to the “supernal arousal” from above, bringing the light of redemption into reality.

The verse states that, “The eyes of Havayah, your God, are constantly upon it [the Holy Land].” God’s Providence over the Holy Land is likened to sight, which operates at the speed of light, and in a straight line. But, God’s Providence over the rest of the world is likened to hearing, which operates at the much slower speed of sound and indirectly. This is the difference between the land of Israel and all other countries.

One most relevant application of charity for the land of Israel today is the support of Jewish labor in Israel. Usually, using Jewish labor appears far more costly than the alternatives. But, in truth, it is far more precious and the difference is certainly the highest form of charity dedicated to the well-being and success of the Jewish residents of the Holy Land.

A ladder between heaven and earth

Now we can better understand the significance of the “merit of the land of Israel” that was so precious in Jacob’s eyes and in the eyes of the Alter Rebbe. The merit of the Holy Land is the great merit of living in a land where every act performed has inherent value, in a land that supports fruitful dialogue between heaven and earth, between body, soul and the source of all souls, and between the Jewish people and the Almighty.

It is the greatest thinkers—those spiritual giants who delve with their intellect into higher worlds to fathom the unknown—who best understand the secret hidden in the lowest, material world. It is they who recognize the special quality of the Land of Life. Though Jacob sees a ladder reaching the heavens above and “God standing over him,” he is also the one to recognize the importance of the ladder’s base, standing with its feet on the ground revealing the importance of possessing the land and settling it. His first act upon returning to the land of Israel from Haran is to purchase a plot of land outside the city of Shechem.

It follows then that the Alter Rebbe, with all his far-reaching intellectual work and in-depth study of the Divine and the depths of the human soul, would be the one to appreciate and emphasize the great significance of mundane action, from the act of giving a single coin to a needy individual to supporting the entire Jewish community in the land of Israel.

Our generation’s task is to complete the connection between heaven and earth, between revealing the inner dimension of the Torah’s mysteries in the era of redemption and reestablishing the Jewish kingdom, here on earth.

Comments are closed.