A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth

A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth: Part 15 – Abraham as the Model Educator

Of all the personalities in the Bible, Abraham is considered the archetypal educator whose life modeled the ideals of both inspiration and integration.

To begin with, Abraham embodied the qualities of initiator. He revealed a new level of consciousness, and, as a result, became the progenitor of a new "people"–the Jews. He is associated with the morning prayer, which is recited at the time of day when re-creation is most apparent–the time of new light (dawn) and new awareness (awakening). And the first appearance in the Torah of the grammatical root of chinuch, which we have defined as initiator/inspiration, is in relation to actions taken by him, when he led a force of his trainees (chanichav) to rescue his nephew Lot.

Just as Abraham is the archetype of initiation/inspiration so is he the epitome of integration. The Hebrew word we have identified with integration, hadrachah, has as its root the word derechDerech, meaning "way," is used in the Torah in relation to Abraham in a context that is most illuminating. God explains why He had chosen Abraham:

Abraham is to become a great and mighty nation and through him shall be blessed all the nations of the world. For I have given him special attention because he commands his children and his household after him, and they will preserve the way [derech] of God doing charity and justice…

God indicates here that what distinguished Abraham from all other souls was his commitment and ability to guide others along the path of God.

Abraham is called the "strength of being" (aitan) by the sages, because he is the bedrock foundation of the Jewish people. He was the first to recognize the unity of God on the deepest possible level: not only that God is the Creator and nothing exists except for His will that it should be so; not only that He is the One Life Force that permeates all creation and supports all life and nothing could exist without His constant supply of energy; even more, that there is nothing apart from Him and nothing exists except for Him. (Our sensory experience of "reality" is a temporary fiction, that has no actual or independent existence in relation to God.)

The Tanya–the seminal work of Chabad Hassidism written in the 18th century by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi–explains this ultimate level of unity through the metaphor of the nullification of the rays of the sun in the body of the sun itself. In this phenomenon, we can observe that the independent existence of light rays is possible only when they are apparently separated from their origin. If we were to trace them back to their source, we would see that at their point of "attachment," they cease to exist as separate entities entirely, and become altogether annihilated in the sun itself. So is the relationship of the universe to its Creator. These words are difficult for the mind to grasp, let alone for the heart to know. Nevertheless, this level of recognizing God's ultimate unity is the potential of every descendant of Abraham.

This truth was infused throughout creation, waiting for someone to grasp it, speak it, and make conscious and solid what had only been vague and tenuous. Then came Abraham. His knowledge of God was so deep that it became built into his very being, and as such became part of the inheritance of every one of his descendants. This potentiality of knowing and experiencing the ultimate levels of God's unity is the legacy of Abraham who integrated spiritual understanding into the most physical depths of himself, such that it became a genetic reality that could be transmitted through biological means. Abraham is called the "strength of being" because he took enlightenment, which begins as something vague and intangible, and transformed it into something inseparably bound with concrete physical reality–an actual entity called a Jewish soul. In so doing he accomplished within himself the ultimate unification of the spiritual with the physical.

It is interesting to note in this regard that the Jewish people are the only "social entity" which can be joined from either direction–the physical and the spiritual. On the physical side, one is Jewish if one is the child of a Jewish woman, while on the spiritual side, the first step in conversion to Judaism is to recognize the spiritual truths of Judaism, and choose to devote one's life to Torah. Thus Jewishness is something that represents a complete synthesis of spirituality and physicality.

This strengthening of soul on the deepest possible levels was crystallized through Abraham's ability to stand strong throughout the ten times that he was tested by God. It confers upon Jewish people, the ability to withstand hardship and to draw upon that source of strength in the midst of trial and adversity. Residing in potential within the soul of every Jew is this strength of Abraham, this ability to endure tribulation and prevail. It is as though a part of Abraham himself were present.

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