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Parashat Vayeira: Aliyah by Aliyah

First Reading: Can I Ever Change?

“She laughed at herself saying, ‘Now that I am withered, shall my skin become smooth?! Besides my husband is old.”

Is it realistic to expect that we can change who we are? Our nature? Can we really change? This is the question that plagues anyone going through psychological distress and seeks to heal themselves, their behavior, and just wish they could be different. Is it realistic to expect a fundamental change? Is there a root-level treatment, or is the hope we can be different only wishful thinking?

And from the other side of this equation of change, are the professionals or practitioners promising us they can help us change actually offering something realistic?

Carrying the Burden

Elsewhere, we explained the difference between solving a problem and carrying its burden. According to the Tanya, solving a problem belongs to the work of the tzaddik (the righteous individual), while carrying the burden of a problem or a condition is the work of the beinoni (the so-called intermediate or average individual).

It needs to be said that according to the Tanya, there is very little chance of actually becoming a tzaddik, perhaps only one in a million. Rather, most people need to aspire to become a beinoni. The beinoni, the average individual, is not hopeless. Far from it. The beinoni can repair the so-called garments of his soul—thought, speech, and action—the instruments through which he or she expresses themselves. But internal, essential change, it seems that that is beyond them.

The Space Between Reality and Delusion

There is a part of us, which in and of itself has a place, that tells us: “Stop deluding yourself that you can change! As you are now, so you will always be!” But there is another part, which is also correct, that says: “There is a possibility you could experience a fundamental change in who you are!” In fact, both parts are needed and the dynamics between them are what end up leading to real change and the healing of the psyche.

If a person only dreams rosy dreams of self-improvement, he is certainly deceiving himself. On the other hand, if he is entirely filled with only a dark pessimism about the possibility of change, that is indeed very bad.

The dynamic between a person’s recognition that he cannot change himself and the belief that change is possible is what leads to the maximum possible change.

Self-nullification and Lowliness

In Kabbalistic terms, these two sides of the soul are called mah (מה) and ban (בן), and in corresponding Chasidic psychological language, they are identified as self-nullification and lowliness, respectively. Lowliness is the feeling in the soul that I am very distant from the truth, and this pains me filling me with weeping and lament.

Self-nullification is the negation of experiencing and feeling myself. The less I feel my self, the greater my chances of bringing about an essential change in who I am. The general rule is that the more aware a person is of himself, the less chance he has of changing, and vice versa.

The complementary effects of lowliness and self-nullification are what lead to the changes we hope to see. However, it is important to note that the change that can be experienced in one’s self through the dynamic between lowliness and self-nullification is not complete; it does not a change in the essence. Instead, it is merely a refinement of the nature of our innate traits. This dynamic does make it possible for a person to refine themselves throughout their life. This is the work of “everyman,” of the average individual according to Chabad.

We Can Change Our Character!

The appropriate way to describe this possible refinement is “change in character.” Though our nature cannot be changed, the character traits that express our nature can.[1] From this, we learn that our work in changing our selves and refining our path in life should focus on improving our character.

When considering the physical side of our being, character can be likened to the skin. Like the skin which is located between our garments and our internal body parts, character is what mediates between our innate inner core and our behavior. In Kabbalah, the skin (and hence character) is referred to as the secret of chashmal.[2] As an intermediate layer, symbolically speaking, the skin is where the beinoini—which also means “the person who is in-between”—has influence, and it is where, once again symbolically, the changes are registered and seen.

Softening Our Skin

Maimonides, in his Laws of Character (Hilchot De’ot), focuses on the correct way to achieve a change in character through behavioral changes and through practical actions. In a sense, our actions can be symbolically interpreted as “softening” our skin, i.e., our character traits, through our actions. The garment of action, which is the lowest (or alternately, the most external) of all the soul’s garments, has the greatest impact on the “skin” through practical exercises that refine character.

Action is what softens the “skin” of the attributes, meaning character attributes. This softening is known as “making delicate” (הִתְעַדְּנוּת) in Chasidut, a term that is used to designate the process of character refinement. One could even translate this Hebrew word as smoothing or getting rid of wrinkles, which fits perfectly with the connection to skin. There are many Chassidic stories that teach how proper education can transform a person with a coarse character into one with a softer and more refined character.

Character and Childbirth

In the Torah, one of the most important metaphors for change in character is the process a woman goes through when becoming a mother. The process that takes place during pregnancy and childbirth is likened to the process of character transformation. In the case of a father, significant changes do not typically occur. But, oftentimes, before childbirth, a woman may have experienced sadness, etc. while immediately upon holding her baby, she receives a different, joyful character, as alluded to in the verse, "the mother of the children is joyous.”[3]

Sarah’s Example

Our matriarch Sarah provides an excellent example of the softening associated with character change in the context of childbirth. When Sarah is informed of her impending pregnancy, she says, “Now that I am withered, shall my skin become smooth.”[4] This verse teaches us that to smooth the wrinkles in our skin, akin to attaining a more refined character, one must undergo a withering or shattering of their previous existence. After a person has felt themselves shattered or broken, a sign that they have completed their previous stage of character development, they may merit smoothing out a renewed and more refined one.

This is not a singular event as suggested by the fact that the numerical value of these words, “Now that I am withered, shall my skin become smooth” (אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה לִּי עֶדְנָה) is the same as the numerical values of all the matriarchs together, “Sarah, Rebeccah, Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, Bilhah” (שָׂרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל לֵאָה זִלְפָּה בִּלְהָה)! This verse about the refinement of character expresses the essence of all the mothers of sacred femininity.

The Role of Wisdom in Refining Character

Sarah also thinks to herself, “my husband is old,” when she hears the angel’s prediction that she will have a child in a year. The plain interpretation would seem to be that she is mocking the idea that Abraham, in his old age, could have a child. But based on our interpretation, the deeper meaning is that the adjective “old” (זָקֵן) is an acronym for the phrase, “he who has acquired wisdom”[5] (זֶה קָנָה חָכְמָה). Wisdom is the power of self-nullification, which we have said is one half of what gives hope for change and refinement of character.

(Otzar HaNefesh vol. 1, pp. 112-119)

 

 

Second Reading: The Ten Descents of the Divine Presence

“God said… ‘I will descend and see if their deeds have matched the outcry that has come before Me.’”

One of the most important books of midrash is Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer. Perhaps its most important theme is the topic of Ten Descents —ten instances in which God is described in the Bible as having “descended” into reality.[6] This is usually described as the descent of the Divine Presence, the Shechinah. The final descent is said to occur in the time of the Mashiach, as indicated in the verse, “His [God’s] feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives.”[7] It is believed that during this final descent, there will be events such as the war of Gog and Magog, followed by the Resurrection of the Dead.

God’s Descent and Mankind’s Development

The significance of the concept lies in the idea that while God continuously sustains and oversees the world, there are specific moments or periods marked by these ten descents. Each descent of God into the world is meant to elicit a response of elevation and improvement on the part of reality. This concept is somewhat akin to the principle in physics that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When the energy of God's descent enters the world, it is expected to trigger change and rectification.

In essence, the Ten Descents serves as a conceptual framework to understand how God’s interactions with the world are not static but rather dynamic, with each descent carrying profound implications for the course of history and the spiritual evolution of humanity.

The First Three Descents

The first three descents are associated with sin. The first is after Adam and Eve’s sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. God descended to the Garden of Eden to confront them and inquire about their actions. This descent led to the expulsion from the Garden of Eden with all its implications.

The second descent was when humanity attempted to build the Tower of Babel to challenge God’s authority, God descended to confound their languages and scatter them across the Earth. This event disrupted human unity and resulted in the division of languages and nations.

The third descent occurred in the context of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God descended to Sodom to investigate the wickedness of the city. “Let me go down and see if it is indeed like her cry.” The sages say that He descended to see if the outcry of a young girl, which had risen before Him, was indeed so; and indeed, it was. This young girl wanted to give charity, which in Sodom was prohibited. So, she was tortured severely until death. When God found it to be irredeemably sinful, He destroyed it, sparing only Lot and his family. This event served as a judgment on the moral state of the city.

The Spiritual Meaning Behind the Descents

These first three descents are seen as negative events associated with human sinfulness. However, they also represent opportunities for humanity to reflect on their actions and make positive changes.

Clearly, since there are Ten Descents, they must correspond to the ten sefirot. We can correspond the first three descents to the sefirot in the following manner. The first descent corresponds to the sefirah of kingdom (malchut), since that is where Adam and Eve’s sin was. The Tower of Babel represents the sefirah of foundation (yesod). The young girl who was tortured in Sodom and sealed their fate corresponds to the sefirah of thanksgiving (hod).

(Excerpted from a lecture given on Tu BeShevat 5780)

Third Reading: God’s compassion

“Yet he lingered. So, out of God’s compassion for him, the men grasped him and his wife and two daughters by the hand; they led them out, and left them on the outskirts of the city”

Travails of Lot

The Fifty Gates of Understanding correspond to the 50 times that God’s Name is associated with an adjective or adverb in the Pentateuch. In parashat Vayeira, we find the phrase, “God’s compassion” (חֶמְלַת הוי'). This phrase appears only once in the Pentateuch, in the story of Lot’s flight from Sodom. Two angels came to rescue Lot, Abraham’s nephew, but Lot tarries.  He hates to leave his hometown, even though it is about to be obliterated by God.

As Lot procrastinates, fire and brimstone from heaven start to rain down on Sodom and Gomorrah, the twin cities of evil. The Torah tells us that God had compassion for Lot. Lot was not a tzaddik like his uncle Abraham but compared to his evil neighbors in Sodom and Gomorrah, he looked like one. More importantly, as Abraham’s nephew, he accrued special merit:

And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.[8]

Lot merited salvation as the nephew of Abraham, but he earned God’s compassion as he carried within him the spark of the Mashiach:

But he [Lot] tarried, and the men [angels] laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; God’s compassion was upon him, and they brought him out, and set him outside the city.[9]

The beginning of this verse “but he tarried” (וְיִתְמַהְמַהּ) is echoed in the Book of Habakkuk in a verse relating to the Mashiach.[10] This is a very rare word, and it is read in a very unusual way (according to the cantillation marks that indicate how to sing the melody of the words in the Torah). The most complex of the cantillation marks is called the shalshelet, which requires the voice to go up and down three times, creating tremendous melodic tension.

Lot and His Material Possessions

In the final minutes before the total destruction of the city, Lot tarries. The sages explain that he was worried about his money. To save him, the angels had to physically take him by the hand and lead him out. Had they not done so, he would have remained.

In explaining the Torah’s commandment to love God, “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all of your might (מְאֹדֶךָ),” the sages interpret the word translated as “might” as possessions, i.e., money. This is said to be the highest form of love. Lot’s behavior is an example of the violation of this commandment—his money was literally worth more to him than his life. If the rectification of Lot’s mentality, which still pervades the world, would take place, then the “might,” your state of being, the root of your life, would be revealed in the world.

The numerical value of “Lot” (לוֹט), 45 is numerically equivalent to “very” (מְאֹד) as well as “man” and “Adam” (אָדָם). 45 is also the value of the word “what” (מָה), which appears twice in the word “he tarried” (וְיִתְמַהְמַהּ). Lot is considered one of the incarnations of Adam, and he bore Adam’s curse—in Aramaic, Lot means “curse”—that followed Adam’s banishment from the Garden of Eden. When this curse is rectified man will be called “very” (מְאֹד), another name for the Mashiach.[11]

Kabbalah explains that the soul of the Mashiach was in Lot even more than in Abraham.  The story of how his daughters had relations with their father, believing they were the last people left on earth who had to populate the world anew, shows the hand of Divine Providence. About this the sages say that these are the hidden secrets of God that we cannot possibly understand.

From Lot’s union with his daughters came the nations of Moab and Ammon, and from these two nations came Ruth, who was the great-grandmother of King David, and Na’amah, the wife of King Solomon, and the mother of Rechavam, through whom the lineage of the Mashiach flows.

The Mashiach and Compassion

God’s compassion for Lot was an expression of feelings of empathy or sorrow for the spark of Mashiach within this cursed person, Lot. The sages say that whenever God reveals one of His attributes in creation, He simultaneously reveals the opposite. At the Red Sea, for example, God’s right hand was uplifted to save the Jewish people, and at the same time, the same right hand was destroying the Egyptians.  Right always refers to loving-kindness. That same right hand of loving-kindness fulfilled two opposite functions simultaneously. In the case of compassion, God’s warmth/heat is being expressed in two opposite ways.  In one form, it is God’s anger at Sodom and Gomorrah which results in the burning of the twin cities; in another form, it is the compassion for the spark of Mashiach in Lot which results in Lot’s salvation.

The concept of compassion is so great in Torah that the very first thing a Jew says every morning—a prayer that is called the foundation of the whole day—is Modeh Ani, “I am thankful that You have returned my soul to me with compassion, great is Your faithfulness.” The final words of this prayer—“great is Your faithfulness”—imply that just as I now experience Your compassion in returning my soul to me, I experience renewed faith in the Resurrection of the Dead that will be in the future. When one is asleep, one is considered one part in sixty dead.  When one experiences the morning dew of resurrection in getting up from sleep, one’s faith is strengthened in the absolute Resurrection of the future.

Chasidut gives a deeper insight into this explanation. The word “great” means to expand, to grow, to be raised up. By experiencing God’s compassion, one’s faith in God becomes enlarged infinitely. The Hebrew word for “great” (רַבָּה) has the same numerical value as “without end” (אֵין סוֹף), one of God’s most important connotations, referring to His limitlessness.

God’s compassion, as expressed in the Torah, is for the imprisoned soul of Mashiach within Lot.  It should be part of our morning meditation that God has compassion on the spark of Mashiach within each one of us as well; this will enhance our faith infinitely.

 

(Excerpted from a manuscript on the Fifty Gates of Understanding)

 

Fourth Reading: Marriage, Intimacy, and Prophecy

“Now, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet. He will pray for you, and you will live.”

In the hearts of every man and woman who are married lies a hidden, secret point of deep love for one another. However, it is not enough for this love to remain concealed, even if it is felt emotionally. It must be revealed within the relationship between the couple. When love remains a concealed secret in their hearts, each partner may fear that the other does not love them, potentially destabilizing the relationship. Love does not need to be put openly on display for everyone to see, but it is crucial that it be clearly evident to the couple themselves. Revealing the secret of love (the inner experience of the sefirah of loving-kindness), serves to establish and build the home and the reality or world in which the couple lives and flourishes. As the Bible says, “Reality shall be built with loving-kindness.”[12] By recognizing and revealing their love for each other, the couple strengthens and reinforces the foundation of their relationship, creating a harmonious and enduring partnership.

Marriage and Covenant

Love, in general, is expressed through acts of kindness and words of love and kindness between the couple. However, the secret of love (the inner aspect of loving-kindness), which it is so important for the couple to openly share is revealed primarily through the sefirah of foundation. Foundation is the power of the soul involved in substantiating the vitality in our emotions. Foundation is also the sefirah associated with the concept of a covenant. A covenant represents the bond forged between two parties to remain faithful to one another, despite anything that might happen in the future. When a covenant is made, it is viewed as an agreement that transcends reason and self-interest. At the root of every marriage there must be a covenant. The concealed, essential love must be turned into the bedrock of a stable marriage through the power of the sefirah of foundation, the power of the covenant.

The Role of Intimacy in Marriage

The complex relationship between love and the sefirah of foundation is experienced during modest acts of marital union. Even though love is revealed and experienced intensely during marital union, the exposure does not ruin the good taste of the secret love that continues to reside within.

It is important to understand that disclosing love between the couple is the very essence of the act of physical, marital union. The physical intimacy between the couple that the Torah defines as mitzvah, an obligation for the man, is intended to encourage the man to fulfill his wife’s needs for companionship and a sense of longing and belonging. The sages provide guidelines for how frequently each husband should provide his wife with physical intimacy, taking into account his strength and his obligations. However, the overarching consideration is the woman’s needs, which leads them to state that those individuals who are at leisure should be with their wives every day. Almost surely there are few women who long for physical intimacy every day, so why do the sages make this statement? Because we need to recall that a woman expects her husband, when he is unburdened by his work, to long for physical contact with her daily. If he does not, she quickly suspects and fears that he does not love her.[13] Thus, physical intimacy is not only about the fulfillment of physical desires, but also, and mainly, about expressing the inner love between the couple.

Stages of Intimacy

If the ultimate purpose of marriage is the revelation of the secret of love, then this revelation should follow the already established order of revelation with regard to a secret, as outlined by the sages:[14]

Initially, the secret was revealed to those who fear God (יְרֵאָיו), as it is written, “The secret of Havayah is with those who fear Him.”[15]

It was then given to the upright (יְשָׁרִים), as it says, “And the secret of Havayah is with the upright.”[16]

Subsequently, it was given to the prophets (נְבִיאִים), as it is written, “[God does nothing] unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.”[17]

The order suggested in this passage reveals that the preparation for marital intimacy should be fear of God. The fear of sin and the fear of forgetting God protect the couple from the clutches of extraneous diversions in mind and spirit. Fear of God also prevents the loss of love the couple has for each other—the loss of which can deteriorate into intimacy that is self-serving and aimed only at self-indulgence.

Indeed, the joy of intimacy should manifest as a state of “the hearts of the upright are joyful.” Between the couple, there should be a natural and earnest joy guiding the act of intimacy, which frees it from any complications, disturbances, or impurities that may arise from indulgence in immoral desires.

The final stage of prophecy is like a mirror image of intimacy. It naturally awakens at the climax of the marital union to complete the bond between the couple with a seal of love. After the actual union, it is the responsibility of the spouses to act like “prophets” that pray for the conception and birth of a child and at the same time foresee the child's future, who will live a productive life long after they themselves. This is exemplified by Abraham, who is described by the sages as righteous, upright, and a prophet. God told Avimelech that Abraham was his hope, “For he is a prophet, and he will pray for you.” In fact, this is the first instance that the word “prayer” appears in the Torah, and its result was indeed the birth of a child.

In such a marriage, where the spouses are upright, God-fearing, and prophetic, “wine” (יַיִן) whose letters are the initials of “God-fearing, upright, and prophets” (יְרֵאִים יְשָׁרִים נְבִיאִים) enters, and the secret of love is revealed.

(Yayin Mesame’ach vol. 2, pp. 49-51)

 

Fifth Reading: Sarah’s Sensitivity

“She said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this bondwoman and her son, for the son of this bondwoman will not inherit together with my son, Isaac’”

The main narrative in the fifth reading is the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael. Ousting foreigners from the land corresponds to the fifth of the seven emotive sefirot, the sefirah of acknowledgment (hod). Acknowledgment also corresponds to the body’s immune system, which is tasked with identifying foreign organisms that are dangerous, must be fought against, and expelled.

To expel Hagar and Ishmael, God instructs Abraham to acknowledge the correctness of Sarah’s judgment that Ishmael could not and should not have any part in Abraham’s legacy. God says to him, “Everything that Sarah tells you to do, listen to her voice.” Listening, or hearing relates to the sefirah of understanding (binah), which extends all the way to the sefirah of acknowledgment (בִּינָה עַד הוֹד אִתְפַּשְּׁטַת). Abraham indeed acknowledges that Sarah has greater insight than he does.

On these words, “Listen to her voice,” Rashi writes, "[listen] to the holy spirit within her. From here we learn that Abraham was secondary to Sarah when it came to prophecy.” The explicit reference to Abraham as a prophet is found in the fourth reading of the parashah, in the verse, “Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet.” Thus, Abraham corresponds to the sefirah of victory (netzach) and Sarah to the sefirah of acknowledgment (hod), the two sefirot that are considered the source of prophecy. In addition, we have now learnt that the prophecy emanating from the sefirah of acknowledgment surpasses that which originates from victory.

The Earnestness of the Present

After the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, a situation arises where Ishmael is cast under one of the shrubs, inclined to die, until God hears his voice “as he is.” What these words mean is that despite all the death and suffering Ishmael would bring to the world in the future, at the present moment, “he is being judged based on his current actions, not on what he will do in the future.”[18] This too connects with the sefirah of acknowledgment, whose inner experience is one of earnestness (תְּמִימוּת). In our service of God with our faculties, earnestness means to refrain from investigating the future. From God’s unconditional assessment of Ishmael, there is a lesson on how to relate to everyone with earnestness and consider them “as is.”

(Amudeha Shivah, Bereishit, p. 101)

 

Sixth Reading: The Claims of Impurity Against Holiness

“Avimelech said, ‘I do not know who did this thing, nor did you tell me, nor did I hear about it until today.’”

Avimelech stole the wells that Abraham had dug. A well’s gushing water symbolizes the ability to express and vocalize one’s inner vitality and convictions in a way that can provide spiritual sustenance for many other people. Yet Abraham confronted Avimelech about his actions. He argued that it is from his commitment to God that the words that need to gush forth to rectify the world must come. How dare Avimelech ignore this truth and deny it by assuming the role that should obviously be held by Abraham, God’s prophet.

In response, Avimelech counters with three arguments:

First, “I did not know who did this thing.” Implying (based on his other words) that he did not even know about the theft of Abraham’s well, and his point is: You, Abraham, also did not make a big fuss over the matter, and you permitted the situation to remain as it is.

Second, says Avimelech, “You too did not tell me about it.” This is a new argument and it implies that even if I should have known without you telling me, for some reason I was not informed, and it was your duty to let me know yourself.

Thirdly, argues Avimelech, “And I have not heard until today.” It implies that not only did I not know, but there was also no murmuring about the situation that reached me.

These arguments are archetypes. They represent the types of arguments that the husks of impurity in the world, those forces that oppose holiness, make. They present us with an explanation of why and how impurity leeches off holiness. Let’s look at them one by one.

“I did not know”

To analyze Avimelech’s arguments, we must see him as the representative of all that is unruly, lawless, wrongful, and destructive and Abraham as the representative of God.

The first argument makes the claim that I did know because you do not know, i.e., God Himself does not really care about the difference between good and evil, between order and chaos, and therefore, the impure forces have a right to live lawlessly, to live as they see fit. They too can ignore all that does not lie in their own interest. To know implies an interest in what and who is outside of oneself. And if he who claims to represent the superior morality (Abraham) is not willing to take responsibility and care for those who are locked into their husk and are unwilling to see what lies beyond them, then that seclusion grants the forces of impurity the right to continue with their own seclusion and self-involvement.

The impurity in the world expects holiness that even while it nurtures and preserves its own uniqueness, it should still engage with those outside its circle. There needs to be an awareness that the “other” is also “me,” so even when I turn inward, I cannot ignore the “other.” When I ignore the “other,” I refute the claim that the “other” is eventually meant to find themselves and their rectification within me and my way. Still, though while we cannot necessarily deal with the “other” at the present moment—whether because we are preoccupied with ourselves, or perhaps even because it is the “other” that prevents us from having the luxury of doing so—holiness and morality might still have the duty of at least inwardly thinking of what the “other’s” true role might be in completing holiness.

So much for the first argument.

Holiness Should Take the Initiative

Avimelech's second argument was that Abraham should have informed him of the theft of the wells—meaning Abraham should have taken the initiative to engage Avimelech.

What this boils down to is that holiness should not always need to be completely self-contained, even in situations where the outside reality is opposed to it. There are instances when holiness can engage with the outside world, especially when there is a genuine issue. In such cases, engaging with the outside can eventually lead to objective realizations that allow for a more complete understanding and even translation of my interest in the “other” into the language the “other” can understand and relate to.

The stress in the second argument is not so much on one’s psychological leaning (to stay isolated), but rather on one’s ability to explain one’s conceptual scheme to others. The act of explanation requires a meeting to take place, for there is no essential difference between the translation into the other’s language and reality and the other himself. Whether explaining something to oneself or to others, it requires a certain level of objectivity, as if stepping outside of oneself to provide a more universal perspective.

Avimelech is demanding a thorough and articulate explanation from Abraham about his own perspective. You Abraham, he claims, should have engaged me in a deeper dialogue. You possess valuable insights that could have enriched me and drawn me towards you. Your hesitation to speak up, claims Avimelech, might have stemmed from the fear of revealing too much, a fear that the gap between the worldviews of holiness and its opposite are too vast to bridge, and that there might be no common language or understanding possible; but those fears were unfounded.

The Higher Self

Avimelech's third argument, “And I too did not hear,” uses the exalted word for “I” (אנכי), which signifies a profound sense of selfhood, or as one might say, “the higher self.” Avimelech’s claim is that Abraham’s higher self was not heard, and consequently, Avimelech’s higher self was not heard either. This is not about spoken words, which were the topic of the previous claim; this claim is about the melody of one’s words. Says Avimelech, “I did not hear your melody, your refined explanations and proclivities.” Although you spoke, it was not your deep and resonating truth. Perhaps you did not speak at all because an individual who derives pleasure from his higher self is compelled to share that pleasure with others and feels confident in overcoming obstacles. However, you seemed afraid to give of yourself.

To recap, the husks of impurity make the following claims and arguments:

  1. Despite being focused on yourself, you should have taken an interest in me, acknowledging me as part of yourself.
  2. Your engagement should have eventually led to willingness and the ability to extend yourself beyond your limited self, to communicate with me and explain to me.
  3. There's still something lacking at your core. Your melody is off-key and your connection to that which is wondrous and lies beyond this world has yet to be fully integrated into your being.

 

(Rucho Shel Mashiach, pp. 130-139)

 

[1]. In Chasidic language the distinction is between the “innate character traits” (מִדּוֹת טִבְעִיּוֹת), which cannot normally be changed and the “nature of our character traits” (טֶבַע הַמִּדּוֹת), designating our behavior, which can be refined over time.

[2]. Perhaps the most mysterious word in the entire Bible, it is repeated 3 times in Ezekiel’s vision of the Divine Chariot.

[3]. Psalms 113:9.

[4]. Genesis 18:12.

[5]. Proverbs 4:7.

[6]. Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer, ch. 14 and ff. In fact, the entirety of the book from chapter 14 and on is based on these 10 descents. Interestingly, the discussion of the final 2 descents is missing from our edition of the book, which led Rabbi David Luria, its most important commentator to suggest that our edition is deficient.

[7]. Zechariah 14:4.

[8]. Genesis 19:29.

[9]. Ibid. v. 16.

[10]. Habbakuk 2:3.

[11]. See Isaiah 52:13.

[12].

[13]. See Igrot Moshe Even Ha’ezer 3:28.

[14]

[15]. Psalms 25:14.

[16]. Proverbs 3:32.

[17]. Amos 3:7.

[18].

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