Parshat Toldot: How Is Mazal Different From Karma?

Isaac On the Altar

In Kabbalah, it is stated that until he was bound on the altar, Isaac could neither bond with a woman in marriage nor have children, for his soul exhibited only feminine traits (in Kabbalah this is called being from the world of the feminine, עַלְמָא דְנוּקְבַא ) associated with the sefirahof might. It is well known of course that Isaac’s soul is the archetype of the sefirah of might. But, thanks to his binding on the altar, his own soul root in might was inter-included with his father Abraham’s soul essence, the sefirah of loving-kindness. Loving-kindness, which lies on the right axis of the sefirot, represents the male aspect in the sefirot. And thus Isaac’s soul now included a male element.

This inter-inclusion was the result of the tremendous self-sacrifice exhibited by both himself, in willingly going with his father to be offered as a sacrifice, and by his two parents Abraham and Sarah. Though Sarah did not explicitly know about Abraham’s intent to sacrifice their son at God’s behest, it seems that subconsciously she was weary of some terrible fate that awaited him on his early morning trip with her husband, Abraham. We know this because immediately upon being told that Abraham had bound Isaac (ostensibly, to be sacrificed), she parted the world. But, even more deeply, by reacting as she did, Sarah actually gave life to her son, giving birth to him a second time.

Who Was Abraham’s Daughter?

According to all of the above, the phrase: “These are the offspring of Isaac the son of Abraham,” refers to the moment of Isaac’s binding on the altar, the moment in time when his soul became capable of bearing children. That was the hour in which the potential for having children was inter-included in him.

It follows therefore that the phrase, “Abraham gave birth to Isaac” refers to the time immediately following the binding, when Abraham began to look for a proper wife for his son. Indeed, Isaac was bound on the altar at age 37 and he was married to Rivkah 3 years later when he was 40. Just before Abraham assigns Eliezer with the mission to find Isaac a wife, the Torah introduces the appointment with the verse: “And Abraham was old and had seen many days, and God had blessed Abraham with everything.” The Hebrew word for “with everything” is בַּכּׂל , which as Rashi writes, has the same numerical value as the word for “son,” בֵּן . Thus, the Torah is introducing Abraham’s need—because he had been blessed with a son—to send Eliezer on his mission. But, there is another opinion in the Midrash that interprets the word בַּכֹּׂל as a proper name. The Midrash writes that Abraham had also been blessed with a daughter whose name was בַּכֹּׂל , Bakol!

Following the Kabbalistic identification of Isaac’s soul as feminine, the two opinions of Rashiand the Midrash can be unified: Abraham had been blessed with a son, but he had had until the binding a feminine soul. As a result, he could not get married. But, after the binding he also had a masculine soul, which is why Abraham now had to look for a wife for him. So it was at the moment that Abraham assigned Eliezer with the task of finding Isaac a son that “Abraham gave birth to Isaac.”

Looking at the word Isaac, יִצְחָק : its numerical value is 208, which means that the average value of each of the 4 letters is 52, the exact value of בַּכּׂל , Bakol! Already above we said that בַּכּׂל = בֵּן , “son.” Thus, Isaac himself alludes to the four sons that the Passover Hagadah speaks of. Furthermore, בֵּן = 52 is the numerical value of the letter filling of Havayah that corresponds to the sefirah of kingdom, the daughter amongst the sefirot.

Abraham’s Thoughts After Binding Isaac

Rashi writes that the verse that immediately follows the Binding of Isaac, “After these words,”1 refers to a train of thoughts that came to Abraham after the Binding of Isaac. Rashiwrites that Abraham regretted not having wed Isaac earlier to one of his friends’ daughters, because if the binding would have indeed been carried through to the end and Isaac would have been slaughtered, he would have had no offspring. But, if he had been wed already, he might have had children. Then he became informed of Rivkah’s birth, the woman destined to be Isaac's soul-mate, but still waited three years before sending Eliezer to bring her to Isaac. For Abraham these three years were a period of fully integrating the perfect faith that all is indeed by Divine Providence, for the ultimate good of all, and that one should not regret apparent loss of opportunity (especially in this context, for Isaac was still alive!).

This concurs with what we explained earlier: that until Abraham assigned Eliezer with the mission to find Rivkah and betroth her to Isaac, he was still connected with Isaac at the natural/habitual level (corresponding to the four sefirot of kingdom – his thoughts immediately after the Binding of Isaac – foundation, acknowledgment, victory – the three years that he waited before sending Eliezer): “Isaac the son of Abraham.” But, once he sent Eliezer, he indeed expressed his conscious, willful power to give birth to Isaac: “Abraham gave birth to Isaac.”

No Regrets: How Mazal is Different From Karma

How can we apply this to our lives? Like every other person, I too feel regret about past actions; feeling that I missed certain opportunities. Nonetheless, I must believe—and actually experience, as much as God allows me to experience this—that everything is by Divine Providence. In the context of Abraham’s life this means believing and experiencing that indeed only now has Isaac’s true beshert been born, and that as much as the previous matches were good, this one is the best. In my life, it means believing and experiencing that it was God’s Providence that prevented me from utilizing similar opportunities in the past, for then it would not have turned out as good. Such faith transforms the potential hidden within past opportunities into a natural power that has already been given birth to unconsciously.2This belief-oriented stage corresponds to “Isaac the son of Abraham.” But, of course, the final goal must be finding the right time to achieve one’s Divinely ordained mission in life, which corresponds with “Abraham gave birth to Isaac.”

These two essential stages in life repeat themselves many times in different areas. In Jewish thought they are part of the topic known as mazal, which many cultures understand incorrectly as deterministic fate, or karma. Indeed, Issac was 37 when Abraham transformed the missed opportunities to wed Isaac into faith in God’s Providence and thereby merited to have the Torah write: “Isaac the son of Abraham.” It was three years later, when Isaac was 40 that the right opportunity came and he wed Rivkah, his true beshert. The Hebrew letters that correspond to these two ages are לז (37) and מ (40), which together spell the word “mazal” מַזַל .

(Based on the Daily Dvar Torah from Monday, 24th Cheshvan, 5768 – November 5, 2007)

1. Genesis 22:20.

2. This means that my intentions, which I did not express when an earlier opportunity presented itself, were still in a state of concealed and not present (הֱעֶלֵם שֶאֵינוֹ בִּמְצִיאוּת ), whereas now they have attained the state of being concealed and present (הֱעֶלֵם שֶׁיֵשְׁנוֹ בִּמְצִיאוּת ). These are the two possible states of potential. Actually expressing my intents is the state of actualization.

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