October 25, 2001
Living with the times with the Torah portion
read this week has never seemed more appropriate.
America is now in the painful throes of facing
an assault from an unknown enemy. Fear of the unknown is much
more debilitating than the k nown. In the face of such fear,
nothing can be more empowering than gaining a better understanding
of the forces affecting our lives today.
We know little more about the attack on September
11 than the fact that it stems from a certain part of the
world and that it is dressed in religious garb one
filled with passionate extremism. Can we get to know more
about this new war?
The answer is yes. This weeks Torah portion,
Lech Lecha, illuminates the roots of the tremors shaking our
lives today. In this chapter a process begins that leads to
the events of our times.
Abraham gives birth to Ishmael, father of the
Arab/Muslim world, and then later to Isaac, father of the
Jewish people. Isaac would later bear Esau, father of the
Roman/Christian world (referred to as Edom). These individuals
and their interactions set the stage for the events to come.
But let us step back for a moment and read the
dialogue in our Torah portion between G-d and Abram [later
his name would be changed to Abraham]. This dialogue takes
place before the birth of Ishmael or Isaac and is part of
one of the most fundamental events in history: G-ds
covenant with Abram, called Bris bein HaBesorim,
the covenant between the halves.
G-ds word comes to Abram in a
vision, saying: Fear not, Abram, I am your shield. Your
reward is very great. Abram said: O, G-d what
will you give me if I remain childless?
Suddenly G-ds word came to him:
One born from your own body will inherit what
is yours. He then took him outside, and said: "Look at
the sky and count the stars. See if you can count them
that is how [numerous] your descendants will be. Abram
believed in G-d and he counted it as righteousness.
[Abram] said: G-d, how can I
really know that it will be mine? [G-d] said to him:
Bring for Me a prime heifer, a prime goat, a prime ram,
a dove and a young pigeon. Abram brought all these for
Him. He split them in half, and placed one half opposite the
other. The birds, however, he did not split. Vultures descended
on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
As the sun was setting, a deep sleep
fell upon Abram; and a deep dark dread fell upon him. [G-d]
said to Abram: Know for sure that your descendants will
foreigners in a land that is not theirs for 400 years. They
will be enslaved and oppressed. But I will finally bring judgment
against the nation who enslaves them, and they will then leave
with great wealth
The sun set, and it became very dark.
A smoking furnace and a flaming torch passed between the halves
of the animals. On that day G-d made a covenant with Abram,
saying: To your seed I have given this land (The Land
of Israel), from the river of Egypt to the great river, the
River Euphrates." -- Genesis 15:1-21
What was the deep dark dread that
befell Abraham? The Midrash explains that Abraham was shown
the future great empires that would control the world and
bring terror to it, each in their own way: the Babylonian,
Persian, Greek, Roman and Ishmaelite empires.
The great Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria (known
as the holy Arizal) explains that these empires that
extend over the entire span of history represent the
different stages of refinement (birur) that we achieve
throughout the generations. Everything in our material existence
contains Divine sparks, i.e. spiritual energy,
and we are charged with the mission to redeem and elevate
these sparks, and thereby refine the material universe and
transform it into its true purpose: a vehicle for spiritual
Beginning with the enslavement by the Egyptian
empire the archetype and root (head) of
all the exiles and empires each subsequent empire symbolizes
another stage of refinement in integrating G-dliness into
the material world. The process concludes with the refinement
of the last two powers, Edom (Esau) and Ishmael, which leads
to the Messianic age a world where there is no more
destruction and terror and all children of Abraham serve the
One G-d of Abraham in peace and harmony.
Why was Abraham shown this vision? In order
for him to share it with his children, so that we, at whatever
point in history we may be living, should know that the events
in our lives are part of a long historical process.
Even as the sun sets and a deep dark dread
strikes us, we must always hold onto Abrahams vision,
that all our journeys and challenges are part of a bigger
process and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
This vision and promise is what the Jewish people
held onto during their long hard years in Egyptian slavery.
This dream is what they held onto during all other forms of
persecution, and it is this vision that allowed them to prevail
Abrahams vision gives us not only strength
and fortitude during difficult times, it also gives us direction
how to proceed. Understanding the different dynamics of each
empire/exile empowers us to be proactive and take action in
order for us to refine that particular dimension of experience.
As we shudder in the shadow of September 11
and its aftermath, and we stand uncertain with what lies ahead
if us, now is the time to embrace and connect to Abrahams
vision. Faith is the most powerful resource you can access
when our security is threatened. Faith to firmly hold
onto G-ds words that we shall prevail and come
out with great wealth.
So, the first thing we can do in these trying
times is to truly live with the times by reading, studying
and living with the words in this weekly portion, personalizing
and integrating them into our lives. By doing so we can connect
to Abrahams strength and G-ds promise to him.
The second thing that we can do is not be a
passive bystander waiting for something to happen. By recognizing
that we are in the final steps of a process a process
that was shown to our great grandfather Abraham we
must discover what action is required of us in this particular
step of the process, and then we must act. Being proactive
means taking control of the situation rather than allowing
it to control us.
What can and must we do in these particular
The Arizal (cited above) explains that the refinement
of Edom and Ishmael our work today corresponds
to the two emotions, netzach and hod, endurance
and humility/acknowledgment. What does that mean in practical
Netzach (literally victory) is the
sheer determination to forge ahead despite the unknowns and
doubts. That energy comes from a deep rooted belief in who
you are and what you need to accomplish. Netzach means embracing
what you believe in and not allowing anything to stop you
from getting it. Hod (from the root of the Hebrew word "hoda'ah")
is the suprarational acknowledgment and commitment to that
which is beyond us. Humility is modesty; it is recognizing
how small you are which allows you to realize how large you
can become. And that makes humility so formidable.
We are being terrorized with a negative netzach
and hod (netzach and hod of kelipah)
a demonic force beyond rational that is ready to blindly
die and kill innocent people in the name of its distorted
faith, a passionate onslaught on our freedoms. The only long
term way to counter this force is with positive netzach
and hod an equal if not stronger passionate
embrace of our inner values.
This, is in addition of course, to the obvious
need to defend ourselves and uproot any form of terrorism
and those that support it. But defense is not enough. We must
go on the offensive. Long term, the only solution for the
birur of netzach and hod, the final steps
before the revelation, is to transform it into a passionate
The work of earlier generations was more internal.
Spiritually they were more evolved and naturally gravitated
to G-d. Their minds and hearts were more attuned to spiritual
experience, and they served G-d with deeply felt emotions.
Today our work is such, that even when we dont
have a revealed sense of G-dliness our minds dont
easily relate to G-d and our hearts dont naturally feel
G-dliness, and on top of it all we live in a highly evolved
materialistic world we obstinately commit with suprarational
tenacity and acknowledgement to fulfilling our mission to
refine the world.
We may be small midgets relative to Abraham
and the giants of history, but when we connect to their vision
and climb onto their shoulders, we can see farther than they
like a midget on the shoulders of a giant.
After all the refinement accomplished by previous
generations, we have the last part to do. Indeed all our ancestors
wait and watch in Heaven for us to finish the last touches
of what they began.
And when we do our job, we bring about the realization
of Abrahams vision, and from the deep dark dread
Moshiach will sprout, ushering in a world of unity, where
all of Abrahams children serve one G-d, and serve in
the way that Abraham taught them.
Make a new commitment to a mitzvah (good deed), even
if you are not in the mood of it, but you just know
Instead of being paralyzed, go out there and do something
good. Initiate something like a gathering in
your home. Invite friends and do some reading and praying
Find a cause and dedicate yourself to it with absolute
passion and commitment, in a netzach type of
way, enduring, lasting, unwavering.
Take time each day to shut out all the outside static,
and focus in and acknowledge (hod) G-d and the
blessings in your life. A good time to do this is each
morning, by saying the Modeh Ani, acknowledging
G-d for returning your soul to you and blessing you
with life and purpose. And again throughout the day
in Modim, which is said in the Amidah prayers
three times a day.
Train your children to do the above. Remember: the
best way to teach your children to not be afraid is
to show that you are not afraid. The best way
to show that is by being PROACTIVE. Take your emotions
and channel them outward instead of allowing them to
implode inward. Being passionately proactive is the
best antidote to fear.
 Mechilta Yitro 9. Bereishis Rabba 44:17. Pirkei
Drebbi Eliezer ch. 28.
 Likkutei Torah and Sefer HaLikkutim Parshat Ki Teitzei.
 By no means does this suggest that
the violence and dread perpetrated by people and nations
is predestined; Abrams vision only describes the
forces and currents that will be unleashed. Maimonides
and other commentaries explain why the Egyptians were
punished for enslaving the Jews when G-d predestined it
in His words to Abram.
 Explained at length in the Chassidic discourse titled
Kol Dodi 5668. 5709.