The Birth of Ishmael and Isaac
Tracing the Roots of Today's Global Conflict
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 known. 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
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
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 expression.
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
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
What can and must we do in these particular times?
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
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 spiritual
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
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 its
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 together.
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
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.
You can now order the tape of Rabbi Jacobsons
elaborate class on this topic.
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This life skills article is one of many services
that we are providing in response to the September 11th atrocity
perpetrated against humanity. We want you to know that all of
us here at The Meaningful Life Center are working overtime to
provide solace and clarity in these trying times. As people
everywhere are undergoing a new soul search for finding meaning
in life, we are redoubling our dedication to our mission to
offer insight and direction to appreciate the deeper meaning
of our lives and build security with all the uncertainty brewing
If you or anyone you know has any specific needs or questions,
please call on us. We are committed to doing everything we can
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to this fund and help us respond to the profound need today
for clarity and direction.
We need to join together as never before to nourish
the grass roots awakening that has consumed this nation and
its gravitation to faith and G-d, and transform it into a permanent
spiritual transformation. Our calling today is to demonstrate
leadership and light up the way in which to forge ahead amidst
this tragedy, and these new, challenging times.
Our sages teach us that by intensifying our charitable acts
we open up new channels of blessings. In this spirit, may your
commitment be a source of blessings in all aspects of your life.
We look forward to working together with you in this divine
cause. Through our joint effort we can grow through this process
and build a better world a world where there is no evil
and destruction because it is filled with Divine knowledge
as the waters cover the sea.
Phillip, Jason, Neria, Shoshana, Chani, Sarah, Yael, Eli
and of all us at The Meaningful Life Center
Helping You Redefine What Truly Matters
Our hearts, condolences and prayers go out to all the families
directly affected by this calamity, and to all New Yorkers,
Americans and the entire human race against whom this atrocity
WHAT IS THE MOST POWERFUL THING YOU CAN DO
IN RESPONSE TO SEPTEMBER 11?
Join us in creating a passionate spiritual
revolution for the good.
As passions of violence have been released
on us, against humanity, our most powerful response is to counter
with a passionate revolution of purpose, with no less passion
and drive than the evil being waged against us.
This is our mission at the Meaningful Life
 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.