-- Samach-Vav Part 16 --
What is greater: To
do the right thing or to avoid doing the wrong thing? To be good or to not
A healthy, organized life
requires five steps:
Everything begins with
a mission, a statement of purpose, which defines the plan and outline. Then
we find the tools required to implement the mission and plan, followed by
actual implementation. To succeed we must also anticipate unexpected challenges
and resistance, and adjust accordingly. Finally, we report, review and assess
Torah, called the book
of life, provides us with the ideal model for life. The Torah’s five books
outline the five steps necessary to achieve our life’s goals.
The first book of Genesis
lays out the purpose of life, and begins the training process, even equipping
us with the basics we will need to transform the material world. In the second
book of Exodus we acquire the tools and the methodology how to achieve this
transformation: Transcendence from our limits and constraints (Mitzrayim),
a blueprint for living a transcendent life (Sinai) and building a Divine home
in the material world (Temple). The actual work begins in the third book of
Leviticus, which opens up with the service in the Temple – the purpose of
all life: “A person will offer of himself an offering to G-d.”
Now we enter into the
fourth book of Bamidbar (the wilderness), where the real challenge begins:
How to live a wholesome life in a sinister and threatening world. Its one
thing to find beauty in heaven, to discover wisdom on Sinai, to experience
spiritual harmony in an oasis; but the biggest question of all is this: Can
we maintain a soulful life in an alien environment? Can we survive – let alone
thrive – in a corrupt, narcissistic wilderness called the material universe?
To be committed when the
water is flowing is not that surprising. But what happens when you enter a
parched and arid desert?
This is the theme of the
fourth book of the Torah, which is primarily the story of the Jews’ 40-year
wandering journey in the harsh wilderness. [The fifth book, Devorim,
Mishne Torah, is the review of the entire process – to be addressed
in a later article].
Samach-Vav, the Rebbe
Rashab’s magnum opus (a series of 61 comprehensive Chassidic/mystical discourses)
delivered one hundred years ago (1906), parallels the Torah narrative: After
first laying out the purpose of existence (Genesis), and the methods for transcendence
from our mundane world, to get inspired and remain inspired, the hemshech
(series) continues with its analysis of light and the Divine service of offering
your body and soul to G-d.
But then, as the Torah
takes a turn into the dark wilderness, Samach-Vav accordingly enters into
a profound discussion on how to access hope and love even when the Divine
is hidden and it seems as G-d has forsaken and forgotten us. Invoking the
verse “I remember the devotedness of your youth...how you followed Me in the
wilderness,” the Rebbe Rashab explains that the dark journey through the wilderness
of life is like a father who hides from his child in order to evoke the child’s
ingenuity to find the hidden father.
The foolish child misunderstands
the concealment and first gets consumed with self-pity, fear and tears, which
then turns into resignation and denial, finally wandering off into a life
thinking that the father has disappeared forever (or never existed in the
first place). The wise child, however, is not perturbed by the concealment,
but recognizes that it is G-d’s way of testing us. Thus, the child exerts
himself to find the father within the concealed layers of material life. This
extra, often super-human, devotion (“how you followed Me in the wilderness”)
in turn elicits an infinitely deeper expression of love and kisses between
father and child, precisely because it comes after utter concealment and the
hard work of discovering your hidden father. Samach-Vav explains that this
is the profound love, and energy, generated by our struggle in exile, when
the Divine is utterly concealed – a love that will be revealed in the final
This week’s installment
of Samach-Vav – delivered one hundred years ago this week – continues the
theme by addressing the way we search for the hidden good and Divine concealed
in our layered universe.
When Adam and Eve were
placed in the Garden of Eden they were given their calling: “To serve and
to protect.” There are two types of mitzvoth: Positive ones (thou shalt) and
negative ones (thou shalt not). We serve with our positive acts; we protect
through avoiding the negative.
We too are charged with
the mission “to serve and to protect” the world in which we live: To serve
by creating beautiful environments and structures. And to protect them from
When we do a positive
mitzvah and act virtuously we build beautiful structures. However that is
only half – actually less than half – the story.
What happens if you build
a beautiful home, decorate it with lovely ornaments and fill it with exquisite
furnishings – but then allow rodents, dust and mold into the home? Beauty
is defined not only by what it is, but also by what it is not.
Indeed, a defaced work
of beauty is much uglier – and more disturbing – than a disfigured work of
mediocrity (or plain ugliness). The worse part of child abused at home is
that the abuse is coming from people who are supposed to (and often do) love
you. If a stranger hurts you – you don’t necessarily expect more, and you
don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable to a stranger in the first place. But
when the hurt comes from a parent – someone who assumedly loves you, and often
shows love to you, than you as a child get all confused by the snowballing
of love and pain. This mix of beauty and ugliness is the root of some of the
most devastating distortions in our individual and collective psyche today.
In a revolutionary statement,
Samach-Vav declares that the negative mitzvah – avoiding the ugly – is more
powerful than creating beauty. And indeed, the negative mitzvoth (thou shalt
not) protect the positive ones. In mystical terms, the positive mitzvah generates
a defined form of Divine energy, one that can be contained in the particular
act of each respective positive act. The negative mitzvah, on the other hand,
manifests the Essence – the Divine energy than is beyond any form of expression,
one that cannot be contained in any particular act, only in a non-act; in
the sheer effort of withstanding temptation to do something wrong.
And it is these negative
mitzvoth that most manifest the potent strength and devotion of the child
searching for the concealed father. Positive acts of virtue express love;
serving someone you care for demonstrates devotion. But the deepest love is
expressed, and the strongest effort exerted, in protecting your beloved from
“I remember the devotedness
of your youth...how you followed Me in the wilderness,” when you did not see
My Divine face and did not experience revelation.
The ultimate test of devotion
and commitment is in “your youth,” in your behavior when you are spiritually
and emotionally young and undeveloped, and when you follow the path of truth
even in the “wilderness,” where there is no apparent revelation and direction.
We find many loving people
in our world. Much beauty and nobility. But mixed into it all we also find
much pain and abuse. To be a good person means not just doing good things,
serving a good cause, but also protecting – ensuring that the non-good does
not intrude and infiltrate the good.
Many of us serve, but
do we protect? Many parents care and love their children, but do they also
protect them? We often know how to love others, what to do to express
love, but do we also know what not to do?