-- Samach-Vav Part 21 --
One hundred years ago this week the Rebbe
Rashab, born 146 years ago this Shabbat (Cheshvan 20), delivered
the 48th discourse of his 61-part magnum opus,
The Rebbe and his family then traveled and remained in Wurzberg,
Bavaria (Germany), and the series of discourses would only
resume six months later, in the spring of 1907.
Because of the upheaval
that took place in the summer of 1906, the Rebbe Rashab was unable to continue
writing the discourses he delivered during those weeks – namely the eleven
discourses from number 38 till the current one, and he actually wrote them
This weeks’ discourse,
which ties together the themes discussed all the way back to discourse number
12 – the power of self-generated effort – describes in eloquent detail the
many ways we are nurtured in our road to success.
On the surface level the
Torah tells the story of the first 26 generations from creation – events that
transpired from the time of Adam and Eve, through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the
twelve tribes, the Egyptian exile and exodus, Moses’ leadership, guiding the
Jewish people’s forty year journey through the wilderness, concluding with
their arriving at the eastern bank of the River Jordan.
But within the literal Biblical events lies a much deeper
story: The Torah is a cosmic blueprint. Every Biblical character
and episode is actually another piece of a complex spiritual
roadmap, which describes the basic building blocks of existence,
including our personal lives. All Torah personalities are
archetypes of different traits that we all carry within
For this reason we say
in our evening prayer that Torah and mitzvoth are “our lives and the length
of our days:” The Torah narrative is the story of our lives.
Simply put: Deciphering
the Torah will reveal what makes you tick. No small feat.
The mystics explain that the spiritual DNA of existence
breaks down to four “worlds,” each comprised
of ten “sefirot,” which define the spectrum
of all experience, cosmic and personal, global and individual,
macrocosmic and microcosmic.
This week we read the story of Abraham which is essentially
the story of love (the spiritual “sefirah” called
chesed). The Bahir, one of the early Kabbalistic
works, states that the emotional faculty of “chesed
declares before G-d: Almighty, from the day that Abraham
is on Earth I do not have to do my work because Abraham
serves in my stead.”
Abraham, called G-d’s
“beloved,” is love incarnate on earth. He embodies the faculty of love within
existence and within each of our souls.
Hence, Abraham turns away from G-d, in the opening of this week’s portion,
to greet wandering nomads (see Religious
Selfishness). Abraham and Sarah’s home (tent)
is open to all, even strangers. Their life is dedicated
to kindness – touching and illuminating all those that they
come in contact with. Even when it comes to the wicked city
of Sodom, Abraham does not rest and does all he can
to try to prevent its destruction.
[Later, Isaac will personify the principle of gevurah – discipline,
and Jacob – tiferet, compassion, and so each Biblical
personality and event uncovers another aspect of the “map”.
For more on this see Balance].
How fitting, then, that
this week’s Samach-Vav discourse addresses the different ways we extend support
to those we love.
Every effort, every achievement,
regardless of how innovative, does not stand alone. Like a “midget that stands
on the shoulders of a giant,” our successes are an accumulative result of
our own efforts plus the strengths given to us by those that came before us
– our parents, educators, friends and colleagues, all that supported and helped
us get to this point.
There are many ways that
we are lent a helping hand in our lives and many ways that we must extend
our support to others. Samach-Vav enumerates a few of them.
We often don’t notice
the “little” events that shape our entire lives, until it’s too late. Especially
our earliest childhood experiences that take place in our most formative years.
Observe the way a child
begins his/her development from the crib to crawling to walking on his own
two feet. Though this may seem merely physiological – incomparable, say, to
the emotional nurturing parents provide their children – in fact the way parents
guide their children even in physical growth, like learning to walk, reflects
much deeper emotional forces at work.
Which is why Chassidic
teachings, always deeply rooted in the forces that shape our psyches, focuses
on the analogy of a child being carried by his parent, a young child being
supported to walk on his own.
Samach-Vav describes two
stages in the process of a child’s development. A newborn cannot walk on its
own. Even later, we may be able to get up but then we fall and cannot remain
standing on our own. A healthy parent lifts up the child, carries and protects
the child, like an eagle carrying its young on its wings. At this stage we
clearly are dependent on our parents to lift us, to love us.
Then we reach an age we
can stand on our feet, but we still need the support of a parent to prod us
along. Earlier, a parent may be standing behind the child and actually grasping
the child as he guides him along. The child’s feet do the actual walking,
but his power to move forward is not his own, but his parent’s. To the child
it appears as if he’s walking on his own, when indeed he is only able to do
so because of the support behind him.
Then we reach the age when we can “walk on our own two feet.”
The rest is history.
The ultimate purpose of life, as the Rebbe Rashab reminds us, is to create
– to produce something new through our self-generated
hard work. Not to suffice with the gifts of others or be
satisfied with the wealth we inherit (see Raging
Waters). Not to depend on support and crutches.
“If I am not for myself who will be for me?”
But on the other hand, we must never forget how we got
here. We are not self-made creatures. We can only innovate
today because we were nurtured yesterday. “If I am
only for myself what am I?”
[In the context of Samach-Vav: The soul of Atzilus
(and the Kav in general), the son, nurtures
the soul of biy"a, the servant, and allows
it to feel comfortable and intimate with the Divine. But
the ultimate innovation is acheived through the exertion
and hard work of the servant to transform the universe into
a Divine home].
What is so beautiful about a tree is that its strength
is defined by its roots. The tree reaches up to heaven,
branches out into the expanse, bears leaves, flowers or
fruits, casts a beautiful shade, absorbs toxic carbon dioxide
from the atmosphere and emits nourishing oxygen in return,
its powerful trunk – all set in motion, made possible
and determined by its early roots. A mere sapling, properly
nurtured, bore us this magnificent tree.
Deep roots bear beautiful
fruits. Roots that supply support and nutrients allow the tree to soar into
Every one of us began as children. First we need to be
lifted. Then propped up. We then need to be supported. Finally
we walk on our own.
In addition to appreciating
our roots, an equally vital lesson this teaches us is our obligation to serve
– to love, to nurture those that are entrusted to us.
A loving father bends
slowly down. Gently, deliberately he lifts his child in his arms, places him
on his shoulders and carries him. With that small act the father moves universes,
changes the course of history – and shapes a tender life.
How many of us so needed
to be lifted at times and there was no one there?...
Living in a narcissistic
world, surrounded everywhere by self-interest, not to mention pettiness and
frivolity, no words can describe how heartwarming are the words of a Rebbe
written 100 years ago this week, reminding us that we are here to serve –
to give, not to take.
Life is about giving.
Reading the words of the Rebbe Rashab – born 146 years ago this week
– you cannot help but be deeply moved at his careful,
meticulous description of a father carrying his child. He
then goes on to describe the different ways a true teacher
imparts wisdom to his student. It is not a mere academic
exercise; but an act of love. The teacher – even “teacher”
sounds quite hollow; better stated would probably be “nurturer”
– the nurturing teacher imparts much more than ideas
and facts. In his every word he ingrains methodology and
wisdom that will help the student avoid mistakes and ultimately
reach deeper truths on his own, even when the teacher is
no longer at his side.
Like a true shepherd tending to his flock, a Rebbe –
beginning from the first, Moses the ultimate shepherd himself
– has a way of caring that simply doesn’t exist
in our normal routines.
We are all children. At times we fall, in need of someone
to lovingly lift us. At times we walk upright, not always
sensing those that are supporting us along the way.
Yet, above all, the ultimate dignity of the human being
is expressed when we walk on our own feet. When we initiate,
our self-generated efforts reach into the deepest dimensions
of the collective unconscious – into the very essence
of the Divine mystery.
But we must always remember
that it takes nurturing to allow dignity to emerge.
In the “small” act of a loving parent bending down to lift
his or her child lays the secret of all existence.
We have many achievements
under our belts. Some of us are moving millions – dollars or people. Others
are busy creating mega-plans and mega-mergers, wheeling and dealing, so proud
of our conquests.
Take a moment and lift a child. Pause a second and lend
a helping hand to someone in need.
* * *
Question for the week: What plays
the most important role in shaping our lives: Our genes?
Childhood? Education? Personal responsibility? Courage?
Other (please specify)?
a question for future weeks.