What Is Your Soul Capable Of?
Part 25 --
100 years ago this
week the Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Sholom Dovber – 1860-1920) began delivering the
final five discourses that would conclude his 61-part tour de force – Samach-Vav.
Samach-Vav, a 547-page
tome, broken down into a sequence of 61 individual discourses, is considered
to be the most fundamental series of mystical – Kabbalistic/Chassidic – work
ever composed, laying out in comprehensive detail the dynamics of existence.
It thoroughly dissects the anatomy of the cosmos and the psyche, and presents
us with a psycho-spiritual blueprint on life.
Beginning in the autumn
of 1905 (Rosh Hashana 5666), through the autumn of 1906 (Vayeira 5667), the
first 48 discourses were delivered in consecutive weeks with few breaks. The
Rebbe and his family then traveled and remained in Wurzberg, Bavaria (Germany)
for six months (where he actually wrote discourses 38-48 which he delivered
earlier), and upon his return home, in the spring of 1907, he resumed the
series. Seven discourses – 49-56 – were delivered that Spring in consecutive
weeks from Parshat Tazria-Metzora through Shavuot and Parshat Nasso. The series
took one final break during the Summer of 1907, and then, a century ago this
week, in the winter of 1907, Parshat Vayigash, the Rebbe resumed and concluded
the series with the last four discourses (Vayigash, Vayechi, Shemos, Vaeira),
followed by the final conclusive discourse presented only in writing (not
[It should be noted
that during these breaks the Rebbe said/wrote other discourses].
To celebrate the centennial
of the grand treatise “Samach-Vav,” this column has been following the progression
of the Samach-Vav series, with analysis and discussion of some of its major
themes, with particular focus on its relevance to our lives today (click here for
the previous installments of the series and for a running summary of all the
discourses). We now continue with the final discourses, beginning with this
week’s, which starts with the words of this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash
ailov Yehuda, and Judah approached him.
This weeks’ discourse,
which continues the theme discussed in the past seven discourses, about the
nature of the soul, describes in eloquent detail the power each of our souls
contain as it struggles in the material world.
In one of the most moving
accounts you will ever read, this week’s Torah portion describes the reunion
of Joseph and his brothers 22 years after they sold him to slavery and had
no idea what became of him.
But, as it is with most
happy endings, the story does not lack in drama or tragedy.
Due to the great famine
at the time, Joseph’s brothers come down to Egypt to purchase grain. Little
do they know what is in store for them. Joseph, by then viceroy of Egypt,
recognizes them, though they do not recognize him. In a long series of events,
Joseph forces them to bring back his younger brother Benjamin. Left with no
choice Jacob begrudgingly agrees, but only on condition that Judah guarantees
Benjamin’s safety. Joseph then conspires to abduct Benjamin.
Enter this week’s chapter:
And Judah confronted Joseph, pleading with him to release Benjamin and take
Judah in his place. As Joseph hears Judah’s pleas, he finally can no longer
control himself, and he reveals his identity to his brothers.
This week’s Samach-Vav
discourse concerns itself with the deeper meaning of Judah and Joseph’s confrontation,
and specifically over Benjamin. Why did Joseph go to such lengths to have
Benjamin be with him? And why did Judah feel it so important to keep Benjamin,
to the extent that “the lad cannot leave his father. If he left him, his father would
die”? Why was Benjamin different than the other brothers – that only he could
not leave his father, but the others can? True, Jacob specifically stated
that Benjamin was his remaining son with Rachel (as Judah shared with Joseph),
but that only rephrases the question: Why were the children of Rachel preferred
over the other children?
Which brings us back to the beginning of the story:
Why did Jacob “love Joseph more than any of his other sons” in the first place?
Explains the Rebbe Rashab, that Joseph, Judah (representing
the other brothers) and Benjamin are three spiritual archetypes – all necessary
in the soul’s difficult journey through life.
To understand this let us go on a trip, retracing
the soul’s footsteps to its point of origin, and then its’ arduous descent
into a physical body in our material world. As we pray each morning: “The
soul which You have given me is pure, You have created it, You have shaped
it, You have breathed it into me, And You protect it within me.”
“The soul which You have given me is pure” - the
soul is in essence a pure entity, originating in what is called the “world”
of Atzilus, a seamless spiritual environment. Then it travels through the
three worlds of Biy”a (Beriah,
Yetzirah, Asiya), where the Divine is more concealed, and transcendence is
not a given – “You have created
it (Beriah), You have shaped it (Yetzirah), You have breathed it into me (Asiya).”
And then it manifests into a body, where “You protect it within me.”
In one of the most moving
accounts you will ever read – befitting the moving theme of this week’s Torah
portion - the Rebbe Rashab describes in intimate detail the souls’ traumatic
descent from the loftiest spiritual heights to the depths of our empty corrupt
world. Reading the Rebbe Rashab’s words you literally can feel the deep anguish
of the soul’s difficult descent “from the greatest heights to the lowest depths”
(“m’igra rama l’bira amikta”) - a description possible only by someone who
has personally experienced the agony of the soul’s limitations in this world
in contrast to its freedom above.
Listen to this:
“The soul’s descent into
a body is indeed very profound. Before the soul descends below, when the soul
is above, in its lofty state, it soars on the wings of love and awe – the
soul in a constant state of movement: It is filled with an intimate yearning
and desire to be engulfed in its source; and also filled with a deep sense
of awe and distance from the great revelations it experiences.
“This dual tug of tension
and resolution (rotzo and shuv) propels the soul, elevating it in perpetual
motion to great heights, like a bird flapping its wings back and forth, up
and down, lifting the bird to soar.”
Imagine yourself like
a bird always able to soar above, with wings that carry your soul to unprecedented
heights. Instead of a sedentary couch potato, haunted by your psychological
ghosts, grounded by pedestrian concerns and the struggle for survival. Imagine
this contrast and you can begin to sense the extreme trauma a souls experiences
when it has to descend from its sublime heights into the mundane depths of
“Once a soul descends
below” its wings no longer consistently flutter. “Spiritual love and awe are
not a constant state; they come and go. And even when they come, they do not
have the same intensity as the love and awe of the unfettered soul.
“This is true even for
the greatest of souls, like those of the Patriarchs who were unwavering ‘chariots,’
always attached to the Divine… Even the souls of Atzilus, the selfless souls
compared to ‘sons’ who have access to the ‘most intimate chambers and secrets
of their father’s home,’ even they undergo a fundamental constriction as their
souls manifest in material bodies. How much more so is the descent of lower-level
souls… and even more so with the ‘lowest’ souls that are dominated by materialism
– all these souls undergo a dramatic plunge from their lofty roots.”
Despite the soul’s great
descent – it is worth it. Because the soul discovers something in this world
far superior than anything it would ever experience in its lofty heights.
The value of the gain is so much greater than the pain that it makes it worth
all the while to descend below where everything Divine is so deeply compromised!
The purpose of the soul’s
descent is to overcome the spiritual darkness of the material universe, and
actually reveal the Divine in all of existence – to transform the world into
a “Divine home.” This requires our self-generated effort: The discipline to
not be distracted and seduced by the delights and instant gratifications of
material life; and the hard work of refining the mundane by extracting and
redeeming the “spiritual sparks” within all matter, directing and elevating
it to its true Divine purpose, ultimately creation total fusion of matter
Only in this world of
resistance is the souls true power revealed. To jump a relatively short distance
or to lift a lighter load, does not require much strength. To jump long distances
or lift heavy loads, deep exertion is necessary, reaching deeper within to
access inner strengths that the person may not even have been aware of.
Souls above – basking
in spirituality – are not challenged and therefore do not need to access the
deepest dimensions of the souls root power. But in order for souls to enter
earth’s atmosphere and survive; for them to grow in a spiritually hostile
environment, these souls need to dig very deep to access hitherto unseen inner
strengths, and generate unprecedented intensity and power.
What the soul achieves
in this world is the ability to truly fly. In heaven the soul soars like a
bird, but only in the same dimensions. Ultimately, all movement is limited
to the heaven plane alone. On earth the soul can become a true flyer – with
the ability to soar into other dimensions and even beyond heaven itself.
However, because the journey
is so difficult, we were blessed to have different levels of souls in our
midst, helping us along the way.
This is the inside story
of Joseph, Judah and Benjamin. Each of them underwent the trauma of the soul’s
descent, but in different measures with different goals:
Jacob (containing all the Patriarchs, including
Abraham and Isaac) represents the pure soul of Atzilus – the soul that is
in a constant state of transcendence, always embracing the Divine. “The Patriarchs
are truly the Chariot,” a selfless vehicle to the Pilot, “all their days... do not cease for
a single moment to bind their minds and souls to G-d” (Tanya chapter 34).
Joseph channels Atzilus unity (of Jacob) into the
lower, divisive worlds of Biy”a, where transcendence is not a given.
Judah (representing the
other tribes) embodies the soul as it manifests in the lower worlds of Biy”a,
where the soul is challenged with the hard work to sublimate the “egocentric”
personality of matter, discover the Divine and spiritualize the material world.
Judah’s service, in effect, is one of elevation.
On a lower level, Judah
(and the tribes) tells the story of most of the souls in existence, who struggle
and slowly elevate their mundane lives from the bottom up. We begin our lives
in a dark world, our mission in life concealed, our destinies unknown. The
pursuit to make ends meet and other distractions dominate our lives. Our effort
consists of gradually working our way up to finding deeper purpose, leading
us from a life of aimlessness to a life of purpose, from a state of concealment
to a state of revelation.
Because this work is so
difficult, we are blessed with Joseph, who empowers us with strength to spiritualize
the material and to reveal it in our lives. In contrast to Judah’s work from
the bottom up, Joseph is the soul that draws down, from above to below, the
Divine energy of Atzilus sustaining those below. “Joseph
was the leader over the land, he rationed out food for all the people (Genesis
42:6). In today’s age – and throughout history – Joseph represents the souls
in each generation who lead and inspire us, those that imbue us with strength
and motivation to overcome life’s challenges and to integrate the sublime
into the secular.
Joseph’s dream attests
to this: “We were binding sheaves in the field, when my sheaf suddenly stood
up firm. Your sheaves formed a circle around my sheaf, and bowed down to it.”
All souls on earth are charged with the mission to “bind sheaves” – to gather
the disparate and divisive forces in the “field” of our lives and “bind” them
toward one spiritual end. But on our own we can only reach that far. Living
in a harsh world we need help to transform our existence. Enter Joseph, a
soul whose “sheaf suddenly stood up firm,” further elevating the sheaves.
And “your sheaves formed a circle around my sheaf, and bowed down to it.”
Once we exert ourselves in this effort, we are blessed with the power that
helps us elevate and unite our “sheaves” in one circle, sublimating them to
the unifying energy of Atzilus.
Jacob’s special love for
Joseph was not at the expense of his other sons. Quite the contrary: It was
in support of them. This love reflects the power Jacob – a pure soul of Atzilus
– invests in Joseph, allowing him, in turn, to infuse the souls of the tribes,
immersed in the material world with the ability to accomplish their calling.
Benjamin is somewhat of
an interface between Joseph and Judah (and the other tribes). Called “Tzaddik
tachton” in contrast to Joseph’s “Tzaddik elyon,” born in Israel, uninvolved
in the selling of Joseph, full brother to Joseph, Benjamin is a soul who elevates
the material from the bottom up (like the other tribes), but at the same time
he also has part of Joseph’s (and Jacob’s) power in him (as brothers from
Ultimately, the battle
between Joseph and Judah is over Benjamin: Joseph wanted to elevate Benjamin
to his own level in Atzilus, thereby also helping the tribes in their work.
Judah, however, unaware he was speaking to Joseph and that Joseph was even
alive in Egypt, let alone that he had maintained his spiritual integrity.
He therefore insisted that Benjamin remain with them, because he carried Jacob’s
power, “the lad cannot leave his
father. If he left him, his father would die,” in order to help the tribes,
in place of Joseph, with their work of elevating the Divine sparks.
Who was right – Joseph or Judah? Both. As the story
continues, Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, and they are reunited
– Joseph, Benjamin, Judah and all the brothers, together with their father
Finally, this week’s Samach-Vav
tells us, that today Joseph reigns. In our present state we are in need for
Joseph to reveal and empower our work in transforming the universe. But soon,
very soon, when all that we have achieved will be revealed, Judah will rise
to his befitting prominence, higher than Joseph, with the coming of Moshiach
from the House of David (descending from Judah) – when all will see that the
self-generated of the souls who descend and struggle with the greatest challenges
of life are the ones that fulfill the ultimate purpose of existence and draw
down the deepest dimensions of the Divine, and the very Divine Essence itself.
As we read in this week’s
haftorah: "Thus says G-d: Behold, I am to take the stick of Joseph… and
I will join with it the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, that they
may be one in my hand… I will make them one nation… One king shall be king
over them all. My servant David shall be king over them, and one shepherd
shall be for them all” (Ezekiel 37:19-24).
But there is more to the
story of the soul’s achievements in this world. To be discussed in the next
installment of Samach-Vav.