Watch a beautiful sunset. Listen to a stirring
symphony. Smell a delicate fragrance. Taste a delectable
wine. Touch the soft cheek of a child. Those are our five
senses at work – taking in and experiencing the
aesthetics of our universe. But what else enters through
our sensory doors? How stimulated – overstimulated
– are we by the multitude of sights, sounds, smells,
tastes and touches inundating our daily interactions?
And what impact does it have on us? Are we products, perhaps
even victims, of the forces seducing our senses? Take
television: Does anyone know the far-reaching effects
that visual stimulation has on our psyches? How much is
it desensitizing us to “see,” “hear”
and experience the more sublime aspects of our lives –
the invisible and ethereal?
So when we observe the world around us, the people, events
and experiences of our lives, what should we be looking
for? When we are seeking a loving relationship –
or standing before a person we love – how do we
assure that we are looking at the important things that
matter, and not at superficial externals? And how do we
attain such perspective when we are swamped with the endless
flow of information assaulting our senses, numbing and
distorting our priorities?
This week's Torah portion contains a fascinating answer
to these questions.
The chapter opens with the words “And G-d appeared
to Abraham.” What did Abraham see? What does it
mean to "see" the Divine?
When we look at any particular object what do we see?
First we see the physical features of the object –
its shape, color, size and position. We may also notice
its functions and the benefits they serve. With more focus,
we can discern subtle elements and other aspects that
may not have been ostensibly noticeable. Upon further
study we develop a “deeper look” at the object
and learn its unique composition of elements and molecules,
and its biological and chemical makeup. Further down and
in we discover its atomic structure, which in turn is
comprised of sub-atomic particles. How far down the “rabbit
hole” can we go?
Left to our own mortal resources we can only go that
far. But with help from an unexpected place we can actually
come to perceive – to see – the essence of
the object, and even beyond that.
When the Kotzker Rebbe was a young child he was once
asked: “Where is G-d?” To which he replied:
“Wherever you let Him in?”
To see the Divine is to see the Essence of all reality,
and to recognize that this Essence is beyond all reality.
“He is the space of the universe, but the universe
is not His space.” In some ways it means to see
the forest from the trees; the roots from the symptoms;
the causes from the effects.
Abraham did two critical things to reach a point that
he was able to see the Divine, to the point that “G-d
appeared to him.” Firstly, he left his comfort zones
(see last week’s The
Greatest Journey Ever Taken) and embarked on
a lifelong journey away from his subjective inclinations
toward transcendence. Secondly, Abraham dedicated his
life – and passed on his legacy to his children
and generations to come – to focus not on the means,
but on the end: To look beyond the seductive distractions
of surface life and see what lies within; to search for
the essence of things, rather than react to their symptoms.
To seek out the purpose of existence and turn that purpose
into the driving force of our decisions, rather than allow
our existential needs and concerns to determine the course
of our lives. Notwithstanding the conventions of the time,
not conforming to the pressures around him, not enticed
by the sights and sound of the universe, Abraham looked
beyond and within them for a higher presence. This higher
awareness then translates into action – to living
a life of virtue, righteousness and justice.
Once Abraham demonstrated his commitment, once he “paid
the price” and did his part piercing through the
outer layers and peering deep inside for the deeper reality,
then the Higher and Inner Reality reciprocates, “and
G-d appeared to him,” revealing the essential forces
that shape all of existence, far beyond those that Abraham
could ever discover on his own accord.
The great 13th century sage, Ramban (Rabbi
Moshe ben Nachman), also known as Nachmanides, states
a critical axiom – one that would change the landscape
of Jewish education were it only emphasized in our schools:
ďKnow this fundamental principle: All the journeys
and events that happened with the Patriarchs [Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob] come to teach us about the future…they
were shown what would happen to their descendants. For
this reason the Torah documents in detail the experiences
that transpired with the Patriarchs. No one should think
that these are superfluous details; they actually pave
the way and map out all the future events that would transpire
with their children throughout history. There is nothing
that happened to Abraham that would later not occur with
his children (Ramban, Lech Lecho 12:6).
How do we apply this principle to the opening of this
week’s Torah portion: “And G-d appeared to
him,” to Abraham?
Indeed, a well known story suggests that Abraham’s
Divine revelation was unique to him alone. When the Rebbe
Rashab was a young boy, he went to his grandfather, the
Tzemach Tzedek, to receive a blessing in connection with
his birthday (Cheshvan 20). When he entered his grandfather's
room, he began to cry. His grandfather asked him why he
was crying and he explained that in cheder (school), he
had learned that G-d had revealed Himself to Abraham and
he was upset, why G-d did not reveal Himself to him. The
Tzemach Tzedek replied: “When a righteous Jew at
the age of 99 decides to circumcise himself, he is worthy
that G-d reveal Himself to him.” The Rebbe
Rashab was satisfied with this answer, and stopped crying.
And yet, the Rebbe Rashab did cry, and according to Nachmanides,
there is nothing that happened to Abraham that would
later not occur with his children, Abrahamís Divine
revelation in some way can and will happen to his children.
Abraham paved the way for us to have a similar experience:
To see the inner forces that shape our outer realities.
But in order to see your life in this special way, you
too have to commit to the same two things that Abraham
committed to: One, you must travel away from your own
subjective trappings and remove the immediate pressures
that block you from seeing what lies within. This includes
controlling the flow of images, sounds, tastes, touches
and smells, which enter your being and clutter your life.
Two, you need to focus on the inner forces and the purpose
of it all, ensuring that the means that lead you there
are not confused with the end goal. Too often we get so
consumed with the tools – earning a living, shopping,
preparing – that we are left with no time, energy
and space for the purpose of all these tools. Sometimes
we may even forget that there is a purpose, like embarking
on a journey and then forgetting the destination.
This commitment to the higher goal, as opposed to the
means, in turn manifests in a life driven by virtue and
selflessness, rather than instant gratification and immediate
Once you demonstrate your commitment to this approach,
new doors will open up from within. And then – and
only then – will you begin to see the extraordinary
in the ordinary. Every detail of your life begins to burst
with enormous energy. You learn to savor every sight,
every sound, every taste, every touch, every smell.
You can look at a wild flower and see a flower, or you
can see, as Blake put it, Heaven. You can listen to a
bird sing and hear a song, or hear the music of angels.
You can gently caress the finger of your beloved and touch
a finger, or you can touch eternity.
A new perspective emerges in your life, teaching
you how to bridge the visible and the invisible, the sensory
and the supra-sensory – how to use your senses to
reach beyond your senses and experience new dimensions.
And above all, your new vision allows you to release
fresh energy from every experience you encounter: In a
life driven by self-interest every situation is numbed
and deadened by “what’s in it for me?”
In stark contrast, a life driven by seeing the Divine
opens your eyes, ears, taste, touch and smell to experience
yourself and others in unprecedented ways. You learn to
see new things, and see old things in new ways.
Every situation then becomes an opportunity to generate
innovative power to help others and improve the world
– directing every detail of your life toward the
sublime, revealing the Divine purpose in everything, fulfilling
the very objective of existence.