Vayeitzei: Responding To Mumbai

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Rivka’s Son Wept Aloud

No words.

We are left utterly silent, overwhelmed by the unfathomable massacre of innocent lives in Mumbai, India.

Go explain how a good G-d could allow His messengers of peace to be brutally executed.

Explain that to Moshe’le, the two year-old child, covered in his parent’s blood.

When we are left with no words and just tears, we can either sink, forget or turn to forces beyond us which offer us some comfort and resilience. As one maimed victim of terror once told me: You appreciate faith only when you have nothing else left but faith.

Judaism – which has empowered the Jewish people to recover and rebuild through the harshest circumstances – teaches that there are three steps to dealing with tragedy.

First: We can and must cry out to each other, to G-d and to the heavens. Faith dictates that we do not remain passive and accepting. Instead, we must challenge G-d and demand that He live up to His promises of justice and fairness.

Second: Silence is the ultimate answer to the biggest question of all: Why? Our minds simply do not have the ability to explain or justify the suffering of the innocent. Indeed, it would be an act of arrogance and vulgar for any human to attempt to understand these mysteries. A mind, no matter how brilliant, cannot speak to a bleeding heart.

Third, and above all: We don’t ask why but what. What will we do about the tragedy? We must learn to harness and channel our blood-boiling anger and outrage, our shock and trauma, our grief and agony, into a powerful passionate revolution of good. The angrier you are, the more emotional your reaction, the more energy you have to act. These negative feelings are potent fuel to create true change. Grief and outrage are like fire: Unchanneled it will consume you. Channeled it will transform you. And everyone around you.

An unprecedented awakening is rippling across the universe. A deep chord has been touched in people’s hearts and souls. Our cries are now joined by the cries lining the corridors of history. Jacob shed tears, as did Rachel, tears for every loss and tragedy of their children till this very day (read on).

And, we are not consoled.

But we now have the power to act. Today, one thing we are not is complacent. Now is the time to take all our feelings and convert them into actions – real and permanent commitments that will last far longer than our pain.

Yet, we must know that this window will not last. People will go back to their regular lives, things will gravitate back to the silent, illusional status-quo, and equilibrium

If nothing else, we must honor the souls of those torn away from us, by immortalizing their lives through our positive deeds.

Choose a commitment, a mitzvah that speaks to you, and commit to it. Start a study group. Give charity. Light a Shabbat candle. Pray daily. Get married. Have children. Observe Shabbat. Eat Kosher. Join a cause.

You feel different today due to Mumbai. Then think different and above all, act different.

Create a revolution. Big or small, revolutions always begin with one step in a new direction.

* * *

When there are no words, one place to reach back to is our ancestors. We gather strength from those who have suffered before us and remained to tell about it. If they didn’t remain, their children did. We are those children.

Let us open the book of books and read together; let us soothe each other with words of the soul. This week’s portion is good place to start:

Jacob left Beer-sheba and headed toward Charan… G-d promised Jacob: I am with you. I will protect you wherever you go and bring you back to this soil. I will not turn aside from you until I have fully kept this promise to you.

Jacob set off briskly, and headed toward the land of the people of the East.

(He came to a place where) he looked, and behold, there was a well in a field. Three flocks of sheep were lying beside it, since it was from this well that the flocks were watered. The top of the well was covered with a large stone. When all the flocks would come together there, (the shepherds) would roll the stone from the top of the well and water the sheep. Then they would replace the stone on the well.

“From where do you come, brothers?” asked Jacob. “We are from Charan.” “Do you know Nachor’s grandson, Laban?” “We know him.” “Is he at peace?” “He is at peace! Behold, here’s his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.”

“But the day is still long. It’s not yet time to bring the livestock together. Why not water the sheep and go on grazing?” “We can’t until all the flocks have come together. (All of us) then roll the stone from the top of the well. Only then can we water the sheep.”

While he was still conversing with them, Rachel appeared with her father’s sheep. She was the shepherdess. Jacob looked at his cousin Rachel who was with his uncle Laban’s sheep. He stepped forward, and rolled the stone from the top of the well, watering his uncle Laban’s sheep. Jacob kissed Rachel and wept aloud. He told her that he was Rivkah’s son, and thus related to her father. She ran to tell her father. (Genesis 29:1-12).

What does this episode mean? Why are we told all these seemingly irrelevant details?

Explain the mystics:

Jacob’s journey from Beersheba (in Israel) to the land of Charan in the East to build a family reflects every soul’s journey from the sublime heights (of the spiritual “seven fountains”, Beersheba in Hebrew) to the darkest depths of this cruel and wrathful world (Charan). The purpose of the soul’s radical descent is to build a family and transform the material universe into a Divine home. It’s not enough to survive through life’s hardships; we are charged with the mission and given the power to transform the darkness and turn it into light. To plant seeds in the material soil and compel it to yield beautiful fruits and wonderful children.

The first thing Jacob saw in the East was a “well in the field.” And this was a sudden and unexpected realization – “behold, a well in the field.” Even the fields of materialism, as concealed as they may be, contain within a well of water, symbolic of the saturated Divine sparks, of pure knowledge and of connection. Jacob’s spiritual eyes were not deceived by the layers of wrath; no matter how sudden it seems – and it is truly unexpected to find spiritual water in the deserts of materialism – Jacob did behold a well. Not merely water, but the source of water, and he understood and was consoled knowing that despite the aridness and emptiness around him, wellsprings were not far beneath the surface, waiting, anticipating to be released and water the flocks.

But the “top of the well was covered with a large stone.” The hard stony hearts of a world driven by self-interest, the insensitive, selfish universe posed many hardships, challenging us with many questions and dilemmas that block us from accessing the water within.

A large stone indeed. Oh my, how each of us knows how large this stone can be.

But the problem doesn’t end with the stone. The three flocks of sheep represent the nations of the world who control the well-waters. The Divine sparks embedded in the material universe are trapped; their powerful energy is most often used not to refine the universe, but for personal interests and immediate gains, and sometime for far worse: to destroy life. All the gifts of life, the forces of technology and human creativity are blessings to be used for bettering our world, not just for self-interest. And this self-interest of the “flocks,” only when they “come together” and see the mutual benefits of working together, controls the energy of the world. Because they are driven by their own personal gains, none of them has the power to lift the ego-driven “heavy stone” on their own. And then, after they lift the stone and draw water, they would “replace the stone on the well,” not allowing others to benefit.

Thus, Jacob was confronted with a double challenge: the heavy stone and the shepherds of the three flocks who control the process.

To confirm this fact, Jacob asks the shepherds: From where do you come, brothers?” “We are from Charan,” they reply. Ah, Charan – the place of wrath. What can you expect from people who identify themselves with anger? Angry people will use their energy (water) to harm others.

Jacob continues: “Do you know Nachor’s grandson, Laban?” The shepherds reply: “We know him.” “Is he at peace?” “He is at peace!” And Jacob sadly understands that his uncle Laban is quite comfortable and doing well in this corrupt world. It will not be easy to confront Laban and his cohorts, who control the well and the stone concealing it.

But then Jacob is consoled: The shepherds continue: “Behold, here is his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.” Rachel represents the spiritual beauty of the soul which is concealed in the material world like a “rose among thorns.” In Kabbalistic terms, Rachel is the supernal attribute of malchus, dignity, which remains hidden within each of us, waiting to be released and revealed. And here again, the world “behold” is used. Suddenly, unexpected in this G-d forsaken place, behold, Rachel appears, leading the sheep.

Jacob then asks the shepherds of the world: “The day is still long. It’s not yet time to bring the livestock together. Why not water the sheep and go on grazing?”

Jacob is prodding the shepherds to nourish their flocks, to direct their energy toward spreading good and kindness in their environment. “The day is still long.” Day is the time of light. Night is the time of darkness. If it was night and you were overcome by darkness and confusion, it would be quite understandable why you can’t water the flocks. But we are in middle of the day, the light is shining and we live in a world of freedom and prosperity. Why not use these gifts to “water the sheep?”

The shepherds, however, reply, to Jacob’s dismay, “we can’t until all the flocks have come together. Only then can we roll the stone from the top of the well and water the sheep.” Even during the daylight, in good times, these materially-driven leaders cannot remove the “large stone” that blocks the spirit within, unless they are joined in common and mutual self-interest.

But not all is lost. “While he was still conversing with them, Rachel appeared with her father’s sheep. She was the shepherdess. Jacob looked at his cousin Rachel who was with his uncle Laban’s sheep.”

When Jacob sees Rachel leading her father’s sheep, his spirits are lifted. He sees that Rachel is the true shepherdess (none of the others are ever described as shepherds in these verses) – the soul (malchut) is alive and well (albeit concealed and trapped in Laban’s home), and she is leading the sheep to the water.

Seeing her trapped in Charan by Laban evokes the profound empathy of Jacob. This in turn empowers Jacob to “step forward and roll the stone from the top of the well, watering his uncle Laban’s sheep. With deep compassion “Jacob kissed Rachel and wept aloud. He told her that he was Rivkah’s son, and thus related to her father. She ran to tell her father.”

Tanya (chapter 45) explains it thus: Every soul on earth begins its journey in the spiritual realms and from there it is thrust into “exile” in a physical body and universe that conceals the soul’s presence and all things spiritual and sublime. The Divine spark of the soul is in effect trapped in the narrow confines of our mundane existence, causing a profound state of spiritual and existential dissonance. How much more so is the spiritual exile when we become enmeshed in our narcissistic behavior and destructive patterns, which further displaces the Divine soul, and, by extension, the soul’s Divine source, causing, what is called, the esoteric doctrine of the “Exile of the Shechinah.”

Rachel manifests and identifies with this spiritual exile of malchut. She therefore paid the price by dying in childbirth, and then dwelling in a lonely wayside grave in order to bear witness to the suffering of her children. As long as her children are wandering and oppressed Rachel cannot find any final rest and remains with them “on the road”. “Rachel weeps for her children and refuses to be comforted.”

And what is Jacob’s role in this process? Jacob represents compassion (tiferet), arousing empathy for the soul’s traumatic descent into the material universe – a potent method to awaken the exiled soul (and Shechinah) from its displacement.

This is the meaning of the verse, “And Jacob kissed Rachel and lifted up his voice and wept”: “Jacob — with his supernal attribute of Divine mercy — arouses great compassion for Rachel, the source of all souls. “And he lifted up his voice” — upwards, to the fount of the Higher Mercies, to the source of the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy. “And he wept” — in order to awaken and draw from there, from the boundless Divine Mercies, abundant compassion upon all the souls and upon their source, to raise them from their exile and to unite them in the Higher Unity of the Divine infinite light, at the level of “kisses”, which is “the attachment of spirit with spirit,” as it is written, “Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth,” which means the union of the word of man who studies Torah with “the word of G-d, namely, the Halacha.” So too, through thinking Torah thoughts, mortal thought is united with divine thought, and so too, mortal action is united with Divine action, through active observance of the mitzvoth, and, in particular, the practice of charity and loving-kindness.”

Simply put, Jacob’s cry and kiss is a method that we can all employ when are faced with terrible tragedies, which has the power to awaken us from spiritual slumber: By pondering on the radical descent of the soul into a cruel world we can arouse a profound sense of compassion for the trapped soul. How sad it is to see a gentle soul, descend from its loftiest heights, to the nethermost depths of selfish existence, and sometimes be destroyed in the process.

How much more so, when we witness how innocent souls have been brutally ripped way from us by inhuman terrorists.

This compassion (of Jacob) empowers Rachel to stand strong with her exiled children. And ultimately Rachel’s tears prevail: Your work will be rewarded, and they will return from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future. Your children will return to their own borders.

* * *

We all must travel on Jacob’s journey to the East.

A young couple embarked on just such a journey five years ago. They traveled, and traveled briskly, with enthusiasm and joy, to a land in the East to do exactly what their forefather Jacob did: Build a family, spread light, transform the farthest corners of the Earth into a Divine home, offering warmth and comfort to all those living and passing through their land.

And they did indeed build such a home, called the Chabad House of Mumbai. The many accounts being currently documented tell the story of a loving couple who removed many a stone, freeing the wellsprings of many a soul that entered their sphere. Their unwavering belief – and total devotion to their shlichus (mission), as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe – empowered them to remain undeterred and remove the “large stone,” not just by day but also by night. Just like their father Jacob.

They revealed the “Rachel” within many people, and the “well” within many aspects of life in Mumbai. Just like their father Jacob.

But for some incomprehensible reason they were not blessed with the protection promised to Jacob by G-d: “I am with you. I will protect you wherever you go and bring you back to this soil. I will not turn aside from you until I have fully kept this promise to you.”

Why this loving couple – and the guests in their home – were not accorded this promise – we may never know. But no one can doubt, above all G-d Himself, that they embraced the mission they were given and took the same journey as their grandfather Jacob did, and paid the prices as Jacob did, if not more.

Then tragedy struck. And now we have another son of Rivka (this time he is two-years old and his name is Moshe’le) weeping aloud, mamme, mamme…

Rivka’s son wept for all the tears Rachel would cry for her suffering children through all the generations (see A Mothers’ Tears).

And now we are left weeping with him. Can we transform these tears into compassion that will evoke an unprecedented flow of Divine blessings? Will we become more compassionate people, kinder, gentler, nicer to each other? Will we do away with our petty rivalries, envies, insecurities and plain inertia which divides us? Will we lift ourselves to a higher standard? That is our challenge today.

The leaders of the world, driven by their own interests, have allowed a climate of terror to destroy and drive fear in the hearts of the world’s citizens. Large stones indeed are covering the beauty within this world. Even when lifted, it usually is not to free the spirit, but for personal gain. And now, the agents of destruction have annihilated a light that arrived in the East – leaving us with a heavier stone than we can have ever imagined.

We are left with no option but to revive the Jacob within us all. Despite the heaviness of the task, it is only the power of Jacob’s faith – and his ability to perceive the beauty of Rachel and the potent wellspring beneath the earth – that will allow us to eliminate these new and unwelcome large stones.

The Arizal says, that the large stone covering the well refers to the big questions and dilemmas we struggle with. The biggest of these questions have now, tragically, resurfaced with the Mumbai massacre. Jacob’s rolling the stone off the well represents the indefatigable resources of the soul that lifts and shatters the greatest questions with its persistent pursuit of clarity and truth, which will mark the end of days (eikev, ikvesa de’meshicha).

May that day be now.

May “The Space” (G-d is called “space” in this traditional consolation) console all those grieving amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

And may we all transform our tears into a revolution of goodness.

~~~~~

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Shani
12 years ago

kol hakavod. Thank you for this weeks thoughts, much needed.
Besorot Tovot
Shabbat shalom

Shani

marvin
12 years ago

Rabbi Jacobson,
I was very moved by this newsletter. This morning i came to an awakening. Like a boy turning and running away from his father, no matter where the boy goes and what he does, he is still his fathers son. So it seems that as we question God, during these troubled times, we can turn and run far for all the right reasons, yet beyond reason, God is there.

Your work is inspirational.

I dont know what Gods plan is and i dont need to know. Letting go and not having control is the centerpiece of Faith.

I wish you and your family/community a very peaceful Sabbath.

Blessings,
Marvin Etzioni

Jeremy Nation
12 years ago

As I read your words I was moved by their power and insight. Thank you for including me in your newsletters.

Jeremy Nation

Susan Roseman
12 years ago

Our G-d, Who is goodness Himself, is in control. He sees, knows, and
understands that which is far beyond what we can fathom. The only
positive outcome of all of this that I can see, is that perhaps it has opened the eyes of some, as to the fact that there is an ongoing and concerted effort underway to eradicate us from this planet. This effort has been planned and is being implemented by the same folks who have the agenda of making their religion supreme, by the killing off thoses who stand in the way to their accomplishing this. Their on-going scourge of hatred and intolerance has honed in on innocents who are Christian, Hindu, Mandaean, and others, as well as our people. So many have been savagely attacked and slaughtered to further this end.

The Golden Rule is not a part of Islam, as it is in every other religion I know of. Many of the proponents of that religion do not view the world as we do. Therefore, they do not think the way we do.

Last week, after the country-wide satellite broadcast, in various Jewish settings, from your city, dealing with the nuclear capacity of Iran and the mindset of many Muslims these days (due to the intolerant way the Koran views all infidels, especially Jews), I heard a number of people who were leaving say how frightening this is, how scared they were, etc. I wondered where they had been living. How could this be a revelation to them? Dont they watch the news, listen to the radio, think, etc.?

A world-wide war is going on, some of it Cold, some of it Hot, and a lot of it is being directed at us, Jews everywhere, not just Israel and its people. Whether we are aware of it, or not, subtle, sly, anti-Jewish innuendo and falsehoods are being promoted by them; huge amounts of money is quietly being spent buying off politicians; as well as those in charge of the public media; and universities and public school systems to push, put in place, and implement curricula that inaccurately changes history, maps, and ways of thinking.
The same folks doing this are, step by step, doing all they can to
Undermine the freedoms and way of thinking that has made this country great. They are using our freedoms and political correctness against us, in promoting their cause. And some of our Jewish, so-called, smartest, are hired by them, to represent them in court, etc. (while laughing up their sleeves at us). This war is against our Jewish people, the U.S, and the West. They are winning right now because so many of our own people simply dont get it. And dont want to know, hear, or deal with it. However, events such as these make
it more and more difficult to stay ignorant. To mount a defense, we must realize we are being attacked, picked-off, undermined, etc. because we have an enemy who has set out to destroy us. If we dont realize this, we give them the whole playing field where they become more heady with their perceived power.

It is a slow process to make people see what they dont want to see. It is uncomfortable and frightening, so they turn away. Our G-d is getting, at least some of our attention. This will continue to occur more and more as this war continues. It wont be stopped by thinking it is the job of our government and Israels government to put an end to it. It will be up to each of us to do what we can. And we cant do that if we are blinded to the problems that face us.

S.

Rabbi Hecht
12 years ago

Dear Simon – I thank you for writing this piece very much. Its appreciated as you presented it so well. Amuk he me’od!

The destruction of the “peace house” in Hevron is all part of the concealment and the heaviness caused by fear and the lack of faith all around us.

Moshiach Now.

Rabbi Shea Hecht

Rabbi Aaron Raskin
12 years ago

great thought, Moshiach now.

rabbi moshe bernstein- israel
12 years ago

we have to double all inyanei shlichus all over the world.

NewOrleansPuma
12 years ago

Rabbi, The truth here that you tell …may it rise up in all hearts to act upon and in all minds to dwell upon..and even as it does may the truth of the desire to rid the world of all that does not… fit the jihadist view also remain. Be vigilant my Jewish brothers and sisters. I, not a Jew, stand along side you ever before the face of G-d…May we all be vigilant to stand up against hate and the heresy of promoting a G-d who rather than love hates…No. For what is one willing to die? The jihadists are willing to do so for a lie and a sacrilige, an abomination against the nature of G-d.
Are you willing to stand and die for the Truth? I am…May it be so for all as we move closer to that which only G-d can comprehend.

NewOrleansPuma
12 years ago

Rabbi, The truth here that you tell …may it rise up in all hearts to act upon and in all minds to dwell upon..and even as it does may the truth of the desire to rid the world of all that does not… fit the jihadist view also remain. Be vigilant my Jewish brothers and sisters. I, not a Jew, stand along side you ever before the face of G-d…May we all be vigilant to stand up against hate and the heresy of promoting a G-d who rather than love hates…No. For what is one willing to die? The jihadists are willing to do so for a lie and a sacrilige, an abomination against the nature of G-d.
Are you willing to stand and die for the Truth? I am…May it be so for all as we move closer to that which only G-d can comprehend.

Patty Whalen
12 years ago

Dear Rabbi: How very much I appreciate your words of spiritual wisdom here. I join you as I ever had with all hearts who seek the truth for a world in which the light of the spiritual transforms all the world in an act of unending gratitude to G-d for all that He has given and will give to each ….A well educated Roman Catholic who looks forward to more instruction on the meaning and depth of the Torah….Peace to you and all that is yours and all that you love and seek to love…New Orleans Puma

anonymous
12 years ago

Thank you for trying to help people deal with the Mombai tragedy. Here are some thoughts I had about the massacre.
The Rebbes kpital of Tehillim begins with the word hodu, which is also the name of India. The day the massacres started was Thanksgiving in America, thanks being another meaning of the name hodu. It is extremely hard to offer thanks and praise to Hashem when such a terrible tragedy occurred. Perhaps the ones offering thanks are those who died al kiddush Hashem, that they were able to sanctify Hashems name.
The shliach had the letter of the dreidel, the gematria of Moshiach, in his name Shliach Gavriel Noach Holtzberg,-he didnt experience a miracle, except that of his two year-old being saved. As a shliach is one with his sender, he bonded with moshiach. Hashem should avenge the deaths of those who died al kiddush Hashem by bringing moshiach now.

bassie
12 years ago

there are no words. powerful essay.

Chaya TIkva Cohen of Tzfat
12 years ago

BSD
The tears still flow…..
And with the mitzvas we choose to do for the gufs taken from us, one consolation can comfort us, their souls and blessed work here, live on in our memories!
May we never forget! Moshiac (NOW) !
Light your Chanukias and say a prayer for little Mosihela!

ron agam
12 years ago

Dear Simon,
Nobody knows better how to dress words on emotions, here in the case of
unfathomable atrocity, you have again shown us , how with words we can
live this sorrow, sadness and anger generated by men who have lost all
what is human and godly.

phyllis mann
12 years ago

Whys may never be revealed to us…perhaps they are none of our
business. What is our business is what we will all do. And as you have
wisely written…yes, we have a window of time before we all go back to
the mundane lives of our own routines. Talking the talk is easy…walking
it is the challenge. There are stones all around us which are seemingly
impossible to lift. Nothing has changed. Life is repeated over and
over…and to stand up and do something, even if it is not popular, even if it is not in agreement with others is what is difficult and takes
courage. Faith IS the only thing that exists when there is no explanation. And as someone once told me many years ago during one of my own lifes challenges….we are a chutzpedik people by nature…it is ok to yell at G-d…He can take it! we must all DEMAND from G-d that this insanity stop! We must demand and yell from the deepest inner depths of our souls that enough is enough! The stones must and will be lifted!

samson freundlich
12 years ago

Rabbi-

Your words should be read and re-read…I am sharing your powerful and soul stirring messages with everyone…Happy and Healthy Birthday wishes as well…

Samson