” …and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26b
A series of commentaries on the soul:
“Poetry, music, love, wonder – these things that have no survival value, but which speak to our deepest sense of being – all tell us that we are not mere animals, assemblages of selfish genes.
By bringing that which is animal within us close to God, we allow the material to be suffused with the spiritual and we become something else:
no longer slaves of nature but servants of the living God.” – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (from a commentary on the Torah Portion Vayikra)
As ‘servants’ what does the living God ask of us? He asks that: ‘You shall be holy’.
This is your purpose for your life. This is your calling as a servant of the living God.
This is the advice from the Almighty. He has built into our very being, a desire to improve ourselves (and our surroundings). Yet, this urge can be mistaken as a drive for material possessions. It is instead, an innate drive to spiritual growth, to becoming holy.
In the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible – see in particular, Leviticus), the Hebrew word translated as ‘Holy’ is קָדוֹשׁ (qadosh) and is an adjective, or an active verb and thus a state of being. The goal of holiness is an individual one, but it is also one which we are all, (and by ‘all’ I mean every single living human being), called to hear, even if that call is virtually deafened out by our chaotic lifestyles.
We were made incomplete. Deliberately so.
While we were made ‘very good’, and made in the image of the Almighty, He has deliberately made everyone of us less than complete, less than whole, so that part of our task in this life is to heal and complete ourselves, and in doing so, and as part and parcel of this task, we are called to heal or ‘repair the world’ (tikkun haOlam).
Full Holiness means wholeness.
In this sense then, all our weaknesses, our shortcomings and failings are deliberate, to the degree that we have been made with these less than perfect traits so that we do, in fact, have a job to do – the job of completing ourselves.
What is really challenging and almost unbelievable is that it is in fact possible to complete ourselves!
It is possible to gain that state of completeness, when a person becomes all that HaShem created him/her to be.
Sadly, most brought up in the Western tradition, and especially within the Christian community are taught to reject this fact, through the insidious and seriously harmful doctrine of ‘Original Sin’.
So how are we to become holy?
Firstly, we need to appreciate that we all have a life curriculum – the good, the bad and the ugly come our way to help mould us (if willing), to be the unique people G-d intended us to be and to be fully Holy. This ‘curriculum’ is daily before us whether we consciously choose to engage with it or not. It is impacting our lives, and hopefully in a positive manner whether we acknowledge it or not.
But learning of this ‘curriculum’ and being aware of its daily teachings can make the path to completing it, both smoother and quicker.
Surely, if we all realized we were in ‘school’ and working on a curriculum designed by the world’s best Educator (G-d Himself), to lead us to be the best person we could be and that we were designed to be, wouldn’t we want to complete the curriculum as quickly and effectively as possible!?
There is a spark of Holiness, a spark of divinity in every person. There is also every character trait in every person. As part of our “curriculum’ we each uniquely have some traits that we find more problematic than others, and that we need to work on more than others. We should not see these traits that we struggle with as bad or wrong or sinful, but as traits that need addressing so that ultimately they become under our control and in the proper balance.
The person who appears in general to be an extremely angry person, still has some moments of calm and some circumstances in which he/she has control over that anger. But also the calmest person has some degree of anger in him/her, some circumstances that really test his or her peace and serenity.
Anger can be bad, yet anger at injustice helps motivate us to try to correct that injustice.
A man with unbridled lusting for a women not his wife, is clearly acting in a sinful manner (it is breaking the 10th Commandment), yet this very Commandment implies that a man should lust after his own wife!
Lust (as in a ‘lust of life’) or desire is the true secret to a successful marriage. A marriage where that desire for each other is recognized and knowingly cultivated and maintained is a marriage that will survive.
All character traits can be shown to be beneficial if in the right balance and exercised to the right degree.
Imagine all the possible character traits on a continuum, such as anger and passivity being at opposite ends of a balance. Or humility and arrogance on a separate continuum. Imagine each and every character trait being on a continuum between the two extremes of that characteristic.
Inside us, in our inner-most soul is a light of divinity, a light made in the image and likeness of the Almighty that should shine out from us and brighten the world around us.
But also imagine the many character traits that are not in balance as ‘clouds’ that block that light or ‘sun’ that should be shining out from within.
As we mature and grow so that each trait moves towards being in the right balance, our inner ‘light’, our spark of divinity, shines out more strongly as the ‘clouds’ are removed.
As we work on ourselves and our traits, a trait’s balance then moves towards its proper centre, and the ‘black or dark cloud’ gets less and less opaque and more and more transparent.
With many traits to balance, the clouds can really block out the ‘sun’s rays’ (our inner light), the light that should be shining out from our core.
As we learn to improve ourselves and find the proper balance of our character traits and learn which are most problematic for each of us, and how we can learn to control and rectify/balance these traits, we should find that without any real and noticeable effort, our light shines brighter, and begins to impact those around us in positive and helpful ways.
So in seeking to complete ourselves, we quite naturally and effortlessly end up helping others to ‘see the light’ and in so doing perhaps help them to complete themselves.
Next: Dealing with the inner adversary, the Yetzer HaRa.
— to be continued —
This introduction and the articles to further and bring some depth to this overview are some reflections from Mussar instruction and other Rabbinic teachings.
The books that this series of short articles are primarily based on:
‘Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar’ by Alan Morinis.
‘10 Conversations You need to Have With Yourself’ by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
‘Shalom in the Home’ by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
‘Kosher Lust: Love Is Not the Answer’ by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
‘God According to God: A Physicist Proves We’ve Been Wrong About God All Along’ by Dr Gerald L Schroeder
This weeks Torah Portion is Parshah Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3). It contains the stories of Jacob’s leaving his family to live in the land of Laban and then returning to the land of Canaan to fulfil his destiny and continue the process of creating the Jewish People, a people called to be a Light to the Gentiles.
Rabbi Moshe Avraham Kempinksi has written an excellent article on this Torah Portion this week. In this article is states that “ There will be many times, that the people of Israel will need to leave the comfort of their spiritual existence and venture into the dangers of coping with a world that is both dangerous and menacing”. How true is this statement in this day and age!
This also reminded me of an article by Rabbi Ari Kahn which I quoted last month in my blog ‘Abraham, the Father of the faithful’:
Similarly, for the Jewish People to have an impact on the world, we must first disengage, separate ourselves, and fully explore our unique relationship with God.
There will be times when we must wrest ourselves away from our deep involvement, even our responsibility for the world. We must climb lofty mountains, even engage in divinely-mandated, though seemingly paradoxical, behavior. But we must always remember that eventually we must come down from the mountain, re-engage, return to the people that we left at the foot of the mountain. We must find the language and establish the relationship that will allow us to share with them what we learned at the summit.
The way we can accomplish our universal responsibility is by first becoming separate, different – as holy as we can possibly become. Only this will enable us to fulfill our mission of tikkun olam, to enlighten, to educate, to heal and repair the world.”
I think this rings true for all of us. We all need to take time out, to recharge our batteries, to re-connect with the Almighty, so that we can return to the fray, to the challenges of engaging with the world and trying to positively impact it.
Clearly our Maker knew this and so He created a special Day, the Sabbath for this very purpose. What a thoughtful and loving Father, Creator and King we have!
Moshe’s article is so good that I would really encourage you to read it in full. I have copied it below to make this easy for you:
Vayetze: Going Out (Israel National News – Published: Thursday, November 22, 2012 4:48 PM)
“And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.”The Torah portion of VaYeitze begins with Jacob leaving one place ands with him leaving another. Yet the two words used to describe each “leaving” are vastly different.
When Jacob is leaving the land of Canaan,he is fleeing from his house. He was escaping from a brother who was set to kill him. He was running from a father who may have lost some measure of faith and confidence in his son. He was leaving without knowing when he was to return. And he was leaving into a land of the unknown, and into a future filled with challenges and doubt.
The verse tells us ” And Jacob left Beer sheba, and he went ( VaYeitzeh) to Haran.”( Genesis 28:10) In the midst of Jacob’s running away from Esau he sees the vision of the ladder to the heavens in a dream. In this vision he is promised by G-d , great things.
“ And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.”( ibid :15)
When he returns from the land of Laban we read; “. So Jacob rose (vaYakam) , and he lifted up his sons and his wives upon the camels.” (ibid 31:17) This too occurs connected to a dream. Yet in Haran, it was a very different sort of dream.
” And it came to pass at the time the animals came into heat, that I lifted my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the he goats that mounted the animals were ringed, speckled, and striped.”( ibid 31:10) As opposed to the spiritual dream of angels that he dreamt while still in the land, here Jacob dreams about physical goats and material acquisitions. The materialistic seduction of Chutz LeAretz- Exile – seems to have begun to affect Jacob as well. He understands that he needs to leave.
What is to be learned from those two differing words, Vayeitzeh ( and he went out) and Vayakam( and he arose) ?
When we read in the book of Deuteronomy, of G-d’s instructions regarding the going out to war .The verse reads: “Ki Teitzei LaMilchamah – If you shall go out to wage war against your enemy.” (Deuteronomy 21:10) The verse could have simply been, “If you shall wage war?”
The Torah wants us to remember that warfare is not harmonious with our inner essence. In order to go to war you must exit your oasis of spiritual and holy comfort. Yet his must be done only with the purpose of achieving goals of spiritual and national importance.
We see his again with Noah when G-d commands him the following;” ‘Go forth( Tzeh) from the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons’ wives with thee. … be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth.’ ( Genesis 8:16-17).
We see it as well with Jacob’s leaving of the land of his forefathers. Jacob was destined to begin the creation of the Jewish people in the land of Haran. That necessarily involved the spiritual pain of VaYeitzeh.
That is not the case when Jacob leaves Haran. When he leaves the land of Lavan , he is escaping the quagmire of materialism, falsehood and idolatry. In order to do this he must rise up (VaKam) . He must gather his spiritual strength and courage in order to be able to continue to fulfill his destiny in the land of his forefathers.
There will be many times, that the people of Israel will need to leave the comfort of their spiritual existence and venture into the dangers of coping with a world that is both dangerous and menacing. That is what we learn from Jacob’s leaving and his returning. That is what going out to war- ki teitze el hamilchama teaches us. If one’s purpose and goal remains clear ,then the continuation of the verse becomes a promise “. If you go out to war against your enemies,… and Hashem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hands...”( Deuteronomy 21:10)
When this piece was being written, it was still unclear if the Israeli defense forces were compelled to enter gaza or not. Yet the courage of going out from their homes and the courage of entering battles that need to be fought will hopefully bring about the Divine promise of protection. And either way, it is only a matter of time before they do.
It is just as Hashem promised Jacob in his personal “going out”.
“And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.” – see http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/12477#.UK8rNY6ZQsm
For more on the last scripture quoted and the restoration of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel I recommend the article ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ at circumcisedheart.info.