Thursday, December 25, 2008

An Inner Fire

When fire was created on the first Motzaei Shabbos it represented a collaboration of man and G-d. Prior to sinning in Gan Eden, man would not have needed any external indicator of light - he himself would glow. But following his mistake - man was lost in the darkness - without some external light to direct him. Fire was Hashem's gift to man - because once given to him, man could recreate it at will.

There is also a subtle reminder of the metaphorical darkness that man was subject to ( following his sin and the introduction of confusion into the world ). Wherever a flame burns - it will always point upwards. In whatever state of uncertainty and lack of direction we may find ourselves - all we need do is light a candle, and it will point the way we need to turn, heavenward.

Perhaps this is why the flame, more than any other aspect of the restored temple service, was privileged to bear the miracle that would mark the holiday of Chanukah. Because in their own way, the Chashmonaim were already marching to it's light - doing what was right in the face of, and despite, all opposition. The flames of the menorah simply brought down to earth the fire that led those true to Hashem in the period of Hellenistic darkness.

May we merit to march to the light of an unwavering candle, and may the physical manifestation, the holy menorah, be relit again, speedily and in our days, amen.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fight, Fight, Fight !

When the Torah tells us that Yaakov Avinu fought with an angel – we must ask ourselves, what was he fighting for, or against ?

The Medrash explains that this was the personal, guardian angel of Esav, whom Yaakov was due to meet in the morning. The Medrash, elaborates, however, that Esav had the distinct privilege of having as a 'guardian' angel – Samael or Satan. As to what they were fighting about – well – Samael, explains the Kli Yakar, is derived from the Aramaic word לסמא meaning to blind. Samael was attempting to blind Yaakov Avinu to the presence of G-d in this world.

How did Samael think that he could persuade a tzaddik of Yaakov's caliber that there is no G-d ? By rolling around in the dust – or the dust of Lashon Hara. When slander is used ( literal mudslinging as it were ) then we are inclined to let it's insidious influence penetrate, no matter how absurd.

So how does Yaakov emerge victorious from this encounter ? When the dawn of clarity and light comes up. And what is Samael's parting shot ? Yaakov's thigh – an allusion to his offspring. Yaakov Avinu won't fall for this ploy but of his children there will be those who do.

How can we overcome this challenge, the challenge to see the divine hand of goodness in everything despite the mudslinging of the Satan ? Like Yaakov – wait and see the dawning of a new day. Both literally and figuratively – when we experience the miracle that is renewal ( from the minutiae like a new day to the incredible like the birth of a child ) we are once again connected with the source of all renewal – The Source of All Good. Hashem.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Mine Mine Mine - It's All Mine !!

If there is one striking difference between the wicked Lavan and the humble Yaakov it would be this, taking credit.

After twenty years of hard labor and, arguably the first fertility clinic in the world ( for sheep ) Yaakov amasses great wealth. By his own admission, he was on call round the clock and always took responsibility for any loss. Nothing was chalked up to “normal wear and tear”. Even the proliferation of livestock, at which he worked quite diligently, he describes as having been given to him by Hashem [ see Bereishis 30:9-12]. Yaakov epitomizes the middah of realizing that all comes from Hashem.

Lavan is a stark contrast. He pays lip service to believing in Hashem ( when he clears the house of idolatry in order to host Eliezer ) and even pretends to value other peoples contributions [ see Bereishis 29:15 ]. But the real Lavan comes oozing to the surface when he chases Yaakov and Co. down after their hasty departure. He says, “Your wives - are mine, your children – mine, your wealth – mine … everything you have you got from me” [Bereishis 31:43]. What is the defining principle of Lavan’s wickedness ? Not the desire for pleasure, and not the desire for honor ( he has those in spades, though ) But the driving force behind his Lavan’ness – is him, just him. He is so self centered that the world revolves around him and all the good that happens must be because of him.

This is a powerful lesson for us as to the extent that self centeredness can reach. I can cheat my friend with impunity if all I care about is my end of the bargain. I can even worship idols – because after all the important thing is how they make me feel.

Let us take this shabbos of serious contrast between the selflessness of Yaakov and the selfishness of Lavan to look inside ourselves and chase away any semblance of egocentrism.

Hatzlacha !!