the Ascent of Prayer

B”H

parashas Vayeitzei 5781

“And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of G-d ascending and descending on it.”

– Genesis 28:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

After the debacle of Esau’s temper, became known, Jacob was sent away to find a wife in Haran, amongst his own kindred. Essentially, he left in flight from the simmering wrath of his brother, Esau, who was furious about not receiving the blessing of the firstborn. Jacob sets out penniless, travelling by foot to the land of his mother’s brother, Laban. Along the way, he grows weary towards evening; so, he rests at a certain place, where he places stones around his head, before going to sleep. There, he dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth; there are angels ascending and descending upon the ladder.

We would expect that the angels would first descend from heaven, then ascend back to heaven. However, the wording is specific, the angels were “ascending and descending.” One explanation given is that the angels are angelic messengers of prayers. The angels are even likened to the actual prayers, ascending to Heaven as requests to G-d; then, descending as specific replies to those requests. It is as if the angels are standing by on earth, ready to take our prayers to Heaven; at some point later, they are answered in one form or another. Perhaps, not many of us stop to ponder how our prayers reach G-d anyway; so, this could be as viable an explanation as any other. Elsewhere it is written that our prayers obtain wings like angels, enabling them to ascend on high to G-d.

The place that Jacob dreamt about the ladder, connecting heaven and earth is described by him, when he awakes, as “none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17, JPS). It is feasible, to think of a unique place upon the earth, whereof there is a direct connection to G-d, a sort of umbilical cord between heaven and earth. The place where Jacob dreamt his dream is thought to be Mount Moriah, where eventually, much later in time, G-d’s House was indeed built, initially by King Solomon. Although, since Beis-El is ten miles north of Jerusalem, where Mount Moriah was located, the connection between Beis-El and Mount Moriah may be more symbolic.

Regardless, the “Temple Mount,” where the “House of G-d stood,” is currently in the midst of Jerusalem. For the Jewish people, this is the holiest place on earth. Although access to the Western Wall, part of the complete wall that surrounded the entire location where the Temple once stood, is limited because of restrictions put in place during the pandemic, people from around the world would usually flock here to pray. This does not imply that G-d is unable to hear our prayers, wherever we live upon the face of the earth. Even though, according to tradition, He sits on His Throne in Seventh Heaven, He is still able to hear our whispered prayers, even the prayers in the silence of our hearts.

Human Nature

“And the children struggled within her.”

– Genesis 25:22, JPS 1917 Tanach

“And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.”

– Genesis 25:27, JPS 1917 Tanach

Jacob received his name, from the root word eikev meaning “heel,” because when born he was grasping onto Esau’s heel. “Jacob’s holding on to the heel of Esau may symbolize that values which Esau would stamp his foot on would be the very ones Jacob would cherish” (Akeidat Yitzchak). The comment points toward the differences that appeared in the personalities of Jacob and Esau as they grew up. Esau was an ambitious hunter who spent all of his time in the field, while Jacob is described as an ish tam (wholesome man), who quietly devoted himself to raising sheep, and reflecting upon the nature of G-d.

The two were somewhat diamatrically opposed to each other. Thus their relationship can be seen as representative of the two opposing spirits of man: the yetzer tov (good inclination), and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). These two inclinations battle against each other within the soul of every human being. Yet, not everyone may be aware of the prolific conflict that occurs, especially if leeway is constantly being given to the less moral impulses of one’s character. Only when opposing baser instincts, does an individual begin to feel the tension between doing what is right, or giving in to inferior behaviors.

Yet, to consistently take the path of least resistance, permitting inertia to influence the soul to the point of sluggishness, and simply “going with the flow,” without considering where the course of one’s path will lead, is to remain subject to what is otherwise referred to as “the animal soul,” the part of ourselves that favors our natural inclinations. Rather, true “spirituality,” in accord with the quest for perfection, and the human endeavor to excel, must be focused on uplifting our souls, above the realm of commonality with animals. We breathe, eat, and sleep; yet, our purpose of existence goes beyond the mundane; true happiness can only be derived from pursuing a “higher goal” in our lives.

Life Unadulterated

B”H

“And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah.”

– Genesis 23:1, The Complete Jewish Tanach

What an interesting way to denote the years of Sarah’s life. Commentary notes that there is a specific reason that the word “years” appears after each component number of the total number of years of her life. Inasmuch that each time frame of her life is to be understood in a certain manner, the following rendering is given: her childhood, young adulthood, and adulthood were all equally good (based on Rashi). Imagine an equanimity of identity, intention, and purpose spanning the entirety of a life – this was the life of Sarah.

This may be contrasted with the lives of many people in modernity. The language, currently describes different formative years in a negative way, for example, the terrible twos, the rebellious adolescence, and the task of “finding onself” given to the young adult. Otherwise, consider the pressure of higher level education, and earlier, placing the burden of choosing an area of interest upon the student, before he or she may be ready to decide upon a profession. In like manner that so many teenagers and young adults change their image, interests, and friendships; college bound students and university freshman change their majors.

And what of the often turbulent years of the teenager, as well as the young adult, if one’s formative years were actually not so formative? “Train a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, JPS 1917 Tanach). While there is a continuum, expressed by Erikson, between “identity cohesion and role confusion,” especially during adolescence; perhaps, a cohesive identity may be formed as the result of parental instruction and role modeling. Each child should be brought up in accordance with his or her own personality, as well as learning styles. This is not a task that can simply be relegated to the teachers where the child attends school.

My personal opinion is that unless an individual embarks upon a steady path, replete with a moral component, then how can one navigate the vicissitudes of life? Too often, the formula of permitting the youth to experience life for himself, without providing any clear guideposts, is the one taken by parents who have been influenced by the permissiveness of liberalism, that has given sway to a subtle form of nihilism. There is still something to say for those throughout the world who are brought up in a more traditional framework of life. This would include those within societies that embrace traditionalism, as well as those families and communities that uphold certain religious values.

The monotheism embraced by both Abraham and Sarah served as a rallying cry for their newfound beliefs, whereof each were committed to a high degree of sanctity in their lives, despite the idolatry and diminished moral sphere, of the surrounding peoples of that time. Eventually, the three Abrahamic faiths influenced the world in a manner, whereby many people were called to a higher standard. Comparatively speaking, as the standard of the world seems to decline in more recent times, it is even more important to plan a trajectory for our own lives, those of our children, and the future of society, even in the midst of societal breakdowns. Having steered a little bit off topic, I would encourage that there be a return to an unadulterated life of stability, purposeful intent, and commitment; instead of the rampant nihilism, experimenting, and seeking of entertainment, so common in modern society. May the pure, devoted, and moral life of Sarah serve as an example to anyone seeking meaning and the upmost good for their own lives, as well as the lives of others.

“Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

– Proverbs 29:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Abraham’s Perception

“Abraham lifted his eyes, and perceived.”

– Genesis 18:2

Abraham was in communion with G-d, while sitting at the entrance of his tent. If he could be pictured there, in silent contemplation, perhaps, with his eyes closed, he might appear as if he was meditating. At some point, he lifted his eyes, being stirred out of his deep personal experience of being in G-d’s presence; and, he perceived three men standing nearby him. What did he perceive? He may have perceived that they were angels; he may have also immediately realised that they had been assigned to carry out a mission from Above. He hurriedly tended to their needs.

Then, he and his wife Sarah who had been barren for thirty nine years were told that they would have a son one year from the time of their appearance. After the message was delivered, Sarah laughed at such an extraordinary proclamation. She was mildly reproached for laughing, as if she doubted what she heard. Yet, “Is anything to hard for the L-RD?” (Genesis 18:13-15).

Next, two of the angels walked towards Sodom and Gomorrah, while G-d explained to Abraham what was about to take place. The cries of these two cities had reached the heavens; judgment was about to occur from the heavenly realm (see Genesis 18:20-21). Yet, Abraham tried to persuade G-d to spare the cities for the sake of any righteous people, who may have also been living there. Before an indiscriminate pouring down of fire and brimstone would overturn the cities, Abraham asked, “Would you destroy the righteous with the wicked?” Shall not the judge of the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). Abraham takes G-d to task, entering into a dialogue with him, on behalf of the righteous. If there were only ten righteous people in the cities, G-d agreed that he would spare those cities.

Yet, apparently, there were not even ten righteous persons living amongst the wicked occupants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, and his immediate family were evacuated by the angels in an urgent manner. His wife, hesitated, longing for her married daughters who had stayed by their disbelieving husbands. Perhaps, she had also turned back, because she did not want to leave behind her a life of security, comfort, and contentment. She turned into a pillar of salt; perhaps, because of exposure to the fire and brimstone. A stark reminder of the consequences of immobility, in the face of urgent action required during a catastrophic event.

“And it came to pass, when G-d destroyed the cities of the plain, that G-d recalled Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.” – Genesis 19:29

Individuation

“Now the L-RD said unto Abram: ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee.”

– Genesis 12:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

Abraham was called out from his environmental mileu, in order to start a new life, free from the shackles of the past that had chained him to a world of idolatry. In modern psychological terms, he broke free of the conditioning that kept him from pursuing his own identity. Specifically, the term, “individuation” seems apropos in more ways than one.

First of all, Abraham is described as an “ivri,” meaning that he was from ” the other side” of the Euphrates River. The English transliteration would be “Hebrew.” The word also connotes that he was on one side of the moral sphere, while those from Ur Chasdim, whom he left behind were on another.

Today, while many remain entrenched in their familiar environs, others decide to move on to another place, both geographically, as well as spiritually. Part of individuation includes “separating out” what is right for ourselves as individials, from what can no longer be maintained within the framework of our personal worldview.

Additionally, Abraham was called for a specific mission in life: “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). Chassidus, a mystical component of Judaism, teaches that every individual has a mission in life. Abraham was given a good idea of his mission in life. However, for those of us living in this modern world, we are challenged, perplexed and sometimes flummoxed at the thought of finding our mission in life.

Our journey to the destination that G-d may ultimately have in mind for us, is often beset by many trials and errors, as well as false starts and wrong paths. Yet, at some point we may be able to reflect upon our past, and be able to see how everything actually led to exactly where we stand today. As the saying goes, “hindsight is golden.”

Cleansing the Soul

“And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.” – Genesis 7:12

“And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered.” – Genesis 7:19

A predetermined time was given for the floodwaters to cover the earth.

No one escaped the devastation that G-d sent upon the earth, except for eight people intended to repopulate the earth, and an array of animals meant to rebuild the animal kingdom. Even the seeds of many different types of herbs, plants, and other vegetation were preserved on the Ark built by Noah. In order for the renewal of G-d’s creation to take place, every effort was taken to preserve the necessary elements of life that would provide a second chance for humanity.

In our own lives, we are also given second chances: G-d designed the means for our own renewal to take place, even under the most dire of circumstances. When the flood waters in our own personal lives seem to prevail, inundating all that we know, and are familiar with, we may turn to Him with all of heart, soul, and might, seeking Him as our place of Refuge.

“Save me, O G-d; for the waters are come in even unto the soul” (Psalms 69:2, JPS). The churning, chaotic waters of our lives that threaten to engulf us, if we are not wearing a life preserver, so to speak, are those that enter our mind, manifest as cares and worries. Yet, we can guard the gates to our most precious treasure – the soul – thereby preventing negativity to seep in to our “inner sanctum.”

Also, noteworthy to mention is that, concerning the door to the Ark, as the waters began to build up around ark, G-d Himself closed the door (see Genesis 7:16). Concomittantly, once we make our own best efforts, if we fully place our trust in Him, our soul will be sealed. This is necessary in order to block out the tumult of the world, for our place of secret refuge within will provide comfort and safety, throughout the storms of life. Instead of getting drenched, the soul will be cleansed. Figuratively speaking, our boat will not capsize; nor, will we ever fear drowning in a sea of chaos and confusion.

Beginnings

“In the beginning G-d created the heaven and the earth.”

– Genesis 1:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

“And G-d created man in His own image, in the image of G-d created He him; male and female created He them.”

– Genesis 1:27, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Before I created you in the womb, I selected you; Before you were born, I consecrated you.”

– Jeremiah 1:5, JPS 1985 Tanach

You are unique, designed for a purpose, beyond even your own expectations. What doubt might you have that you were born for a reason in the right season? Even in consideration of the challenges in life, that you may be facing right now, as well as any laments about things not working out in the past, G-d’s timing is perfect. Everything has been taken into consideration, in order to provide opportunity for the maximum potential of your soul to achieve spiritual growth. When we turn our hearts towards Him, seeking His wisdom within the framework of our daily lives, we may begin to see more clearly, how everything has been designed for our good in mind.


G-d may call out to you, to move forward, at some point, within the framework of His blueprint for your life; even, perhaps, every day, in the smaller details of your life’s journey. Perhaps, you are already experiencing this. He is interested in the many facets of our lives. When He created the heavens and earth, He never abandoned His creation; rather, He directs and guides, shapes and molds, if only we are willing to be influenced by Him.


In service to Him, you will always have a reason for being here on this earth.

Even if your current condition is one of stasis, this could be a preparation for a unique mission, that only you can enact. Every single soul on earth has a purpose. When we are able to use our discernment, in regard to our unique calling, we may begin to accept our circumstances, as a necessary requirement to shape our character, so that we can be used for a higher purpose. On the one hand, the most challenging experiences in life may serve to improve our character. On the other hand, at times, we need to focus on nurturing our soul, readily opening ourselves to becoming better people through self improvement, before we can effectively accomplish the goals in life that G-d may have in mind for us.

Regrets over past misdeeds provide opportunity for teshuvah (repentance); whereas teshuvah was created before the creation of the world, in order to provide an essential way to return to G-d. The past may lead to the future in a transitional manner, when maladaptive patterns are diminished, and life brings restoration, as was meant to be from the beginning of time. In service to G-d, success is on the horizon, by way of careful steps, one at a time, towards the goals that are revealed to you. He may serve as a Guide and Companion; yet, He may also send others, who will help you along the way.

“He will shelter me in His pavilion on an evil day, grant me the protection of His tent, raise me high upon a rock.”

– Psalm 27:5, JPS 1985 Tanach

“Compassionate Father, draw Your servant to Your will.”

– Yedid Nefesh

Transition

This blog may soon include a more casual presentation of ideas, worthy of the blog’s new name. Please, bear with me during this transition. Wherever inspiration leads, I will follow, as long as the end result still resembles my basic perspective on life.

I would prefer not to let creativity lead too far out of the bounds of the yoke of Heaven, that I have accepted upon myself. Please, sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride. Above all, enjoy G-d’s Creation by not spending too much time in front of the screen.

May the Almighty bless your day. Shalom.

Sukkot: Inclusivity of the Nations

https://youtu.be/56f_js2xN90

“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no manner of servile work, and ye shall keep a feast unto H’Shem seven days.” – Numbers 29:12, JPS

The festival of Sukkot, as prescribed in Torah, included offerings for the nations for their protection from affliction. There were a total of seventy bulls offered over a period of seven days. This specifically designated amount of offerings corresponds to the primary nations mentioned in Genesis (Sukkah 55b). In the future, all of the nations will be required to worship in Jerusalem (it is likely to presume that they will send delegates). This is a sign of the Messianic Era, when Moshiach will reign from Jerusalem.

“And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the L-RD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles [Sukkot].” – Zechariah 14:7

“And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the L-RD, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 2:3

Unravelling Negativity

by Tzvi Fievel Schnee

“Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me.” – Psalm 51:4-5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Dovid HaMelech (King David) was constantly aware of the sins of his past. This awareness imbued him with humility, in the face of G-d’s righteousness. “Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my supplanters [heels] compasseth me about” (Psalm 49:6, JPS 1917 Tanach). Literally, “the sins of my heels,” referring to the breaking of lesser mitzvoth, that people, figuratively speaking, tend to trample upon, mistakenly thinking that they are insignificant. Yet, even King David, was concerned, that he might be prevented from entering Olam Haba, because of the sins of the heels in his own life.

“Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope” (Isaiah 5:18, JPS 1917 Tanach). As is mentioned in Chok L’Yisrael, based on the Zohar Bereishis 198a, the phrase, “the cords of vanity,” is also likened to the sins of the heels. Additionally, the phrase, “cords of vanity” is reminiscent of the prayer, Ana Bekoach, where we request of H’Shem, that He “untie the bundled sins.” These sins are traditionally understood to be the collective sins of Israel.

On this Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, may we as well as all of Israel (K’lal Yisrael) be forgiven. Effectively, in due time, may this lead to our complete renewal as individuals. Furthermore, as a nation, may Israel’s redemption also be enacted through teshuvah. “And a redeemer will come to Zion, And unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, Saith the L-RD” (Isaiah 59:20, JPS 1917 Tanach).

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