I. Rising higher and higher in the service of *HaShem.
1. ‘And HaShem blessed Avraham in all things’ (*Bereishis 24.1) There are two opinions about the meaning of this verse. One says that since the word ‘in all things’ [Heb. bekol] has the *gematria of 52 which is the same as ‘son’ [Heb. ben], this means that he had a son. The other says that this refers to his having a daughter, and that her name was ‘bekol’. We can explain these opinions so that they don’t really disagree, but that each one is explaining the other’s point of view. In the works of the great scholar *Rebbe Yaakov Yosef *HaKohen of Polnoye in the name of Rebbe Nachman of Horodenka *Z’L there is an explanation of the statement of *Chazal that ‘if a girl is born first it is a good sign for sons’. He states that ‘daughter’ is the level of one who has yet to reach any level in service, but only has a desire to serve HaShem. This is called the ‘feminine’ principle of service. When he has reached a level of service to HaShem this is called ‘son’, the ‘masculine’ principle. No matter which level one attains, one should always consider oneself on the level of ‘daughter’ the feminine principle, and that he has yet to achieve any level of service of HaShem at all. This is because since HaShem is without limit, the levels of serving him are likewise without limit. By serving HaShem this way one is then able to go from level to level rising higher and higher. This is the meaning of ‘if a girl is born first’, i.e. if one serves HaShem with this feminine principle, [i.e. with a recognition that he has yet to achieve any level of service, but has a desire to serve HaShem]. This is a ‘good sign for the sons’ i.e. this indicates that one will progress from level to level in the service of HaShem, and achieve the level of ‘son’. According to his holy words we can understand this disagreement here. One says that ‘bekol’ is the gematria of ‘son’, i.e. that he should strive to achieve higher and higher levels of service, (which is the level of ‘son’.) The other said that he had a daughter, i.e. that it is necessary that even if he achieves a high level of service he should consider it as if he has yet to achieve any level, and hence desire to rise even higher. This idea agrees with what my grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov *ZT’L taught with regards to the teaching of Chazal in the *Mishnah of *Pirkei Avos, ‘Anyone who possesses these three things is of the *talmidim of *Avraham Aveinu … he has a ‘good eye’ [Heb. Ayan tov – which means he looks favorably on others] … and these three other things [is of the talmidim of Baalim the wicked] he has an ‘evil eye’ [Heb. Ayan rah – which means he looks unfavorably on others] …’ He explained this by saying that the one who is a servant of HaShem needs to have ALL of these *midos, even the bad ones to use in his service of HaShem. For example when serving HaShem he should have an ‘evil eye’, i.e. he should not be satisfied with the level he is on, but proceed from level to level and add perfection to his soul day by day. He should consider all the service to HaShem that he has done until this day as nothing compared to what he still has to do. He should also have a ‘good eye’ with regards to this world, and be satisfied with all that he has here. He should consider as nothing all the pleasures of this world, and be satisfied with whatever he has, and not run after more then he needs. (p. 22 Degel Machina Ephraim, teachings of Rebbe Ephraim Moshe of Sedelkov grandson of the Baal Shem Tov) * * * II. Two levels of service 2. ‘And Sarah lived…’ (Bereishis 23.1) *Rashi explained that this means that ‘at 100 she was like she was at 20 without sin, and at 20 she was as pretty as she was at age 7.’ We have to understand what difference does it make that she was as pretty as she was at 7? It appears that Rashi wants to give a *remez on the two types of service that one needs to be careful to fulfil in his life. The first is that he should be very careful of any sin. He should keep himself from violating any of the positive or negative *mitzvos of the *Torah. The second is that in those things that one is allowed to do, like eating, drinking etc, they should be brought into the realm of holiness. This is done by doing these things for HaShem’s sake. [i.e. when he does these things he should have in mind how they should further his service of HaShem.] Everything that he does in this world should be for HaShem’s sake. Should he act this way then no matter what he has, whether with regards to money or to clothing, he will always be satisfied with it. He will be happy with them, and his life will be fulfilling. However if he does not have in mind the service of HaShem then he will always feel that he lacks something. And in the end he will never achieve what he needs. He will then find that he is not satisfied with his life. This is the remez. ‘At 100 she was like 20 without sin’, this is the first level, i.e. she had not sinned in any of the positive or negative mitzvos. ‘At 20 she was like 7’ is the second level we mentioned. Just like a child is satisfied with what he has and does not desire to have things that are more expensive, so it was with Sarah when she was 20, which is the time when the desires for possessions strengthen themselves. However all of her thoughts at that time were for the sake of HaShem. (p. 10 sefer Noam Elemeilech from the *Rebbe Reb Elimeilech of Lizensk) * * * III. Serving with love and fear 3. ‘And Avraham was old, advanced in years ‘ (Bereishis 24.1) The *Zohar says, ‘He did not reach this level in one hour, or at one time, or one day, but through many days of perfection…. Fortunate are those *Baalei Tshuva who in a single moment become close to the King.’ We need to understand, it appears that Avraham didn’t reach the level of the Baalei Tshuva but was at a lower level. The explanation is this. When one starts to serve HaShem he must start out with the level of ‘fear of HaShem’ and then progress to the level of ‘love of HaShem’ as it says in the Zohar and the other holy *seforim. However someone who has sinned many times and desires to return to HaShem if he would start off with the level of ‘fear’ he could easily come to depression. The way to avoid this is for him to start off first on the level which is higher, i.e. that of ‘love’. This follows the teachings of the *Tzaddikim who asked why is the letter ‘heh’ wide open at the bottom, but has a little opening at the top? They answer that this opening is for the Baalei Tshuva to return through after they have sinned. [i.e. if they have fallen through the bottom where it is open they can return through this opening on the top.] Since they cannot return through the way they have fallen, this opening is available for them. This agrees to what I have said, that the Baal Tshuva has to begin his service on a higher level. This is what the verse says, ‘Your words are pure, therefore your servant loves them’. This means that the words of HaShem from the holy Torah are very pure, and it is difficult for those who have sinned to approach. Therefore your servant will start with the midah of ‘love’. This is also the meaning of the Zohar when it says that, ‘the Baalei Tshuva in a moment become close to the King.’ This is through the midah of ‘love’ with which they start their service of HaShem. However when they have started to purify themselves a little, then they have to return and start to serve HaShem according to the proper order, where ‘fear’ is before ‘love’. Avraham, who was a Tzaddik, his method of serving HaShem was according to the proper order, which is a long journey, and is not achieved in a single time. (p. 45 sefer Toras Avos, teachings of the Rebbes of Lechovitz, Kobrin and Solonim. This teaching was from Rebbe Avraham of Solonim.) * * * IV. Dedicating yourself to Torah study 4. ‘And she said to him, “there is much straw and also food, and also a place to sleep.’ (Bereishis 24.25) It appears to me that we can explain this in the following manner. The wicked keep themselves from learning Torah with the excuse that those who are learned do not have a livelihood. Since their only desire is to fulfil their desires with food and drink they choose not to learn. I saw in the sefer Betzinah D’Nihorah from my great grandfather Rebbe Baruch of Mezbuz (the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov), an explanation of the verse, ‘Fear HaShem, His holy ones, because there is nothing that those who fear Him lack.’ He explained it this way: There are those who feel that if someone fears HaShem and concentrates on spiritual things, then he will always lack food. Therefore the verse says, ‘fear HaShem, His holy ones, because there is nothing that those who fear Him lack.’ The proof that one should fear Him is that it says after that, ‘the young lions lack, and are hungry,’ i.e. the wicked also lack and are hungry. ‘And those who seek HaShem will not want any good thing.’ So the question is why don’t they fear HaShem? [Why do they make the excuse that the Tzaddik lacks food?] Since this is not the case, you should fear HaShem because those who fear HaShem do not lack anything. (Look there for his holy words.) This is then the meaning of the verse, ‘And she said to him there is straw.’ The word in Hebrew tavan is similar to the Hebrew word for understanding [Heb tevenah] i.e knowledge of the Torah. ‘And there is also food’, i.e. it is the opposite of the claim of the wicked. Even though we have knowledge of the Torah there is also abundant food. And if you will say that some people who don’t have Torah also have a good livelihood. The verse continues, ‘and there is place to sleep,’ which is a remez that after a person dies and leaves this world he needs a secure place to sleep in the world to come. This is because the Tzaddikim eat of this world and inherit the world to come, which is not the case of the wicked. [So even if it appears that the wicked man and the Tzaddik have the same situation in this world, it is not the same in the world to come.] (p. 58b sefer Tzmach Dovid teachings
of Rebbe Dovid Yitzchok Isaak of Skoliya)
Arizal: Hebrew initials of the words: Adoni Rabbenu Yitzchok Zechorono LeVaracha our master Rabbi Yitzchok. Better known as Yitzchok Luria the great 16th century Kabbalist
Baal Tshuva (Baalei Tshuva): Hebrew for someone who is a repentant sinner.
Bamidbar: Fourth book of the Torah. Called in English Numbers
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
Chesed: Hebrew word meaning acts of mercy
Drash: A method of Biblical interpretation ascribing moral or ethical meaning to verses in the Torah.
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
mikvah: Hebrew word referring to a ritual bath used for purification
Mishnah: An ancient Jewish work made of specific laws.
Moshe Rabbeinu: Hebrew for Moses our teacher. A common Jewish way of referring to Moses.
Or HaChaim: Jewish Torah commentary
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group or a teacher
Rebbe Reb: A title added to a few special Rebbes as a sign of their higher spiritual stature.
remez: A method of Biblical interpretation based on finding hints in the Torah for various concepts.
Rov: An official rabbi who renders legal decisions. Many of the Rebbes were both a Rebbe of Chasidim, and the Rov of the city in which they lived.
Sanhedrin: 1. Tractate in the Talmud 2. Name of the highest level of the Jewish court system.
sefer (seforim): A Jewish religious book.
Talmud: An ancient work of Jewish law.
Tehillim: Hebrew name for Psalms.
Torah: a. First 5 books of the Jewish Bible b. Also refers to the whole of Jewish law c. also common term for a chassidic teaching
Tshuva: Hebrew word for repentance
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman ([email protected]) All rights reserved.
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