1. The Alter Rebbe taught that one must “live with the times.” Meaning, that one’s life must be lived according to the lesson derived from the portion of the Torah read at the time – the weekly Parshah.
Every Jew is holy. Thus a multiplicity of Jews brings a multiplicity of holiness. But this increase is not simply additive, a mere multiplication of the amount of holiness of one Jew. When ten Jews gather together, the additional holiness of “and I shall be sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel” enclothes them. No more are they simply a group of disparate albeit holy, individuals. An entirely new entity has sprung into being, with new laws and rules. They have become a minyan.
The more Jews present, the greater will be this increase in holiness. And if the assembled resolve on a course of action, then the holiness is incomparably greater. So too regarding the Alter Rebbe’s dictum quoted above. The lesson to be learnt from the weekly Parshah, whilst also applying to the individual, is of considerably more importance when pertaining to a plurality of Jews.
A further point. Not only is it Motzaei Shabbos, and Shabbos Mevarchim, but it is Shabbos Mevarchim Kislev. Counting from the month of Nissan, the third month of the year is Sivan, and this third month has special, unique qualities. But counting from Tishrei the third month is Kislev, and being thus comparable to Sivan, it too possesses those special qualities attendant to the third month. These special qualities must also be connected to Torah, by a search in the Parshah of the week for the relevant lesson contained therein.
Sefer Bereishis is especially appropriate for deriving lessons from the weekly Parshah. Sefer Bereishis is termed “the Book of the Righteous” since it contains the narratives concerning the “Righteous Ones” of the Jewish people — our forefathers.
“The deeds of the forefathers are a sign for the sons:” We look at and examine our forefathers’ actions to learn how we should act. Their “signs” to us function in two basic ways. Firstly: as an example, a guide, a beacon lighting the way. Secondly: as a pioneering effort, a breaking through and blazing of the trail. We are all the heirs of the forefathers; each and every one of us stands in their place. Their opening and pioneering of the way makes the task easier for us, their sons and heirs.
There are many different concepts in the weekly portions from which lessons may be derived. But first and foremost must be those lessons connected with the plain, simple interpretation of the Torah. For Torah is given to each and every Jew — “You stand this day all of you before the L-rd your G-d...that you should enter into the covenant of the L-rd your G-d.” The covenant: the Torah, in which “all the men of Israel” are included, from the highest to the lowest, even “your stranger that is in your camp, from the hewer of your wood, to the drawer of your water,” and even “your little ones.” Even children are to understand lessons of the Torah, and so such lessons must be drawn not just from the esoteric, or the homiletical interpretation, but also from the level where children begin their learning — the simple plain meaning. To put it simply. Any lesson derived from the Torah must be relevant even when the Parshah is interpreted plainly and simply.
There is a general, comprehensive theme in our Parshah, even when taken in its plain interpretation. Avraham Avinu relates about his mode of service to G-d, a service that is bound to and binds man with his Master. A service that is to make an abode for him in this world. Avraham tells us that he has ushered in the concept of “G-d of the heavens and G-d of the earth.” Rashi explains this to mean that “He (G-d) is now the G-d of the heavens and G-ft of the earth, for I (Avraham) have caused Him to be mentioned regularly on the lips of all beings. But at the time when I was taken from my father’s house, He was only G-d of the heavens and not G-d of the earth, for the world’s inhabitants were not then cognizant of Him and His Name was not familiar in the land.” Before the advent of Avraham, the A1-mighty was no more than “G-d of the heavens” — unknown and unrecognized by man. Avraham came, disseminated the truth, educated the peoples, and the A1-mighty became “G-d of the heavens and G-d of the ‘earth.’” Man had become cognizant of G-d.
But that is not all. What Avraham achieved was not merely that G-d is now also “G-d of the earth.” In matters of holiness, the sanctity present due to the presence of another entity is not merely additive, but the original entity is also benefited, and indeed both combined as a single entity receive extra benefits. So too here, a synergistic effect is at work. When the concept of “G-d of the earth” is promulgated to the degree that “I have caused His Name to be mentioned regularly on the lips of all beings;” to the degree that “even infants know that there is a G-d;” then also the concept of “G-d of the heavens (i.e. that He is known in the heavens) is transformed to an incomparably higher degree.
“The deeds of the forefathers are a sign for the sons.” Every Jew is the heir of Avraham and each one of us must learn the lesson from his work. To us Avraham has declared the service demanded of each Jew to fulfill his purpose of making an abode for Him in this world; — to transform “G-d of the heavens” to “G-d of the heavens and G-d of the earth.”
2. A question: Avraham had effected that the A1-mighty is “G-d of the heavens and G-d of the earth.” How is it then possible that we, his descendents, are required to perform the same service? Has not G-d already become “G-d of the earth” through Avraham’s efforts? What now can we do? G-d is no more merely “G-d of the heavens” that we can begin anew to make Him also “G-d of the earth.” And yet we are told — learn this mode of service from Avraham:
The explanation is thus. The Talmud tells us: “Man was created a single individual” so that a Jew should know that he is an “entire world,” similar to the first man, Adam. So too concerning a Jew’s service. He must realize that the obligations of his service rest upon him in precisely similar fashion as on Adam. Adam was created single, and thus his service was alone in the whole world. So too a Jew. Irregardless of the fact that preceding him were generations of people greater than he, he knows that his service must also be as if he were alone, single, with no predecessors. He must start his service as if no one has been before. The answer to our question is now clear. A Jew can learn from Avraham. A Jew can still achieve the goal of making the Al-mighty not merely “G-d of the heavens” but also “G-d of the earth.” For what has Avraham’s or any of the preceding generations’ achievements to do with him? He is an “entire world,” and thus, concerning his world at least, he must and can start G-d’s service anew. This “world” has not been touched by the previous greats, and he is to discharge his service of seeing that in his world G-d is “G-d of the heavens and G-d of the earth.”
We need no proofs or evidence that there is still work to be done even in our latter-day generations. We need no explanations or dissertations on the necessity of continuing to promulgate the concept of “G-d of the earth” in our days, even after Avraham and all the succeeding generations have already worked to this end. We have but to look around us and see that enough work yet awaits us. To see that in every generation, including ours, obstacles and hindrances arise forcing the service to be started anew. And it is not just to make this corporal world realize that “this structure (the world) has a Master.” It is our task to educate man that G-d is the force and life of all things.
This task is, however, much lighter and easier than it was for our forefathers. They were the first, the trail-blazers, the pioneers.. It is in their footsteps that we walk, and in their path that we tread. True, we must start our service from the beginning, but the ground has already been broken, and the way cleared. For our forefathers it was “all beginnings are difficult,” but for us, who follow their lead, the task is much lighter.
Avraham’s propagation of the concept of “G-d of the heavens and G-d of the earth” was a prelude and preparation for the proper marriage of his son. Avraham’s wish was that the proper match was to be sought in his own homeland — “to my land and to my birthplace shall you go.” And Avraham was confident that He who Avraham had made “G-d of the heavens and G-d of the earth” would make the search successful.
So we too. Our service to G-d must not be a personal, individualistic one, but be such that “You shall teach them (the Torah) to your sons” — “sons” meaning “students.” And such so that they too will carry on in this work and in turn produce students.
3. What, however, of the completely righteous person (Tzaddik)? He knows that in his time and place he has completely fulfilled the task of propagating “G-d of the heavens and G-d of the earth.” What then further can he do in spreading this concept?
True, he realizes that every day he becomes a new being and thus every day must start a new service. But he knows that the night before, when he went to sleep, he had performed his service to perfection. How can we tell him that there is still plenty left to do? In his world, he has fulfilled his mission, and performed his service!
The explanation is thus: The Alter Rebbe explains that although previously a person may have reached a certain level, nevertheless, every day there are new things which he must purify and elevate. Starting with the very bread that he eats, he does not eat the same piece that he ate yesterday, but a new piece, and that new piece must now be elevated. And further, he then, after eating, blesses G-d anew.
This new service must also be in such a way that he fulfills the concept of “G-d of the heavens and G-d of the earth.” Every person, no matter his environment or standing has both the concept of “heavens” and the concept of “earth.” “Heavens” is when he learns Torah, fulfill mitzvos, and occupies himself with prayer. “Earth” is when he eats, drinks, and is occupied in business. And even though he knows that G-d is also “G-d of the earth” nevertheless, there is a difference in the way he sees G-d in his “earth” and the way he sees G-d in his “heavens.”
In matters of “heaven” — praying, even the most simple Jew knows that he is standing before the Master of the world. It is not so plain, however, in his “earth” matters. At the very beginning of the day, as soon as he awakens, he breathes in air, about which the Medrash states that “upon every breath that a person takes he should praise the Creator.” To truly feel this he must engage in meditation — upon how the air enters his body, fulfills its functions etc., and how this is all connected with “G-d of the earth.” In addition, after he has realized that even such mundane acts as breathing are connected with “G-d of the earth” — it is then that he must meditate anew to realize that this follows and is bound up with “G-d of the heavens.” That is, matters of “earth” nature are not only connected with “G-d of the “earth” but also “G-d of the heavens.”
This then is the general difference as to how he sees “G-d of the heavens” (i.e. G-d in his matters of “heaven”) and “G-d of the earth” (i.e. G-d in his “earth” matters). In his “heaven” matters (Torah, Mitzvos, Prayers), G-d is immediately apparent to him. In his “earth” matters, he needs meditation to realize and feel that they are connected with “G-d of the earth.”
This meditation should be such that not only does it produce an intellectual appreciation of the above concept, but also cause it to be felt in the heart. It must be so strong that there is absolutely no possibility that he could think “my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” No possibility that he could even contemplate that something in this world is no more than an inanimate object:: For he knows that “also in absolutely inanimate objects, such as stones, dust, and water, there is a level of spiritual soul and life.” Even when holding a prohibited object, he must feel that G-d is “G-d of the earth” even of that prohibited object. This calls for a tremendous amount of contemplation, in contrast to, for example, holding a Sefer Torah, when he knows that he must treat it as the holy article it is.
Thus, even though the completely righteous person has indeed meditated in the previous day, he has in the meantime slept and a new day has come, and he must now search and evaluate the results of the previous day’s meditation. He must examine them to see if they have remained intact in their full impact; or if perhaps he needs a new process of meditation in order to truly understand and feel the concept of “G-d of the earth,” and to such a degree that he realizes that “G-d of the earth,” follows and is bound to “G-d of the heavens.” And so profound is this concept, that even the Tzaddik needs the greatest of meditation to truly comprehend it.
This is the general lesson for each and every one of us. We are all the heirs of Avraham Avinu, and with the strength of “Avraham was one,” we must carry out our service of ensuring the ideal of “G-d of the heavens and G-d of the earth.” And then there will be “the Jews had light, and gladness, and joy and honor” and “as in the days of your coming out of the land of Egypt, I will show My wonders” in the true and complete Redemption in the coming of our righteous Mashiach.
- (Back to text) Translator’s note: There are two ways of ordering the months in the Jewish calendar. Either by starting from the month of Nissan, or by starting from the month of Tishrei. For the purpose of counting the years, the year begins from Tishrei.
- (Back to text) Translator’s note: The Zohar states: “G-d looked searchingly in the Torah and created the world.” We also must “look searchingly” in the Torah to discover the lessons that are applicable to every situation.
- (Back to text) Especially since the opening of the way was such that the “deeds of the forefathers are a sign for the sons.” Both their guiding example and their trail blazing was in concrete action. The “sign for the sons” is not just in thought, nor just in speech. But in actual deed.
- (Back to text) Since every concept in a Parshah is a part of Torah, a lesson is certainly contained within each and every concept.
- (Back to text) That service which is the essence of man’s creation, for “I was created to serve my Master.”
- (Back to text) Rashi is the supreme commentary on the Torah, who himself defined his work as interpreting the plain meaning of the Torah (as opposed, for example, to esoteric interpretations). Thus Rashi’s interpretation of the meaning of Avraham’s declaration is most certainly the plain, simple meaning.
- (Back to text) Especially since we are dealing with a general all encompassing subject, the theme of which has to do with the raison d’etre of man’s creation — promulgate the concept of “G-d of the earth.”
- (Back to text) To give a parable. When one lifts a structure from its bottom, then not just the bottom part of the structure rises, but the entire structure to its very tip is raised. So too when the concept of G-d of the earth” is achieved, then the concept of “G-d of the heavens” is also raised and intensified.
- (Back to text) Translator’s note: i.e. G-d did not create a plurality of people at once. He created but one person, alone and single — Adam.
- (Back to text) An example: In the process of learning Torah, one starts from the Aleph-Bais, then proceeds to learning Chumash, then advances to Mishnah, Gomorrah, etc. Even though his father may have been versed in the entire Torah, it will not help him in his learning. He cannot pick up where his father left off, but must start from the very beginning. So too here. In this world, he must start his service afresh, and cannot build on his ancestors’. work.
- (Back to text) As did Avraham. Concerning the verse “and he (Avraham) called there on the Name of the L-rd the Everlasting G-d” our Sages commented: “do not read it as ‘he called’ but she (also) caused others to call’ on the Name of the L-rd.” That is, Avraham was not satisfied that just he should recognize G-d, but he endeavored that others should also do so.
- (Back to text) In the verse in which Avraham describes his work, he says that he propagated the concept of “G-d of the earth.” In Hebrew the word for G-d is “Elokim,” the etymological root of which is “force” and “life.” Thus the concept of “G-d of the earth” embraces, in its more profound sense, the concept that G-d is the life-force of the earth.
- (Back to text) Remembering at the same time that the task must be started from the beginning, going through all the necessary stages of service until he will have achieved that the concept of “G-d of the heavens and G-d of the earth” is on the same level as it was by Avraham.
- (Back to text) This is in addition to the plain interpretation which is that through the proper marriage — seeking “to the house of my father — and to my family,” — one produces sons and grandsons occupied in Torah and Mitzvos.
- (Back to text) Translator’s note: i.e. We previously explained that although Avraham Avinu has already caused G-d to be recognized as “G-d of the earth,” the same service can and must be performed by every Jew in his own “world.” But regarding the Tzaddik, he has fulfilled this service in his world, so how then can he perform this service on the morrow?
- (Back to text) Translator’s note: Chassidus explains that everything in this world, even inanimate objects, contain a spark of G-dliness within them. It is the Jew’s duty to elevate this spark by using the object for Torah and Mitzvos. For example: one may eat a piece of bread simply because of desire, or for the higher purpose of using the strength gained from it to do Torah and Mitzvos.
- (Back to text) Even though he conducts his business honestly, it is still business and is an “earth” matter compared to learning Torah and doing Mitzvos:
- (Back to text) He also breathes when he is sleeping, of course, but he is only conscious of it when awake.
- (Back to text) Prohibited in that one may not eat or drink it, or have any benefit from it. But not prohibited from holding it.
- (Back to text) Of course, not neglecting that everybody, including even children, has the duty to understand and propagate the idea of “G-d of the heavens and G-d of the earth” — each on his own level. He uses the strength bequeathed him by his ancestors to go further and deeper in his understanding.