Friday, November 9, 2012

Yitzchok, Rivka, and Sandy

Imagine the holy son of a saintly Rebbe marrying the daughter of a renowned atheist, straight off a socialist commune. Pretty far-fetched, ya think?

This week's Torah portion talks of a very similar shidduch. Yitzckok and Rivka come from such opposing backgrounds, that I can´t begin to understand how that marriage can work. Why did Eliezer facilitate such a strange shidduch?

Over a week has passed since Sandy had arrogantly crashed through our peaceful shores. Anyone of reasonable age, who was conscious on Tuesday, October 30, 2012, has heard about the devastating Superstorm that ripped across the East coast, destroying millions of people´s lives, both physically and emotionally. Such vast lost is impossible to describe, because it is beyond human comprehension.

Though I haven´t experienced the devastation myself, I have family and friends, and friends of friends, who have experienced irreplaceable loss and unrepairable damage from the storm. The extent of these losses are unfathomable.

The morning after the hurricane, I sat comfortably at my computer, looking at pictures of homes, once elegant and cozy, that are now hollow and skeletal, resembling survivors of a war. I saw businesses that have been flooded out or collapsed to the ground, leaving thousands of families not knowing how they will regain all their losses, or how they will put bread on the table tomorrow. Oh, wait. What table? That one? The one in the middle of the flooded street, broken in half, with a staircase on top of it?

How can years and years of hard work and dedication, a lifetime of memories, and every personal belonging down to a toothbrush, be washed away like that, gone forever, in just a few hours?

Every radio station and TV channel reported excessively about this hurricane, warning the targeted locations for days before it actually hit. 
Yet even with all the capabilities, capacities, and competency of living in the new millenium, and even though the United States of America is arguably the most powerful and efficient country in the world, and we live in a generation of technology and science so advanced, that we can barely keep up with the developments, and despite all of the geniuses and endless talent we have in our midst, there has not been even one individual who was able to prevent this disaster. It was so clearly being controlled by a force way beyond even the most powerful of humans, in the most powerful country.

To be honest, rather than reflecting on it, it would be a whole lot easier to close my eyes, thank God that I wasn’t affected, and run on out to get ice cream. 
But I realize that each situation I encounter in life, whether physically experiencing it, or just as a casual onlooker, has been put in my path for a reason. To not be affected by it means to live a life of denial and stagnation. Is that even living?

Watching the force of the rain, the powerful surges of water, and listening to the speed and strength of the wind has instinctively put a prayer on my lips:

Mashiv haruach, Umorid hageshem
He (God)blows the wind and causes the rain to fall

Okay, seems quite obvious. But during this storm, there was a complete distortion of this! The water wasn´t blowing down, it was blowing upward! And as it ascended, it destroyed everything it came into contact with! Instead of the wind blowing high and the rain falling down, the water washed up, with the wind blowing down!

So I think the meaning of these words are deeper than just the obvious. The root of the word ruach, wind, is the same as the word ruchniut, spirituality. And the root of the word geshem, rain, is the same as the word gashmiut, materialism. The personal message I received from this historic disaster, was Mashiv haruach, Umorid hageshem! Blow the spirituality upward, and lower the materialism!

When there´s a distortion between the physical and spiritual, we can destroy everything we come in contact with.

Mesilas Yesharim teaches that certain activities belong to realm of materialism/ yetzer hara, but when we do them with pure intentions, to serve Hashem, we remove them from the realm of yetzer hara and into the territory of the yetzer hatov. So instead of those actions making us more materialistic, they turn around and make us more spiritual. The opposite is true, as well. If one does a mitzvah, but fulfills it with the wrong intentions, he removes it from the territory of the yetzer hatov, and it now belongs to the other side, causing it to lose its status as ´holy´.
 Mesilas Yesharim continues in Shaar Hanekius and and explains that even while you keep the mitzvos you can still remain completely gashmiusdik, completely involved and enveloped by materialism.
I consider myself a Torah observant Jewess, and I try to keep the mitzvos and adhere to halacha, but yet, without doing anything actually assur, I am at times allowing my lower self to take over, causing my gashmius to be on top of my ruchnius.

What is it that drives me in life? What excites me? What do I live for? What do I look forward to? Is it all materialistic? Is it clothing? Money? Nice vacations? Fancy cars? Most delectable restaurants?

None of this is wrong. But when that becomes the center of my life, it means I´m a materialistic person, and at the end of the day, the ultimate purpose of Torah was not fulfilled by me. The purpose of Torah is to transform man from a semi animal to a semi God. It means to take my very strong sense of physicality and develop it into a strong sense of spirituality. To mold myself into someone dominated by my animal drive, like all my fellow physical beings, into someone dominated by my spiritual drive. To become someone capable of putting my neshama before my guf.
Many of the mitzvos we were given are meant to break the hold that gashmius has on us, like tzedaka, kosher, Shabbos, maaser…they put limits on our desires.

Back to the parsha, the marriage of Yitzchok and Rivka is a metaphor for our mission in life. We are all Eliezers. And our mission is to affect a shidduch even stranger than the one which Eliezer facilitated.

We are sent to this world to bring together in holy matrimony the eminent groom, God Almighty, and the reluctant bride, this mundane world. Seemingly, no two greater opposites exist: God radiates selflessness and spirituality, while the world exudes egotism and the primacy of materialism. Yet, we are expected to unite the two in perfect harmony by living spiritual Godly lives in this hostile environment, thus revealing within the world its truest, but deeply buried, nature -- its Godly essence. We can infuse our every act, even the most mundane ones, with spirituality and meaning; we can bring together Mars and Venus.

Finding perfection in life means emulating God. In this matrimony with Him called life, spirituality leads and materialism follows. As long as the ruach is above, the geshem will be below. And then we will be building worlds instead of destroying them.

The marriage of Yitzchok and Rivka didn´t just work; it created the entire Jewish nation.

 Have a beautiful shabbos!