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Vayashkeim Lavan Baboker


Our Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were so thoroughly dedicated to G-d’s will that they are referred to as the very vehicle – or, in classic terms, “chariot” – for its expression. We, too, must strive to achieve this and draw down G-d’s own attributes to the point that they dwell within our own hearts. By attaining such a degree of identity with G-d, our belief in Him will be as strong as if we actually saw Him for ourselves, and not merely the result of our thinking, intellectually, that He exists.

Although the Patriarchs were on that level, we need help in reaching it. This is provided by the spiritual level represented by the Patriarchs’ sons, the Twelve Tribes. Their function was to extend the spiritual abilities of the Patriarchs to a point which even we can relate to.

This is accomplished by our contemplating the greatness of G-d and the degree to which we have drifted from Him, thus arousing compassion on our own souls, during prayer. This elicits G-d to respond with compassion towards us as well, allowing the spiritual level we seek to extend down to our level.

Although it is not necessarily the case that we insignificant mortals can arouse G-d’s attribute of compassion just by our worship, G-d wants this effort to succeed, and so calls into play an even greater degree of Divine compassion to assist in our success. This great and sublime level of compassion, in turn, is stimulated by G-d’s attribute of kindness, which is particularly active in the morning, during our prayers.

The verse, “And Lavan arose in the morning, etc.” alludes to all the above.

ONE OF our greatest challenges in life is to refine our personalities to the point at which our own character makeup – our inclinations, emotions, etc. – reflects G-d’s own qualities. Although, on the most fundamental level, G-d cannot be described as having identifiable “qualities,” He nevertheless manifests Himself to us in ways we can relate to, such as with wisdom, kindness, compassion, and so on. We have been created with these attributes as well, but they are not automatically pure, or even necessarily good. A person’s intellect, for example, can be focused on good things (how to solve world hunger); bad things (taking over the world); or neutral things (applying oneself to one’s job so that one will be able to eat). Even within these categories, one’s motivations are usually mixed: a person involved in saving the world may nevertheless be hoping (whether deep within or as a conscious priority) for a Nobel peace prize; or a person who excels at work may want recognition and prestige as well as food money. Likewise, a nagging feeling of virtuosity may creep in and contaminate the purity of someone’s otherwise compassionate act.

Our challenge, then, is to work on ourselves to achieve purity of motivation: not only should all our intellectual and emotional attributes be dedicated exclusively to good and holy uses, but this should be done solely for the altruistic purpose of facilitating the will of G-d in this world – without ulterior motives.

Now, fundamentally, G-d’s own “attributes” are merely expressions to us of G-d as He wishes Himself to be revealed; from G-d’s own perspective, however, even they are insignificant. This is hinted at by the verse (Chronicles 29:11), “Yours, O G-d, are the greatness and the might, etc.” The Hebrew words for the Divine attributes of “greatness” and “might,” gedula and gevura, respectively, are in the feminine form. Jewish philosophy explains that the masculine form symbolizes a bestower of influence, and the feminine, a receiver of influence. G-d’s attributes are characterized in the feminine to express the fact that they are mere receptacles for the pure radiance or expression of G-d Himself, which cannot be parsed or divided into discrete attributes. This G-dly radiance, or “light,” called the Or Ein Sof (“Light of the Infinite One”), is too holy, too potent, as it were, for created beings to withstand, and is therefore expressed through individual qualities like Greatness and Might, to which we mortals can somewhat relate. Even so, however, at their primary level – directly receiving and “containing” the Or Ein Sof – even G-d’s attributes are too potent for us to withstand.

This also is alluded to by a Torah teaching. The Talmud states (Megilla 31a), “In the [very] place that you find [G-d’s] greatness, there do you find His humility.” As explained elsewhere (see the synopsis of the ma’amar, “Shayach Lapasuk, ‘V’Avraham Zakein Ba Bayamim’” on the Torah portion Chayei Sarah), people think that G-d is great because He created this vast and majestic universe. That is a fundamental error. The “greatness” of G-d Himself is something which we puny mortals are utterly inadequate to comprehend. Certainly G-d is “great” – albeit in a way beyond our comprehension – but His greatness does not derive from having created the universe. This only seems like a big deal to us, but to G-d it is literally as nothing. Instead, when we praise G-d for having created the universe, even if we have in mind all the awesome splendor of creation, what we are really doing is praising G-d for condescending to “lower” Himself, as it were, to vest even some glimmer of His creative force into what, for Him, is utterly insignificant. It is not G-d’s greatness but the “humility” of G-d, the fact that He lowers Himself so for our sake (for we Jews are indeed significant, and in fact precious, in G-d’s eyes) that is brought out by contemplation of even the most impressive aspects of creation, and thus, “in the very place that you find His greatness” – whatever appears to you to be the greatest and most awesome thing about G-d – it expresses nothing more than His willingness to “lower” Himself to that level: “there do you find His humility.” G-d’s true “Self,” so to speak, is simply not revealed in this world.

Before going on, let us seemingly digress and discuss the difference between a chariot and a servant.

A person’s wishes can be carried out by another, to whom the first person has given the appropriate instruction or command. For example, if someone tells their servant to polish the silver, the master’s will is being carried out, to be sure, but only indirectly. What is really happening is that the servant, who has a will of his or her own, is agreeing to comply with the master’s wish. Put another way, the master’s wish that the silver be polished does not directly cause that task to be performed; rather, it is the servant’s will, which conforms to the master’s will, which does so.

On the other hand, when the driver of a car wishes to turn right, he or she does not depend upon the “acquiescence” of the car. The car has no will of its own at all, and in turning right, it is directly expressing the driver’s own will.

The latter scenario, illustrating the direct expression of the driver’s (in the usual example, G-d’s) own will, is referred to in Chassidic and kabbalistic literature by the metaphor of a “chariot” (merkava in Hebrew). In modern terms, we may say that the chariot (or car) is the “vehicle” for the direct expression of G-d’s own will.

It is taught (Bereishis Rabba; P’sikta Zutrasi; Zohar), “The Patriarchs [of the Jewish People, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob] are themselves the merkava.” This means that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were on such a sublime and pure spiritual level that they were successful in purging themselves of all trace of self and ulterior motive. They achieved the ideal of true bitul (utter nullification of oneself before G-d), so that their every action – indeed, even their speech and thought – was a pure and direct expression of nothing but G-d’s will, G-d’s attributes, as though (to use an image which unfortunately has been contaminated by popular movies and the like) they were “possessed” by G-d Himself, Who was “personally” acting through them. They were the very “vehicles” for the expression of G-d’s own will, and are thus referred to as His “chariot,” for the reason explained above.

That is why the Torah itself goes so far as to associate G-d with the Patriarchs, as in the expression (Genesis 28:13; see also the opening sentence of the Shemone Esrei prayer) “The G-d of Abraham … the G-d of Isaac.” More particularly, each of the three Patriarchs is associated with a specific Divine attribute. Abraham is identified with G-d’s attribute of chesed (Kindness; Love), as it says (Isaiah 41:8), “Abraham My beloved”; Isaac is identified with G-d’s attribute of gevurah (Might; Fear or Awe), as in (Genesis 31:42), “[G-d,] The Fear of Isaac,” and Jacob with G-d’s attribute of tiferes (Beauty; Compassion). It was not their own kindness, compassion, etc. which the Patriarchs expressed throughout their lives; it was actually the very Divine attribute of Kindness (for example) that shone forth through Abraham, etc.

Now, we said above that G-d’s own attributes are so sublime and holy that they cannot be expressed in this world. If so, how could Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have done so, as just stated? The answer is that the Patriarchs themselves were on such a lofty level as hardly to be considered “of this world.” In fact, their souls were rooted in the elevated spiritual realm of Atzilus, in which all is Divinity and which is unattainable by the world at large. The Patriarchs were just the first step in bringing G-d’s own attributes “down to earth,” in expressing these holy qualities in the world, but indeed, something more was needed to take things farther. In order to complete the process, to draw down G-d’s own attributes of chesed, gevurah, etc. past Atzilus and into the actual physical world in which we live, forever to be implanted within the souls of their descendants, the Jewish People, the twelve tribes – the sons of the Patriarch Jacob – were necessary.

As a matter of fact, this was the spiritual function of the twelve tribes, called the sh’vatim (tribes) in Hebrew. This is indicated by the etymological relation of the Hebrew word “tribe” (shevet) to the word for “rod” or “staff,” as in the phrase (see Talmud, Brochos 58b; Zohar III:233a) “kochva d’shavit,” which means a “shooting star” on account of its appearing to extend like a rod. (Interestingly, another word for “rod” or “staff,” mateh, is also used to mean “tribe.”) The reason the Sh’vatim are described as “rods” is precisely because their function is to extend the spiritual levels which their predecessors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (their great-grandfather, grandfather and father, respectively) began bringing down to earth, to a point attainable by every Jew.

And what, specifically, must we attain? Let us reflect upon something: every Jew believes in G-d; in fact, we are “believers, sons of believers” (Shmos Rabba, Beshalach, ch. 23). However, there is a difference between the level of belief of someone who merely thinks a certain thing is true, and one who has personally seen the thing they believe in. A person who believes something because they think it true can be convinced otherwise, but if one has actually observed a thing for themselves, they cannot be swayed from their belief in it. Our Patriarchs’ belief in G-d was of this latter type; not because they had physically seen G-d, of course, but in the sense that they had achieved a level of identity with Him, as discussed above, at which they literally knew Him as concretely as though they could see Him for themselves. This is the significance of the saying (Talmud, Nedarim 32a) that Abraham “recognized” his Maker. He did not merely conclude, intellectually, that there must be a G-d; Abraham actually realized this to such an extent that his belief could only be described as recognition, as though he personally saw for himself.

For the average Jew, however, this is not so easy. Although Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did take the first step in making this possible, for us, their descendants, to reach a point at which G-d’s own attributes – His “personality,” so to speak – are literally so manifest within us that we actually “recognize” G-d, as though we personally see Him, we need some help. It is the spiritual legacy of the Sh’vatim that supplies this, as will now be explained.

As noted above, each of our Patriarchs is identified with a particular attribute of G-d, and Jacob with G-d’s attribute of compassion. However, from G-d’s own perspective, the attribute of compassion is applicable to pretty much everything in the universe. G-d Himself utterly transcends all of creation, so everything – even the most sublime spiritual realm – is but a pitiful and insignificant object to Him. It is an act of compassion for G-d to deign to create even the greatest of them. In a sense, one can say that the G-dly attribute of compassion that Jacob himself identified with has bigger, broader objects than individual mortals; on that level, the attribute of compassion is needed to bring the very universe into being.

However, Jacob’s sons, the Sh’vatim, extended G-d’s attribute of compassion even farther, so that it could apply to individual Jews. This is elicited through our applying our own attribute of compassion, and in particular, in arousing compassion on our own souls. A person should reflect upon the greatness of G-d; how He is exalted above all of creation and how indeed, creation itself is as nothing before Him. He or she should contemplate this true bitul, or nullity in relation to G-d like sunlight within the very orb of the sun, of all that exists; even his or her own soul, before coming down to earth, was literally a “part of G-d above” as opposed to a “creature” in its own right. When a person contrasts this lofty origin with the present state of affairs, in which his or her soul has plunged “from a lofty peak into a deep pit” (Chagiga 5b) and ended up enclothed within a body of flesh and blood, prone to all sorts of worldly desires and exposed to the possibility of sin (G-d forbid), he or she will inevitably arouse a feeling of compassion for his or her poor soul. The more one meditates upon this theme, the greater the compassion aroused.

Our sages arranged the order of our prayers along these lines, for the portion of our morning prayers known as p’sukei d’zimra (verses of praise) are replete with praise of G-d’s exalted greatness, and this intensifies the worshipper’s appreciation of the contrast and compassion on his or her own soul, so far from its heavenly source.

Now, a basic principle of worship is that by arousing in ourselves a certain feeling, or by expressing a certain attribute, we elicit a corresponding response from G-d. For example, if a person exercises his or her attribute of kindness in giving charity to the needy, G-d’s own attribute of Kindness is aroused toward the giver, whose own needs may then be fulfilled. In Chassidic terminology, our initiation of this process is called “arousal from below,” and G-d’s response is referred to as “arousal from Above.”

In this case, our developing compassion for our own souls (which, as mentioned above, is a degree of compassion associated with the Sh’vatim) constitutes the “arousal from below” which elicits in response an “arousal from Above” of G-d’s own attribute of compassion (associated with the Patriarchs themselves) upon our souls. This makes it possible for us, too, to experience the degree of manifestation of G-d’s own attributes that the Patriarchs made possible: that level at which we attain a belief in G-d that is more like “seeing” something than merely thinking it is true. This concept is expressed by the prayer we recite in preparation for the Shema (after having already aroused our own compassion during the p’sukei d’zimra prayers), “Our Father, Compassionate Father, please have compassion upon us and instill within our hearts understanding, etc.” In order for the degree of understanding and knowledge of G-d that we have been discussing to be more than intellectual, but actually experienced and felt within our hearts, we must first receive G-d’s compassion to help us become fitting receptacles for this revelation.

Now, all the above follows a fixed order: first we engage in “arousal from below,” then we benefit from “arousal from Above.” In truth, however, it is far from obvious that G-d’s own attributes should be subject to being “conjured up” by mortals in a cause-and-effect manner. By what power can we claim the ability to arouse G-d’s attributes, even if we do first emulate him all day long?

The answer is that G-d Himself desires this, and deliberately structured the spiritual “dynamics” of the universe to work according to this fixed order, known in mystical terms as seder ha-hishtalshelus, the order of progression of spiritual influence. However, this itself – that “arousal from Above” be dependent on “arousal from below” – is only due to the compassion of G-d to allow such a thing. This compassion, though, is of a much higher order. The G-dly compassion which decreed that, by the order of progression of spiritual influence (seder ha-hishtalshelus), G-d’s attribute of compassion can be elicited by mortal compassion, must itself be of an order that transcends the entire framework of the seder ha-hishtalshelus. (Although this begins to get complicated, we must remember that G-d is infinite, and anything we say about Him is really only so from our perspective. Just because we identify a certain spiritual level as G-d’s “own” attribute of compassion does not limit G-d from having even a higher degree of compassion than that.)

This is the level of compassion alluded to by the liturgical phrase (also found, somewhat earlier, in preparation for the Shema prayer), “G-d of the universe, in Your great compassion, etc.” The stress is on Your great compassion, i.e., that level of compassion which is entirely above the order of spiritual transmission to the worlds and is Yours alone. What we are asking is that that degree of compassion enable the seder ha-hishtalshelus itself.

And this is the mystical significance of the verse in this week’s Torah portion (Genesis 32:1), “And Lavan arose in the morning.” The name of Jacob’s father-in-law, Lavan, is the same as the Hebrew word for “white,” lavan. This is a mystical allusion to the spiritual concept known as the “supernal whiteness” (loven ha-elyon). A painting can contain many colors, each of which is added to the blank canvas as the painter expresses his or her ideas. The basic whiteness of the canvas, however, is not a superimposed color at all and expresses no individual idea. Rather, it is the canvas itself, and contains, in potential, all possible things that might be expressed. Similarly, like white light which encompasses all the colors of the spectrum yet is colorless itself, the term “supernal whiteness” refers to the “light” of the very Self and Essence of the Or Ein Sof (the “light of the Infinite One”), because that spiritual level is the source of all “colors” – i.e., manifestations – yet itself has no “color,” cannot be manifest, as it says (Introduction to Tikkunei Zohar), “No thought can grasp You at all,” and (Malachi 3:6), “I, G-d, have not changed [as a result of creating the universe].”

That is why, as the narrative of Jacob and Lavan relates, Lavan repeatedly changed Jacob’s compensation from sheep of one color scheme to those of another. Although the Biblical Lavan was wicked, he had (like every unholy concept) a counterpart in the realm of holiness: the “supernal whiteness” explained above. The repeated switching of colors was symbolic of the idea that the supernal whiteness transcends all color, which, in fact, derives from it. It is only after emerging from its spiritual source in the loven ha-elyon, the supernal whiteness, that a particular manifestation, or “color,” can appear as a distinct entity; while still within that source, however, it cannot even be called by a separate name. Thus, in the realm of holiness, G-d manifests Himself to us in various ways, but none of these manifestations, in their source within G-d and from His own perspective, so to speak, have any reality about them. The entirety of creation (which is all a mere manifestation of G-dliness to us) literally doesn’t affect G-d Himself one way or another, and certainly doesn’t “change” Him in any way (G-d forbid). And correspondingly, the Biblical “Lavan,” white, could switch Jacob’s sheep from one color to another with impunity, as though saying, “they’re all the same to me.”

Now, this holy “whiteness,” symbolizing the ultimate source of all “color” or manifestation of G-dliness, is the source of that “great compassion” of G-d – which itself transcends the seder ha-hishtalshelus – discussed earlier. We said that the word “Lavan” in the verse “And Lavan arose in the morning” alludes to G-d’s great Compassion “enabling” the seder ha-hishtalshelus – that G-d’s attribute of compassion should be responsive to Man’s attribute of compassion – in the first place. The fact that Lavan arose “in the morning” is also significant.

As noted, our Patriarch Abraham was identified with G-d’s attribute of chessed, kindness. This attribute is primarily manifest in the morning, as alluded to in the verse (Genesis 22:3), “And Abraham arose in the morning.” (As explained elsewhere – see, for example, toward the end of the synopsis of the ma’amar, Erda Na on the Torah portion, “Vayeira” – the attribute of Kindness is said to extend farther than the attribute of Compassion. Compassion is only appropriate in certain situations, for example, toward a poor person but not a rich one. Kindness, however (e.g., a cheery greeting of “good morning”) can be extended to all.)

Each morning, G-d’s attribute of kindness is especially active, and this in turn is what allows His attribute of great compassion to enable the seder ha-hishtalshelus – the fixed order by which spiritual influence descends to the world and by the “rules” of which we are able to arouse G-d’s compassion by first arousing our own. Kindness, Chassidic philosophy explains, is a function of love, and that is why our request in preparation for the Shema prayer (“Our Father, Compassionate Father, please have compassion upon us …”) is made within the context of the paragraph beginning “You have loved us with an everlasting love.” G-d’s love and kindness, manifest in the morning, are what drive His great compassion to enable the seder ha-hishtalshelus.

This unlocks the mystical significance of the rest of our verse and its continuation into the next, which read (Genesis 32:1-2), “And Lavan arose in the morning and kissed his sons and daughters and blessed them, and Lavan departed and returned to his place. And Jacob went on his way ….”

“Lavan” – the spiritual level known as the “supernal whiteness,” which is the source of G-d’s great compassion – “arose in the morning” – for that is when its prerequisite level, G-d’s attribute of love and kindness, is most active. His kissing his sons and daughters is symbolic of this, since a kiss is an expression of love. And who were these sons and daughters “kissed” in the morning by the Divine attribute of Kindness? They were Lavan’s grandchildren, the sh’vatim, and his daughters Leah and Rachel (for it is a Torah principle (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, ch.36; see also Rashi’s commentary to K’suvos 72b, s.v. “Ephraim”) that “grandchildren are just like children”). The reason both sons and daughters are specified instead of a more general term like “children” is because, as mentioned at the beginning of this synopsis, the masculine form symbolizes transmission of spiritual influence and the feminine, receipt of spiritual influence. The sh’vatim, tribes, as explained above, extend G-d’s attributes down to us once we have laid the groundwork by arousing compassion upon our souls in prayer. They thus represented the “arousal from Above” which bestows spiritual influence upon us after our having first elicited it by our own worldly efforts. That “arousal from below” is symbolized by Lavan’s daughters Leah and Rachel, who represented the twin (worldly) realms of alma d’iskasya and alma d’isgalya (the hidden and revealed worlds, respectively). The verse is telling us that all these levels, throughout the order of hishtalshelus, were imbued – “kissed” – with an infusion of G-dly Kindness, allowing G-d’s great compassion to rest upon them. In this way, every step along the path of our worship is enabled to work as G-d intends: that is, that “arousal from Above” should be dependent upon our “arousal from below.”

“And blessed them”: The word “blessed” can be understood to mean “empowered” them, in the sense of (Genesis 1:28), “And G-d blessed them and said … fill the earth and conquer it.” That is, our worship of G-d along the lines discussed above should bring G-dliness so thoroughly into this world as to permeate and pervade all of creation, bringing the entire universe (and the spiritual “sparks of holiness” which the Kabbalah teaches “fell” into it) under the dominion of G-d through Jacob’s descendants.

“And Lavan departed and returned to his place”: because, as explained, this “supernal whiteness” is manifest in the morning, at the time of the morning prayer, but after prayer this spiritual revelation departs. That is why it is necessary to pray every day: each day this spiritual level, which touches off the progress of the entire seder ha-hishtalshelus, returns and extends its influence even farther, departing again after prayer.

On the other hand, “And Jacob went on his way”: this means that each day, after this “meeting” during prayer and the departure of the spiritual level alluded to by “Lavan,” Jacob – that is, the Jewish people – “takes the ball and runs with it,” so to speak. We must carry the spiritual “charge,” the empowerment received during prayer, with us as we go on our way and set about our daily activities. We must indeed bring everything with which we come in contact under the dominion of G-d through study of Torah and fulfillment of its mitzvos. This is what is meant by the phrase “went on his way,” for Torah is called “way,” or “path” (Kiddushin 2b).

And this should be done by “Jacob”: that is, in the manner hinted at by the Hebrew name of our Patriarch Jacob. This name, Yaacov, can be split into two parts: the initial letter, yud, and the remaining letters, which spell the word eikev, meaning the heel of the foot. In drawing down G-dliness upon this physical universe and our daily affairs, as we “go on our way,” we must not stop short; we must not leave any aspect of the mundane world unelevated by our worship. Rather, we must emulate Jacob’s achievement and utilize his ability, bequeathed to us, his descendants, to extend the very highest spiritual levels – represented by the letter yud for reasons explained elsewhere – into even the very lowest aspects – the “heels” – of this physical world.

Lo Tov Heyos HaAdam Levado
Mayim Rabim Lo Yuchlu L'Chabos
B'Etzem HaYom Hazeh Nimol Avrohom
Erda Na
Chayei Sara
V'Avraham Zakein Ba Bayamim
Vayachp'ru Avdei Yitzchok
Vayashkeim Lavan Baboker
Vayeavek Ish Imo
VeHinei Anachnu M'Almim Alumim
Ner Chanukah Mitzvah L'Hanicha
Vayigash Eilav Yehudah
Chachlili Einayim Miyayin