Friday, November 11, 2011

Importance of Akeidas Yitzchok — spiritual perspective

(limit at infinity)

In an earlier post, I covered logical arguments concerning akeidas Yitzchok. This event, however, has a very important spiritual lesson, which Avraham had to learn: we can define G-d’s expression in this world, but we cannot define His Essence.

In parshas Lech Lecha, Torah tells us that Avraham circumcised himself. In parshas Vayeira, he receives news of Sodom’s and Gamorra’s planned destruction and argues with G-d that some righteous individuals may live in them. Later, Yitzchok is miraculously conceived and born, and later yet (fast-forward thirty-odd years), G-d orders Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchok. What’s the connection between these events?

Initially, Avraham understood G-d as the Creator of the Universe. He deduced necessity of G-d’s existence from the fact that Universe functioned in an obvious order, which necessitated the source — only one — of that order. He preached monotheism and eventually received revelation of G-d, who told him to go to Eretz Kna’an to become an ancestor of a great nation. Before G-d’s revelation, Avraham’s understanding of G-d was limited to that of a Creator, after revelation — to whatever aspect of Himself G-d chose to reveal to Avraham. His understanding of G-d also was limited by his own nature. Avraham was kind and thus perceived G-d from this point of view, as a source of kindness in the world. Next came the circumcision. Chabad-Chassidic commentary on parshas Vayeira states:
When, as a young boy, Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch learned [the verse “G-d appeared to him”], he came in tears to his grandfather, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (the Tzemach Tzedek), and cried, “If G-d appeared to Abraham, why doesn’t He appear to me, as well?” In reply to his little grandson’s anguished question, the Tzemach Tzedek told him that Abraham merited having G-d appear to him because, although he had indeed refined himself enough to attain very sublime levels of Divine consciousness, he at the same time knew that G-d is infinite and that therefore there were still an infinite number of levels of Divine consciousness to attain. This recognition left Abraham feeling grossly inadequate, as though he were still encrusted by layers of insensitivity to Divine awareness that needed to be removed — to be “circumcised” — in order to bare his heart before his Creator.
So, we see a gradual progression of Avraham’s understanding of G-d’s nature. He started with definition of G-d as a creator. Then he progressed to understanding of G-d as one who does kindness, chessed — from the “right” pillar of the kabbalistic tree of Divine Attributes. After his circumcision, Avraham achieved a level of being able to see the whole tree, with left side present. He was able to perceived that G-d is also a judge (as can be seen from his arguing with G-d about destruction of the Cities of the Plane: “Shall the Judge of the whole world not judge fairly?”). Birth of Yitzchok pushed the definition even further: not only was G-d the source of the world’s order, of Nature, but He was able to do miracles, transcending definitions of natural laws.

So, what did ordering Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchok accomplish? It elevated Avraham to understanding that G-d is beyond any definition or limitation whatsoever. Not of a Creator, not of a Kind Creator, not of a Just Creator, not even of someone who promised Avraham to become a father of a chosen nation. Avraham was not allowed to place any kind of limitation on G-d: natural, intellectual, emotional or logical. This new level Avraham achieved through an act of bittul, nullification of one’s ego and its importance. When being kind, Avraham related to the level of G-d’s Kindness (chesed). When asking for justice, Avraham asked for the level of G-d’s Justice (gevurah). When raising Yitzchok to become an ancestor of the Jewish nation that would proclaim G-d as King, Avraham was relating to the level of G-d’s Kingship (malchus). But what to do to relate to G-d’s undefinable Essence? Only through an act of sacrifice, nullification, removal of all definitions.

In our lives, we must do kindness, be just, keep all the mitzvos that make us G-d’s nation. While doing all this, however, we cannot allow any definitions or barriers to limit our relationship with Torah and G-d (as the Rebbe teaches). We must live in a constant act of self-sacrifice of our lives, our self-interests, our pleasures to G-d, reaching up to His Essence.

The final part of the story teaches us another lesson. In the end, G-d did not allow Avraham to slaughter his son and showed that He intended to keep his promise. Although G-d does not have to be limited by any characteristics, definitions of promises, he chooses to do so. He chooses to continue creating the world which defies His Oneness. He chooses to be the source of Kindness and Justice (and other eight spheros, whose vessels limit and define G-d’s Infinite Light). He chooses to continue having Jews as a chosen nation.

Giving us His Torah, G-d defied His own Infinity by limiting Himself to 613 commandments, to the physical world through which they are kept, to a specific nation, to whom a promise was given. A promise G-d intends to keep: that Jews through their efforts will bring about an Era when G-d’s Essence will be revealed in the materiality of the physical world, the Era of Mashiach. May this happen speedily in our days.

P.S. This also means that Hashem’s choice of us is limited to the specific 613 mitzvos. We can’t just serve Hashem in any way we want.

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