Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Chabad-Chassidic commentary on Lech Lecha — a soul’s journey

Third installation (large file) of Kehot-edition Chumash with Rebbe’s (and generally Chabad-Chassidic) commentaries — this time, on parshas Lech Lecha. I have enjoyed Bereishis and Noach so far and have already ordered a copy for myself (it’s back in stock). This editions is amazing. Of course, there is nothing like studying Chassidus in original — reading the sichos, the ma’amorim, the letters concerning each parsha (or using such publications as Dvar Malchus, where this is compiled for each week). This book, however, is the second best thing, especially for English readers who want introduction into Chassidus or Chassidic commentary to Chumash.

The more I read this edition, the more I realize one aspect of its advantage — it is a commentary on its own. It doesn’t just provide a selection of the Rebbe’s sichos on a particular topic or a parsha (which is a very good thing in itself), it has its own system of commentary that draws on a great wealth of sources, with Chabad Chassidus being a main guiding theme. The depth of the commentary (combined with conciseness — something I need to learn) is unbelievable. Just from reading the provided free chapters on Bereishis and Lech Lecha (I didn’t have so much opportunity to study Noach in depth) one can learn major basics of Chabad Chassidus. I want to quote everything, but quoting first “Inner Dimensions” will suffice for now:
Go from your land and from your birthplace: go away from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you:

Metaphorically, this command is given to every soul about to be born, which must then descend from its source in the heavenly spheres through progressively lower gradations, gaining more definition, self-awareness, and distance from G-d at each step, until it reaches the physical plane. Its next step is to begin the process of ascent, traveling back in the opposite direction to transcend the shortsighted perspective of the body. Finally, it must then transcend even its own holy inclinations. This verse thus can be explained as follows:

Go: Descend from the highest levels—

From your land: The word for “land” (eretz) is related to the word for “will” or “desire” (ratzon). “Land” therefore alludes to G-d’s will, which is identified with the sefirah of keter. The soul is thus told to take leave of its lofty roots (keter) and descend to the next level, chochmah.

From your birthplace: Divine insight (chochmah) is called “father”, since chochmah “fathers” and gives birth to ideas. The soul must leave this level as well and descend even further, into the realm of understanding (binah).

Your father’s house: Binah is the womb where the seed of chochmah is developed and expanded, which is why it is called “your father’s house”. The soul must descend even further—

To the land, i.e., to the physical world: This is the ultimate, most difficult descent, yet through it the soul arrives in this world, which is the “land”—

That I will show you: The non-descriptive “I” refers to G-d’s essence, which is likewise beyond description. G-d promises the soul that in the merit of descending into this world and fulfilling the commandments, it will be shown the “I” of G-d, enabling it to cleave to G-d’s essence [through Torah and mitzvos].

Once the soul enters this world and becomes garbled in a human body, it is commanded and given strength to—

Go: this time in the opposite direction, from the lowest sphere to the highest—

From your land: “Land”, as we have explained above, alludes to will and desire. Firstly, the soul must transcend the animalistic desires of the body. It is then told to go—

From your birthplace: i.e., to transcend the assumptions and limited perspective of the intellect and emotions of the ego. It must then go—

From your father’s house: i.e., to transcend those behavioral habits that it acquired and became accustomed to due to a faulty education and less-than-perfect environment. It must go beyond all of these limitations—

To the land that I will show you: to a holy place, such as a synagogue of place of Torah study, where desires of the Divine soul dominate and prevail.

Only after we have successfully transcended the limitations of the body’s animating soul can we then proceed to the next task, that of transcending even the inclinations of the Divine soul, its own ratzon (land), chochmah (birthplace), and binah (father’s house), and reach a level that is beyond reason, “the land that I will show you”, a place where the sould does not merely comprehend Divinity [as was before the birth, in the Upper Worlds] but actually sees it.

[Based on Likutei Sichot, vol. 1, pp. 15–18.]
This was one of the first sichos of the Rebbe I ever studied by myself. I remember sitting on Shabbos in 770 and learning it.

The regular commentary provides a slightly different explanation on the first sentence of Lech Lecha, from Rebbe Rashab’s teachings. Read inside.

Other links.


shevers said...

Random but what do you do in science? I'm a chem major so I like to get ideas.

Crawling Axe said...

Sorry — I stay as far away from chemistry as possible. :) I work in a biological field.

shevers said...

I'm a Chemistry major with a biochemical focus, does that count?

Crawling Axe said...

Biochemical focus is better. :)

Shorty said...

I'm a chemist're surrounded!

Shorty said...

I'm also curious about the science religion debate...what are your thoughts?

Crawling Axe said...

It’s too big a subject to explain in a short statement. Perhaps I will write a post on it at some point. I wanted to address the issue during parshas Noach, on the topic of mabul, but for several reasons (time, inability to find sources I was looking for, etc.) did not. Stay tuned. :)