Thursday, October 28, 2010

First in thought: seeing things from the spiritual perspective

In this week’s parsha, Chayei Soroh, we find Eliezer giving two different accounts of his meeting with Rivka. One detail from the two accounts concerns the order of asking Rivka’s name and giving her jewelry.

The way Torah describes it (Bereishis 24):

22. Now it came about, when the camels had finished drinking, [that] the man took a golden nose ring, weighing half [a shekel], and two bracelets for her hands, weighing ten gold [shekels].כב. וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר כִּלּוּ הַגְּמַלִּים לִשְׁתּוֹת וַיִּקַּח הָאִישׁ נֶזֶם זָהָב בֶּקַע מִשְׁקָלוֹ וּשְׁנֵי צְמִידִים עַל יָדֶיהָ עֲשָׂרָה זָהָב מִשְׁקָלָם:
23. And he said, "Whose daughter are you? Please tell me. Is there place for us for lodging in your father's house?"כג. וַיֹּאמֶר בַּת מִי אַתְּ הַגִּידִי נָא לִי הֲיֵשׁ בֵּית אָבִיךְ מָקוֹם לָנוּ לָלִין:

vs. the way Eliezer described it:

47. And I asked her, and I said, 'Whose daughter are you?' And she replied, 'The daughter of Bethuel the son of Nahor, whom Milcah bore to him.' And I placed the nose ring on her nose and the bracelets on her hands.מז. וָאֶשְׁאַל אֹתָהּ וָאֹמַר בַּת מִי אַתְּ וַתֹּאמֶר בַּת בְּתוּאֵל בֶּן נָחוֹר אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה לּוֹ מִלְכָּה וָאָשִׂם הַנֶּזֶם עַל אַפָּהּ וְהַצְּמִידִים עַל יָדֶיהָ:

So, we see that in the former description (that of Torah), first “the man” gave Rivka the jewels and only then did he ask her about her family. In Eliezer’s description, he first asked her about the family and then gave her the jewels.

Some commentators (such as Abarbenel) say that when making all the changes to his story, Eliezer made a diplomatic calculation: he tweaked the story in such a way that it would not seem strange or offensive to the parents of Rivka. So, while in reality he relied completely on Hashgacha Protis to guide him to the right person and thus “blindly” gave the jewelry to Rivka, when he was telling the story to the parents, he de-emphasized such a weird (to them) behavior.

Which is a lesson to us all: when talking to others, whose level of observance, or chassidishkeit, or emunas Hashem, or views in general differ from ours, we should not focus so much on the differences and not to draw attention to those things that our audience may find offensive or strange or that it would laugh at. This way we will be successful in our task to influence our audience.

* * *
Other commentators (I think it may have been Rabbeinu Behaye) say that “the man” described by Torah is actually M., the head angel. Eliezer was accompanied by Mr. M. on the first part of the journey. M. was the angel who shortened the length of the journey to one day; he gave Rivka jewelry; he changed the plates around so that Eliezer does not get poisoned. (It says that he even accompanied them on the beginning of their journey back, and only once they were on their way did he depart.)

So, in the first case, the angel already knew who Rivka was, and so he “gave” her jewelry: he designated in his mind (so to speak) that the jewelry should go to Rivka, even before she told Eliezer about her family. From Eliezer’s perspective, however, things were different: first he asked Rivka about her family and then gave her the jewelry.

This is an example of how sequence of events from the physical perspective can be different from the sequence of events from the spiritual perspective. Oftentimes we find discrepancies between our observations of the physical world and, lehavdil, that which is written in Torah. We must remember, however, that Torah contains in itself multiple levels of reality, including a multitude of spiritual levels and the physical level. Things may be true from a physical perspective one way, and may be at the same time true in a completely different way from the spiritual perspective.

* * *
In the song Lecha Doidi from Kabbalas Shabbos we say about Shabbos: “Soif b’ma’aseh, b’machshavah tchillo” — “Last in deed, first in thought”. Meaning, that Hashem created Shabbos last (of all days of creation), but in His mind if came first. The same can be said about our world (it came after the spiritual worlds, but the purpose of the creation is the physical world, into which a Jewish soul can come to do the mitzvos with the physical matter of it), and the same can be said about the Days of Moshiach. Though they will the last, seventh, era of the Creation, they, indeed, are the reason and the purpose for the existence of all the reality.

It says that tzaddikim already live in the Days of Moshiach. The unity between G-d and this world which will be manifest to us all during the time of geulah is already revealed to the tzaddikim: they already live on the level of ein od milvado — “there is nothing but Him” — and perceive the world this way. Just like the angel from the story above saw things from the spiritual perspective, just like from his point of view, the jewelry was already given, tzaddikim too see the world from the spiritual perspective first and see the jewel of creation, the Days of Moshiach, already given to the world and to Jews.

This is why we must cleave to the tzaddikim and follow their paths. I have heard it said about the Rebbe that oftentimes he demanded things of his chassidim which intially seemed impossible. At the first glance one might think that the Rebbe was an idealist, living in a fantasy world. It is true that the Rebbe was an idealist, but he was also a realist. He was simply walking ten steps ahead of us and telling us of how to follow him.

Oftentimes the instructions of the Rebbeim, the leaders of our generations, may seem strange and “backward”. Surely, we say, we can see with our eyes that things are the other way around, not the way the Rebbe says. But we must remember that the Rebbe already sees the true reality; he does not need the test of time to reveal its truth. And it simply makes sense to follow him.
More on the topic: “First in Thought

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