Torah for the Times

Friday, December 2, 2011 - 6 Kislev, 5772

Torah Reading: Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10 - 32:3)
Candle Lighting Time: 4:10 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:14 PM

The King and I

Charanah: Into the Bowels of Charan

This week’s parsha begins with Jacob’s departure for Charan, partly to escape the wrath of his brother Esau—who accused him of stealing his birthright and blessings—and partly to begin a family.

The fact that Jacob was on a mission to start the first Jewish family which would form the nucleus of the Jewish people tells us that every detail of the narrative is crucial for the formation of a nation in general and for the success of Jewish family life in particular.

The parsha begins: “And Jacob left B’er Sheva and went to Charan.” There are two ways one can write “to Charan” in Hebrew. One way would be to add the letter lamed as a prefix to the word Charan—L’Charan. The alternative is to add the letter hei as a suffix to the word Charan as in Charan-ah.

In this verse, the Torah chooses the latter form although it is the less common of the two ways. Or Hachaim raises the question as to why the Torah goes out of its way to add the suffix hei rather than the more common prefix lamed.

One approach is that there is a difference between the two forms. When a hei is added it implies that not only did he reach Charan but that he entered into its innermost precincts. Jacob could not be there as a mere guest. He had to enter into its very bowels. His entry was total.

The reason why he had to penetrate into the corrupt environment of his uncle Laban and the culture of Charan is explained in Chassidic sources. Jacob’s travel there was geared to refine the place and to redeem all of the sparks of holiness that were lost in Charan because they had become embedded there. Jacob’s efforts were intended to extricate those sparks. To accomplish that he was compelled to enter into the very “guts” of Charan. This can be compared to someone who is charged with a mission to rescue a hostage. The rescuer may be required to dress like the captors and identify with them. Only then can he rescue the hostage from the clutches of the captors.

In a nineteenth century Chassidic work Ezor Eliyahu, the author provides another answer as to why the Torah adds the letter hei at the end of the word instead of the lamed at the beginning.

Two Approaches to Life

The word Charan is virtually identical with the word rina-joy. Both share the letters reish and nun. The only difference is that the word charan has a letter ches, whereas rina has the letter hei. And there is only a hairbreadth difference between a ches and a hei. Both have a right vertical line that is connected to a horizontal line on top. The difference between the two is that the ches has a left vertical line that touches the roof, whereas the hei has a similar left vertical line that almost reaches the roof. There is but the hairbreadth of difference between them!

There are two ways a person can go through life’s difficulties. One can be to see G‑d’s wrath in all of life’s hardships—charan. And there are those who make an effort, or are naturally inclined, to see the positive in everything. They see rina/joy as opposed to charan/wrath.

Hillel, the great Sage who was known for his kindness, love and patience, was returning from a trip. He heard a scream emanating from somewhere in his own town and remarked, “I am confident that the cry did not come from my home.” The question has been raised about his confidence. One can have trust that things will be good in the future. But how could he say I am confident that no evil had befallen his family? It was after the fact!

Commentators answer that Hillel was not expressing trust that nothing tragic occurred in his home. He was, however, confident that if something did happen, there would be no outcry coming from his home because he had so inculcated the ideal of accepting everything with joy. Hillel was a rina personality. He did not see Charan, G‑d’s wrath; he saw only Divine joy!

This then is what the Torah wants to teach us when it refers to Jacob travelling to Charan. By adding the hei at the end, the word charan now has the word rina in it. Jacob, though he was going to a lowly place of charan, was determined to see that opportunity as one of rina.
Jacob knew that he was entering into the bowels of deception and adversity, but he also knew that this will be the catalyst to liberate the sparks and establish a Jewish nation that will bring light and happiness, rina, to the entire world.

A Hairbreadth of Difference?

The question still remains. How can we posit that charan and rina are virtually the same and that only a hairbreadth of difference lies between them? Isn’t seeing the glass half full diametrically the opposite of seeing the glass half empty?

Second, how can one be oblivious to the tragic aspects of life? To not be sensitive to the tragedies of life is not only contrary to natural human sensibilities, it is against the Torah as well. The Torah mandates that we mourn the loss of life, that we commiserate with another person’s losses of any kind.

Upon reflection we will see that the first question can be answered by first resolving the second question - how we can ignore the misfortunes of life.

Half-full, Half-Empty and Entirely Full

Whenever people talk about the positive view of life versus the negative, the optimist versus the pessimist, the example given is the half full cup versus the half empty cup. In truth, that is not an accurate or a relevant analogy to the two aforementioned options of seeing life either as charan or as rina. To see the glass as being only half full is to ignore the fact that there is also a half that is empty. And while that may be a useful approach to help get people out of their negative mindset it is not the ideal and nor is it synonymous with the charan/rinah dichotomy.

To see rina is not to ignore the charan. A Jew must be aware of, and responsive to, the suffering of others and to react appropriately to their own misfortunes as well. Rather the objective is to see beneath the surface of the charan to discover that it is truly rina. Or, to use the terminology of Kabbalah, to see the Divine source of adversity as a hidden manifestation of Divine kindness.

However, since we are human beings, by G‑d’s own design, and so are affected by the surface charan occurrences, we must pause to respect that overt reality and to mourn and grieve the losses that are associated with charan. However, simultaneously, we must also acknowledge that beneath the surface there is rina and that, ultimately, in the days of Moshiach we will see the charan element give way to the unfolding of an exclusive rina reality.

The benefits of this attitude over the half-full half-empty model is twofold:

First, to ignore the negative does not always work. And when we are clobbered over the head with adversity we do not know how to cope with it. By recognizing the negative and responding to it appropriately, coupled with the knowledge that the underlying positive reality will assert itself and dominate in the near future, we are far better equipped to deal with adversity now.

Second, to see the cup half full is to see only a limited measure of good. It is only half-full. To see the rina beneath the surface is to see that in reality it is all good. In King David’s immortal words: “My cup runneth over.” King David suffered almost incessantly from his brothers, King Saul, his general Yoav, his sons, the loss of a child, etc., and yet he did not say “my cup is half-full.” He realized that his cup was overflowing because King David was able to see the entire picture.

Two Sides of One Coin

Jacob, King David, and Hillel’s positive attitude—with which they infected others as well—was not to ignore the suffering but, rather, to allow their understanding of the inner G‑dly reality of life’s experiences to inform their conscious attitude at all times. They taught us that even as we confront adversity and grieve and find ourselves deeply embedded in charan, we should not lose sight of the underlying rina reality. We must try to see the whole picture so that we can see the half-empty cup in a different light: not half empty but an integral part of the whole picture. The charan and the rina dimensions are not opposites. They are two sides of the same coin—two manifestations of Divine reality—the outer shell of which is charan and its inner soul which is rina.

And while we dare not trivialize the pain and suffering that we endure in exile, we must also not wallow in our grief and know that very soon, with the coming of Moshiach, all the sorrow will be turned into unmitigated joy.

Indeed, to the extent that we are cognizant of the pain of exile and we come to G‑d and plead, ad masai, how much longer do we have endure this pain, it is an indication that we know that a time will come when the pain will not only cease, but will be transformed into joy. Consequently the same dynamic that makes us reject and protest the suffering, i.e., our recognition that G‑d can and will ultimately bring it to an end, we want Him to do that sooner than later. This is the precisely same dynamic which allows us to revel in the joy that goes along with the transformation of the charan into rina.

Moshiach Matters
There is a connection between the conclusion of Mishneh Torah and its opening sentence: "The foundation of all foundations... is to know that there exists a Prime Being, and He brings into existence everything that exists." The conclusion of Mishneh Torah speaks of the perfection of the world in the era of Mashiach: the world becomes re-created afresh, in a more elevated manner, as transformed as the lives of those of whom the Midrash says, "He beheld a new world." In the era of Mashiach, man's knowledge and understanding of the Creator - the "Prime Being [Who] brings into existence everything that exists" - is loftier.
From a talk of the Rebbe on the Tenth of Teves, 5749 [1988]

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