The Twilight Zone
Our Parshah begins by telling us of Jacob's return to his homeland after 22 years abroad. He originally had to flee from his parents' home because his brother, Esau, sought to kill Jacob for having received the blessings intended for him. 22 years later, after having established a family and amassing great wealth, Esau's anger had not subsided.
In preparation for meeting Esau, Jacob prayed to G‑d and asked Him to save him from any harm his brother might attempt to inflict on him. In his prayer, Jacob recounts all of the blessings he has received from G‑d and says, "I have been humbled by all the kindness and truth" (Genesis 32:11).
Chassidic thought explains that Jacob's feeling of humility and his plea for G‑d's kindness did not merely relate to the immediate crisis with his brother Esau. Jacob's prayer was also a request for G‑d's help on a much more global scale. This prayer was offered by Jacob to help him grow and reach utterly new heights in his spiritual development.
To explain: the Talmud teaches us that the righteous are constantly "on the move." In the words of the Psalmist (84:8), "They go from strength to strength. They appear before G‑d in Zion." In the pursuit of holiness, in the attempt to become closer to G‑d, there are infinite levels - it is a never-ending journey.
More specifically, there are different realms or "worlds" through which the righteous pass as they ascend higher and higher. When they achieve all that there is to achieve in one realm, they leave it, forging ahead to the next level.
An example of this "Gan Eden," loosely translated as Heaven, the spiritual world of divine bliss where departed souls exist until the coming of Moshiach. Gan Eden, it is taught, is a multi-tiered, multi-faceted reality where souls appreciate and comprehend only the amount of G‑dliness that is appropriate for their individual level. As each soul grows, it goes higher, to a new level of Gan Eden where it reaches new depths of understanding G‑d's greatness. Indeed, since a significant day for a soul's "graduation" to a higher level is on its Yahrzeit, the anniversary of the day of the soul's passing, many have the custom of drinking a toast or L'Chaim on the Yahrzeit of a loved one and say the blessing "The Neshomoh (soul) should have an Aliyah (spiritual elevation)."
However, the elevation from one level to the next is not smooth. Between the two worlds there is an "intermission," a moment when the soul has left its former state and not yet arrived on its new plateau. Kaballah teaches us that, at times, the soul must actually "cleanse" itself of its former state, washing itself free of any remnant of that reality. The experience on the new plane will be so intense that any connection with the former, lower state - as great as it might have been - will be considered a hindrance. Often, when the soul goes from one heavenly level to another, the Kaballah teaches that it must immerse itself in "Nehar Dinur," The River of Fire, as part of its purification process (see Daniel 7:10).
Mysticism teaches that during that moment of flux, when the soul - or righteous person - is between stages, it is vulnerable. It considered to be in a state of "Katnus, lowness." True, the soul has graduated from its previous level and is "higher" than it, but since it has not yet reached the level to which it is ascending - it requires special divine protection.
Jacob's travels were an expression of his spiritual growth. As he left Chutz L'Aretz, the Diaspora, and was about to enter Israel, he was not merely travelling from one geographic location to another, he was ascending to a higher spiritual level.
Due to this transition, Jacob was vulnerable. His fears did not stem merely from the presence of his vengeful brother, Esau; he knew that during this major transition from the Diaspora to Israel, from one spiritual level to an entirely greater one, he needed special divine guidance.
Thus Jacob proclaimed "Katonti - I am very low. I have left my former state and feel vulnerable. I need Your help, G‑d, to help me reach the next level."
The Rebbe has declared that we are the last generation of exile and the first generation of redemption. In the Talmud, this stage is called "Ikvasa D'mishichah," the Heels of Moshiach. We are closer than ever before to the redemption. Nevertheless, we might sometimes feel that we are "Katonti," small or undeserving of experiencing the transition to this new era. The lesson from our Parshah is that we must act as Jacob did - we must turn to G‑d and ask for his help and guidance that we may succeed in completing our "travels" and arrive together with Moshiach in Israel and witness the rebuilding of the Third Temple.
Moshiach Matters
If the redemption will come because of Israel's merit, the matter will be wondrous in degree, and the redeemer of Israel will be revealed from heaven with signs and wonders...However, if the redemption will come at the end of the prescribed period of exile and Israel will not deserve it, it will be in another manner, about which it is said that the redeemer will come "lowly and riding on a donkey."(Ohr HaChaim)(L'Chaim)
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