Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Alone with Your Soul

Chedva's stand up comedy during this week's B'erot concert
Netivat Shalom teaches that the life of a Jew is an eternal struggle. Ya’acov’s struggle with Esav’s angel of evil continues throughout all future generations. It represents our struggle with our yetzer hara and desire for physical pleasures for their own sake. This week’s meditation will help you in the work of peeling off the outer layers of ourselves – our physicality, until we remain alone with our soul, like Ya’acov.

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Vayishlach "The Secret Power of Shema Yisrael"

Parasha Meditation Vayishlach
Bereishit 32:4-36:43
Overcoming the Husks of Lavan and Esav
This week’s parasha teaches us that the life of a Jew is filled with struggles, through which we ultimately will emerge victoriously. By means of wrestling Ya’acov overcame both the klipa (husk) of Lavan and that of Esav. The klipa of Lavan is lack of Emunah (faith). Lavan used the idol-worship of terafim to manipulate reality according to his own will.[1] He believed that everything was in his own power, as he said, “The daughters are my daughters, the sons are my sons, and everything you see is mine.”[2] This is why the Pesach Hagadah states, “Lavan wanted to uproot everything.” This alludes to Emunah, which is everything for a Jew. Thus the klipa of Lavan is to uproot Emunah from the Jewish people. Esav’s Klipa is ta’avah – physical desire and lust. This klipa has two parts as Ya’acov prayed, “Save me please from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav.” [3] The klipa of Esav refers to the desire for the forbidden, whereas the klipa of “my brother” represents lust within the realm of the permitted. Ya’acov prayed to be saved from both of these klipot.[4]

Lighting the Darkness of our Desires for Lowly Pleasures
Ya’acov’s struggle with Esav gives us guidelines for how to struggle with our yetzer hara (negative impulse). We learn that the rectification for the yetzer hara, is through “and the sun shone for him,”[5] giving us the ability to see clearly. Esav’s angel is called Sam-a-kel. This name can mean blinding G*d. The yetzer hara of Esav tries to blind our eyes from seeing G*d. Seeing Hashem and His power as the Creator prevents us from iniquity. When our eyes are opened to Hashem’s light, then the darkness of the desires of this world fades away, and ceases to attract us. Therefore, it states, “A man was fighting with him until the daybreak”[6] – meaning until the illumination of the light. When we experience the light of Hashem, then we will no longer fear even the power of Esav’s angel.[7]

Alone with the Soul
After having crossed the Yabok River, Ya’acov prepared himself for prophesy by removing the physical, corporal outer layers of himself, so his soul would remain alone with the upper spiritual light. This is the meaning of “Ya’acov was left alone.”[8] The name Ya’acov does not refer to his body, which is only his clothing, but rather, to the inner Ya’acov – to his soul.

Wrestling with the Body
Malbim explains that Ya’acov was able to remove all physical desires and strip off his body, until his essence (soul) remained alone. The “man [that] was wrestling with him”[9] refers to Ya’acov’s own physicality, which would not allow him to remove the corporal outer layer of himself. The “man” – his physical being – held on to him and tried to overcome him. The strength of his body – his physical powers were wrestling with Ya’acov – his spiritual forces, trying to prevent him from removing the manhood of his body.

Inner Struggle
The Talmud teaches that the dust kicked up by Ya’acov and his opponent during their struggle reached up to the Throne of Glory,[10] meaning that it penetrated until the root of his Neshama, reaching all the way to the root of Emunah. Ya’acov’s physical being – his yetzer hara represented by Esav’s angel, wanted to separate him from his root of Emunah. However, the power of evil was incapable of prevailing over Ya’acov, for he was able to overcome his physicality with the immense power of his soul.[11]

Eternal Victory over the Power of Evil
Ya’acov’s struggle has far reaching significance for us today. The fact that it reached up to the Throne of Glory, can also signify the effect of that struggle on all future generations. The Throne of Glory represents G*d’s Providence, the guiding force in history. Ya’acov was tested in all his limps, all his deeds, and all his spiritual powers. His victory empowers all of his seed and the generations after him to prevail against evil in the world.

Sit comfortable in your chair, close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Breathe deeply and feel completely relaxed in all of the limbs of the body.

1. After several minutes of relaxed breathing, imagine you are standing by a river. Visualize the clean water flowing down. See yourself in the mirror of the clear waters. What do you see?

2. Notice that you are totally alone with yourself, surrounded by darkness. וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב לְבַדּו – “And Ya’acov was left alone.”[12] Get in touch with the feeling of being alone in your own skin. No pressures from outside, no distractions, nothing to conform to, no-one to try to please, just alone with yourself.

3. You are לְבַדּ – alone. You are at one with your heart – Lev/לֵב followed by the dalet/ד – the letter of humility that has nothing of her own – Levad/.לְבַדּ Inhale le/לְ, exhale vad/בַדּ, repeat five times.

4. Imagine your most beloved material possessions, your favorite outfit… your comfortable bed… your expensive pen… anything that you own, which you treasure. Imagine letting go of each of these possessions, one by one as you breathe Levad/לְבַדּ. Inhale le/לְ, exhale vad/בַדּ.

5. Visualize yourself stripped of the outer layers of your stuff, just alone with your naked essence – alone to the core, comfortable with yourself, not in need of anything Levad/.לְבַדּ Inhale le/לְ, exhale vad/בַדּ, repeat five times.

6. Go deeper into feeling alone with your essence, even beyond your body. Let go of your worries about your health. Give them all up to Hashem, and breathe into the knowledge that you have nothing. It’s all Hashem’s even your body. Try giving it up to Him.

7. וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ –“A man was wrestling with him.”[13] Tune into your own inner struggle. Remember one incident where your body and soul played tug of war. Your Neshama wanted so badly to do this particular mitzvah, but your body pulled you the other way. Perhaps you didn’t want to spend all that money, or give away that precious possession, possibly your body was tired, lazy, didn’t feel like exerting and extending yourself.

8. Imagine the glow of your soul as a bright ball of light, and enter your selfishness, laziness, tiredness etc. into this light-ball. Visualize how all of it is melting away, disintegrating, allowing your Neshama to get the upper hand. Yet, you still feel the struggle of yourself within yourself on a deeper level. Tune into the struggle to let go, and let G*d, the struggle to let go of what you have worked so hard to attain.

9. Visualize that which is dearest to you in this world, feel the pull. Get in touch with the pain of having to leave even this, and be alone, completely alone with your Neshama. Levad/לְבַדּ – Inhale le/,לְ exhale vad/בַדּ, repeat five times.

10. Now visualize the word Yisrael/יִשְׂרָאֵל – the yud י , shinש, reishר, alef א and lamed ל. Yisrael/יִשְׂרָאֵל.

11. You may be slowed down but you are not overwhelmed; you persevere. יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael.
This name can also be read Yashar El – the one who G*d makes straight. יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael. The one who is straight to G*d. יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael.

12. Inhale Yish/יִשְׂ, exhale rael/רָאֵל, repeat five times. Breathe יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael, into your head – ראש. Breathe יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael into any part of yourself which is tense, painful or tired. יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael. Notice whether you feel invigorated, empowered and victorious. You have prevailed, “you have struggled with Divinity and Humanity and you have prevailed!”[14]

Bereishit 32:14-33 tells the story of Ya’acov preparing to face Esav by facing his own shadow side by the river. Before Ya’acov could confront Esav in person he had to confront the power of Esav – Esav's angel, which is hence his own yetzer hara, hence the general yetzer hara of the world.[15] After this encounter, Ya’acov receives a new name: Yisra El – the one who struggles with G*d. The same name can also mean “straight to G*d,” because through wrestling, he came face to face with Hashem. The struggle is the essence of the name Yisrael. The fate of the Jewish people is one of constant wrestle. How do we derive the power to carry on these struggles? The Midrash states:[16] “There is none like G*d; yet who is like G*d? Yeshurun – (Yisrael).” Just as it is written of Hashem, “Hashem alone shall be exalted.”[17] So, too, “Ya’acov was left alone.”[18] Both Hashem and Israel have the ability of being alone. No outside power can affect Hashem, by adding to or subtracting from His Essence. Israel has the ability to emulate Hashem in this respect. When we know who we are, then nothing external, no problem or challenge, can stop us. With the inner strength of character, we can recognize that all external obstacles are just that – external. We know that even our failures are only in unessential matters. When our essence remains untouched, we stay strong.

[1] Bereishit 31:19.
Bereishit  31:43.
Bereishit 32:12.
[4] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Vayislach pp. 212-13.
Bereishit 32:32.
Bereishit 32:28.
[7] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Vayislach p. 215.
Bereishit  32:25.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Babylonian Talmud, Chulin 91a.
[11] Malbim, Rabbi Meir Loeb ben Yechiel Michael, Ukraine, 1809-1879, Bereishit 32:25.
Bereishit  32:25.
[13] Ibid.
Bereishit 32:29 freely translated.
[15] Op cit. Malbim, 
Bereishit 32:25.
[16] Bereishit Rabah, Parasha 77, Piska 1.
[17] Yeshayahu 2:11.
Bereishit 32:25.

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