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Vayetzei(Genesis 28:10-32:3)

Whatever Floats Your Boat

Newly Revised


"A person is only as great as the ideas that form the fabric of his being."

To paraphrase Clint Eastwood, what would make your day? Winning the lottery? A new Bentley? A country estate maybe?

How about a great concept?

The Mesilit Yesharim (Path of the Just) brings the midrash that compares this world to the land, and the next world to the sea (Kohelet Rabbah 1:36). Rabbi Noah Weinberg explains that if you are going on a long voyage, you had better prepare everything you need.

Let's start with the boat. Crossing the seven seas in a raft may make for the experience of a lifetime, if you survive, but I would much rather have the QE2.

The boat is the vessel that keeps everything else safe and secure. Floating alone on a simple raft on a quiet lake is one thing, but bring on an elephant, then add a storm and maybe try the rapids and you won't be singing in the rain.

The vessel of your life is the fabric of your being: your ideas. Everything we experience is filtered through our concept of life.

"Nothing in life is ever what it is. It's all relative to what we expect it to be."

If your concept of life is very primitive, like a simple raft, then when something big comes into your world your equilibrium is thrown off. A storm erupts, maybe bad news, and invariably you will fall.

This is life; the bigger and more well built the boat, the better you can handle the good as well as the bad.

Yes, good is a challenge, too. Anything good in life comes with responsibilities. Win the lottery and all kinds of new challenges will present themselves to you. It's no accident that the lottery destroys more lives than it improves. The vast majority of the people who play, typically buy a ticket barely holding onto a log, let alone a raft.

"God is good" may be an oversimplification of how the world runs, but it goes a long way toward explaining why more good doesn't happen to you: Maybe you don't have a big enough canoe to handle it.

Until you realize that it's only through ideas that your day will be made, you are stuck in the same dinghy you were born with.

In this week's Torah portion, Jacob, it could be said, had the greatest vision and concept of all time. He understood the ladder (Genesis 28:12), the process by which we reach heaven, yet remain rooted in this world.

"...It is only through earthly deeds that we climb to the loftiest heights. The different levels of the spiritual world - the rungs of the 'ladder' - can only be bound together when they are 'standing on the earth.' ''

- Rav Dessler, Strive for Truth, Treatise on repentance

It's his vision that created what today we call Judaism. This is what it's all about, the process by which we can live in this world and yet get closer to and drink from the next.

As much as we would like to believe otherwise, nothing in this world can rise above the level of merely functioning. You might be able to buy a Swiss watch for $100,000 but it won't tell the time any better than my Chinese $10 equivalent.

It's the ultimate cosmic joke. Why else do people want to go where "no one has gone before" except that everywhere else has become boring?

There is only one place that you haven't visited that is worth going to: Heaven. Jacob understood what concepts and deeds we need to enable us to climb upwards. It's the Torah and Mitzvos that are the rungs.

So, if you really want to make your day, bring a little more Heaven to Earth. Travel in style; there is a class starting now.

Don't wait. This is the cruise of a lifetime.

* * *

BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER

Question 1: What is your most precious idea in life?

Question 2: What would your life be like if you never had that idea?

Question 3: How much would you be willing to pay to get an idea that will do for you twice as much as the first idea?

Realize, there are vastly more ideas of greater value to you that you don't know, than you do, waiting for you to attain for free in the Torah.

Published: November 19, 2006

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