Lech Lecha(Genesis 12-17)
Spark of Holiness Within
Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!
The Talmud (Taanit 4a) teaches that, although the Jewish people made an improper request, nevertheless, God answered them properly. The Jewish people's request is derived from a biblical verse in which the people say, "Let us know and strive to know God like the morning that is found with certainty; may God come down to us like the rain." (Hoshea 6:3)
According to the Talmud, God responds to this request with a more appropriate offer. Since rain is not always desirable, God answers the people based on another verse: "I will be like dew for the Jewish people." (Hoshea 14:6)
We see from this dialogue that the people want God to be like rain for them, whereas God suggests acting like dew for them. What is the significance of this give and take? What is the difference between rain and dew?
The Shem MiShmuel provides a beautiful explanation of this passage based on the unique qualities of rain and dew. When rain falls on produce in the fields, it completely saturates the earth. Dew, on the other hand, has a gentler influence. Dew provides a light layer of moisture as "encouragement," enabling produce to moisturize itself.
Based on this idea, we can understand the give and take in the Talmudic passage we quoted above. When the Jewish people are striving to become more spiritual, they cry out to God: "Make us holy! Make us into everything we can be!" God's response to the people redirects their desire for growth. Instead of God acting like rain and saturating the people with externally-imposed demands, He offers to act like dew and encourage their own inner process of spiritual development. With dew, God can gently show the people their personal reservoirs of unlimited spiritual strength, thereby enabling them to take themselves to levels they never dreamed possible.
THE RIPPED GARMENT
The Midrash, which discusses the first verse in this week's parsha, touches on this idea as well (Bereishit Rabba 39:3 on Genesis 12:1). The Midrash quotes Rabbi Brachya, who finds a reference to Abraham in the verse from Song of Songs (8:8), "We have a young sister (achot)." This is a strange comment. Why would Abraham be considered a sister? Rabbi Brachya explains that the Hebrew word for sister, achot, can be interpreted to mean she-icha - that he joined and connected all the people of the world.
It seems that this refers to Abraham's "connecting" all the people of the world to Divine service. At the end of the Midrash, Bar Kapara adds that joining people to God can be compared to one who joins the two sides of a ripped garment. How are we to understand this final comment? How is Abraham's joining people to God similar to joining the sides of a ripped garment? And how is the joining of a ripped garment different from joining two separate pieces of cloth that had not been ripped?
We can resolve these questions based on the teaching of the Shem MiShmuel that we mentioned earlier. The Midrash does not say explicitly that Abraham joined the people of the world to God; it simply says that he joined all the people of the world together. We could therefore suggest that Abraham facilitated people's connection to THEMSELVES, by making them aware of the spark of holiness within them. The first step in achieving our spiritual potential is to recognize that we contain tremendously rich inner resources. Once we are aware of the Divine spark within, we have the ability to access it, and to grow to new spiritual heights.
The Tifferet Shmuel uses this idea to explain how Abraham was able to convert so many people to monotheism. Abraham's genius was in showing people how extraordinary they were already! Through seeing people's inner spark of beauty and goodness, Abraham could show them that acting in negative ways was not consistent with their true selves. He could therefore encourage them to return to their pure essence.
This explains Bar Kapara's metaphor of the ripped garment. Abraham saw that everyone was originally created whole and holy, just as the two sides of the ripped garment were originally one. Abraham was successful at joining together the people of the world because he saw people's potential for wholeness so clearly. He could therefore encourage them to connect themselves to who they had been before they were ripped - to return to their true inner selves.
May we all merit to drink the dew of success by awakening ourselves to the purity and greatness of our innermost potential!