Thursday, January 11, 2007

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The Jew and The Torah

Weekly Torah thoughts from the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel by Reb Gutman Locks...

This week we begin the book of Exodus, the story of the exile and redemption of the Jewish people. As we look over the five books of Moses we see not only the History of the world and the Jewish people as a nation, but we also see the description of our own spiritual lives.

The story begins with the creation of the world, the first man and his descendants. Later the Jewish people come and the tribes of Yaacov are born. Next is their descent into Egypt and their enslavement there. After many years of enslavement their redemption finally comes. The amazing Revelation at Mount Sinai follows and then there is their wandering in the wilderness for forty years. Finally, comes their ascent up into the Land of Israel.

This is not only the history of the Jewish Nation; it is also the story of our individual spiritual journey today.

Each of us was created. We went through our individual equivalent of the six days of creation while being formed in the womb. We were created much as the world was created. The same ingredients that form the world form us.

Then just as was Adam placed in the Garden of Eden then so were we placed in the garden. We grew up there and as children we innocently played in that garden. Maybe we tended sheep or did other simple tasks that children are able to do. Our lives were almost entirely wrapped around our families. This part of our national history is found in the book of Genesis and as we see, it also describes the beginning stages of our individual lives.

Then, as the tribes matured, so did we. We became adults and just like the adults in the Biblical story we too faced famine. We have to eat and provide for our needs. We have to go to work. This is our descent into Egypt. Mystically, Egypt is the land of limitations. “Egypt” and “limitation” share the same root. Egypt restricts our freedom but it also provides us with the means of gaining a livelihood. But really to us it simply means work.

Now, if this work is for its own sake, that is, if it is merely to provide for our physical needs, it may very well become our purpose in life. Work can even become our sole reason for living. After all, we have to work to live. We have to eat and buy things to sustain our families. So we go to work to provide for these needs. But then as the material aspect of life becomes more and more important to us, we can easily lose sight of any higher purpose in life and sadly the material perspective becomes our sole goal.

This persists even after we are fortunate to have enough to sustain ourselves for the foreseeable future. And even after it begins to hurt us, we still go to work every day. The work has already enslaved our thinking. No matter how much we do, no matter how much we earn, the master always demands, “More!” The slavery becomes bitter. Life becomes drudgery. And although it is almost unbearable, this way of life is all we know. Work pushes us harder and although we do not like it, we firmly believe that this is what we are supposed to be doing.

Then we finally call out to God for help. Where did that idea even come from? The idea of a spiritual possibility dawns, a purpose beyond the sheer physical . . . maybe even the thought of freedom from slavery dawns. Could this be possible?

We struggle and with God’s help we finally throw off the bonds of slavery and go out into freedom. We go into the wilderness without physical security. We imagine an entirely spiritual life. We would be there without any visible means of support but we are determined to search for God’s ways. Somehow we will be supported even there.

After the first great revelation, we wander learning His ways, the ups and downs of spiritual living and then finally with His help we are brought up into the Land of Israel itself.

Once we are in Israel, which is our homeland, we engage both the spiritual and the physical aspects of life. But now the physical does not enslave us because we no longer think it is the purpose of life. The physical becomes a mere tool in our hands that we utilize in order to fulfill our higher spiritual goals. We have learned that the spiritual and not the physical is the purpose of life.

This is the story written in the Bible, but more importantly, it is also the story of each of us.

It is the story of our having been conceived, (what were we then?) physically developing in the water of the womb, being born, raised, becoming adults, going to work, finding drudgery, seeking a higher purpose, disdaining the physical, discovering the Torah, and finally coming up to the Land of Israel to live out our days enjoying both the physical and spiritual blessings that God bestows on us.

And this is the true value of the Torah. It is talking to us about us.

Tags: torah, parsha, judaism
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