"A whole man, a dweller of tents."
For ten generations, G-d allowed man the luxury of exploring his own spiritual path. But man, having erred once in the Garden of Eden, continued to drift from his Father, and not only began worshiping a multiplicity of gods, but by the generation of the flood, seemed bent on corrupting the very earth beneath his feet, with the aim of banishing G-d's presence completely from this world. After all, what would G-d want with a profaned and desecrated creation? G-d's response, midah kneged midah, (measure for measure), was to pull out the earth from under man's feet, as it were, in the form of the flood. And so the floodwaters covered all the earth. All the earth but one spot: the land of Israel. Midrash tells us that the land of Israel remained intact, and it was from the land of Israel that the dove brought back the olive branch to Noach.
Defeated, but undaunted, the rebels now relocated in Babylon - Bavel - where, led by the rebel king Nimrod, (whose name means rebel), they devised a new attempt at life without G-d. Having granted G-d His grip on the earth, they sought to build a tower so high that they could distance themselves from G-d's earth, and rule themselves as gods. But G-d despised their disdain for the earth that He had created for man, and brought low the tower of Bavel.
Humbled, but not for long, the leading social engineers of the generation regrouped back in the land of Israel. They had learned two great lessons: the land of Israel could be ignored no more than it could be corrupted; and G-d would not tolerate any attempt by man to usurp His heavenly throne. So they built a new society, and they called it Sodom. Here in Sodom they would take on all the trappings of a righteous and G-d-fearing society: they established courts, even a supreme court, and enacted laws to be applied to each and all, without favor or exception. All were welcome to this open and correct society but one: G-d. And so the humanist but G-d-less laws they enacted and enforced equally before all, bespoke a cruel and decadent society. Provoking G-d once again, their fate was sealed.
Meanwhile a new rebel had arisen - Avraham. Avraham sought and found G-d, and G-d blessed Avraham with Isaac - Yitzchak. And G-d tested Avraham with the akeida - the binding of Yitzchak. And from the crucible of the binding of Yitzchak G-d's vision for humanity begins to become manifest. Avraham has arrived at Mount Moriah - the very location of the future Holy Temple - where man shall draw near to G-d, and where G-d's presence shall dwell on earth. For Avraham this place is remote and foreboding - a mountain far from the cities of man.
Yitzchak, we are taught, perceived the very same spot, not as a mountain, but as a field: an open space, readily approachable, fertile, and suitable to be worked by man. And Yitzchak sought to bestow his inheritance and his blessing on his son Esau, a "man of the field." (Genesis 25:27) For who could better serve G-d in this spot than a man whose prowess in the field is unmatched? And so it might have been that Esau would have gained ascendancy had not the ever watchful Rebecca - Rivkah - intervened on her son Jacob's - Yaakov's - behalf, and successfully steered the blessing toward him.
But where had Rivkah acquired her vision? And why did she place her trust in Yaakov - "a dweller of tents?" Rivkah was the spiritual heir of Sara, the wife of Avraham. Ironically, it was the akeida itself, Midrash teaches us, that caused such shock to Sara as to precipitate her death. In her stead arrived Rivkah. And in her tent, which Midrash tells us was distinguished by three phenomena: a cloud of the shechinah - the presence of G-d, always hovered above; the challah - bread - she baked always remained fresh, and the Shabbat candles she lit remained burning from Shabbat to Shabbat; in her tent Rivkah was to dwell. Rivkah understood that the one place on earth where the shechinah - the presence of G-d shone most brightly - was in the home. And that the one place on earth where the blessings of G-d, both spiritual and material, are most abundant, is in the home. And it was this vision that she bequeathed to her son Yaakov, the "dweller of tents." The field is truly a place of tremendous spiritual might. But in the field exists the danger that murder and deception might rule - as did Esau. But only the righteous can cause true peace to dwell within the house. And this is Yaakov, "A whole man, a dweller of tents."
Join Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven this week on TEMPLE TALK, as they discuss "the history of the world," the Torah readings of Chayei Sara and Toldot, the new month of Kislev, the upcoming Chanukah festival, and more.
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