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Jacob went to bed on a mountain and placed his head on twelve stones. In the morning, when he awoke, the twelve stones had fused into one. Our sages taught that during the night the angels in charge of these stones began to argue because each wanted to serve as …

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Home » Toldot

Toldot: Tapping Our Potential

Submitted by on November 13, 2009 – 5:15 pmNo Comment | 808 views

Double Deceit

Jacob was cooking soup and his older brother wanted a bowl. Jacob offered the soup in return for Esau’s first born ritual rites. Esau didn’t hesitate; he happily surrendered his rites for a bowl of soup.

Several years later their father Isaac wanted to bless Esau. Clandestinely, Jacob donned Esau’s garments and presented himself to his blind father as Esau. Jacob received the blessings and Esau was incensed. “He deceived my twice;” cried Esau, “first he took my first born rites and now he took my blessing.”

This story presents a question: Esau was understandably perturbed over losing the blessing, but why was he suddenly concerned over his first born rites? He had surrendered them nonchalantly several years earlier, what changed now?

The Biggest Challenge

When faced with an inner challenge, be it obsession, depression, addiction or a simple craving for food, the first step must be the nurturing of faith in our ability to overcome. So long as the hurdle seems insurmountable the path to recovery is blocked. It is only after we gain a firm belief in ourselves that the journey to recovery can commence.

The journey can now begin, but there is a long way to go. The road is strewn with obstacles and overcoming them requires motivation, commitment and a great investment of energy. Knowing that we are capable of making the journey does not guarantee that we will finish it. The outcome is unpredictable until the moment it is achieved.

It is only when we succeed in ridding ourselves of the negative traits that we are truly liberated. We are not completely free; we are still at risk of succumbing to our weaknesses again, but we are liberated from the crushing burden of hopelessness. We now know that even if we should fail again there will always be hope. We have overcome the addiction once and if necessary, can do it again.

It is this second conviction that is truly empowering. Our initial belief in our ability to overcome was unproven and thus not truly liberating. It is the actual demonstration of success that reinforces our conviction that we are truly free from the viselike grip of our turmoil. This self awareness is expansive and liberating. It stimulates confidence, hope and buoyant joy; it is the ecstatic thrill of success.

In The Grip Of The Body

The soul faces a similar challenge. It is tasked by G-d to descend from heaven and function on earth; a realm focused on materialism, pleasure, ego and self worship. Introducing selflessness, devotion to a higher cause, sanctity and Divinity is a staggering task. Yet the soul is provided the tools to succeed.

Imagine the following scenario: You sit down to dinner and are about to take your first spoonful of soup when your elderly neighbor knocks on your door. You glance at the clock and suddenly remember that you had promised to help her with groceries at this hour. Your body screams that it is time for dinner; your food is fresh and hot, you are tired and hungry and your family has looked forward all day to having dinner with you. Your soul reminds you that your sacred duty comes first. Your meal can wait, but your word can’t be broken; that would be a sin. The big question is who will win; body or soul?

This is a simple example, but life is a laboratory of increasingly more difficult experiments. Imagine you are touring in Asia tapping our potential - innerstreamand remember at midday that you forgot to pack a lunch. You are starving; literally incapable of making it through the day. If you return to your hotel to eat a kosher lunch you will miss out on a carefully planned itinerary you had been looking forward to for years. Your body is screaming for food; you can stop at a local diner and eat non kosher. G-d will understand, you tell yourself, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Your soul tells you that this trip may seem important, but it pales in comparison to your immortal soul. The day spent on tour is temporal; the day spent returning to the hotel is eternal. Will your soul prevail?

The challenge is staggering, but surmountable. First you must believe that you can overcome your immediate craving. Only then can you actually lock horns and engage. You know it will be a battle, but you also know that embedded in your soul is a vast reservoir of holiness and conviction that can help you prevail. Until the moment of triumph the outcome is unsure; your vast reservoir might remain in the background, still and untapped. The moment you win there is certainty. You have triumphed once and you know how to do it; if necessary, you can do it again.

Jacob and Esau

Jacob, the wholesome, pious scholar represents the soul. Esau, the wicked, aggressive hunter represents the body. Esau appeared a formidable foe; at first glance one would doubt that Jacob could ever prevail. The showdown transpired over a bowl of soup. Jacob had prepared it for his father, a noble and holy cause; Esau wanted it for himself. Jacob allowed Esau his soup, but forced him to surrender his claim to first born rites. This was Jacob’s way of saying that they might grapple over the proper use of the soup, but should he choose to engage on this or any battle Jacob would emerge triumphant; he is the first born.

Esau conceded the point; he was not overly bothered by the soul’s untapped ability to triumph because he knew that tapping into this potential is difficult. In fact most people never tap into it; they accept the formidability of their foe and surrender long before the struggle begins. Esau thus rested secure in the knowledge that the soul’s vast potential will, most often, be left untapped.

Then disaster struck. Jacob challenged Esau and won; he actually received the blessing. (1) The blessing represents the empowerment of the soul. It is Jacob’s spiritual delight; his soulful realization that he is impervious to Esau’s challenge. It is the euphoric realization that comes with having conquered our will at least once. It is the thrill of conviction activated by the soul’s unrestrained energy. (2)

Now Esau was perturbed; about the blessing and about the first born rites. Now he realized that the first born rites were not merely a hypothetical tool never to be used; Jacob had used it once and intended to use it again. With this dawning realization Esau belatedly protested the taking of his first born rites.

The good news for you and me is that Esau’s protests went unheeded. Neither the blessing nor the first born rites were taken from Jacob. We are thus empowered to overcome the wiles and temptations, the cravings and yearnings, of our temporal, materialistic selves and rise to the sacred worship of G-d. (3)

Footnotes

  1. This will explain why Jacob engaged in duplicitous behavior by dressing in Esau’s garments and presented a false front. The soul’s objective is to introduce G-dliness into an unG-dly world. To accomplish this, the soul must fully engage the world. This engagement appears on the surface to be an acceptance of the unG-dly nature of our world. Yet, in truth, it is a clandestine effort to reverse its unholy trend and introduce G-d. Jacob thus behaved in the same fashion. He dressed up to look like Esau and to all intents and purposes appeared to have become just like Esau. However his purpose was not integration with materialism, but its sanctification.
  2. We now also understand why Jacob disguised himself as Esau to collect the blessing when he could have demanded them outright on account of having purchased the first born rites. Jacob’s first born rites did not entitle him to Esau’s blessing; it merely empowered him to fight for them. Without a struggle the vast potential of the soul remains untapped. This is why Jacob had to work for those blessings rather than claim them as his right.
  3. This essay is based on Sefer Mamarim 5670 p. 42.
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