Headlines »

June 15, 2024 – 11:38 pm | Comments Off on Our Inherent Need to Matter42 views

Would you rather earn a meager salary or be a kept man or woman and live in luxury? Most people like to live in luxury, but not at the price of their self-image and soul.
Reflecting on our early history, G-d lovingly proclaimed to Jeremiah (2:2), “Go and call out in …

Read the full story »
Parsha Insights

Where Biblical law and Torah tale is brought vividly to life


The Jewish perspective on topical and controversial subjects

Life Cycle

Probing for meaning in our journey and its milestones.

Yearly Cycle

Discover depth and mystique in the annual Jewish festivals

Rabbi’s Desk

Seeking life’s lessons in news items and current events

Home » Ki Tavo, The Jewish Faith

Ki Tavo: The Enduring Soul

Submitted by on September 14, 2019 – 11:13 pmNo Comment | 1,474 views

The enduring soul is our secret weapon.

If you were Abraham, a lonely man of faith, surrounded by powerful pagan nations who opposed your every effort to teach monotheism, would you believe that you would change the world? If you were alive in 069 and watched the powerful Roman army burn the holy Temple down to ashes, would you believe that the powerless Jews would survive the demise of the powerful Romans?

If you were in a train on your way to Auschwitz in 1945, would you believe that within three short years, a Jewish army would prevail in the Middle East and a Jewish nation would gain independence in Israel? If you were living in the United States in the 1920s and had been fired from your twentieth job in as many weeks for refusing to work on Shabbat, would you believe that a thriving Jewish community would be established in this land within two short generations?

Why do Jews seem to prevail over every challenge? What brings Jews back up no matter how low they fall? How do these powerless and defenseless people endure while the mightiest fall?

You can’t explain it by a scientific metric, but you can relate it back to the enduring Jewish soul. From the beginning of time, the Jewish people stood out. G-d singled out Abraham in Mesopotamia, Moses at the burning bush, the Jewish nation at Sinai, King David in Jerusalem and He continues to single us out throughout history.

The Soul
What were Abraham, Moses, and King David known for? They fought and won wars, but they weren’t known as warriors. They were known for their faith, piety, and dedication to Torah. Their strength was spiritual. The spirit endures over the material. The enduring soul survives the body. Every time you pit a physically powerful force against a spiritually powerful force, the spirit eventually and ultimately prevails.

The Jews are the greatest proof of this. No force has ever brought us down. We were brought low, but we were never destroyed. Mighty military forces have thwarted us, powerful cultural forces have washed over us, formidable religious forces have overwhelmed us, yet, we are still here.

Why? Because of our enduring soul. Before G-d created the world, He issued forth the Jewish soul.[1] If the soul of the Jew preceded Creation, it is no surprise that created, worldly forces cannot overwhelm the Jew, who outranks creation.

The First Fruit
The superiority of our enduring soul is not visible on the surface—it is a spiritual power that doesn’t present physically. Thus, it is understandable if on occasion we doubt our ability to prevail. Despite the power of our enduring soul, many Jews feared extinction during the Holocaust. Many Jews feared that the Soviet regime would stamp out Judaism. The spiritual force of the Jew doesn’t exhibit itself on the surface and can thus be easily forgotten.

This is why G-d instructed the Jewish people In Israel to collect the first fruits to ripen, bring them to the Temple in Jerusalem, and place them in a basket before the altar. The Torah calls these first fruits bikurim; a word that is etymologically and substantively related to the word bechor, which means firstborn. In the material world, Esau was the firstborn and Jacob was the younger brother. By any material metric, Esau was the stronger brother who could assert himself over Jacob. Nevertheless, Jacob prevailed because though Esau’s body was born first, Jacob’s soul was born first.

When Jews brought their first fruits to Jerusalem, carried them to the pinnacle of the Temple mount, and laid them before the holy altar, they reflected on their identity as the world’s spiritual firstborn. Bringing the first fruits reminded the Jew that despite being weaker, smaller, and quieter than many other nations, the Jew prevails because the Jew is firstborn. Like Esau, other nations hold physical prominence, but the Jew holds spiritual dominance.

Yet, what good does this spiritual advantage do for a Jew that resides in the physical world and inhabits a physical body? Jacob might have had the more enduringsoul, but in the physical reality, Esau was born first. In physical reality, our enemies are stronger than us. How do we find the courage and strength to believe that we will prevail? The answer is found once again in the ritual of bikurim.

As Jews climbed the temple mount, they reflected that physical creatures can rise to higher planes. Although this is the world of the body, we can rise to the level of our enduring soul and plug into its enduring strength. We can prevail over our enemies by tapping into the enduring hope and unflagging courage of our soul. Jacob prevailed over Esau in the physical world, not only in the spiritual realm.

The struggle that ensued between Jacob and Esau continues to play out in every generation between the Jewish people and those who work to destroy us. It also plays out in our personal struggles between the part of us that is holy, spiritual, G-dly, and transcendental against the part of us that is crass, egotistical, short-sighted, and materialistic. In terms of brute strength, the Esaus of the world and our inner Esau have the advantage. But in terms of transcendental power and lofty endurance, our souls hold the advantage.

In days of yore, when we brought bikurim up the mountain, we plugged into our collective and personal soul strength and found the ability to endure. When and how can we plug into this strength today?

Our sages taught that prayer is the substitute for bikurim.[2] On the simple level, just as bikurim gave us a chance to thank G-d for the harvest, prayer gives us a chance to thank G-d for our blessings. On a deeper level, just as bikurim gave us a chance to climb our spiritual mountain and reach our soul-peak, so does prayer enable us to plug into the consciousness of our soul and remind us of our true inner identity. Prayer is a ladder that enables us to climb from where we are to where we ought to be.[3]

When we pray, we plug into our true identity and remember that we are not a nation among nations, a people just like our neighbors. On the surface we look the same, but deep down, or perhaps way up high, we are made of sterner, more durable stuff. We have the power to prevail over our external enemies and over our internal enemies. Just as we need not succumb to the nations that try to destroy us, so do we not need to succumb to temptations that erode our spirit. Traits such as ego, lust, greed, jealousy, and pride, need not get the better of us. We are better than them. We have a soul.[4]

[1] Bereshit Rabbah, 1:4. Although this Midrash says that Torah also preceded creation, the Jew precedes the Torah. This is indicated by the fact that bikurim was brought before terumah was given. Terumah is Torah-mem, it represents the Torah that was given in forty days. Similarly, we pray every day before we study Torah. See also, Tana D’bei Eliyahu Rabbah, chapter 14.

[2] Midrash Tanchumah, Ki Tavo, chapter 1.

[3] Zohar I 266b.

[4] This essay is based on Sefer Hamamarim, 5626, pp. 227.