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Parashat 11/17/2010

Parashat Vayishlach

submitted by Robert Rabinoff

…k’mo shenitbarchu avoteinu Avraham, Yitzchak v’Ya’akov bakol mikol kol, ken yivarech otanu kulanu yachad bivrachah sh’leimah.

… as our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov were blessed in all, from all, with all, so may we all be blessed together with a perfect blessing. (From birkat hamazon/the blessing after a meal)

The phrase bakol mikol kol (in all, from all, with all) is a summary of three verses from the parshiot of the last few weeks and, as the portion from birkat hamazon indicates, it deals with Gd’s blessings to the Avot (Patriarchs of our people).

(24:1 – Chayei Sarah) V’Avraham zaken ba bayamim, v’H” berach et Avraham bakol.  And Avraham was old and advanced in years, and H” had blessed Avraham with everything (lit. “in” everything).

(27:33 – Toledot) (Yitzchak) va’ochal mikol and I partook of everything… (lit “from” everything)

(33:11 – Vayishlach) (Ya’akov) yesh-li kol… I have everything

We have considered over the past few weeks how the Patriarchs exemplify and model basic forces or structures in Creation.  In particular, Avraham is traditionally associated with the sefirah of chesed or lovingkindness, the flow of the infinite to enliven and enrich and sanctify the finite.  Yitzchak is associated with gevurah or boundaries, which channel the flow of chesed to produce meaningful structures within the finite.  Ya’akov is associated with tiferet or beauty/truth, the synthesis of chesed and gevurah.  I think that these three verses give us an additional angle on this correspondance, and give us an insight into our potential relationship with the infinite.

First, the word kol, which is usually translated as “all” or “everything.”  It is a term of inclusion, of wholeness.  Klal Yisrael is the totality of the people Israel, from its expression in us to its source in the Divine.  Perhaps we can translate it, in the context of our three verses, as a synonym for the infinite (ayn sof).

Avraham is blessed “in” the infinite.  Avraham represents the flow of the infinite, which we usually take to mean the flow of the infinite into the finite – since we are finite creatures and depend on Gd’s continual renewal of Creation for our very existence, it is quite natural from our perspective that we look at it that way.  From Gd’s perspective, and perhaps from Avraham’s as well, Gd is all that there is.  Any flow of Gd’s infinite nature can only take place within that very nature – there is no “outside” of it in which to flow.  Avraham’s blessing is therefore “in” or “within” the infinite.

Yitzchak, on the other hand, is blessed “from” the infinite.  The prefix mi / from, is often construed in the Rabbinic literature as conveying a limitation, or a boundary.  Mei’am ha’aretz, from the people of the Land (i.e. some of the people of the Land), not all the people of the Land.  Yitzchak’s blessings are infinite, but they are the infinite channeled in the boundaries of the finite.  This is more our perspective, the perspective of the recipient of the Divine flow.

Finally, Ya’akov simply says yesh-li-kol, I have everything.  These three short words are joined by hyphens in the Torah text, which indicates a closer relationship that just the simple grammatical construction would indicate.  The word yesh is a word for existence, “there is” as in the usual translation of yesh-li-kol, “there is to me everything” or “I have everything” in idiomatic English.  But the word yesh can also mean one’s self, as in bitul ha-yesh, self-abnegation (literally “cancelling out of the self”).  So we might translate the expression yesh-li-kol as “my very essence is infinite” – “I am everything.”  Ya’akov had identified himself with the infinite to such an extent that it permeated all aspects of his being – his mind, his heart, his perceptions and his actions.  Thus our Sages tell us that the avot all observed the entire Torah even before it was given, because they were so identified with the source of Torah that their actions naturally reflected its perfection.

“The story of the avot is a sign for their descendants.”  What can we learn from the variation in the language of the blessing of the avot?  The story of the avot is the story of the creation and evolution of the universe on all its levels.  From Gd, alone and self-sufficient, in relationship to Himself, the Knower, the Known and the process of Knowing (see Rambam, beginning of Mishneh Torah), the finite emerges, and Gd in His infinite Goodness flows into the finite, giving it existence, giving it life.  And the finite grows and grows towards infinity, until, in the person of someone like Ya’akov, a finite being is so integrated physically, mentally and spiritually that he actually becomes a perfect reflector of the infinite.  Within his finite nature he is so identified with the infinite that he can say with perfect simplicity “I am everything.”

Our Sages tell us that Ya’akov’s likeness is carved on the base of Gd’s Throne.  Ya’akov Avinu so perfectly reflected Divinity that Gd’s very Throne of Glory looks like him.  His visage is there on High for us to aspire to, for if one human being could attain that level of perfection, so can we all.  Perhaps this is what the Psalmist meant when he sang (Psalm 24) Zeh dor dorshav m’vakshei fanecha Ya’akov Selah! This is the generation that seeks Him, that searches for your visage Ya’akov Selah!