The Light Inside (Lech Lecha)
To this day the people closest to me question how I can sleep with so many books in my bed, biblical commentaries piled neatly beside me barely an arm-reach away. My reply is usually the same, “At least I don‘t wake up, like some, with a stranger in my bed or with a horse’s head like in the movie the Godfather.” For I am a strong believer that the way you make your bed is the way you will lie in it.
Actually a person’s grave and a bed have something in common in Judaism, in each a person dies and is judged. While asleep a person is 1/60th dead, the Talmud teaches. And just as in death, one’s deeds are examined, judged and recorded. That is why upon waking in the morning the first thing a Jew must do before even getting out of bed is to thank God for returning his soul and for having faith in him despite yesterday’s failings. We are given another chance to make our beds anew.
When a Jewish person dies it is customarily said that he has gone to “his world.” Why “his world” and not the next world? It is because one's life after death is comprised of what man creates for himself while he is alive. Rabbi Akiva Tatz emphasizes that in the next world a person exists alone with his actions; everything that you are or are not is blatantly in your face. If you are a liar, a manipulator, a thief, an adulterer, a fraud, a phony, an impostor or plain out pompous idiot, well, you’ll find yourself in the the company you created.
As such, when people turn to me for advice, my first question to them is what end result do you want? Usually, when the bigger picture is taken into account, the steps one takes are modified. Being reactionary in all aspects of our life may put out little fires and may pacify our egos from incident to incident, but such behavior tabulates to a very petty uninspired life.
The question stands: So what do you really want? And luckily for those who hate having to decide, the choice was never really ours to begin with. A Jew has only one mission in life and that is to create light from darkness. In every single choice we face in life there is a hidden spark of Godliness, of light that is waiting for you to uncover it. In this week’s Torah portion we read how Abraham tells his nephew Lot, “Please part from me; if [you go] left, I will go right, and if [you go] right, I will go left.” One lesson we can learn from this is that even though the direction of our life can be offset by circumstances or the actions of others (in our limited perspective), whether we are deflected left or right, it is how we travel that road that remains in our control. Do we further bury the sparks with our hate, jealousy, anger and bitterness or seek the ember among our smoldering dreams. We often keep looking for a guiding light to lead the way, but the light is hidden in the challenges and the heartaches. They can be accessed and released through how we behave. In essence we are the light. So light up! In Hebrew, the language wherein there are no coincidences, the word for "test"—nisayon–also means to be “lifted up.”
Many of us are going through painful times and our life’s compass has us spinning in circles. We are bored by our routines and feel like we are going nowhere and as stuck as a tire spinning uselessly in eight inches of icy snow. There’s just no traction. We often believe that physical motion will extract us from the traps we are caught in and just want to escape to anywhere. But the truth is we are never in the same place twice even if we are going in circles. We are rather on a spiral either going up or going down. We may go from point A to point B a thousand times, but how have we released the sparks along the way or not is the crux.
How many mitzvahs have you done between the two points? Do you walk around with a miserable disposition and bring everyone down or do you make everyone smile? (In Judaism, one’s face is public property and we have to keep a smile on it and greet people kindly). Do you give charity between your two points? Do you actively search for mitzvot to do with acts of kindness when you set out from your door? If we find ourselves trapped in darkness it’s usually because we have yet to release the inner light in the areas we repetitively confront. If you are trapped in yourself, it simply means you are selfish.
Often in life I hear people say I wish my father or mother were still around as they would tell me what to do. Luckily the lessons of Abraham our forefather are eternal for us, his children. He went through ten trials of faith that we can’t even fathom from being thrown into a fiery furnace to having to sacrifice his son on an altar (which the angel stopped), from his wife being taken by Pharaoh to warring against four kings with his small band of men. Those are only 4 of his ten tests. Whatever our problems, his were worse. As a result of his faith nonetheless, it is to him that God says, "...And you will be a blessing. I shall bless those who bless you and curse whoever curses you; and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:2-3).
When God told Abraham, “Go,” He didn’t even tell him where he was going. Like us, he too had no clear path. But he taught us that when you walk with God and with faith in Him you are never walking into the darkness. Although Abraham’s wanderings reflect an aspect of God’s telling him to “go” physically, the journey was also an inner one: “Go to yourself.” Go toward the light. A beautiful analogy can be found in the Lubavitcher Rebbe's writings which cites the Yad Malachi in regard to studying the Babylonian Talmud, "[It] never reaches its decisions directly but arrives at them through digressions and dialectics which shed, in their apparent meandering, more light than a direct path could."
People often try and find themselves in their job titles, their assets, their looks, their haughty affiliations, all for naught, for they are finite “treasures.” As King David writes in Psalms, “To every goal I have seen an end, but Your commandment is exceedingly broad.” It is only in God’s Torah, the Tree of Life, the eternal light, where you can truly go to yourself. Every Jew is a letter in the Torah. That is where you are. The Talmud teaches that the Torah is not in Heaven. It is not some distant philosophy for wise people to contemplate. It is here on earth for every person to apply in every decision he makes in order to liberate the light.
Thus, before we go into the darkness of the night and die a little, review the day and question how your deeds and words brought light to this world and to your own world, the one you’re creating for yourself. Don't be regretful of the "life" that lies beside you. No we are not angels. It’s not easy. But remember angels leave no footprints; man, however, was meant to make his mark.