Parshah Summary – P’shat
The parshah opens with Isaac praying for a child after Rebecca had been unable to conceive, and immediately his prayer is answered. But, she experiences a difficult pregnancy as the “children struggle inside her.” She prays that the cause of her suffering be revealed, and Hashem responds that “two nations in your womb.” Esau emerges first, and Jacob is born clutching Esau’s heel. (Yaakov, Jacob, means “heal.”) As they grow up, Isaac favors Esau because Esau hunts and feeds his father game, but Rebecca loves Jacob more. One day, when Esau returns home exhausted and hungry from the hunt, he sells his birthright to Jacob for a pot of red lentil stew.
In Gerar, in the land of the Philistines, Isaac presents Rebecca as his sister, out of fear that he will be killed by someone coveting her beauty. He farms the land, reopens the wells dug by his father Abraham, and digs a series of his own wells.
Esau marries two Hittite women. Isaac grows old and blind, and wants to bless his first born Esau before he dies. While Esau goes off to hunt for his father’s favorite food, Rebecca dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothing, covers his arms and neck with goatskins to simulate the feel of his hairier brother, prepares a similar dish, and sends Jacob to his father. Jacob receives his father’s blessings for “the dew of the heaven and the fat of the land,” as well as mastery over his brother. When Esau returns and the deception is revealed, Isaac blesses him as well with the “fat of the earth and dew of the heaven,” but also that he shall live by the sword and serve his brother, though there will come a time when he will “break the yoke” from his neck. Jacob leaves home for Haran to flee Esau’s wrath and to find a wife in the family of his mother’s brother, Laban. Esau marries a third wife—Makhalat, the daughter of Ishmael…
Torah of Awakening
וַיִּתְרֹֽצְצ֤וּ הַבָּנִים֙ בְּקִרְבָּ֔הּ וַתֹּ֣אמֶר אִם־כֵּ֔ן לָ֥מָּה זֶּ֖ה אָנֹ֑כִי וַתֵּ֖לֶךְ לִדְרֹ֥שׁ אֶת־יְהֹוָֽה׃ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְיְ לָ֗הּ שְׁנֵ֤י גוֹיִם֙ בְּבִטְנֵ֔ךְ וּשְׁנֵ֣י לְאֻמִּ֔ים מִמֵּעַ֖יִךְ
יִפָּרֵדוּ וּלְאֹם֙ מִלְאֹ֣ם יֶֽאֱמָ֔ץ וְרַ֖ב יַעֲבֹ֥ד צָעִֽיר׃
The children struggled within her, and she said, “If so, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the Divine. Hashem said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; two peoples from within you shall be separated. The strength shall pass from one to the other, and the older shall serve the younger.”
-Bereisheet (Genesis) 25:22-23
Here in Tucson, the Catalina mountains rise majestically in the north of the city. When we first moved here, I would look up and think, “I wonder if those mountains will ever seem normal and unimpressive?” You may have experienced: when you visit a new place where you have no history or baggage, there is a brightness to everything – even dirty things are bright, vivid, and rich. But after you’ve been somewhere a while, the nervous system tends to clump everything together. You look at the tree you’ve seen a million times, but instead of seeing the miracle of the tree, instead you see your laundry, the bills, the broken sink, maybe broken relationships. All your past experiences of a place seems to fuse together; you become conditioned.
Conditioning is not in itself a bad thing; it is how we build memories, and part of the richness of a place consists of the experiences we have had there – a place is not only a repository for the stresses of life, but also positive memories, treasures collected on our journey through time. But it is also important to know that there is an aspect of our experience that is unconditioned. You can see and feel that unconditioned aliveness in children – their wonder, their innocent excitement about things. And of course, along with that exquisitely innocent and unconditioned consciousness comes naivety. That is why we, the old and the conditioned, need to protect them from themselves. The older must serve the younger…
וְרַ֖ב יַעֲבֹ֥ד צָעִֽיר – “And the older shall serve the younger...” And that is as it should be – the experience of the old and the conditioned must preserve and protect the fragile, the bright, the unconditioned quality youth. But this truth applies not only in the external realm of protecting children, but also in the inner realms of consciousness. For there is a level within our own being that is still completely unconditioned. Like the child, it is bright, alive, and curious.
וַיִּתְרֹֽצְצ֤וּ הַבָּנִים֙ בְּקִרְבָּ֔הּ – But the children struggled within her… You may struggle against yourself: “But I am old – my conditioning is too heavy, my trauma is too great, my life has been too difficult – how can I get rid of all the oldness to discover my inner youthfulness? How can I reach the unconditioned?” The Good News is: You don’t have to “reach” it, and you don’t have to “get rid” of your conditioning. That which sees all your conditioning, is itself Unconditioned…
וּלְאֹם֙ מִלְאֹ֣ם יֶֽאֱמָ֔ץ – The strength shall pass from one to the other… You can shift the “strength” from the conditioned to the Unconditioned: instead of saying, “I am old” – instead of saying, “my conditioning” – simply notice the feeling of oldness, or the feeling of whatever is present in your experience. Notice the impulse to think or judge things in a certain way. Notice the feeling that arises when you see the tree that you’ve seen a million times. The seeing itself – that is the Unconditioned; staying in the noticing is meditation.
If you practice staying in the seeing, in the noticing, without getting absorbed into the reaction, you will also begin to notice: there is an inner vastness that is untouched by the old thoughts and old feelings. That vastness is your Presence, your Awareness. You don’t need to find it, you are it – but you need to be with all that conditioning instead of being the conditioning. Then, you will see: the mountain is new, every day – a wonder, a miracle. This simple awe at the miracle of the moment, called יִראָה yirah, is represented by the letter ר reish, which means both “head” and “beginning.” It has the shape of a bowed head, hinting reverence for That which is beyond the grasp of the mind, opening us to see as if for the first time – a new beginning.
There is a story that the disciples of Rabbi Elimelekh came to him and asked: “In the Torah we read that Pharaoh said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Show a wonder to you.’ How are we to understand this? He should have said, ‘Show a wonder to me.’” Rabbi Elimelekh explained: “Magicians know what they want to accomplish and how to accomplish it. It is not a wonder for them – only for their beholders. But for those who are merely a vessel for the miracle that God accomplishes through them, their own wonder arises from their deeds and overwhelms them. And that’s what Pharaoh meant: ‘Don’t show me your conditioned expertise! Show me the wonder that arises out of your Unconditioned innocence…’
In this week of Shabbat Toldot, The Sabbath of Generations, may we open and see the miraculous eons of conditioning that are creating our experience right now. May we know that the seeing and the opening is Itself Unconditioned – Hadeish yameinu kikedem – may our days be fresh and new as they were at the beginning, before the story began. And as we enter the month of Kislev and Hanukah, the Holiday of Dedication, may we dedicate ourselves ever more deeply to a path of ever increasing healing and Light…
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