Spiritual frustration

An interesting verse in this week's Torah portion reads: "You will eat the very old [grain], and you will remove the old to make way for the new." (Lev. 26:10)

We must be ready to abandon our old perception of G‑d for the sake of a more real and mature relationship….

A homiletic interpretation of the verse in the work "Bat Ayin" by Rabbi Avraham Dov of Avritsh (who passed away in Safed in 1841) understands "the very old" to symbolize G‑d, who has "been around" since time immemorial and who represents eternity. One ought to eat and satiate one's hunger with "the very old" G‑d. Yet there comes a time in our life when we need to "remove the old to make way for the new". We should never get stuck in our own definitions of G‑d. We must be ready to abandon our old perception of G‑d for the sake of a more real and mature relationship with the ultimate reality.

In the 200-year-old Chassidic classic titled "Noam Elimelech", the famous tzadik Rabbi Elimelech of Liszhensk (d. 1787, considered one of the greatest tzadikim of his generation), offers a penetrating insight into this problem. In his discussion of the first verse of parashat Bechukotai, he points to an apparent lack of grammatical accuracy in the blessings that we recite daily: "Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d," we say, "Who has sanctified us with His commandments."

G‑d! You're awesome….

Why do we begin the blessing by addressing G‑d in second person, "Blessed are You", and then conclude it by addressing Him in third person, "Who has sanctified us with His commandments".?

The paradox

In the beginning of one's spiritual journey, writes the saintly author, when first discovering G‑d in one's life, He seems very near. At that special moment of rediscovery, you feel that you "have G‑d", that you grasp His depth, His truth, His grace. You and G‑d are like pals. You cry to Him, you laugh with Him, you are vulnerable in His midst. Like one who is reunited with a best friend not seen in many years, you declare, "G‑d! You're awesome."

But as you continue to climb the ladder of spiritual sensitivity, you come to discover how remote G‑d really is from you. You come to learn how inaccessible and elusive He is, how unfathomable and indescribable the Divine reality is.

When you mature in your spiritual life you begin to sense something of His infinity….

Yet, paradoxically, it is precisely when the feeling of "I have G‑d" withers away and is replaced by the sense of a void that you are actually closest to Him. When you mature in your spiritual life you begin to sense something of His infinity, and who among us could ever feel that he has a grasp over infinity?

Far but near

It is this state of mind that the Prophet Isaiah is addressing when he says, "Peace, peace to him who is far and near, and I will heal him." (Isaiah 57:17) How can one be both "far and near" simultaneously?

The Chassidic master Rabbi Elimelech answers that Isaiah is referring to the Jew who feels that he is far, but in truth he is near. The very fact that he senses his remoteness is indicative of his closeness. If he truly were to be distant, he would actually feel close!

The closer you become, the further you must become….

Therefore, when the first Jew Abraham is taking his son Isaac to the Akeida (the Binding of Isaac) atop the sacred Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem, the Torah tells us that "On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar. Abraham said to his attendants, 'You stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder. We will prostrate ourselves and then return to you.'" (Gen. 22:4-5)

Why did Abraham take his attendants along if he was to leave them behind anyway?

Because it was only Abraham who "looked up and saw the place from afar". Only Abraham realized how remote he still was from the divine mountain. His attendants, on the other hand, actually thought that the place was near. At that moment, Abraham became aware of the vast sea separating his spiritual state from theirs; he knew that they were not ready yet to accompany him on his journey toward G‑d.

For thus is the paradox of one's spiritual process. The closer you become, the further you must become. It is to this Jew, harboring deep frustration, that G‑d sent forth His promise: "I will heal he who is far and near."

To subscribe to Rabbi Jacobson's weekly mailing, send an email with your request in the subject line stating: "Subscribe" to YYJacobson@aol.com.
Copyright 2001 Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson