This week Jews in Israel and around the world are transitioning from mourning to celebration. This transition is reflected on every level of our calendar, from the the most modern to the most ancient. Last week was dominated by Yom HaShoah v’HaGevura, Holocaust Memorial Day, and this week will be dominated by Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.
Through a kabbalistic lens, last week was associated with the quality of Gevura, which can be translated as strength, severity or boundaries. This quality is embodied by the archetypes of Sara and her son, Isaac, who both suffered and endured painful traumas. Sara’s many years of infertility weigh heavily on her, and even after she is blessed, first with pregnancy and then a healthy child, she continues to act harshly towards her maidservant, Hagar. Isaac’s defining moment is laying passively on an altar as his father prepares to obey God’s command to slaughter him. The kabbalists see Isaac’s complete submission to the Divine Will, rooted in his profound recognition that ultimately his very life belongs to God, as the unreachable epitome of Gevura.
Unreachable, and undesirable. For just as we would not like to remain forever in the week of Yom HaShoah v’HaGevura, Isaac and Sara are not our ultimate role models, but one link each in a living chain which we ourselves continue. In the kabbalistic map of reality, the Tree of Life, the inadequacy of Gevura necessarily leads to the development of this week’s quality of Tiferet, which can be translated as beauty or harmony. Tiferet is embodied archetypally in this world by Isaac’s son, Jacob, and the heroine of Shavuot, Ruth. The week of Yom HaAtzmaut is also, always, the week of Tiferet.
This double transition, from Gevura to Tiferet and from Yom HaShoah v’HaGevura to Yom HaAtzmaut, is a crucial part of our individual and collective psyches. Last week’s kabbalistic archetypes, Isaac and Sara are defined by their overwhelming pain and their profound identification as victims. In their respective states of ongoing trauma, they understandably but tragically repeat previous mistakes rather than open to new possibilities.
On the other hand, Jacob and Ruth are defined by their ability to open their hearts to new and unknown horizons and to see themselves as part of a bigger story. Ruth selflessly gives up her former identity in order to fulfill the destiny that awaits her, which is nothing less than bringing wholeness to the entire world. Through her loyal and loving commitment to life, she becomes an ancestress to King David and hence to his descendant, the Messiah who our tradition teaches will end all injustice and suffering.
In our tradition, Jacob is the first person to see himself from outside of himself. His famous vision of a ladder reaching to heaven is understood by the kabbalists to be an out-of-body experience which shows him that he, and every human, are rooted in the earth, but somehow ascend and connect to the infinite. This vision is a crucial step in our collective evolution – realizing that we are, somehow, each a microcosm of all of existence. Rather than experiencing the world only through our individual lens, Ruth and Jacob teach us to value the harmony we can create between our own song and the song of the universe.
All very poetic, but what does this mean in reality? Whereas Sara and Isaac were essentially passive victims in perpetuating recurring cycles of pain and trauma, Ruth and Jacob each stepped up and took a deeper level of responsibility for their destinies. Ruth stares into an abyss of loss and loneliness and somehow conjures the courage to respond with love and openness. Jacob surprises everyone, including himself, in evolving from a manipulative usurper to a spiritual warrior worthy of founding a nation that changed human history. They each achieved what they did because they grew to understand that their own life was somehow reflective of a greater reality, that there was something more at stake than their own concerns.
Guided by this consciousness that we are a part of something greater, our family has achieved incredible things. I pray we will continue to transition ever deeper, from Gevura to Tiferet, from victimhood to harmony and from passivity to responsibility. It is through this transition that we will eventually find the miraculous blessing of Jacob’s deeper name, Yisrael – those who wrestle with the human and with the Infinite, and prevail.