What is Judaism’s take on the goal of spiritual living? Importantly, what is the essential realization we need in order to live with sacredness? In this week’s parsha, after Yitzchak struggles to survive a famine and risks his life by visiting the king Avimelekh, he comes home and decides… to plant! The Torah says
“וַיִּזְרַע יִצְחָק בָּאָרֶץ הַהִוא וַיִּמְצָא בַּשָּׁנָה הַהִוא מֵאָה שְׁעָרִים וַֽיְבָרְכֵהוּ ה'”
“Isaac sowed in that land and reaped a hundredfold the same year. HaShem blessed him” (Gen. 26:12).
Then Noam Elimelech offers a fascinating insight on this statement from our parsha. He suggests that a fundamental trait of righteousness is planting seeds: seeds of holiness. He refers us to Tehillim 97:11 which states: “Light is sown for the righteous, radiance for the upright.”
For the Noam Elimelech, light is the thing that is sown by the righteous. Rather than simply receiving light, a person of righteousness plants lightness and sacredness in others. When Yitzchak planted, spiritually speaking, he lifted up the sacredness in all life. He did not just plant in the earth, but as an individual, planted seeds of an encounter with the Divine in other human beings. A person cannot merely cultivate joy in themselves. The spiritual life is, as the Noam Elimelech suggests, cultivating the sacred for others.
Yitzchak was not a talkative person. He was understated, but he was able to plant seeds. He, according to the Rabbis, established the Mincha prayer, as it says in Massechet Berakhot 26b referring to this week’s parsha. Tosafot there suggests that while Yitzhak was not the first to pray Mincha, he was the first to establish it. Yitzhak’s purpose was not merely for himself to pray, but it was to cultivate prayer for others.
The Noam Elimelech brings this point home by reminding us that each of us has our own unique gate, our own sha’ar, through which we have the ability to make change. Each of us has a unique way of bringing out the sacred in others, of planting that seed and cultivating expansive light.
What I would like to suggest here is that perhaps Yitzchak’s accomplishment tells us a secret about the goal of spiritual living: Living spiritually is not something we can keep to ourselves. Rather, as Yitzchak does, we must each give over our own personal spirituality to others and learn to inspire others with a sense of depth and radical amazement for what life has to offer us.
May we all find radical amazement for ourselves, but more importantly, let us help others find that too.
This essay is part of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s weekly parsha wisdom. Each week, graduates of YCT share their thoughts on the parsha, refracted through the lens of their rabbinates and the people they are serving, with all of us.