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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3

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GENESIS — 28:12 heaven

Five possessions has the Holy, Blessed One … [The heaven and earth; Abraham; the people Israel; the Sanctuary] … Pirkei Avot VI:10   Science teaches that matter and energy may be interchangeable, but are indestructible.  Midrash Sh’muel, however, understands “heaven and earth” literally; for as the Almighty’s “possession” they are one entity. The verse quoted in proof says nothing about kinyan but instead describes heaven as the Holy One’s throne and the earth as His footstool.  But, notes Midrash Sh’muel, a throne is itself a supreme symbol of royalty; hence heaven (with earth as its adjunct, for a footstool) is clearly an important kinyan of the Almighty, a cherished possession peculiarly His own, that is everlasting. What sublime truth lies in this. Many have gazed in wonder at the raptures of heaven, at the awesome mystery of stars reaching in a patterned precision to infinity. Many have looked in sudden marvel at the panoramic vistas of nature revealed on earth, to be touched by a sense of awe, a premonition of the majesty of a sovereign Creator. It is as though someone wandering he new not where came upon a colossal throne and its footstool, and realized that a mighty, awesome king ruled there.   How fitting, too, the rest of the quoted verse. If heaven and earth are His cosmic throne and stool, what sense does it make for man to build a Temple for Him to abide in? If we built a Sanctuary in Jerusalem, it was only because we humans were not ready to perceive His presence everywhere. But ultimately mankind must perceive the entire world as His Sanctuary, filled with His immanence, so that wherever he is, man can exclaim with Jacob, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven.” [this verse].  Our Sages evidently reached this great realization. They taught, “whoever takes benefit from this world without reciting a blessing, ma’al, commits sacrilege” – i.e. he commits a crime akin to violating the holiness of the Sanctuary.  R. Judah, quoting Sh’muel, is more explicit: “whoever takes benefit from this world without reciting a blessing for it, it is as if he benefited from Heaven’s sacred property.” And another Sage taught, “Whoever commits a sin in secret, it is as though he pushed against the feet of the sh’chinah; for it is stated … the earth is My footstool.”  Talmud Berakoth 35a, Hagaigah 16a. SINAI3 392-3
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GENESIS — 28:12 stairway

The fact that Judaism endows man with the power to discern between that which is right and that which is wrong—regarding him as a being blessed with the will to choose one and avoid the other—must be borne in mind when we consider the ethical doctrines of antiquity.  The conscious effort to improve our natures, expressed in philosophic vocabulary as meliorism, best expresses the nature of Jewish Ethics.   In this, our teachings come nearest to the views expressed by Immanuel Kant, who, perhaps more than any other thinker, has left his stamp upon modern ethical thought.   His main stress was that all sense of conscious purpose must be altogether eliminated from the equation of moral conduct.   This insistence is expressed by our sages in one word—lishmah—which means that good deeds must be done not for some temporal or material reward, but should be determined only by the fact that their practice is an earnest of our obedience to the will of G-d, as well as of our love for our fellow-beings.  The moral and the divine “ought” is the categorical imperative.   Judaism fills this categorical imperative with positive conduct by holding before man a divine network of six hundred and thirteen commandments, which may best be described as precision tools for the carving of noble characters.  The fulfillment of these precepts is made possible by climbing the many rungs on the ladder of perfection, from the apex of which the Messianic Kingdom will loom into sight. Jewish Ethics are the realization of Jacob’s dream [this verse].   LEHRMAN 19-20
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GENESIS — 28:12 stairway

The great problem for the Jew wherever he lives, but especially in the State of Israel, is to restore life to its pristine glory, by being a gate of opportunity and a school of character formation. A greater truth has not been vouchsafed to mankind than the vision Jacob beheld in his dream when, a fugitive from a brother’s wrath, sleeping under the starry sky of an Eastern night, with stones as his pillow and the ground as his bed, he saw a ladder standing on the earth, its topmost rung reaching heaven wards and from which the Voice of G-d was heard [this verse]. Jewish Ethics are ladders on which man can rise from rung to rung, outsoaring the shadows of his own imperfections, enabled to bask in his momentous potentialities towards progress and the achievement of immortality. In short, its complete ascent helps man to become a real “son of G-d”.  LEHRMAN 30-1
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GENESIS — 28:17 house

The obligation of the mitzvah to learn Torah is well known. Indeed, we are taught in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a): “When a man is led in for judgment [in the Next World]   he is asked … ‘Did you fix [daily] times for Torah study?’” Therefore, every G-d fearing person should endeavor to strengthen himself in this area, thereby ensuring that he will not be interrupted by any incident or problem, or be distracted by cares of laziness. Accordingly, even if a person can study in his house, he should, nonetheless, choose a place for himself in the “Abode of G-d” [this verse], and go to study in the beis hamidrash.  In this way, his conduct will be governed by the force of habit. Furthermore, the man of understanding will employ strategies to fortify himself in this area, such as joining together with others who have similarly established set times for Torah study.  This is particularly true concerning the neglected subject of Mussar, a topic wherein the obligation to study is hidden from the eye, and which many consider to be unnecessary. Even a person who has already resolved to set fixed times for this study is easily derailed – a light breeze can carry away all his resolution and cover over its every trace. OHRYIS 135
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GENESIS — 28:17 shaken

Religion sublimates fear by diverting it from all temporal things and confining it to G-d alone. The fear of G-d, which may have represented at first a depressing state of consciousness, in course of time developed into solemn awe and reverence. The Hebrew word yireah covers both meetings. Yireat hakabod, “fear of the Glory,” appears as an aspect of kedushah, holiness. [The fear of G-d shades off into awe and reverence, the characteristic aspects of the sense of creaturehood inspired by the numinous, the mysterious object of religious apprehension. See, for example, [this verse], Exodus 3:6, 15:11, 19, 20:18 – 21, 34:30] It ministers to the higher life and produces a sense of confidence within the human soul. The heart is taught to sing: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” Amid direst distress the religious spirit feels confident. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want …] Psalm 27:1, 23:1,4 COHON 44-45
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GENESIS — 28:18 oil

Jacob’s recognition of Beth El, the House of G-d, by anointing a rock with olive oil, and the revelation of the Ten Utterances upon the Mountain of G-d (and the inclusion of salt in the Temple offerings) recognize that what moderns might see as “dead” minerals are filled with Divine life. The offerings at the Mishkan in the Wilderness Leviticus chs. 1-9 and at the shrines in Shiloh 1 Samuel 1:24-25 and Jerusalem 1 Chronicles 23:28-29; 2 Chronicles 7:4-7; Ezra 6:17, 7:17; Nehemiah 10:33-37; Mishnah Tamid passim; Zevahim ch. 5, passim are mostly grain, fruit, and meat, the foods that spring from the soil of the land of Israel. Even pancakes – “fine flour mixed with oil and spice, then turned to smoke upon the Altar” Leviticus 2:1-3 – are a path to G-d. This practice taught that the relationship between adam [human] and adamah [earth] was the expression of relationship with G-d. So it is not surprising that biblically, and then in rabbinic tradition, elaboration of proper and improper foods, what was and was not kosher to eat, took on immense importance in defining a sacred life. OXFORD 412
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GENESIS — 28:20 bread

… Do not hanker for the table of kings, for your table is greater than theirs… Pirkei Avot VI:5  On one thing philosophers, thinkers and writers seem to agree: Pursue happiness as a goal, and it will elude you. And the more intense the search, the more bitter the disappointment.  If happiness comes at all, it arrives by chance, as a byproduct. When our own Patriarch Jacob left home as a young man, in flight from Esau, to join an uncle he did not know in a land he had never seen, all he asked of the Almighty was “bread to eat and clothing to wear”; it would be enough to survive.   When he returned home from Laban, he was the wealthy owner of “oxen, donkeys, manservants, and maidservants.” Genesis 32:6  Wheatever happiness riches could bring—at the least, freedom from want—Jacob gained without particularly seeking it. Later in life, “Jacob dwelt (literally,, sat) in the land of his father’s sojournings”: Genesis 37:1 Jacob sat, expecting serenity in his later years. He looked forward to the happiness of peace and quiet, after a life filled with tribulations enough. Came the disappearance of his beloved son Joseph, sold into slavery by his other sons, and he knew greater grief than ever before. When our Patriarch asked for bread, he attained riches. When he sought ease and rest in leisure, he found tribulation and sorrow. How sane and sound, then is the counsel of this perek.   If you are fortunate enough to study Torah, do not seek the happiness of a royal table daily set for a banquet, or a regal crown of honor and might. With or without Torah, such goals are highly uncertain. If you gain them, they may prove disastrously hollow. Be content even with a crust of bread and salt, a bit of water, and a place on the ground to sleep. Is this a way to happiness? Yes, but not a happiness that this world knows.   Bear in mind that “your Employer can be trusted to pay you the reward for your work” – in a world of eternal bless: “Know … that the Lord G-d, He is G-d, the trustworthy G-d who keeps the covenant and loving-kindness for those who love Him and keep His mitzvot …” Deuteronomy 7:9. Let this be the leitmotif that runs through your life, and you will never go astray. The pious Hafetz Hayyim [Rabbi Israel Meir HaCohen Kagan, 1839-1933 - AJL] wrote a number of volumes to instruct his people in the ways of devotion. Wanting to publish some, he discovered that in his country no one could issue a book without the formal approval of an official censor. The censor for Hebrew books was a man named Steinberg, so to him the Hafetz Hayyim went.  This Steinberg had studied Torah in his youth and was quite learned. But to achieve his position he had cast off every trace of his ancestral religion and learned to toady to government superiors.  When the Hafetz Hayyim entered his office, Steinberg looked up in surprise.   “Yisra’el Me’ir!” he cried. “Do you remember me? We started studying Torah together in that little schoolroom in back of the town. Well now,” he continued smugly, “look at you, and look at me: I am quite rich, I have a position of importance, a magnificent home, liveried servants … And you – with all your Torah, what have you? You are poor. Your overcoat is worn. And you must come to ask me ever so politely to let you publish your books! Where is your wisdom? Learn from me: live the way I do!”   For a moment the Hafetz Hayyim was silent. Then gently he said, “As I was walking into your office, a man drew alongside in a handsome coach drawn by magnificent horses, and he offered me a seat beside him.  Perhaps I should have accepted eagerly. But I rather asked him where he was going. He and I were headed in quite different directions; and I declined his offer. But then, you and I are also going in different directions --- and I must equally decline with thanks your offer to take me along. You see, I am headed toward a different destination, and I intend to get there.”   SINAI3 322-3
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GENESIS — 28:20 bread

Jacob, like his grandfather Abraham and son Joseph, also doesn’t stay at home. Yet he may well be the greatest biblical exemplar of histapkut (contentedness).  A fugitive, he sets out on the perilous journey to Haran with a prayer requesting G-d to guard him in his travels and give him just “bread to eat and a garment to wear” [this verse]. After Jacob finally gets to his uncle’s home, the wily Laban defrauds him out of his chosen bride after seven years labor and tricks him into marrying Leah. Jacob must serve another seven years to wed her sister, his beloved Rachel Genesis 29 – 30.   Only once does he complain about this to Laban. He accepts the inevitable and gets past it, glorying in what he finally acquires. Other biblical authors offer a similar philosophy.  Proverbs tells us: ”A contented heart makes a cheerful countenance” 15:13 and adds: “Better a little with the fear of the Lord then great wealth and much trouble: 15:16.  Ecclesiastes chimes in: “Better is a handful of gratification than two fistfuls which come from unworthy work” 4:6.  There has been no lack of Jewish teachers reiterating this theme.   Ben Zoma gave the classic Talmudic epitome in his rhetorical “Q & A”: “Who is rich? One who is happy with what he has” Avot 4:1. The 11th-century Spanish poet-philosopher Solomon ibn Gabiol said: “Who seeks more than he needs, hinders himself from enjoying what he has. Seek what you need and give up what you need not. For in giving up what you don’t need, you’ll learn what you really do need” Mivhar Hapenimim 155, 161. Two centuries later, Yehiel b. Yekutiel   added a touch of realism to the instruction without changing the ideal: “True contentment is found only among those saintly souls who were satisfied with little, just as most people are content only with a lot” Sefer Maalot Hamiddot.”  About one hundred years ago Judah Steinberg, an early Hebrew litteratuer, poetically wrote: “If there is no light from the sun, then let the light of the moon delight your eye” Mishle Yehoshua [Proverbs of Joshua]. This was also the time that our seriously impoverished Yiddish-speaking ancestors wryly commented, “With only one pair of feet, you can’t dance at two weddings, and with one behind you can’t ride two horses.” They knew they didn’t have much, but they sensed: “Even a temporary satisfaction is worth cherishing,” or, putting it negatively, “It’s better to lose your hat than your head.” But surely the most famous defense of appreciating what one has is this of-told folk story: “Once a poor Hasid became so distraught because of the crowding in his hovel that he appealed to his Rebbe, ‘We have so many people living with us that we can’t turn around in the house.’  The Rebbe counseled the man to first move his goat, then his chickens, and finally even his cow into the house. He returned, half crazed, to the Rebbe. ‘It’s the end of the world,’ cried the man. The Rebbe responded, ‘Now go home, turn out the goat, chickens and cow, and report to me tomorrow.’ The following day the Hasid showed up beaming. ‘Rebbe! My hut seems like a palace now!’” Browne, the Wisdom of Israel.  BOROJMV 163-5
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