I am in the airport. La Guardia’s charmless low ceilinged area B is slowly filling up with my fellow travellers. There is no Starbucks in this part of the airport. The ubiquitous coffee spa offers soy milk (unlike the other airport coffee lounges). There is a kashrus site, which opens up entirely new possibilities. All is not lost.
There is something about airport energy that appeals to my latent love of people-watching, which was thwarted in my flight to the States. I sat next to a lovely young from couple with a baby. Junior would wake up whenever I turned on the light, which left me in the dark for the twelve hour flight. I had an entire night planned; writing, reading, catching up. I was left in silence. It was a good opportunity to sleep an entire eight hours, and then to face up to the fact that aloneness can open your heart to think, and to feel. Seeing yourself is the best kind of people watching. It’s easy to avoid; all of us are busy doing things and taking care of whatever is next on the list. When you look at some of the insights the Torah provides, you can vicariously “people watch” the greatest people when they were alone.
This coming week’s Parshah, Vayishlach finds Yaakov in the unenviable position of trying to move his entire family of twelve sons, four wives not to mention large numbers of livestock, without a van. He had to cross the Yavok River. This meant making trip after trip until everyone and everything was on the right side. It was then that he discovered that he had left some small dishes on the wrong side. If this was me, the dishes would still be there. It would never have occurred to me to cross a river at night to save them. Yaakov saw life from a different angle. To him, everything he saw/experienced/encountered was part of a whole. Hashem’s providence is what brought him to the specific moment in time, the specific place, and the specific potentials that he faced at any given moment. It was inconceivable to him that the dishes had no purpose; if they were given to him, they are part of the backdrop that Hashem presented him with. Response is meant to be thought out, positive, real. He crossed the river.
When he was alone
The sages say that he did battle with the spiritual force of Eisov, his twin and convoluted mirror image. He was never absolutely alone. He was with Hashem constantly. Eisov was always alone. Every human was a competitor, and every object prey. Eisov’s world is there for him to use, explore, and describe endlessly and ultimately conquer. The conquest excludes Hashem. It is all self-directed. To him, the only relevant question vis a vis the dishes would be, “Do I want them”. Because Yaakov never excluded Hashem from his moment to moment reality, to him the world has a purpose beyond it being the ultimate consumer venue. The tricky part of the story is that Yaakov had to face Eisov’s angel within himself as well as from the outside. Believe it or not, this all has to do with Chanukah, the creation story, and the Ten Commandments. Read on.
The world was created with ten statements (let there be this… let there be that, beginning with the spiritual light and energy of the first day, and ending with the creation of the first humans on the last). The word that describes the outside of the world is nature. The Greeks explored nature from many angles. They could describe the cosmos, the workings of the human body, the logic of cause and effect, and to a large degree what makes people tick. The inside of the world, its meaning, and most significantly, what we humans are meant to do with it were irrelevant to them. We see things very differently.
For us, purpose, can’t be ignored. The Ten Commandments, which are the skeleton of all of Torah, is the framework that Hashem gave us as a key for unlocking the world of meaning and purpose. Beginning with G-d telling you that you are not alone, that He is there, involved, and can break His rules, He began the ten commandments by referring you to the story of the exodus. It ends with the commandment in which we are told not to covet what other people have. You have everything you need to uncover your own purpose. You don’t need someone else’s tools, any more than a diamond cutter needs a rolling pin. You also have to learn how to treasure your own tools, use them, and never waste their possibilities. Don’t leave anything on the wrong side of the Yavok River. Fight against Eisov who wants you to live on the surface. He has created the consumer culture in which you are urged to conquer the world and everyone (not just everything) who is in it to give you a sense of empowerment. This battle is usually fought when you are alone, when no one else can see what is really going on inside.
Chanukah was an exception. It all was public. The lines were drawn clearly. You either believe in spiritual purpose, or you don’t.
Now the good news.
If the world worked by the laws of nature, the Maccabees would have lost.
But it doesn’t!
One person’s decision to fight the good fight opened the door to miracles. I am sure that this door is one that you all have had open in your lives at various times. Let the light of the first day seep in.