The Blessing of the Flood
-- Samach-Vav Part 20 --
“Great waters cannot quench the love, nor can
the rivers wash it away” - Song of Songs 8:7
A century ago (5666/1906), the Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Sholom Ber), delivered
the classic series of 61 discourses, called Samach-Vav.
To commemorate this centennial this column of during the
past year has periodically addressed some of the central
themes discussed in this monumental series, with particular
focus on its relevance to our lives today. (The entire series
of articles, plus a running summary and related commentaries,
can be found in our special Samach-Vav
section on our website).
Samach-Vav series (hemshech) actually continues
into the next two years. 41 of the 61 discourses were delivered in the year
5666. 15 more discourses were delivered in 5667, and the final 5 discourses
are from 5768.
week marks a century from the 46th discourse delivered exactly
one hundred years ago on Shabbat Parshat Noach. Its focus, which continues the theme of the previous
discourses, is on the enormous power of self-generated initiatives, which
even a son who inherits his father’s wealth can access by becoming a servant,
who achieves results through his own efforts.
of its lessons are surprisingly relevant to our lives.
Torah is called a blueprint
for life. Every event in the Torah has layers of personal, psychological and
spiritual messages relevant to our lives today. One of the most powerful lessons
from the great flood in this week’s Torah portion is explained by the Alter
Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman
of Liadi (1745-1812) in a discourse titled “Great
waters cannot quench the love, nor can the rivers wash it away:”
“Great waters” refer to
our life struggles. As the great waters of material worries overwhelm us and
we find ourselves drowning in a flood of financial concerns, we must always
know that these anxieties “cannot quench the love” of the soul nor can the
rivers of worry “wash it away.”
On the contrary, our material
challenges not only do not quench our souls love, but the flooding waters
actually lift the “ark” of spirituality to greater, unprecedented heights.
As the Alter Rebbe says, “the mistake of businesspeople is that they think
that they cannot pray [and achieve spiritual heights] like the scholars [who
spend their time immersed in spiritual activity]. On the contrary, they reach
even greater heights, because the most powerful light emerges from the darkness.”
The challenges of material
life elicit deeper strengths that can not be accessed in the spiritual realms.
Resistance always generates power. A soul on its own naturally reaches toward
the sublime and is never dying of thirst. But a soul that descends into the
material world and manifests in a physical body flooded by rivers of narcissistic
desires builds up a deep longing for transcendence, like a thirsty mouth in
a parched desert, which a sated soul can never appreciate.
This is also the central
theme of the Chassidic discourse delivered a century ago on Shabbat Parshat
Within this context, allow
me this opportunity to answer a question I recently received which reflects
an interesting twist to the manifestation of the “great waters” of material
concerns plaguing people today.
Dear Rabbi Jacobson,
I read with great personal interest your article
about wealth and the many responses to the question you
posed “What does wealth do to families?”
Here’s my dilemma: I was
blessed to be born into a wealthy home. With all the blessings of prosperity,
it also brings much pain and little true happiness. In my case, I feel that
it has destroyed my inner life. For years I did not need, and have therefore
never pursued the route, to earn my own way. I would say that I have been
castrated in the process. Due to the fact that my father is a rich man, I
(as many of my friends born into wealth) have a false sense of entitlement,
which today I have come to understand is utterly repulsive and vulgar. Though
most won’t admit it, I actually felt – I’m ashamed to even say it – that I
was better than other people.
You will never believe
the extent of the distortion. Living off my fathers’ wealth I completely lost
touch with reality, and actually convinced myself that I was wealthy, that
I was all powerful and that I can to anything I wish. I was globetrotting
and rubbing shoulders with movers and shakers, making investment decisions
– while losing millions of my father’s dollars in the process – completely
forgetting that this was not my money. I did not earn it, I hardly made any
effort – yet I was behaving as if this was all deservedly mine. In retrospect,
my arrogance, my delusion – every move I made – now appalls me.
My father, the good man
that he is, of course, let me play my games. I actually wish that he would
have been more disciplined. Sometimes I wonder if my parents weren’t smothering
me in their own pride to have “made it” and in their laziness allowing us
kids to just become an extension of their vanity.
I am now in my mid 30’s,
and want to find a true soulmate with whom I can
build a serious relationship, not built on distortions and illusions, but
I don’t feel that I can overcome the so called “gifts” that have undermined
my ability to truly grow.
Is there anything you
can tell me that may help?
Thank you for listening,
Allow me to quote from
the Chassidic discourse – part of the Samach-Vav series – delivered one hundred
years ago this week:
“A father has a gifted
son endowed with all the qualities of wisdom and sensitivity. The son astutely
runs his father’s home and assets with prudence and good sense. The son is
completely dedicated to his father’s interests, even more than to his own,
and builds his father’s holdings into a far greater fortune. Yet, despite
all the pleasure and joy the wise son gives his father, and despite the phenomenal
growth the son achieves in his father’s business, son and father are not fully
satisfied because the son has not yet acquired the ultimate success which
can only come through ones own efforts. All the son’s success and achievements
are ultimately not his own; they are only a result of developing his father’s
assets. The father supports his son and provides him with all his needs. All
the son’s work is with his father’s assets, not his own. Thus, all the son’s success was essentially given to him on a platter.
The son was provided with all the ready made resources to build upon. So while
the son deserves credit for actualizing the potential of his father’s assets,
yet after all is said and done, the son did not create anything from new;
he only reshaped what was already there into something better – “yesh m’yesh,” “something from something.”
The ultimate pleasure is derived when the son builds something of his own;
with no initial resources and with his own self-generated initiative, he creates something new – “yesh
m’ayin,” “something from nothing.
“For instance, when the
son learns a new skill, unrelated to his father’s industry, and uses his newfound
skill to build something new. Even if this effort yields less income than
reinvesting his father’s money, the son’s initiative manifests a greater and
deeper achievement than developing his father’s pre-existing assets. Living
off his own limited income brings much deeper pleasure than living off his
father’s abundant money, which is unearned “bread of shame.”
“How does the son create
something new and original? This is not possible unless the son is far away
from his father’s presence. For the son to truly excel and reach his greatest
potential he must struggle on his own. Through hard work and exertion, with
no help from others, the son learns to create on his own. Only then does the
son create new initiatives that generate far greater power than he could ever
have reached by expanding his father’s pre-existing resources.”
Samach-Vav uses this analogy to explain how the “son” can become
a “servant” and gain all the advantages of self-generated
effort of the “servant.” In earlier
discourses Samach-Vav discussed the two types
of souls and two types of service: The soul of Atzilut which
is an extension of the Divine, and therefore serves like
a son who has access to the inner revelations of the Divine.
The soul of B’iya, which is a “new” entity
outside of the Divine and serves like a simple servant through
hard work and earns its right to the divine through exertion
(unlike a son that naturally inherits his father’s
wealth). Despite the greatness of the Tzaddik (the soul
of Atzilut), the true innovation and the purpose of creation
is fulfilled by the “simple servant,” for only
he truly creates a new energy.
This week Samach-Vav explains
that also the “son” can attain the self-generated initiative of the “servant,”
but to do so requires hard work: To overcome the
inclination of a “free ride” and take for granted your inherited wealth and
As we leave the holiday-filled
month of Tishrei and enter into our “ordinary” routines and are flooded with
financial concerns and material worries – a flood that has the power to destroy
a universe – this week’s Samach-Vav discourse reminds us yet again, based
on the words of Rabbi Schneur Zalman
in his Noach discourse (delivered 199 years ago)
– that our material challenges do not quench our souls love. Indeed, the flooding
waters actually have the power to lift our spirituality to new heights.
So I tell you my dear
friend, son of wealth, the greatest achievement of all is to “make it on your
own.” I am not suggesting that you completely break away from your parents
and home. But frankly the more independent you become the
greater person you will be.
Each of us is presented
with unique challenges, with our particular “floodwaters.” The overwhelming
burden of poverty challenges you to remain strong and proud and not allow
the poverty to break you and flood you with bitterness and demoralization.
Wealth challenges you not to allow the flood of abundance to turn you into
a “spoiled brat” who never learns to earn your way in life.
Each of us feels that
our particular challenge is the most difficult one. But we are told that we
are never given a challenge we cannot overcome. Acknowledged, the challenge
of wealth is formidable. How, after all, can you not succumb to the temptation
to live off the “fat of the land” and benefit from your parents’ wealth? But
be aware that as long as you stay in the “shadow” of your home, the price
you will pay will be far greater than the wealth you will inherit. That price
will include losing your self, compromising your destiny and the possibility
that you may never discover and realize the purpose for which you were put
here on earth.
If you are aware of the
high stakes it may help you take on the challenge, and follow the Rebbe Rashab’s
advice: Leave the sphere of your parents influence, and go make it on your
own. You always know that you have loving parents that will support you and
your decisions. Indeed, they of all will ultimately be far happier seeing
you become yourself,
Above all, remember that the “raging waters” of prosperity flooding
your life and your psyche is actually an opportunity to
lift you to unprecedented heights, to motivate you to rise
above the waters and make your unique, indelible mark on
* * *
Question for the week: Are you for or against
the war in Iraq?
a question for future weeks.