"Rejoice, reapers of the field!"
Isaac was 123 years old when he blessed Jacob, and directly afterwards he instructed him to leave home and go out of the Land of Israel to Padan Aram, home of his mother Rebecca's family, to find a wife. From this point on until the end of the Book of Genesis the tumultuous life of Jacob and his wives and children becomes the central focus of the biblical narrative, though in fact Isaac lived on for another 57 years until the age of 180 (Rashi on Genesis 27:2; ibid. 28:1ff and 35:28).
Having taught the true meaning of holy Gevurah, power and strength, how to use it and how to sweeten its harshness, Isaac's work was essentially complete. Through the personalities and careers of Abraham and Isaac, holy Chessed (love and kindness) and Gevurah (power and strength) -- the two main poles of creation, "right" and "left" columns of the sefirotic "tree" -- had been manifested in all their beauty. The stage was now set for the supremely wise Jacob to show how to join these two opposing poles together to make the perfect synthesis: Tiferet, Beauty. Jacob's life and some of its lessons for the contemporary age will be the subject of Part III of this course.
Isaac's task had been to continue and develop Abraham's pathway of charity and justice with the utmost self-discipline and devotion. Central to this task was the inner discipline of prayer and meditation: "And Isaac went out to meditate in the field towards evening" (Genesis 24:63).
The Field chosen by Isaac for this supreme labor -- on the Mountain where his father Abraham had bound him as a sacrifice -- would become the site of the Holy Temple, God's House of Prayer for all the nations. Our understanding of the meaning of the Temple and its significance for mankind today can be greatly deepened by contemplating the different ways in which each of the three patriarchs envisioned it, Abraham as a Mountain, Isaac as a Field and Jacob as a House.
A field yields its best fruits through systematic work combined with faith and trust in the Creator. Isaac's unswerving pursuit of justice combined with his devotion to prayer and meditation are reflected in the Temple later built on the site of Isaac's field.
By the side of the main Temple courtyard was the regular meeting place of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Council of Torah Sages. Isaac had taught that all success, both in this world and the next, depends upon the pursuit of charity and justice (see Cultivating the Land). This lesson is to go out to all the world from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, whose mission is to teach the world God's law: the Seven Universal Laws that apply to all mankind and the six hundred and thirteen commandments specifically given to the Children of Israel. "From Zion will go forth the Torah..." (Isaiah 2:3).
The same verse continues: "... and the Word of HaVaYaH from Jerusalem" (ibid.). The whole purpose of God's law is to bring the entire universe back into harmonious unity with God. This can only be accomplished when people learn that in any and every field of human activity human endeavors can bear genuine fruits only when we conduct ourselves as partners with God in the work of creation. Man's uniqueness in the creation derives from the fact that he has been vested with the very keys of creation, the letters of speech, which he has the power to manipulate in prayer and meditation. It is through prayer that man draws divine blessing into all that he does. When man attains his destiny, his very words become Dvar HaVaYaH, the "Word of God". As a place of prayer and devotion, the Temple is a lesson to all mankind that our words of prayer, song and praise have the power to influence the highest realms (see previous section). For "My House will be called the House of Prayer for all the nations" (Isaiah 56:7).
Although the "field" in which Isaac pursued his work of prayer and devotion is especially associated with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, actual fields and meadows have been favored by Jewish mystics and spiritual seekers throughout the ages for spiritual work of various kinds.
The theme of the field as a place for spiritual communion recurs in many biblical passages (e.g. Genesis 37:7 & 15, Judges 13:9, Samuel I, ch. 19, Ruth ch's 2-3, etc.).
In later times many rabbis and teachers have discussed the benefits of spending time in fields and meadows, including the practical health benefits, as in the following passage from the classic collection of rabbinic wisdom on spiritual and physical healthcare, Tav Yehoshua ("Joshua's Note") by R. Yehoshua Briskin, who was a rabbi in Odessa in the mid-19th century:
|"One should always be careful to rise like a lion early in the morning in time for the sun-rise and to spend three or four hours in the open fields breathing the clear, pure air. walking about in the fields, the hills and mountains. One should do this every day for health, strength and complete healing...."
Tav Yehoshua 3:3
It is sad that many people trapped in today's enormous, sprawling urban agglomerations are simply unaware of the benefits to health, bodily and spiritual, of spending time in the peace and quiet of open fields and meadows. All the more reason why we should remind ourselves of teachings about the value of this practice, as echoed in the words of Rebbe Nachman:
|"It is best to seclude yourself and meditate in the meadows outside the city. Go to a grassy field, for the grass will awaken your heart" (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #227).
"When summer begins to approach it is very good to meditate in the fields. This is a time when you can pray to God with longing and yearning. When every bush of the field begins to return to life and grow, they all yearn to be included in prayer and meditation." (ibid. #98).
Besides recommending going to the fields and meadows for prayer and meditation, chassidic masters such as the Baal Shem Tov and Rebbe Nachman would also sometimes give over their teachings to their students out in nature (see Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #144 and Prayer Power).
In teaching Torah out in the fields and meadows, these chassidic masters were following a most ancient tradition. It is evident in numerous passages throughout the Zohar, where many of the teachings by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his other companions were first taught while they were walking through the open countryside. Similarly, the outstanding 16th century kabbalistic master, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (ARI), explained many of the details of the kabbalistic scheme to his outstanding student, Rabbi Chaim Vital while they walked around the hills and meadows of the Galilee in northern Israel (see Shaar Hagilgulim, etc.).
It is fitting that it was the ARI (who himself bore the name of Isaac, man of the Field) who made the Field a part of Jewish consciousness every week at the commencement of the Shabbat. The ARI did this through his "Kabbalat Shabbat" practice of going out into the fields with his students late Friday afternoons in order to welcome the Shabbat "Queen". Facing west towards the setting sun they would sing, dance and rejoice together. This practice is recalled in synagogues throughout the world when in the Kabbalat Shabbat service at the commencement of Shabbat the worshipers chant all or part of the "Lecha Dodi" ("Come, my beloved!") song of welcoming the Shabbat while facing west instead of the normal direction of prayer towards Jerusalem.
In the Zohar and other mystical works the true spiritual seekers are called the "reapers of the field" (Chatzdei Chakla). In the words of one of the ARI's Shabbat songs, "Rejoice, reapers of the field!" (Shabbat Morning Zemirot). "Those who go about weeping bearing the burden of the seed will surely return in joy bearing sheaves!" (Psalm 126:6). May we speedily see the fruits of all our labors and witness the rebuilding of the Temple quickly in our days. Amen.
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