Jacob had laid the first stone of his House. Now he had to set about building it.
Far more important than the physical structure of the house is the community of people who must lead meaningful, fulfilling lives together in it. Jacob's first task was therefore to build his family and gather the souls who would form the eternal House of Israel.
God's first command to man in the Torah is to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28). This does not simply mean having many children. Parenting involves far more than conceiving and having babies! Not only do parents have to take care of their children's material needs for many years. They are also responsible for their spiritual development. They must do everything possible to see that their children turn into mature, responsible adults with a genuine commitment to lead lives based on true values. This responsibility devolves not only upon parents but also upon educators, those who control the mass media and anybody else who is in a position to influence the minds and souls of those who will form the next link in the chain of the human race.
The continuous increase in the world's already enormous human population arouses alarm in the minds of those who wonder how it is going to be possible to feed everyone. While so much attention is given to numbers, it is surprising that the ecologically conscious do not worry more about quality of the upcoming generation, which will have no less profound an effect on the world our descendants will inherit.
What kind of global culture has been produced by the cynical mind-manipulators who determine the tone and content of TV and the other mass media, who obviously find that the best way to hold their audiences is with a steady diet of violence, blatant sexuality and anything else that panders to their lowest instincts? What has this diet done to the minds and souls of those brought up on it? The licentiousness, crime, violence, substance abuse and other ills sweeping today's "most advanced" societies does not bode well for the world's future.
Ensuring the quality of the world's population is everyone's responsibility. In the words of Rebbe Nachman:
Everyone must play their part in seeing that the world is populated with Bney Adam (Children of Adam, Man), people who are not just human but humane, as it is written, "And fill the earth" (Genesis 1:28). The world can only be a civilized place if it is filled with Bney Adam, namely people who possess Daat, spiritual sensitivity and understanding. Those who does not have this understanding cannot be considered human beings at all.
In other words, just as we are commanded to bring children into this world for the sake of its survival, so we are commanded to instill in our children and students spiritual understanding and reverence for God. This is the very essence of the commandment to procreate: to produce future generations of true humans, not wild beasts and animals who have nothing human about them except their outward physical appearance. As long as people lack true spiritual illumination and understanding and do not know and feel God and His power, they cannot be considered true humans since they do not have any knowledge of God. It is only this knowledge that makes a person worthy of being called human. Without this knowledge the world is "chaos and desolation" (Genesis 1:2).
But "He did not create it to be desolate, He formed it to be settled" (Isaiah 45:18). For the world needs not merely to be populated but to be settled with Bney Adam, true human beings possessing spiritual wisdom and understanding, people who know God. This is the essence of the commandment to "fill the earth". It is necessary to fill the earth with Bney Adam, true human beings.
Everyone has an obligation to speak about God and spirituality to anyone they are in a position to influence in order to help them develop their spiritual awareness. For the foundation of civilization is when the world is inhabited by Bney Adam, people who know God.
Likutey Moharan II, 7:4
To bring up a new generation to know God was the challenge facing Jacob. As the very embodiment of spiritual light, truth and harmony, Jacob had always to struggle against their very opposites, darkness, falsehood and discord, until he finally triumphed. All Jacob's achievements came only through hard work and effort.
His twenty years of work to build his family were years of protracted struggle, notably against his uncle Laban, the very archetype of the liar and swindler. Lavan means white. The gleaming white on Laban's exterior concealed the corruption and evil in his heart.
Laban was the brother of Rebecca, Jacob's mother. The match between Rebecca and Isaac had come about because Abraham did not want Isaac to take a wife from among the Canaanites. Their extreme moral degeneracy disqualified them from entering the ranks of the nation Abraham sought to build. He therefore sent for a wife for Isaac from among the family of his brother Nachor back in Aram Naharayim where Abraham himself had come from. Although this "other side" of Abraham's family had made nothing like the same radical break as Abraham from the corrupt, idolatrous civilization of the time, they did come from the line of Noah, Shem and Eiver, guardians of the monotheistic tradition prior to Abraham. All the finest qualities of this illustrious family came out in Betuel's daughter Rebecca, a fitting match for Isaac.
Following Abraham's lead, Isaac and Rebecca had no wish for Jacob to intermarry with the Canaanites, preferring to send him back to the "other side" of the family. Neither Isaac nor Rebecca (who actually came from there) had any illusions about the real character of Rebecca's brother Laban, a sorcerer-priest who was now the head of that side of the family. But it was precisely in the clutches of that "other side" -- the dark, unholy realm of evil, the Sitra Achra ("Other Side") of which the Kabbalah speaks -- that the holy sparks, the souls of the future Jewish people, were trapped. Jacob's task was to rescue these souls and bring them back into the fold of holiness.
While acting the kind, concerned, loving uncle, Laban did everything in his power to prevent those souls getting out of his clutches. For twenty years he mercilessly exploited Jacob and eventually tried to destroy him together with his whole family (Genesis ch's 29-31; see Deuteronomy 26:5 and Rashi ad. loc.). What greater challenge could there be than for the wise, canny Jacob -- recipient of God's gift of truth (Michah 7:20) -- to be pitted against the arch-deceiver Laban?
In Kabbalistic terms, Jacob's task as the embodiment of the sefirah of Tiferet, beauty, harmony and truth, was to rise up to Daat-Knowledge, which is the synthesis of Chokhmah-Wisdom and Binah-Understanding. But in order to attain holy Chokhmah and Binah, Jacob had to struggle with their unholy opposites: vision and intelligence harnessed to serve not love and creativity but selfishness and destruction. Laban is the counter of holy wisdom. Just as there are 32 (Lamed-Bet) Pathways of Chokhmah-Wisdom, so the first part of Laban's name is made up of the letters Lamed Bet (= 32). Just as there are 50 Gates of Binah-Understanding, so the last letter of Laban's name is Nun (= 50). The name Laban alludes to a level of divine wisdom known as Loven Elyon, the "Supreme Whiteness" (for the brain, the seat of wisdom, is white).
Ever since Adam fell from grace as a result of the serpent's deception, the only way to reclaim holy wisdom and understanding is by encountering the Heichal Hatemurot, the "Palace of Exchanges", where everything is confused and mixed up. Here evil masquerades as good while true good can even appear evil. Adam's eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil caused a total mix-up of good and evil. The only way to sort them out is by first encountering the confusion and battling against the lies. This is why Jacob had to struggle against Laban.
The true goodness in Laban's house was to be found in his daughters Rachel and Leah and their half-sisters Bilhah and Zilpah. These four were to be the mothers of Jacob's destined twelve sons, founders of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, root souls of all the Jewish People. The souls are the true good in the universe. Jacob had to marry these women and with them birth the souls.
It was Laban's beautiful younger daughter Rachel who aroused Jacob's love from the moment he first caught sight of her on his arrival at Laban's. Laban saw that he only stood to gain by setting his penniless, fugitive nephew to work for him. Laban offered Jacob Rachel in exchange for seven years labor. At the end of the seven years Laban made a wedding party for his "little daughter Rachel", as stipulated by Jacob, but tricked him on the night by sending in her older, weak-eyed sister Leah to the marital chamber. Laban then made Jacob work for Rachel for another seven years. Rachel and Leah received Bilhah and Zilpah as their respective "hand-maidens". (Bilhah and Zilpah were Laban's daughters from concubines.)
This is not the place to delve into the profound kabbalistic secrets embedded in the biblical account of Jacob and his four wives and the births of their twelve sons and daughter. Far closer to the surface of the story lie lessons that are of the greatest importance to us today as we face the surrounding moral decay in the world we live in and ask ourselves what we should do about it.
The simple, age-old craft of having children and bringing them up to be good citizens of God's earth is viewed today by enormous numbers of "progressive" and "enlightened" people as an irrelevant, boring and politically incorrect activity. As it is the world can barely support its teeming billions, so why -- they ask -- waste time and effort on something so tedious when there are far more interesting things to do in life? According to contemporary "orthodoxy", sexuality exists purely and simply for the gratification of the partners, who should be entitled to do whatever they want with whomever they want whenever they want -- as long as they use contraceptives, so as not to have to worry about inconvenient consequences.
This "orthodoxy" runs totally counter to the ethic of holy sexuality embodied in Jacob and his wives. For Jacob, sexuality is God's loving gift to husband and wife to seal their bond of love through joining together in utmost harmony in order to create new life. Jacob and his wives had something purest of pure to protect and develop: They came from the finest stock. Jacob possessed the soul of Adam. Jacob's fathers were Abraham and Isaac. Jacob and his wives now came to play their part in tending the holy Tree -- the Tree of Life -- by giving birth to living, vibrant children, souls through whose very lives and activities the divine attributes (Sefirot) of the kabbalistic Tree of Life would be revealed.
To conceive, give birth to and raise such children takes the utmost purity. In Kabbalah, the sexual act is sacred. It is a hidden garden of love enjoyed in purity by husband and wife as their ultimate expression of love for one another. They thereby join their seed and their innermost souls together in a single unity -- the unique new child, new soul, that they bring into being. When this soul is born, they must nurture it lovingly together, providing a secure, tender, caring environment in which this and all of their children can grow, mature and develop into the finest citizens of God's earth.
According to tradition, Jacob was 63 when he received the blessings from Isaac. He then spent fourteen years in the academy of Shem and Eiver, after which he spent another seven years working for Laban before getting married. Thus Jacob was 84 at the time of his marriage. Later on, in his death-bed blessing to his first son Reuven, Jacob refers to him as "first of my strength" (Genesis 49:3). This means that Reuven was conceived from the very first drop of seed that ever left Jacob's body, which was not until he was 84, showing his perfect self-control throughout his life.
For Jacob the holy act of impregnating his wife with seed was one that involved the utmost Kavanah, mental and spiritual aiming or intention. Kabbalah compares the ejaculation of sperm to shooting arrows. The art of archery is to have perfect aim. The aim of the sexual act is to bring a pure soul into the world. Husband and wife should have thoughts of supreme holiness and purity during intimacy.
The Zohar states that the seed comes from the brain. Students of anatomy may in that case wonder why there appears to be no duct from the brain to the sexual organs, whereas everyone surely knows that sperm is manufactured in the testes. (The brain obviously influences the production of sperm through hormones and other chemicals.)
However, with a little further thought we can easily see that modern anatomical knowledge does not contradict the wisdom of the holy Zohar. Every sperm contains a perfect genetic blueprint of the father. In union with the female ovum, the sperm is capable of replicating a perfect human being complete with his or her own unique blend of inherited and individual characteristics, with a totally unique soul and the potential not only to live an entire lifetime of activity and creativity but also to breed further generations from that same genetic heritage.
The entire design of the new human soul and body coming into being derives from Chokhmah-Wisdom and Binah-Understanding, represented respectively in the sperm (white) and the ovum (red). Conception means that the sperm and ovum fuse into a single nucleus (Daat-Knowledge). This single nucleus then begins to divide into two cells, they in turn divide, and so on and on, until finally the embryo is ready to be born and live its own life.
Thus all the physical and spiritual genetic information required for this individual to live his or her life from birth to death is originally contained in that single nucleus ("brain") formed from the sperm and the ovum. Included among the other information in that "brain" is all the information needed to enable the person eventually to replicate sexually through his or her seed. In other words, that original nucleus containing all this age-old wisdom and information is the "brain" behind all the generations to come. This "brain" is obviously the source of all the seed of the person who will develop from it and that of all his or her generations to come.
Where did Jacob aim when he conceived his sons? He set his sights on the universal Soul of the whole creation, bringing down a part of that Soul in each of his sons.
The prophet Isaiah declares: "The moon will be disgraced and the sun will be ashamed, for HaVaYaH of Hosts will rule on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem" (Isaiah 24:23). The Rabbis said: "The sun refers to Abraham and the moon to Isaac. In the future, Abraham and Isaac will be ashamed [because of their bad sons Ishmael and Esau]. But not Jacob, for Jacob is associated with the stars [and Jacob's sons, corresponding to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, were all good]" (Midrash Rabbah Bemidbar, Naso).
The Sefer Yetzira discusses the creation in terms of the three basic categories of Space, Time and Soul. The entire creation is for the sake of man and is structured accordingly. Man has twelve fundamental soul-functions: speech, thought, motion, sight, hearing, action, coition, smell, sleep, anger, taste and laughter. There are twelve corresponding divisions of space and time. The twelve divisions of space are the twelve constellations of stars through which the sun "moves" in the course of the solar year. The twelve divisions of time are the twelve months of the year. Each sign of the Zodiac and its corresponding month of the year has a unique character bound up with the associated soul-function (Sefer Yetzira ch. 5).
The twelve divisions in space, time and soul correspond to the twelve diagonals on the tree of the Sefirot. (When the sefirot are diagrammatically represented as a "tree" of ten points, there are twenty-two connecting lines, seven of which are vertical, three horizontal and twelve diagonal.) Jacob's twelve sons revealed to perfection all of the essential qualities of the inner Soul for whom God created the world of Time and Space.
Each of the twelve was unique according to his respective place on the tree. They were all personalities of tremendous power, as illustrated in the many Bible and midrashic stories about them and about their illustrious descendants in later generations. Each of the tribes received its own blessings from Jacob and later from Moses according to its unique trait. The tribes had their own emblems. Many of them are associated with animals (such as Judah with the Lion, Joseph with the Ox, Issachar with the Donkey, Dan with the Serpent, Naftali with the Deer and Benjamin with the Wolf.)
For Jacob, every soul that comes into the world is unique and precious and must be nurtured with the utmost love and understanding.
It is not only in building our families that we have the responsibility to love, care for and nurture souls. The same applies when we seek to build different kinds of "houses", whether circles of friends, organizations of various kinds or whole communities. All of human life is about joining with others and cooperating with them for every kind of different purpose.
The greatest "House" of all consists of people who gather for the specific purpose of communing together with God in prayer and meditation. Each new soul that joins this "House" is another brick in the edifice.
In the words of Rebbe Nachman:
Prayer reveals the glory of God, because prayer disperses the "clouds" of unholiness and impurity and makes them disappear. Abundant prayer brings about forgiveness of sin, and then the sun rises and shines, bringing healing....
The prayer that brings forgiveness and healing comes when a new "neighbor" joins the community of Israel. With every new neighbor who comes, the prayer is enormously enhanced and magnified. The greater the multitude of souls gathered together, the greater and more magnificent the House of Prayer. For "three stones build six houses, four stones build twenty-four houses, five build a hundred and twenty... until the mouth cannot utter it or the heart conceive it" (Sefer Yetzira 4:16). With every single stone that is added, the number of houses is multiplied exponentially out of all proportion. Now the "stones" are the souls -- "the holy stones have been poured out" (Lamentations 4:1) -- while the houses are "My house, the House of Prayer." Thus with every single soul that joins the ingathering of the Community of Israel, the House of Prayer is vastly expanded and magnified. The addition of yet another soul creates an incalculable number of totally new and different combinations.
Every time a new neighbor joins an existing community of worshipers, the prayer is expanded and magnified amazingly, for one more soul has been added. And it is the abundance of prayer that brings forgiveness and healing...
Likutey Moharan II, 8:6
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