Stuart Fickler, Ph.D. 

Chapter 14 – Back to the Future

 And while the events and episodes mentioned in the Torah were connected with certain persons, and certain circumstances, in time and place, nevertheless their message is eternal and valid for all times and all places, with particular relevance also to each and every one of us individually. – The Lubuvitcher Rebbe


 Up to this point, our journey has taken us allegorically to the place that we are today. If we look honestly at the world around us, it is not that different from the world of Cain and Abel, Noah and Babel. Our technological advances have done a great deal to change our external environment. But, with the exception of a few, it has done little to change the “environment” that is within us. Cain and the people of the time of Noah and Babel still dwell among us.

 What went wrong? They chose not to take responsibility for their actions. They saw only immediate satisfaction and gave no thought to possible consequences. As a result, they became disconnected from God and the world around them. Humanity lost sight of the “image of God” placed within them and replaced it with an “image of ourselves”. That “image of ourselves” is the perceptual world that we have created within ourselves.  That image has become a barrier that envelops the God-like image that is our connection to God.

 Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad, proposed that within each of us there is a “divine light” that is concealed from us. That divine light is our connection with God. The light is hidden within husks or shells (kelipot). The kelipot represent the forces that obstruct the divine light. Our purpose is to peel back those husks and allow the divine light to enter our world. We then become a conduit for that divine light that connects God and our world. This is the meaning of the Torah directive to make our world worthy of God’s presence.

This metaphysical allegory is similar to a physical allegory. In the world of natural science we constantly try to break through the biases of our preconceived world, such as an earth-centered universe, a flat earth, etc. We do this in order to reveal the light of knowledge of the world beyond us. This knowledge is then brought into our world for our benefit and growth.

Robert Burns offered us the profound psychological insight: “ O wad some Power the giftie gie us/ To see oursels as ithers see us! /It wad frae monie a blunder free us”. To achieve Burns’ wish, we must first recognize the biases and distortions of that inner perceptual world that we have created.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman provides us with a profound insight in his article Judges and Kindergartens (www.chabad.org). “We like to credit Abraham with the discovery of G‑d. … In fact, classic Jewish tradition does not attribute this discovery to Abraham. Neither does it ascribe to Abraham the discovery of Divine Providence. Noah also spoke with G‑d, and so did several others, all the way back to Adam. In fact, citing the Talmud and Maimonides, the Rebbe describes how ‘the age of Torah’ didn't begin with Abraham's discovery of G‑d. Rather it began with Abraham's discovery of the human being.”

The Torah does offer awesome insight into the state and condition of the human being. In fact, I am one of those who maintain that no other document matches that insight. We can, indeed, discover ourselves within the Torah. In addition, the Torah offers metaphysical insight: to see ourselves as God sees us! When we have peeled away the kelipot, then we can reveal the “divine light” that connects us to God.

The Torah is a complex document. Its many facets reveal various aspects of human experience. Torah deals with history, sociology, psychology, linguistics and metaphysics. Our particular focus will be on allegorical history and metaphysics. What can Torah tell us about ourselves and our relationship with God?

The Rabbis have often compared Abraham to Noah. The Torah tells us that both were righteous men. The Rabbis asked which of the two was more righteous.  They concluded that Abraham was more righteous than Noah. Why? This is a good starting place for our quest. 

Genesis 6:9 says that “Noah walked with God.” Genesis 6:22 tells us that “Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.” God told Noah to build an ark according to God’s directions, and so he did. God told Noah to fill the ark with certain animals, and so he did. Noah did everything that God told him to do. Isn’t that righteous enough? If it was enough, why wasn’t Noah selected to be the first Patriarch of the Jewish people? 

Now let’s look at our introduction to Abraham. 

Genesis 12:1. And the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you. 2. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing. 3. And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you." 4. And Abram went, as the Lord had spoken to him.

Notice that there are no detailed instructions. God tells him to go. Then God tells Abraham what the outcome will be.   The rest is in Abraham’s hands. Later on God tells Abraham to walk before God (Gen. 17:1). The message is quite clear. Abraham is expected to take responsibility for his actions. God will be behind Abraham, but Abraham must take the lead.

This is in keeping with the allegory of the CEO in Chapter 1. In order to fulfill the command “you shall have dominion”, humanity cannot be a slavish servant to God. Humanity must be transformed into an active partner committed to the service of God. To find our relationship with God, we must, first, discover ourselves. As the Rebbe said, this is the story of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Their story leads us to the beginning of our own transformation.

In the early chapters of Torah we discovered how we got to where we are. Now we will turn to what we must become in order to achieve that relationship with God. Next time, we will examine what Abraham taught us about starting the process of going out to ourselves.

With God’s help, to be continued. Next time: “Don’t Ask???”

Emet v’chaim.