Thursday, December 01, 2005

FOR FRIDAY NIGHT: The Struggle Within (Toldot)


Cheshvan 29, 5766 * December 1, 2005


Parshat Toldot

The Struggle Within
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Jewish teaching sees the life of the individual as expressing an inner struggle. One part of the person relates to Nature - untamed, uncontrolled, like natural forests and unclaimed fields. The other part has a Divine quality, expressing G-d Who created Nature in order to make it His dwelling.

The untamed aspect is called the Natural Soul, or the Animal Soul. Sometimes the Sages describe it as the 'Evil Desire'. The problem is that much of the time it does not appear as evil, just as free and unrestrained: natural. The Divine quality is known as the Divine Soul, the spark of G-d within the person. It is sometimes called simply the 'Good Desire'. These two forces within person, the Natural Soul and the Divine Soul, struggle together. Each soul tries to dominate the day to day life of the individual: what one thinks about, what one says and above all what one actually does. But the Divine Soul is seeking not just to win the immediate battle. Its goal is to transform the Natural Soul, to tame it, to reveal its tremendous potential for good.

The relationship of these two dimensions in a person's life is described in the Sedra [1], in the account of Jacob and Esau. For everything related in the Torah is not only telling us our history, but also our spiritual psychology. Every event described in the Torah took place thousands of years ago, and is also repeated in some form within the life of each person.

Esau was born first. The Natural Soul has, as it were, the first claim on our consciousness. Our earliest needs relate to the needs of the Natural Soul and the body: food, physical comfort. Esau grew up to be a man of the field, a hunter.

The Torah tells us that when Jacob was born his hand was holding the heel of Esau. Jacob, the Divine Soul, is trying to transform Esau. Jacob grew up to be a man 'who dwelt in tents'. The Sages tell us this expresses not just the concept of civilization, but of study. G-d reveals His Will and Wisdom through teachings, which today are expressed in thousands of volumes of explanations of the Torah. Our ancestor Jacob was a scholar, and knowledge leads to action.

Isaac, the father of the two men, told his son Esau to go out to the field and hunt in order to prepare some tasty food. Their mother Rebecca told Jacob that this command concerns him: Jacob, rather than Esau, should bring the tasty food to Isaac. It was not enough for Jacob the scholar simply to dwell in the tent of Torah, studying. He has to get up and seek to change the world.

The effect of this attempt is that Jacob receives the blessing from Isaac: a beautiful blessing about the dew of heaven and the fullness of the earth. The Sages tell us that this blessing has a metaphorical meaning, expressing wisdom, and also a literal meaning: physical abundance. For the Jew does not have to renounce the world: his or her goal is to make the abundant and wholesome world into a dwelling for G-d.

The fulfillment of this goal will be with the coming of the Messiah, when both aspects of Isaac's blessing will be realized: the physical abundance and comfort, and the knowledge of G-d which will fill the world [2].


1. Genesis 25:19-28:9.
2. Based freely on the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Likkutei Sichot, vol. 5, p.416.


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By Dr. Tali Loewenthal, Director of Chabad Research Unit, London

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