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Anyone can??

Friday, 1 December, 2023 - 4:59 am

Sarah, the granddaughter of the Admor Hazaken (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known also as Ba’al Hatanya – author of the book Tanya) married Rabbi Eliezer, grandson of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev. The wedding took place in the village of Zhlobin, between Liadi and Berdichev. There are many rumors and stories about this wedding, which was named “The great wedding” in Zhlobin, the wedding of the grandchildren of the friends, both of them disciples of the Maggid of Mezeritch, Admor Hazaken and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev. 

At the wedding, the Admor Hazaken made a toast and said to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak: “L’chaim! May Hashem yitbarach help us in material matters and spiritual matters.”

Said Rabbi Levi Yitzchak: “How can you mention material matters before spiritual ones?”

“We find this with Yaakov Avinu,” replied the Admor Hazaken, “who first said, ‘and he will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear’ and only after that mentioned ‘and Hashem will be my G-d.’ First the material, then the spiritual.”

Said the Berdichever: “Nu, the material matters of Yaakov Avinu!”

And Rabbi Schenur Zalman replied: “Nu, the spirituality of Yaakov Avinu!”

Before we start bringing in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, let’s try to understand this exchange. 

It is only natural and acceptable that a holy Jew, who is immersed in spirituality, will mention spiritual issues first. And that is why Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was puzzled.

The Admor Hazaken brings proof from Yaakov Avinu – he too mentioned the material before the spiritual. But this does not satisfy the Berdichever, because Yaakov Avinu’s material needs, the bread to eat and the clothing to wear, are spiritual in themselves. Not that the bread is not made of wheat and the clothing is not made of wool, but since the essence of his life is holiness and spirituality, the bread and the clothing serve spiritual needs. And so, how can we prove anything from Yaakov Avinu in regard to us?

The Admor Hazaken answers: You are right. Yaakov’s material needs are on a higher level than our spirituality, but that means his spirituality is certainly on a higher level than his material needs, and yet he still mentions the material matters first. And so the exchange ends. 

Anyone who learns chassidut, and especially Chabad chassidut, all of which is really based on the Admor Hazaken, is able to explain that the root of material issues is on a higher level than that of spiritual ones. He might even quote the rule that “anything that is higher up, falls further down.” And from this one can deduce that what is further down has a more elevated root, and so, the material actually comes before the spiritual. 

I humbly suggest that I see something more here, perhaps different, and there are, after all, seventy aspects to the Torah.

The Berdichever says: How can you bring an example from Yaakov Avinu? How can we compare ourselves to the prime patriarch, Yaakov Avinu? In other words, maybe not everyone can be a Yaakov Avinu.

The Admor Hazaken replies, according to his view: Definitely yes. Yaakov is on his level and we are on our level, and every Jew is on his own level, and we all ought to learn from the Torah and find some common points with Yaakov Avinu. Every Jew has a soul that comes from the same source as that of Yaakov Avinu. Every Jew can be like him on one level or another. Every person can find spirit in his material being, and everyone can relate to material needs as spiritual ones, and, typically for the Admor Hazaken, if everyone can, then everyone should. It says in Tanna Devei Eliyahu: “I would say that each and every Jew must say, when will my deeds reach those of my forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?”

On Shabbat we will note the Chag Hageula, the 19th of Kislev. We pray that that will be everyone’s holiday of redemption, both for individuals and for the Jewish People in general.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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