Monday, November 8, 2010

INTUITIONS OF IDENTITY CONFUSION: PARASHAT VA-YETZEI: 5771/2010

                       WESTWOOD VILLAGE SYNAGOGUE

Dr. Abner Weiss, Rabbi
 RABBI ABNER WEISS’ WEEKLY TORAH TEACHING:

PARASHAT VA-YETZEI: 5771/2010

 INTUITIONS OF IDENTITY CONFUSION

And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder [was] standing on the ground, its top reaching heavenwards. And behold, the angels of God [were] going up and down bo.
Behold, God was standing on it. And He said:  I am the Lord, God of your father Abraham, and the God of Isaac….And Jacob awoke from his sleep and said: Behold, the Lord is in this place, but I [anokhi] did not know it. (Genesis 28:10-13,16)

I have chosen not to translate the Hebrew word bo in our text, since it’s meaning is disputed by the sages. It can denote either on it or on him:
[The meaning of our text is disputed by] Rabbi Chiyya and Rabbi Yannai. The one says [the angels were ascending and descending on the ladder, and the other said that they were ascending and descending on Jacob. …They were chiding him, jumping all over him and maligning him. … When they went upwards, they saw his likeness [engraved on the Throne of Glory], but when they went down, they found him fast asleep. (Genesis Rabbah 68:18) 
On the second interpretation, Jacob unconsciously perceived himself as a ladder bridging heaven and earth, with the angels ascending and descending on him. From one point of view, when they saw the very lofty heights he could reach, they sang his praises. From the other, looking down towards him, they saw him sleeping on a rock, unconscious of his enormous potential and totally unaware of the enveloping presence of the Divine.
In this dream, Jacob sees himself as a split personality. On the one hand, he personifies the ideal, spiritually realized personality, as it were, adorning God’s throne. On the other, he is revealed as earthbound and spiritually unaware, an unconscious figure, fast asleep.
His confusion about his true identity is depicted vividly. Prior to the dream narrative, the last words he had uttered were in response to his father’s question when he was pretending to be as his brother Esau: “Who are you, my son?” And he [Jacob] said to his father: “I [Anokhi] am Esau, your first born.”(Genesis 27:19)  And he [Isaac] said:” Are you [really] my son Esau?”  And he said,  “It is I.” (Genesis 27:24).
 Who was he really? Jacob or Esau?  His originally uncomplicated, transparently simple personality, described as is tam, has been compromised by his cunning maneuverings, first to deprive his older brother of his birthright by exploiting his exhaustion, and then by his subterfuge to take for himself the blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau.  The gentle, innocent Jacob, the sheltered homebody (lit: tent-dweller), had become indistinguishable from his brother the hunter, not hesitating to entrap his prey for his own benefit.
 A great Chasidic Master understood this aspect of Jacob’s personality when he commented that Jacob’s reply to Isaac: “I am your first born son Esau” should be taken literally.  Without being conscious of doing so, Jacob had uttered a profound truth about himself.  Who, indeed, was Jacob?  How did he perceive himself?  His disquieting dream revealed to him the two antithetical poles of his being, the split-state of his I-ness [anokhi].  He was a great spiritual force, symbolically etched on the Divine throne. Yet, at the same time, disowning this vital aspect of his being, he was motivated by utilitarian material concerns-primarily, successful physical survival.
 The resolution of Jacob’s psycho spiritual inner conflict was to occur many years later, and is probably the real meaning of his life and death struggle with the angel on the dark night of the soul prior to his terrifying confrontation with his soul. 
 Most of us, to a lesser or greater extent, share Jacob’s struggle.  We have all disowned aspects of our personality as a result of injuries we have suffered growing up, or as a consequence of what we have been taught.  Parts of us are repressed by fear, guilt or the influence of parents and teachers.  Like Jacob, we sometimes catch glimpses of who we are in dreams or in moments of crisis.  These flashes of awareness torment us with the realization that we do not really know which is our authentic I-ness [anokhi].  Because the resolution of this kind of inner, existential conflict is always challenging and often very painful, many of us are content to sleep our way through life, lying at the foot of the ladder that leads to greater awareness and to the attainment of our higher selves.  Tragically, like Jacob, at the time of his great dream, we are unaware of what we are missing when we have abandoned our quest for psychological and spiritual authenticity. 
 Ultimately, Jacob was fortunate.  A painful transformative encounter compelled him to integrate the various parts of his personality,  causing him to become a fully realized, but wounded individual.  It is a great shame that most of us fail to meet the challenge of integrating our disowned spiritual potential, and never quite realizing just how great we can be.              



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