“Blessing and Transformation”
By Dr. Tamar Frankiel, AJRCA President
“Go to the land that I will show you.” These famous lines of the Torah, telling Avram to leave everything behind and start anew guided only by G-d, have inspired the Jewish people throughout the ages.
The Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael Weiser, 1809-1879) interprets these words allegorically in his Shirei HaNefesh, a commentary on Shir HaShirim. The journey of Lech lecha is a saga of not merely historical import but also of the soul’s travel and travail. The soul is told to leave the heavens, “your birthplace, your Father’s house,” and go to a different land. According to Malbim, the blessings that Avram receives – I will bless you, I will make you a great nation, etc. – are like the seven blessings of a bride after which she makes a new life in a different world.
The parsha is full of blessings. Not only is Avram blessed again by G-d, being given a covenant, a new name, and the promise of the land for his descendants, but also he is blessed by Melchizedek; and Sarah is separately blessed to be the mother of Yitzchak who will become the conduit for all these blessings to future generations.
Melchizedek’s blessing is that of spiritual understanding, for he is a high priest. Sarah’s blessing is that of physical and emotional integration, for now their long union will bear its own fruit. The blessing that vouchsafes the land is an extension of Avram’s wealth, the ability to use the physical world to do G-d’s will.
These parallel the capacities of the soul mentioned in the Shema, when we say “You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, with all your life-force, and with all your resources.” The blessings of Avraham and Sarah resonate in this affirmation.
Yet, “there is a famine in the land.” The soul comes into a world that is starving for spiritual nourishment. The desperate straits of the world are mirrored in Egypt, for Mitzrayim means “narrow straits.” In our story, the Pharaoh of Egypt threatens to separate Avram from Sarai – to destroy the soul’s potential for integration and wholeness.
But G-d sends plagues on Pharaoh because of Sarah – literally, Rashi notes, “on a word of Sarai.” Standing strong in her devotion to the mission of the soul, her appeal to G-d overcomes the powers of separation.
If Sarah, in this allegory, represents the physical and emotional dimensions of our being, we see that she represents a fully transformed being: a nefesh or vital life-force that has completely integrated the intention of the soul. This, according to Malbim is our goal: each individual must alchemically transform the relation between soul and body. The soul, being a part of G-d, already has the qualities of love, creativity, and dedication that are needed. The body, however, is designed for survival and tends to be egocentric and mistrusting. It must be transformed into a loving, giving being in order to transform the world.
We have been given the blessings to accomplish this – not only from Avraham and Sarah, but from the long line of ancestors who have, as Malbim also points out, been stretched to the breaking-point many times, transformed themselves in the process, and changed the world. In their hearts, in their vitality, and with their resources they have remained true to our collective mission and passed that on to us.
May we continue to be blessed on our souls’ journey of self-transformation, so that we, like our ancestors, may “be a blessing” for the future.