Have you ever looked at an object and been unable to discern what it was, only to realize that it was upside-down and that you’re quite familiar with it? Not only do such occurrences happen to us optically, there are spiritual experiences we constantly face that confuse us into perceiving ourselves in the completely opposite way.
Rebbe Nachman taught that when a person rises from one level to the next, he must pass through illusions in order to attain holiness. As soon as he ascends to a higher level, he must contend with the evil forces on that level. When these forces are aroused, they surround the person, challenging him with evil or negative thoughts and desires. In this way, he is confused into thinking that he has fallen and is not worthy of this higher level (see Likutey Moharan I, 25).
Remember how many times you invested tremendous energy, prayer and dedication into changing yourself for the better? Perhaps you decided you’re finally going to really concentrate during prayer, or maybe that you’ll purify your mind from thinking illicit thoughts, or looking at forbidden things. Soon enough, after an initial upward change, you appear to be more challenged than ever in these areas. Next you freak out and scream out of frustration and hopelessness, “What in the world is going on with me?!”
However, Rebbe Nachman says that you’re looking at things upside-down. In the spiritual world, each person is lined up one beneath the other. Because we have risen, we also pushed up and away the previous person and their force of holiness that had subdued the forces of evil at their plateau. Now we must work to subdue these forces again on our new level. Our perceived fall is actually a sign of us growing. Instead of despairing, we should be tremendously encouraged by the challenges and temporary setbacks.
This is exactly what Jacob experienced in our parashah. “Jacob left Beersheba and went to Charan” (Genesis 28:10). According to Kabbalah, Be’er Sheva (literally, “Well of Seven”) represents the level of the seven lower sefirot. A person’s spiritual greatness is determined by how much bounty he receives from the seven sefirot at his level. Jacob was leaving his place to ascend to a place of higher bounty.
But in order to reach this place, Jacob had to face ChaRaN (which is similar to ChaRoN af, Divine anger), signifying the illusions one faces before reaching their goal. God’s characteristic of anger or judgment challenges a person who wants more, to prove that he’s worthy of it. Jacob understood this and strengthened himself with the knowledge that this is the path to holiness. The Torah therefore says, “He came upon the place” (ibid. 28:11). “The place” refers to God, who is called “the Place of the world.” Jacob was now coming closer to God.
“He lodged there because the sun had set” (ibid.). The setting of the sun represents a loss of spiritual perception. The spiritual light that had lit up Jacob’s life at his previous level was now gone. He then dreamed of a ladder with angels ascending and descending, hinting to man’s mission in this world, to ascend from level to level and not allow obstacles to sidetrack him. Then Jacob awoke and said, “How awesome is this place! It must be the House of God, and this is the gate of Heaven!” (ibid. 28:17). Although moments ago all had seemed dark and hopeless as the illusions tried to convince him that he had fallen, now he awoke to find that this place was actually the place of the Holy Temple!
May we, too, have the inner fortitude and boldness to see through the false illusions of our life and merit to come to the place of the Holy Temple very soon. Amen!
Based on Likutey Halakhot, Hilkhot Matanah 4