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Vayeitzei 5773: Choice and Destiny

by in Vayetze .

When we joyously participate in the tapestry of time and recognize it as our destiny, we ignite powerful flames of human energy in ourselves.

The Tapestry of Time

Permanent coupling for marriage, it seems, is not instinctual. While physical relationship between the sexes is instinctual, marriage is a value and not an instinct; it entails investment and requires mindful choice. Animals are instinctually wired to couple physiologically for the purpose of breeding. Animals, however, do not bond permanently in marriage to raise their offspring and provide lifelong companionship to one another. Only humans do that because only humans make value-choices.

On deeper analysis though it seems that marriage is in fact neither instinct nor moral choice. Marriage could be pure miracle. The choice, strangely, is not so much whether or not to marry but whether or not to enjoy marriage! Take a look at one of my favoritemidrashim near the beginning of parshas Vayeitzei:

A wealthy woman asked Rabbi Yossi bar Chalafta what has God kept busy since he finished His six days of work creating the world. Rabbi Yossi bar Chalafta answered that Hashem sits and pairs people: "This person's daughter to marry that man, this person's property to be transferred to that person and so on." She replied in amazement, "Is that all he does? I could do that too!" "It might be simple for you, but for God it is as challenging as the splitting of the Red Sea was." So she went off and randomly paired two thousand of her servants to one another. The next morning the servants came to her with multiple wounds saying they can no longer bear one another. She called Rabbi Yossi back and said to him: "There is indeed no God like yours, your Torah is true, beautiful and of great value."

"I told you," he replied, "It may appear easy to you but for Hashem it is as challenging as splitting the Red Sea. Would you like to know how God does it? He pairs them against their will, not by their own choices, …those who chose to sing in joy and appreciation do so, those who choose not to sing, cry instead. In the same way God makes ladders and elevates one while he brings another down. He brings some men their matches and in other cases He requires them to go out to find their partners. Yitzchak's partner came to him, Yaacov had to go out to find his."

So in what ways is Hashem's method different from the method of the wealthy woman? Both seem to entail a degree of compulsion and offer the partners no choice. Why was the woman's exercise in matchmaking so disastrous, and God's is generally successful?

The difference is that the woman's shadchanus (matchmaking) method was random; God's method is not. Life's synchronicities are not random. People's lives intersect and people connect with each other as part of an unfolding destiny; an intricate, Divine tapestry woven from the threads of time and place that ultimately form a pattern beyond anything we can imagine. Our choice is to celebrate the parts we are destined to play in this tapestry, or to resist it and suffer.

Renewed vitality

When we joyously participate in the tapestry of time and recognize it as our destiny, we ignite powerful flames of human energy in ourselves. Consider how, after Ya'acov's famous dream when he recognizes that his journey is not merely one of flight from Eisav but one of travel to a place of greatness he experiences revitalized energy. Va'yisa Ya'acov raglav (Bereishis 29:1 - and Yaacov lifted up his feet) which Rashi explains as "His heart lifted his feet and walking became light for him ." The knowledge that he was on a mission of God and not a personal journey gave him renewed strength to move.

We see something similar when Yaacov recognizes Rachel, his relative and destined wife at the well. Without any help from others he removes the rock that covered the well, a feat normally only accomplished by a team of shepherds working together. Yaacov's sense of destiny infused him with super-normal vigor.

Of course recognizing that we are part of a divine destiny is different from a philosophy of fatalism. We are called upon to make choices every moment of our lives although we don't always make the choices for the same reasons God has in mind. For example a man may marry a woman because they "fell in love" whereas in Hashem's intent the purpose of their getting together was different. Often we might undertake a business trip later to discover that the true purpose of our trip was different. We have to make choices with good intent and that are halachikly correct. This does not mean we truly know the higher purpose of our choice and its intended outcome. Our choices impact the paths of our destinies and certainly impact whether we enjoy our pathways or suffer on them.

Our challenge, once we have made good choices, is to surrender control of their outcome and to look out for the signals of their higher purpose and their Divine destiny. We are all on journeys to places of greatness. If we recognize this and celebrate the passage, a new vitality will spring from hitherto unknown reservoirs of energy.

Od yenuvun beseiva… The righteous continue to blossom even in their old age, they are continuously fresh and full of vitality. (Tehillim 92:15)

Latest update: October 18, 2014

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