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ב"ה

Mining for Gold

Friday, 16 September, 2022 - 8:24 am

On a recent family camping trip, we came across a defunct power plant deep in the national forest. The nearest town is about 30 minutes away by car. The plant is about 100 years old, but closed down in the sixties with the advent of diesel.

The plant relied on miles of piping from a nearby lake, an impressive building and a huge amount of manpower. It was a tremendous feat to build. It was an even greater challenge to run and maintain.

I wondered why this plant was built in such a remote location. As I explored the history of the plant, I learned that the plant was not built to support the needs of area towns and cities. Rather, it was built to provide electricity to one enterprise – a nearby gold mine.

If you were mining for gold, but had no idea whether the earth beneath you contained gold deposits, you might be quickly discouraged when faced with long, hard hours of strenuous activity.

If you were asked to teach algebra, but did not believe your student was capable of comprehending the lesson, you may soon be tempted to throw in the towel.

But if you saw gold and knew that with effort you would be able to collect it, or if your student showed signs of remarkable aptitude, your excitement and confidence toward attaining your objective would give you great joy. Instead of fretting and growing despondent about the job looming in front of you, you might tackle it with vigor.

When we see the light at the end of the tunnel – especially when it holds promise for greater achievement – we are motivated and gleefully carry on.

The gold mine was obviously profitable enough to justify all that expense and effort.

***

On the opening words of this week’s parsha Ki Tavo, “And it will be, when you come into the land which the L-rd, your G-d, gives you,” the Talmud comments that this is a great sign of joy.

Certainly, we can appreciate the tremendous satisfaction and jubilation of the Jewish people entering the Holy Land – their treasured end point – after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

***

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad (whose birthday was this week), teaches that this verse is not only referring to the land of Israel. In fact, these words are also a metaphor for the journey of the soul from Heaven to Earth.

When we speak of wandering Jews, it isn’t only the body that wanders. The soul is also on a journey. It travels from its heavenly abode and is placed in a human body on this earth. Its objective is to live a life replete with good deeds and holiness, thus elevating its partner – the body – as well as the world around it. An added benefit is the growth the soul realizes for itself.

However, the soul is not an eager passenger on this journey. It is plucked away from its comfort zone – the spiritual contours of heaven. It much prefers the celestial over its crass physical destination. It prefers spirit over matter, ethereal over earthly. But it has no choice. It is sent on a mission.

When taken in its mystical context, the Talmud’s interpretation of this verse seems inappropriate. Why is the descent of the soul into this world a cause of celebration and happiness?

***

In a farbrengen, the Lubavitcher Rebbe once explained it as follows:

Since the journey of the soul is by Divine design, the soul knows that it must be for its own benefit. It recognizes that every creature that G-d creates is for a particular, irreplaceable purpose. Especially human beings.

As such, it is confident that it will certainly succeed; that it will accomplish great things on earth.

Although it sees the coarseness of the body and senses the pain of detachment from the Divine, nonetheless it embraces the mission enthusiastically. Because, it sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

As the Jewish New Year approaches, let us focus on the light at the end of the tunnel – the holy objective for which we were placed on earth. It will certainly help us usher in the New Year with joy and sanctity.

 

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