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To the Depths of the Earth

Friday, 1 November, 2013 - 1:30 pm

It’s not often that I can seek counsel from any of several thousand rabbis. This is my good fortune this weekend as I draw inspiration, obtain advice and fraternize with colleagues from around the world.  From Vancouver to Slovakia; from Australia to Boston – the rabbis have descended on Brooklyn. Almost 4000 of them.  I am taking a break from the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim to share something I learned.

What amazes me most about the conference is the testament to the Rebbe’s interminable vision for every Jew.  Each rabbi is unique. Some speak French, some English, some Chinese. But we all speak the language of the Rebbe.  Every Shliach (emissary) carries that selfsame commitment to each individual Jew.  Be it in Manhattan or Columbia, Missouri. 


An ostensibly trivial statement in this week’s parsha, Toldot, states that Yitzchak (Isaac) planted. This led to great success, to the extent that “the man became great, and he grew constantly greater until he had grown very great.”  The next verse continues, “And he had possessions of sheep and possessions of cattle and much production.”

Okay, so Yitzchak was a rich agricultural magnate. He had lots of produce and livestock.

But why does the Torah tell the tale of how Yitzchak acquired produce? When dealing with other business interests (such as cattle) the Torah simply asserts that he possessed them.  Yet, when dealing with produce the Torah declares that he planted (and thus became wealthy). Why the need to tell us that he sowed. If the Torah had simply maintained that he had lots of produce, would it matter how he obtained it?

The Chassidic Masters have a different, more mystical perspective.  The Torah is not only describing Yitzchak’s material success.  It is sharing the enormous spiritual undertakings of our Patriarch.

The Midrash explains that planting refers to good deeds.  Yitzchak was not only acquiring material wealth. He was amassing holiness. More importantly, he was providing sanctity to the world around him.

And this is why we need to hear about planting.  Many assume that holiness belongs in heaven.  But Yitzchak planted in the earth.  If he was looking for spiritual earnings, why did he invest in the lowest place, the ground?

The profound message to us is that – contrary to what others may preach – G-d can be found in the earthly elements of the world. In fact, it is in the physical world where He wants us to discover Him.  This is why the Torah is ‘obsessed’ with the deed.

By planting seeds of holiness in the material world we come in closest contact with G-d. He is already Master of the ‘Upper Realms.’ But here on earth – in a piece of leather, a bunch of roses or a pound of flour – He seems absent.  By planting G-dliness in earthly items and mundane activities, we reveal the G-dly spark that lies at the core of all of creation.

A slice of parchment reveals G-d in a mezuzah.  A bouquet of roses invites sanctity when offered to cheer the infirm.  Kernels of wheat are elevated when a blessing is pronounced over challah.


It is nearly twenty years since the Rebbe passed. Yet his impact is felt stronger than ever before.  The fact that the conference keeps growing bigger is testament not to the executive organization of Chabad. The Rebbe, in fact, directed Chabad activities from a small office with a rotary phone.

It is, I believe, a testament to the Rebbe’s constant, laser-focused attention to the true call of the hour. One single mitzvah and one single Jew.

When our concern and concentration is dedicated to each mitzvah and to each individual, we all stand to become spiritually great.

May we speedily merit the day when the fruits of our planting are plainly evident to all with the arrival of our righteous Moshiach.

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