Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Kabbalah of Defeating Terror

By Levi Brackman

There is no doubt that the greatest threat facing the civilized world today is the amalgam of extremism, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. This lethal combination could one day, if given the chance, claim the lives of millions, G-d forbid.

Perhaps the most frightening thing about this challenge is that it's not a contest of strength between two armies, nor is it a battle between rival ideologies. It's a struggle between two types of force -- one that thrives on order and another that flourishes on chaos. Can order defeat chaos? Can moderation defeat extremism?

But this is not a novel struggle: it has its origins in the Bible.

Jacob is by far the most fascinating and complex personality in the book of Genesis. First we're introduced to "Jacob the scholar," a quiet, timid person who spends his days in his tent immersed in study. Soon thereafter, however, the Torah acquaints us with "Jacob the conniver" who induces his twin brother Esau to part with his birthright in exchange for a pottage of lentils and subsequently elicits from his old father blessings that had been intended for Esau. As he flees his brother's wrath, we meet "Jacob the prophet" who sees a vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder and holds a conversation with G-d. Arriving in Haran -- where Jacob finds shelter in his uncle Laban's home -- we're introduced to "Jacob the romantic" who falls in love with his cousin Rachel and is prepared to work for seven years in his uncle's employ in return for her hand in marriage. "Jacob the rancher" has phenomenal success in building up Laban's flocks, and "Jacob the entrepreneur" outmaneuvers his dishonest uncle and amasses a small fortune. Returning from Haran, "Jacob the warrior" prepares himself and his family for battle with Esau.

In a word, Jacob is clearly the most versatile of the three Patriarchs. This is why, predicated on the holy Zohar, the Chassidic masters assign the Divine attribute of Tiferet [beauty, harmony] to Jacob. Abraham personified the attribute of Chessed [kindness], Isaac personified Gevurah [severity] and Jacob Tiferet. In the Kabbalistic system of the Divine attributes ["Sefirot"], Tiferet acts as the mediator between Chessed on the right and Gevurah on the left.

A mediator has to be able to understand the point of view of both parties and see the legitimacy of both vantage points in order to find the common denominator between the two. Chessed is unbridled love. Gevurah is discipline and restriction. As the dynamic mediator between these two extremes, Tiferet can be restrictive when needed, but loving and kind on other occasions. This manifested itself in Jacob's personality and life. He was dynamic and adaptable -- the antithesis of extremism.
Art by Emily Martin

Jacobs's antagonist was his brother Esau. Esau's life was one of chaos, characterized by rebelliousness and murder. He was a "man of the field" -- a hunter. He spurned his birthright and married women deeply disapproved of by his parents. He set out together with four hundred henchmen to do battle with his brother Jacob. Esau was eventually killed by his great-nephew while arguing with Jacob's sons during his funeral. All this points to a man who was extreme in nature.

The great 16th century Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria ["Ari"] explained that Esau's spiritual source was the primordial world of Tohu or chaos. The world of Tohu contains spiritual energy that is too potent to be channeled productively. Denied the ability to be applied for a practical and constructive purpose, this extreme potency can only destroy. This is what Esau was: a man who was unable to apply himself to achieve something that would have a long term positive effect -- he was only able to destroy.

Jacob's spiritual antecedent is from the world of Tikkun or order. Tikkun is a world in which the energy fuses with its recipient "vessel" so that together they are able to be positively productive. Within the world of Tikkun, Jacob personified Tiferet. Thus Jacob's dynamism allowed him to lead a worthwhile and productive life.

It is now clear why Jacob was able to triumph in his struggle with Esau time after time. Jacob confronted Esau's intensity and extremism with clarity, calmness and rationalism. He countered Esau's brash, destructive, chaotic, antagonistic and vengeful personality with caution, moderation, realism and desire for peace. He was victorious because extreme and destructive powers will ultimately suffer defeat at the hand of energies that are serene, constructive, dynamic and tolerant.

In our century we are witnessing the battle between the power of Esau and the power of Jacob. Esau is represented by the extremist elements who would like to destroy civilization as we know it -- those who flourish in chaotic situations, where there is no calling to account.

Jacob, on the other hand, is characterized by the tolerant, peace loving citizens and nations of the world who cherish order, justice and a civilized society.

Certainly, we must wage war against the extremists. However it is only by concurrently maintaining an orderly, tolerant, constructive, dynamic and peace-loving composure and philosophy, that extremism, and its by-product, terrorism, will be defeated.

Source: Chabad

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