There is so much of import, so much power in our potion. Great tales and deeds leap out at us from the parchment. And yet there are 3 quiet lines in this potion unrelated and unpretentious. They do not but leap from the parchment at us demanding our attention. They float gently on the surface with roots of meaning deep below the surface. And if we sit by the pond and gaze deeply into it seeking these gentle words and their meaning, they refresh and refill. These lines imply import and reach for realms of majesty.
The first is found in the story of Eliezer’s quest for a bride for Yitzhak. He finds Yitzhak’s Bshert (his perfect partner) at a well. He goes to her family to share his story and his desire and his knowledge that Rivkah is the one for Yitzhak. The family sees his wealth and encourage him to eat, drink and be merry and, after resting, to share his story. But he refuses. Dusty and tired and hungry from his journey, Eliezer will not dine nor rest. Lavan the greedy brother of Rivkah requests that Eliezer the servant eat as a guest in his home. Eliezer does feed his camel for, as my wife always says, quoting Midrash HaGadol: “It is forbidden for a person to taste anything until he feeds his animals” But after feeding his camel he replies to the offer of his own comfort: “I will not eat, until I have told my errand.” Something comes across the avaricious Lavan. As if mesmerized, as if taken aback, as if rooted beyond reason and avarice, Lavan replies with but one word: “Speak!” (24:33) “Daber!” “Daber,” he says “make something real. Make something or worth with your words!”
Onkelos, in his Aramaic translation/commentary on the Torah, translates the words from Braeshit; “And the human became a living soul,” as “And the human became a speaking spirit.” In the philosophical and Kabbalistic works of our sages, humanity is called the speaker. The Rabbis taught that the entirety of creation is divided into four realms: ‘domem,’ the silent or inanimate creations; ‘tzomeach,’ growing things; ‘hai,’ the animal world; and ‘medaber,’ the speaker—humanity
Words have power and even Lavan was open to the magic message of the word/things. And this then is a theme of this potion. For here, as we begin the creation, the procreation of our tribe, we reinforce the powerful, potent portent of human potential. We strive for communication, we strive to ‘com’ ‘be with’ ‘union’, the oneness. With the word/things we strive for unity. And so, Eliezer refuses respite until he can put forth the idea formed at the conjunction of Abraham’s desire, his own wise awareness and G’s stream of consciousness. And Torah summarizes the path and the power of our words with the challenge: “Speak.”
The next wondrous words offered, underplayed, downplayed, tossed forth in simplicity, open our souls and our hearts. Again they are put into the mouth of Lavan, the treacherous and avaricious. He simply says: “We will call the girl, and inquire at her mouth (24:57).” This is in response to Eliezer asking that Rivkah accompany him to a strange land and marry a man she has never met. And Torah says; ‘we will inquire of her mouth.” We shall seek the wisdom of women. For in Torah where men are heard so loudly, we have to listen more carefully for the words of women. It requires effort, it requires a willingness to sit in silence and listen in quietude. If humanity is the speaker, the ‘medaber’, then we should also be good listeners, we should ‘Shema!” If, in Torah, as I have written before, the influence of the feminine is ethereal, light, flowing, muted, gentle, understated and sometimes hidden, then the other half of being human, the speaker is to be able to listen. The teaching of women (in part) is that we human beings, we living souls, who are called the ‘speaking souls’ must also be “listening souls.” We must listen to the voices of women.
My last choice, the last little line that wafts up from Torah and over our soul is taken from the burial scene at Mahpelah. “And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the Cave of Machpelah (25:9).” Two estranged brothers stand together in grieving silence and bury their father. Two brothers put away differences and pick up shovels. They sweat and strain as they dig a separate peace. We almost hold our breath in the belief that this might last. 4000 years later we still wait breath bated, for the children of Abraham to make that separate peace. But if we take the gentle lessons, the quiet lessons the floating lessons of Torah to heart, if we will speak and we will listen and we will act, then maybe, just maybe we will reach a level of fulfillment of our dream as earthlings; not just to rest in peace, but to live in peace.
To be fully human we must learn our power. We must speak our power. We must listen to the power of the word/things of others. And we must act on the power of the truths that we speak and that we hear.
We are the ones who speak, we create a body of word/things to teach and grow our future.
We are the ones who listen, we hear the quiet voice of the wind in the willow, we hear the still of the night, we hear in each other the promise for tomorrow.
We are the ones to act. We will live the spoken promises of yesterday, we listen to the hopes for tomorrow and we must act upon them both today.