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  Weekly Torah Thought

Murky Depths



Why G‑d gave us a subconscious

"If only I'd have known!"Scarcely a day goes by in which we do not bewail the limitations of our understanding. "If only I'd known why she said the things she said... If only I'd known why he acted the way he did... If only I knew why I'm behaving the way I am..."

Of course, there's a lot to be said for the boundaries of human knowledge. The fact that we don't know everything gives us the space and the freedom to make decisions in our lives. Poets and prosaists alike would agree that it is the ambiguities of life that make it worth living.

But not knowing also limits us. Isn't there some way to know and not to know at the same time?

Indeed there is. That's why G‑d gave us a subconscious.


"Everything that exists on land," says the Talmud, "also exists in the sea." The Kabbalists apply this law in a broader sense as well, explaining that the whole of reality can be divided into two realms: "the revealed worlds" and "the hidden worlds."

The sea is the mystical twin of land. The sea has mountains and canyons, rivers and weather systems, and living organisms of every type and form imaginable; but everything is submerged within its watery depths, almost completely hidden from inquisitive eyes (we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the ocean-floors of our own planet). By the same token, the physical world is mirrored by a hidden spiritual universe, and our conscious mind is but a reflection of the hidden, sub-conscious chambers of our souls.

"Everything that exists on land also exists in the sea." Every element in the revealed worlds has its corresponding reality in the hidden worlds. The two may be as externally different as horses and sea-horses, yet they are nevertheless linked in some mysterious way. Thus, when we negotiate our lives with the "terrestrial" part of our psyche, we are also drawing on the vast reservoir of knowledge and intuition stored in its oceans.

What joins these two worlds? An old, old memory: a memory of the day when the sea split open to reveal what lay within.


Our sages tell us that when the Red Sea split for the Children of Israel, all the waters of the world split as well. The waters of the Amazon split and the waters of the Mississippi split, as did the waters in all the swimming pools in the Hamptons and all the hot tubs in California, all the water coolers in Manhattan and all the tea-kettles in China, The great murky sea of heaven split open to reveal its secrets to all. And the deep, deep sea of the human soul split in two, and for a brief moment, all its contents were exposed to the light of day.

Then the waters of creation returned to engulf their sea-worlds, and life reverted to the glorious ambiguity which it is. But the memory of that day lingers on, forming a tenuous bridge between the hidden and the revealed.

By Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.


  A Telling Story

In the 1950s, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, walking on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, encountered two administrators of a local yeshiva (Jewish day school) gazing closely at a yellow school bus parked on the road.

When the Rebbe asked them what they were looking at, they informed him that the bus was on sale and they were thinking of purchasing it for the yeshiva.

"We desperately need our own bus," they told the Rebbe.

"But this bus looks like an old shmateh," the Rebbe said. "It seems like it's on the verge of retirement. Why not purchase a brand new bus for the children?"

"If we could only afford that type of money!" they exclaimed. "The price of this old bus is something we could fit into our budget."

"Let me tell you something," the Rebbe responded. "You know why you can't afford the money for a new bus? Because in your mind, the old and run-down bus will suffice for your yeshiva. If it would be clear to you that your children need a new and beautiful bus, you would have the money to purchase it."

What the Rebbe was saying is that in many cases, your standards are what ultimately define the quality and destiny of your life.


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Shabbat times for
Livingston, NJ
[Based on Zip Code 07039]:
Shabbat Begins:
Feb. 02 2007 4:57 PM
Shabbat Ends:
Feb. 03 2007 5:59 PM

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Tree, o' tree, with what can I bless you? That your fruit should be sweet? Your fruit is sweet. That your shade should be plentiful? Your shade is plentiful. That a stream of water should run beneath you? Water runs beneath you. The one thing left for me to bless you is: May all the plantings from your seed be like you!
— Talmud, Taanit 5b

Parshat Beshalach
(Shemot 13:17-17:16)

The Parsha in a NutshellSoon after allowing the Children of Israel to depart from Egypt, Pharaoh chases after them to force their return, and the Israelites find themselves trapped between Pharaoh's armies and the sea. G‑d tells Moses to raise his staff over the water; the sea splits to allow the Israelites to pass through, and then closes over the pursuing Egyptians. Moses and the Children of Israel sing a song of praise and gratitude to G‑d.

In the desert, the people suffer thirst and hunger and repeatedly complain to Moses and Aaron. G‑d miraculously sweetens the bitter waters of Marah, and later has Moses bring forth water from a rock by striking it with his staff; He causes manna to rain down from the heavens before dawn each morning, and quails to appear in the Israelite camp each evening.

The Children of Israel are instructed to gather a double portion of manna on Friday, as none will descend on Shabbat, the divinely decreed day of rest. Some disobey and go to gather manna on the seventh day, but find nothing. Aaron preserves a small quantity of manna in a jar, as a testimony for future generations.

In Rephidim, the people are attacked by the Amalekites, who are defeated by Moses' prayers and an army raised by Joshua.


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