When will my deeds equal those of my forefathers?

In the Torah portions read during the month of Cheshvan, the three Patriarchs of the Jewish nation, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, appear for the first time. In accordance with the well-known principle that one should live with the times (referring to the weekly Torah portion), the month of Cheshvan is the proper time for strengthening our identification with our Forefathers with the purpose of strengthening our service of G-d. One should wonder, “When will my deeds reach the level of the deeds of my Forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?” (Tanna D’vei Eliyahu, Chapter 25).

In the Kabbalistic work Sefer Yetzirah, the particular sense associated with the month of Cheshvan is the sense of smell. Smell is also the special sense ascribed to the Mashiach, about whom it is written, “And he shall smell with the fear of G-d” (Isaiah ll:3). The sages explain that this verse means that, “He will smell the truth” (Sanhedrin 93b). He will judge by his sense of smell, not by what he sees or hears.

The sense of smell is also the special sense of our Forefathers. The sages interpret the verse in Song of Songs (l:3) “Your ointments (oils) have a goodly fragrance” as referring to the mitzvot and charitable deeds of our Forefathers. Several numerical phenomena related to the words of this phrase allude to this interpretation: “fragrance” (לריח) = Abraham = 248; “ointment,” or “oil” (שמן) = Isaac (יצחק) plus Jacob (יעקב) = 390; the entire phrase, “fragrance of your ointments” (ריח שמניך) = Abraham (אברהם) plus Isaac (יצחק) plus Jacob (יעקב) = 638.

Similarly, on the verse, (Zechariah l:8) “And he stood among the myrtle bushes,” the sages state that those who engage in acts of self sacrifice to publicly sanctify G-d (as Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who parallel our three Forefathers) raise up goodly fragrances, like “a satisfying aroma before G-d.”

The Forefathers are likened to God’s chariot, bearing, as it were, the three supernal emotional attributes: lovingkindness, strength and beauty, expressive of the inner qualities love, fear, and mercy, respectively. The Mashiach, as a descendant of King David, relatively parallels the supernal attribute of kingdom or sovereignty at its highest spiritual level. David reflects the kingdom of the world of Atzilut (Emanation); the Mashiach reflects kingdom at the spiritual level of ein-sof (infinity), representing the fourth and final leg of the supernal chariot. Through the Mashiach the ultimate aim of creation will be realized: “and G-d will be King over all the world — on that day G-d will be One and His Name will be One” (Zechariah l4:9). The secret of the chariot is the ability to demonstrate total self-nullification before G-d, even to the point of giving up one’s physical existence for the sake of G-d and totally devoting one’s life to revealing G-d’s Presence in the world.

All Jews are equally capable of self-sacrifice, as self-sacrifice reflects the manifestation of the highest of the five Divine soul-levels: the level of yechidah (“the singular one”). In contrast, regarding intellectual ability and emotional make-up, which reflect the lower soul-levels, there are clearly differences among individuals. The yechidah, described as “cleaving to You, bearing Your yoke, unique in declaring Your Oneness” (from the Hoshana Rabbah prayers), is an inheritance from our holy Forefathers. Abraham dedicated his life to publicizing G-d’s presence in the world. Isaac stretched forth his neck to be sacrificed on the altar. Jacob exhibited great self-sacrifice to establish the Jewish nation. Specifically pertaining to this self-sacrifice each and every Jew is required to ask, “When will my deeds reach the level of the deeds of my Forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?”

“The good deeds of the Forefathers are sign posts for the children.” The Midrash mentioned earlier demonstrates with a parable what we are expected to learn from our Forefather Abraham. The Midrash indicates that an archetypal example of Abraham’s self-sacrifice was his behavior in the War of the Kings (Genesis, Chapter l4)–which, according to the Ramban, alludes to the wars of the Mashiach. We read that Abraham swears that he will not benefit from the war booty: “And Abraham said to the King of Sedom, I have raised my hand to G-d?that I will take nothing from a thread to a shoelace, and that I will not take anything that is yours…” (Genesis l4:22-23). The Midrash states:

This can be likened to a King who told his son to go and kill all the robbers but not to take any of their money, lest people say that the King’s son only killed the robbers to take possession of their money. The King’s son immediately went and killed the robbers, without partaking of the booty. When the son returned, the King went forth to meet him and said, “Blessings upon you my son. You will now have great satisfaction, since you did not gratify yourself with the robbers’ money. Now come with me and I will give you endless precious vessels, jewels and pearls from my treasure-houses…”

The Midrash continues praising Abraham:

In that hour, Abraham sanctified G-d’s Name. “After these things the word of G-d came to Abraham in a vision: your reward will be very great…” (Genesis l5:l)

From this we learn that every Jew must selflessly serve G-d by doing “battle” for the sake of G-d (both within and without), with no expectation of payment or gain whatsoever. It is not possible to battle and be victorious in these spiritual wars if one is unwilling to give up and set aside all that one has. At a deeper level: If one wants to enhance the glory of G-d, one must minimize one’s own honor. Only when one truly flees from honor, will honor chase after him?” the honor will certainly eventually come.”

But what is this true honor that will follow? In the Kabbalistic writings of the Holy Ari it is written that the words secharcha harbay me’od, “your reward will be very great” is an acronym for Moshe. The reward for a Jew’s self-sacrifice in fulfilling the quest to reach “the level of the deeds of our Forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” is that he will have a son who will save Israel and who will reveal in his soul holy sparks from Moses. Moses was “the humblest of all men,” to whom personal honor meant nothing; he desired only the enhancement of G-d’s glory. “He is the first redeemer, and he will be the final redeemer.”

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