The Secret of the West

The Lubavitcher Rebbe coined the word Ufaratzta (“and you shall spread/burst forth”) as the slogan of Chassidut in our time. Ufaratzta is part of the verse, “And you shall spread forth to the west, to the east, to the north and to the south” (Genesis 28:14). The 19th of Kislev, the day on which Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi was acquitted and released from a libelous claim against him is marked as the New Year of Chassidut. It is a perfect time of year to contemplate this slogan and its inner meaning.

Bursting Forth from Prison

The basic meaning of Ufaratzta is spreading or bursting forth and becoming strengthened. It is about not being content with the existing situation, but developing and expanding into new realms. Bursting forth alludes to release, overcoming obstacles and even breaking through barriers and accepted norms. With this in mind, the 19th of Kislev adds a new dimension to the Chassidic consciousness of spreading the wellsprings of Chassidut, which has accompanied the movement since its inception. Ever since the Ba’al Shem Tov performed a soul ascent to the chamber of Mashiach, where Mashiach told him that he would come “when your wellsprings spread forth outside,” Chassidut has been focused on this goal.

The Alter Rebbe’s imprisonment was mirrored by a Heavenly spiritual objection to the fact that he was spreading the wellsprings of Chassidut. His release on the 19th of Kislev was a signal that a new era of even greater dissemination of Chassidut—both qualitatively and quantitatively—was at hand. It was not only that the Alter Rebbe’s incarceration stifled the dissemination of the wellsprings both technically and spiritually. The deep message was that if a person does not act to spread the wellsprings and to spread into new realms of influence, he is essentially in prison. He is locked into his natural comfort zone, busy convincing the already convinced, and his message to the world is chained to its contracted, external image, and remains lacking the ability to express its depth to the entire world. Spreading forth is when the most internal, deep forces pull together and emerge to express themselves, released from their internal and external barriers until they manage to spread out and bring their energies to new domains.

Reach Far

In Genesis 28:14, God blesses Jacob to spread forth in all four directions: “to the West, to the East, to the North and to the South.” The first direction in this verse is West, this in spite of the fact that Jacob was on his way north, to Haran. Normally, we do not find that the Torah gives precedence to the West when detailing directions. This begs the question of why when it comes to spreading forth, the West (in Hebrew, “yamah,” which literally means “toward the sea,” referring to the Mediterranean Sea on Israel’s western flank) comes first? What is so important about the West?

With regard to the spreading of wellsprings, the sea is the farthest destination. All wellsprings flow into rivers and ultimately, “all the rivers empty into the sea.” The motivation to spread forth and expand begins with deciding upon the final goal, the very farthest destination. When the energies are directed there, they will reach and pass through all the nearer goals on the way.

But there is also a geographic dimension to the West taking precedence. In the geography of the land of Israel, the Mediterranean Sea, making up the land’s western border, is the passageway to other lands, which the sages called “the lands of the sea.” In the Land of Israel today, the city of Tel Aviv is on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Fittingly, Tel Aviv is constantly looking to the West, peering abroad to the wide world outside Israel’s borders; it is a city that tries to be as internationally cosmopolitan as possible. When a clear Jewish message is lacking, however, it is easy to fall into attempts to imitate other nations. But when we understand that the Torah—particularly its inner dimension—has a message for the entire world, we can turn westward and aspire to reach out as far as possible.

The Way of the World Precedes the Torah

In Israel, the North, South, and Jerusalem (on the East) are considered more or less “front lines,” while Tel Aviv is considered the civilian rear guard (the term used in Hebrew, oref, literally means “the back of the neck”). This is also true in the Torah’s nomenclature where East is the front, the direction that we face, the South and North are right and left, respectively, and the West is at the rear.

Victory in war depends on the steadfastness of the civilian population not only because it is the weak and most vulnerable link, but also because it is the source of steadfastness. Thus, the Torah calls the people of Israel a “stiff-necked nation” which can be taken as praise. In the psyche, the back of the neck is a symbol of the un-conscious. The power to burst forward and triumph depends upon the steadfastness and sense of justification held by the civilians behind the lines. If, God forbid, doubts erode the resilience of the civilians—possibly at first unconsciously, but then consciously—the soldiers on the front lines lose the willpower to triumph.

In more general terms: even a person who consciously defines himself as the opposite pole to Tel Aviv, is still very influenced by it—as the city and its inhabitants can be seen as a collective unconscious of the entire Jewish population. Thus, in order to spread forth, the first place to influence and strengthen is the civilian rear, the area that lies far behind the front lines. Hebrew linguists explain that another Hebrew word for West (ma’arav), shares a root with ‘hitarvut’—meaning the mixing of many shades and colors seen in the Western sky as the sun sets. In our context, the West, the ma’arav, is the place of the mixing of many different opinions. This is why the Tel Aviv cultural scene claims that is open to many shades of opinions (though in practice this may not actually be true, a topic for another article). Still, a person who really wants to be involved with the different shades of the people of Israel cannot ignore Tel Aviv.

“East and North and South” symbolize the pillars of Judaism: Torah, prayer, and acts of kindness. East (kedmah) corresponds to Torah, which preceded (kadam) the world.  North (tzafon) parallels the service of the heart, prayer, during which a person pours out what is hidden (tzafun) in his heart (which is at the north-left of the body). South (negbah) is the right side of kindness. Abraham, the personification of kindness, spent his life journeying to the south. By contrast, West (yamah) symbolizes the basic “way of the world”—going out to work and trade (mostly export and import to and from other nations overseas) and simple involvement in all facets of life. Chassidut emphasizes the fulfillment of the phrase, “Know Him in all your ways” (Proverbs 3:6). This presents us with the mission of finding God even in the places that seem simple and distant, with the consciousness voiced by the sages’ dictum that, “the way of the world precedes the Torah.” The basis and ultimate purpose of service of God is feeling God’s presence in the entire world that He created for His honor.

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