How Do You Know What does G-d want?

Thursday, 11 November, 2021 - 3:15 pm

An older man had serious hearing problems for many years. He went to the doctor and the doctor was able to have him fitted for a set of hearing aids that allowed the man to hear 100%.

The old man went back in a month to the doctor and the doctor said, “Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again.”

The man replied, “Oh, I haven’t told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to their conversations. I’ve changed my Will six times!”

In this week’s portion, the twelve tribes of Israel are born. After birth, each of the children is given a name by his mother, coupled with the meaning of the name.

I will focus today on one very interesting name given to one of them, Zevulun.

Leah, Jacob’s first wife, mothers six sons. She names each of them. Her sixth son she names Zevulun. Here is what the Torah says:

Leah said, "God has given me a good portion. This time, my husband will reside with me, for I have borne him six sons;" so she named him Zevulun.

Is this a reason to name your child Zevulun, “a stable home,” because from now on your husband will see your home as his primary radiance?

A name in Judaism is not random; it expresses the soul and inner character of the person carrying that name. [Rabbi Isaac Luria writes that your given name is not merely a product of your parent's personal preference; rather, G-d endows parents with the wisdom to choose names that are uniquely associated with their child’s soul. The name Zevulun, therefore, must signify not only the milestone that Leah reached with Zevulun’s birth but also the nature and chemistry of this specific child.

In reality, from a spiritual perspective, it is the reverse that is true: The change that Zevulun’s arrival brought about in Leah’s life, causing her tent to become Jakob’s primary home, was due not only to Zevulun’s status as Leah’s sixth son, but also to his unique and distinctive soul and spiritual essence. Since he was associated with the idea of zevul, a stable and permanent residence, his arrival brought a similar blessing to his mother’s life as well. We get to share in the light our children bring to the world.

Yet it is here where we get stuck.

Of all the tribes of Israel, the one least associated with stability was Zevulun! As Jacob himself testifies and predicts about his son,

Zebulun will dwell on the coast of the seas.

Zevulun was to become a seasoned sea traveler. He was the businessman, who traversed the globe, to buy and sell merchandise. From all the tribes of Israel, he was never in one place, always on the go..

Yet, from all the tribes of Israel, this boy receives the name Zevulun, which means “The stable home,” representing the steadiness, constancy, and permeance of “Home, Sweet Home,” the solidness of a life.

Zevulun, famously arranged with Yissachar that he would travel for business and support the tribe of Yissachar, who will sit and occupy themselves with the study of Torah.

The Rebbe’s explanation was, there are two forms of serenity in life. There is the serenity of heavenly paradise and the serenity of earth.

An example for the first would be the serenity of a retired man, who has not a worry in the world. He is the man who can say of himself: I have no duties, responsibilities, concerns, stresses, pressures, or hassles. I am worry-free, burden-free, and stress-free. My mortgage is paid up. My kids graduated, so no tuition bills anymore. My social security check is nice, plus I got some savings and the revenue coming from the three buildings I own. I am comfortable. My health is not failing me. Life is perfect. I am serene…

But there is another form of serenity. I may have 101 items on my to-do list. I am bombarded and shelled by never-ending stresses, duties, and pressures, inundated by hundreds of demands on my time, resources, and mental space, barraged by curveballs threatening to overrun me. Yet, I am serene, not because I have nothing to do, but because I am anchored in the core of all stability; I am grounded in the cradle of all peacefulness. “Even when I walk in the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

There once was a King who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The King looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked, and he had to choose between them.

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror, for peaceful towering mountains were all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.

The other picture had mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell and in which lightning played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all. But when the King looked, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush, a mother bird had built her nest. There, amid the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest in perfect peace and calm. What picture would you choose? The King chose the second picture.

Because explained to the King, peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be amid all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace. It is the ability to be the eye of the storm—around you a storm rages, but you are internally tranquil.

You are like a shade-giving tree in a thirsty land or a sheltering rock in a storm. It does not matter whether it rains or shines, or what changes come your way, you are always sweet, serene, and calm. How insignificant mere money-seeking looks in comparison with a serene life, a life that dwells in the ocean of truth, beneath the waves, beyond the reach of tempests, in the eternal calm.

What is a Jew? Someone asked the master Reb Yitzchak. “To be a Jew,” he said, “is to dance while you are sitting in one place; to scream while you are silent, and to be alone even when you are among a thousand people.”

This captures the true depth, power, and connectedness of the human soul. It is easy to remain calm and happy in an isolated cocoon, in a heavenly oasis. This does not prove anything. The true nature of my soul and my infinite rootedness in the source of all light and peace emerges in those moments when the whirlwinds are raging, yet I remain anchored in the loving embrace of the Divine.

Think of your own challenges or those of your loved ones. At times, they have shaken you up, to your core. You might have felt lost, forlorn, and bewildered. You cried you sobbed, you felt anger, pain, loneliness, betrayal, fear, and hopelessness. You felt this gaping hole in your heart, carried away by the tsunami of your emotions. You felt anything but stable, firm, centered.

But when you allowed those feelings to be, giving them their space, respecting their voice, not trying to suppress them, when you looked into the valley of tears, and you allowed yourself to be completely vulnerable, raw, and open; when you opened yourself up to the pain and mystery of it all—at some point you felt a certain calmness.

A Jew comes to the holy Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel of Rhizhin. He complains that he has no time to study or pray; he lacks the mental space, calmness, serenity, and the time required for proper prayer and concentration. The Rebbe of Rhizhin says to him: “And who says G-d wants you to pray and learn when you have time, and amid plenty of calmness? Maybe He wants you to learn, pray and connect to Him when you have no time and no extra mental space? Maybe he wants you to have serenity when you don’t have serenity?!”

He quotes to him the Mishna in Ethics of the Fathers, where Hillel: “Do not say ‘When I free myself of my concerns, I will study,’ for perhaps you will never free yourself.” The meaning of the Mishnah, he said, is this: How do you know G-d wants you to learn Torah when you are free of all concerns; maybe what He wants from you is to learn Torah amidst all the stresses of life. Maybe that is your mission in this world?

We often wait till we are relaxed, centered, anchored, and happy, in order to be relaxed, centered, anchored, and happy…. But that is not how life in this world works. The souls and angels in heaven enjoy that type of calmness, like tranquil waters, with a slight breeze, in one of those perfectly balanced days. But as the expression goes: “A Ship in Harbor Is Safe, but That Is Not What Ships Are Built For.” It is in this world where we manage to achieve a far deeper feat: to be able to embrace our pain, confusion, tears, and struggles, give them to G-d, and discover within that space our deepest connection to the source of all oneness and peacefulness.

Thus it is Zevulun, the symbol of a life of change and flux, the one who takes the ship out of the harbor into the tumultuous waters, who was given the name that represents stability, permanence, and firmness. Because in many ways, his stability is one that can never be shattered and destroyed. When does a marriage develop into an unbreakable bond? When we can talk about that which makes us drift apart from each other; when we can address the most vulnerable, weakest part of the link between us—and find trust there. When we can learn to repair the relationship after it has been challenged.

That is what the soul learns during its journey of life on this earth. Not everything will always be perfect and calm. Sometimes, a curveball might sweep you off your feet and you feel like you choking or drowning. But it is at such moments when you will—if you remain present and open—discover your deepest connection to G-d, to truth, to authenticity. You will become rock-solid; you will discover how powerful and connected you really are. The pain will wash all over you, your tears will melt your ego, and you will dissolve into the Divine embrace waiting for you.

This is what our mother Leah sensed about her son Zevulun. Jacob will discover his permanent home and identity through his attributes. The Jew will discover his truest joy and serenity via the journeys of Zevulun. “Rejoice Zevulun in your departures,” Moses says.

Each of us is a Zevulun, in our own way. We are each confronted by the hassles of life, each of us in our own way. Do not fear them. On the contrary, they are there to bring out the best and the deepest in yourself.

The greatest experience of life and Torah learning is the one that occurs in the life of Zevulun. When amidst everything going on in your life dedicate time each day, especially on Shabbat, to study Torah, to pray, to connect to G-d, it brings to the fore a far deeper, more permanent, and eternal relationship, that no force in the world can destroy. It achieves the purpose for which G-d created our earth, to “make a dwelling place for the Divine in this world.” Zevulun, which means home, is where G-d wants to live, that is why Jacob, too, wanted to live there.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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