Yochanan Gordon

By the time this issue is off the presses and in its assigned distribution drop-offs we will know whether or not the forecast for snow was accurate. Predictions have not been boding too well for the people in the occupation of predicting things. In the lead-up to the election there were reports from a variety of sources of people who successfully predicted the outcomes of the past four elections but somehow got this one wrong. I guess their forecasting techniques didn’t take into account the fraud that would end up being the linchpin in deciding the 2020 contest.

You may have noticed that I left the title to this article incomplete. Well, that was by design. You see, 2020 has been an unsettling year for a lot of people, unless you were one of those who jumped into the PPE business in January or February of 2020. If you ask me, while they are investigating the Chinese they should check in with those guys who seemed to have known just how long-lasting this pandemic would be. I didn’t want to write the numbers 2020 in my title for fear that it would turn people away from actually reading it.

All the excitement surrounding the supposed snowstorm got me thinking that if we do end up getting hit by the 12 inches or so that weather forecasters are predicting, it will all go down on the record for 2020. That is when I thought of what would seem like a catchy T-shirt slogan that went something like: “If hindsight is 2020 then I’d rather not have it.”

I took to Google to see if anyone had coined anything along those lines. And while it turns out that no one had, I’m just not sure how lucrative T-shirt sales is for it to be worth the bother, so I left it right where it was, in the conceptual stage.

Ironically, the less I wanted to have to do with hindsight, the more it stuck around in my consciousness, traveling across the highways and byways of my intellectual faculties, hoping for me to pass a redeeming judgment in order to allow it entrance to the paradise of thoughts. I reluctantly acquiesced and came up with the following redeeming rationale for challenges that we were met with this year.

We have been reading the parshiyos of Yaakov and his wives Rachel and Leah and now of Yosef and his dreams, which ultimately led to his climbing the ranks in Egyptian sovereignty. This would be the seed that allowed the Jews to proliferate in Egypt and ultimately leave and make it to Eretz Yisrael. The Torah describes Rachel as a beautiful woman, “yefas toar, v’yefas mareh,” while it describes Leah in less glowing terms as “s’nuah” and her eyes as being bloodshot from constant crying, fearful of the prospects of having to wed Eisav.

Although I am well aware of the principle of biblical elucidation, not to remove a particular verse from its literal connotations, still there are 70 facets to the Torah and according to the Arizal there are 600,000 ways to interpret a word or verse in Torah, corresponding to the number of collective souls that comprise the Jewish people. So when the Torah describes Rachel and Leah in those terms, it must be describing something that exists at the core of their souls rather than something that could be observed from a cursory look at the clothes and their external features. The Torah is eternal and applies equally to all people and throughout all times. I mention this here because in discussing the beauty of our matriarch Rachel and the aspect about Leah that compelled the Torah to describe her in the terms it uses, these features must be noticeable to everyone, even those who made the conscious decision to wipe women out of the pages of their publications. What is it, then, that the Torah is referring to in describing the appearances of Rachel and Leah?

The Ba’al HaTanya addresses this issue and explains that Rachel represents the things in life that people anticipate or prepare for, while Leah is the reality that oftentimes presents itself against our will. We see this playing out in the pages of the Torah itself, with Yaakov working seven years to marry Rachel only to wake up and find that Leah took her place, requiring that he work an additional seven years to earn the hand of Rachel, who was the wife of his dreams. The Ba’al HaTanya, in explaining the unenthusiastic terms in which the Torah describes our matriarch Leah writes, “People tend to despise things that they do not understand.”

However, there is something else that is true with regard to the things that we do not understand, and that is the fact that they emanate from a far more Divine source than the things we have an easier time coming to terms with. Leah is in a sense criticized in the pages of some of the commentators for avoiding Eisav the way she did. It was specifically Leah who possessed the inner ability to live with Eisav and have him realize the potential for greatness that lay at his core.

The same could be said about visionaries who often see things way before the common person could even remotely wrap his brain around it. Yosef HaTzaddik is just one example of someone who foresaw things well in advance of when they’d occur, and it was a direct result of his foresightedness that put him through the outwardly tragic life that he had to endure. Clearly, he possessed a strength of character in order to ride those waves and ultimately come out on top.

As I write these words in preparation to light the sixth candle of Chanukah, I remember that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, made a very public display of the yom tov of Chanukah and its ability to carry light and hope to the darkest and most depraved places. The Rebbe used to televise Chanukah events across the world and address the people residing in far-flung posts around the world from his place in 770 Eastern Parkway. The Rebbe was criticized for decades, with people resorting to all sorts of foolish claims and seemingly learned rebuttals to this outward display of Chanukah, all due to the fact that they simply didn’t see what he saw.

Chazal say that a person cannot stand upon the thought process of his Rebbe for 40 years. There is a dispute among commentators whether this means until one reaches the age of 40, or if it’s 40 years from the time that he heard a particular teaching. The consensus is that it is referring to 40 years from the time of a particular teaching. If you think back to many of the things that the Rebbe said in Torah as well as in medicine and science, he was clearly at least 40 years ahead of his time.

As the countdown to the year 2021 begins and many people close the door on this year without looking back, we need to stop, reflect, and even marvel in a sense over the time period that we have been living through. It is commonplace in the world of journalism to print a year-in-review before the turn of the New Year. My assumption is that people are not interested in reviewing the events of the past year due to the great pain and discomfort that it caused practically everyone. The reason why we read the curses in Parashas Ki Savo juxtaposed to Rosh Hashanah is out of an eagerness to usher out all the pain seemingly inherent in every word of the curses with the year that is about to leave us. In dwelling on this, I gained a better understanding of the words of the Mitteler Rebbe who fainted one year when hearing the curses from someone other than his father, the Alter Rebbe, who happened to have been away on that particular week. When asked if this was the first time that he’d heard the curses that it caused him such severe heartache, he answered: “When my father reads it, it doesn’t sound like curses.”

Chassidus explains at length that the curses are blessings that are too bright to be received in this limited world. This is precisely the distinction between Rachel and Leah and the way these personalities manifest themselves in our lives on a microcosmic level.

Yaakov earned an upgrade in his name from Yaakov to Yisrael when he engaged with the angel of Eisav because he had the courage to fight him. There is so much that we don’t understand about the year that we have just experienced that we beg G-d to give us a glimpse into the goings-on behind that curtain.

The Frierdiker Lubavitcher Rebbe famously quipped, “We need to listen to the message that the Chanukah candles are imparting.” It’s reminiscent of the biblical description of the giving of the Torah when we heard the sights. There are certain things that we are only capable of understanding in hindsight, which other visionaries saw plainly. I feel as if this entire year was a year from the future. We pray, with just two days left to Chanukah, that G-d give us not only a taste of the future but the ability to walk into the future and see and understand it as clear as day.

Yochanan Gordon can be reached at ygordon5t@gmail.com

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