GRACE AND EFFORT ON THE SPIRITUAL PATH
"The Life of Sarah"
This Torah portion – “The Life of Sarah” actually begins with the death of Sarah -
Judaism’s first matriarch. The parsha goes on to tell about Abraham’s search for a wife
for his son Issac, to carry on the feminine spiritual legacy that Sarah left void with her
death. So he sends his servant Eliezar to find the right woman for Issac, and Eliezar
stumbles upon Rivka who he puts through a test in his mind. If, after she fills water for
herself, she gets water for his camels upon request, he will know that she is the right
woman. The Torah tells it like this: When Rivka drew water for herself, the water “filled”
her jug. When she got water for Eliezar and his camels, she “drew” water from the well.
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev focuses in on the different words that the Torah uses to
differentiate the experience of Rivka obtaining water. When she is getting water for
herself, the water “fills” her jug. She doesn’t have to exert any effort. The water literally
moves of it’s own accord into her jug, almost magically. When she is getting water for
Eliezar, she has to “draw” it. She has to exert effort. Why? Levi Yitzhak says that when
someone as high, spiritually as Rivka does things just to take care of her own needs, G-d
bestows grace upon her. The quality of her consciousness just as it is, is at such a level
that blessing comes to her – her water jug is filled. When she moves to do a mitzvah for
someone else, she has to exert effort herself. When we do a mitzvah – an act that binds
ourselves to G-d, G-d wants to give us the gift of coming close. Just like in a lovers
relationship, we need to be able give to our beloved – we want the opportunity to not
always be receiving the love, but actively expressing it. That is why G-d doesn’t fill our
jug all by itself, but allows us to draw the water.
So what does all of this mean for us in a meditative sense. The sages understand that our
sense of individual selves is the jug, and the water is the deep awareness of the presence
of G-d. Sometimes we are gifted with our jug being “filled”. This filling is the experience
of grace. We don’t have to “do” anything to make it happen. It happens based on who we
are and what we need at any given moment. It happens when we are doing our own thing,
taking care of our own needs. Maybe we’re watching a movie, and we are touched so
deeply, we start to cry, and open to a sense of the beyond. Maybe we are walking though
a forest and the light coming through the trees at a particular angle moves us by it’s
beauty. No effort exerted. All by itself.
But there is more that we can do to receive grace, than hope that it will happen sometime.
We can make ourselves a vessel to receive. The word “Kabbalah” means “receiving”. It
is the art and practice of receptivity. Our meditation practice is an important way to
prepare ourselves to receive. When we exercise the practices of quieting the mind, of
focusing on the creative process that underlies our entire universe, we “draw water” from
the well. Just as much as G-d wants to fill our jug through grace, we need to “draw”
water through our spiritual practice – study, meditation, and acts of loving-kindness.
[HOME] [BACK TO RABBI LEVI YITZHAK]