Thirteen years ago, the Tolna Rebbe visited America. During that time he was invited to speak to a group of young married Skvere chasidim, as both chasidic dynasties stemmed commonly from the Maggid of Chernobyl.
During that talk, the Tolna Rebbe quoted from an unidentified source a most startling observation.
He first cited the verse which informs: When G-d, your Lord, will broaden your boundary as he spoke to you, and you say, “I would eat meat,” for you will have a desire to eat meat, to your heart’s entire desire may you eat meat. (דברים יב כ)
He then revealed that if one counts the number of verses in the Torah from its beginning, one will discover that this is the five thousandth, two hundred and fifty second verse, a number that corresponds to the Jewish calendar year when Columbus set sail to eventually discover the Americas, which ultimately became, centuries later, the home to the largest population of Jews outside of Israel. This was the year the Jews were expelled from Spain, 1492 CE.
Evidently, the Rebbe asserted, this alludes to the goldene medina, a land of vast material opportunities, that would become associated with indulgence and the many related carnal enticements, that many rabbinic leaders historically forewarned all those who sought its riches, to stay away.
He went on to cite a source who heard from the Novominsker Rebbe, who heard from his father-in-law, the Sokolover Rebbe, a grandson of the famed Rebbe of Kotzk, who heard from the elderly shamesh of the Kotzker Rebbe, that said in 1859, his last year of life, “I see the Shechinah — the Divine Presence, wandering throughout the world seeking a new residence”, pausing momentarily, then concluding, “and will eventually roll to its final rest in America.”
So it seems that we aren’t as much the home of the ‘Brave’, as we are the home of the ‘Crave’!
Is this merely a humorous allusion or is there some deeper message lurking in this verse?
The Holy Kohen of Tzfas, the Sifsei Kohen, a disciple of the students of the Arizal, cites from some mystical ‘discovered writings’, on the verse which states: ...and you say — אֹ-כְ-לָ-ה בָּ-שָֹ-ר — I would eat meat, the letters in these two words is an acronym for the following sentiment: איני כדאי ללמוד התורה בשביל שאיני ראוי — I am not worthy to learn The Torah, because I am unfit.
The verse continues: ...for you will have a desire — לֶ-אֱ-כֹ-ל בָּ-שָֹ-ר— to eat meat...
Here too, the first letters alludes to the rejoinder to his doubt: למה? אתה כדאי ללמוד בשביל שתיקרא רב — Why? You are worthy to learn, in order to be called a rabbi!
Finally, the third sentiment in this verse: to your heart’s entire desire — תֹּ-א-כַ-ל בָּ-שָֹ-ר— may you eat meat, also has an embedded message.
תלמוד אפילו כדי ללמוד בעבור כבוד שמך רוכב שמים בעזרך — Study! Even if the learning is to achieve an honorable name, He rides across heaven to help you!
The ‘American Dream’ is not a notion to be demeaned. The idea that opportunity awaits those who choose, in freedom, to succeed, and is available to anyone, regardless of creed or color, has been a blessing for humanity, and has contributed much benefit to the world.
The drive for ‘meaty’ material success is certainly a challenge and can easily detour onto a path that leads to a degenerate pursuit of pleasure that has equally challenged society at large.
But within that system of ambition for healthy achievement lay fertile ground for the blossoming of Torah and its ideals, as evident in the plethora of Jewish scholarship, philanthropy, and social improvement that has flourished throughout the years we were fortunate to be citizens of this wonderful country, that has spawned many remarkable global organizations in that noble quest.
It is to that drive, which at times may be slightly tainted with ulterior motives for honor and success, that the Sifsei Kohen addresses and asserts not to fear nor to retreat from one’s goals, as the famous adage goes: מתוך שלא לשמה באה לשמה — ulterior motives will lead to pure unadulterated motivation for G-d’s sake alone.
A climate that breeds success can motivate great spiritual accomplishments as well.
Our original verse can simply be read as a description of a reality that man has carnal instincts, which we must accept and identify it for what is, remaining vigilant in avoiding its pitfalls.
It can also be understood as a directive to channel those instincts for pleasure as a tool in our service to G-d.
The Ksav Sofer interprets the verse as a summons to man: You (shall) say, “I eat meat”, for, תאוה נפשך, your ‘soul’(, your divine intellect), desires to eat, do not consume meat like a ravenous carnivore seeking to placate its urges, rather eat with the realization that in this combination of nutrition and satisfying, tasteful pleasure, one will be inspired to serve G-d with greater joy and appreciation, elevating the connection one has to G-d.
We are living in times where there are segments of society who still appreciate living in the ‘land of the free’, taking advantage of the freedom to make wise choices in furthering our role on this planet, and there are those who see in these words — entitlement — with the emphasis on a ‘free’ ride without need to contribute.
For those ‘brave’ enough to endeavor, invest and take risks for the noble dreams they believe in, we may revel in the ‘home’, albeit a temporary one, we are privileged to inhabit.
For those though who believe, ‘instinct uber alles’, they are unfortunately doomed to occupy a home of the ‘crave’, that is a house of cards that will inevitably collapse and self-destruct.
May we utilize wisely the many wonderful opportunities we are gifted, and be careful in never falling into the abyss of indulgence and entitlement.
צבי יהודה טייכמאן