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Outsmarted

Thanks to his brilliant business acumen, a manager runs a wildly successful operation. However, he is in the employ of an owner who forces him to work under a draconian contract, which will likely leave him with only the paltriest income. Nevertheless, with his cleverness and wisdom, the manages to amass great wealth, all under the terms of the original contract, to the amazement (and chagrin) of the owner.

If you haven't yet identified the story, the above is the tale of this week's Torah portion. Jacob works as a shepherd for his father-in-law, Laban. Laban promised Jacob that out of his flock of white sheep, Jacob's pay would be all sheep that were born spotted, speckled or striped. In other words, Jacob would essentially receive no sheep, because how could pure white sheep produce striped or spotted offspring?

Nevertheless, Jacob did not despair. He gathered sticks and peeled them in a striped, speckled or spotted pattern. He set up these sticks near the watering hole of the sheep, so that their gaze would continuously fall on the sticks. And his trick took effect – when the ewes gave birth, the lambs came out colored in the same pattern as Jacob's sticks.

*

The above tale has a deeper significance as explained by the fundamental text of Kabbalah, the Zohar. The Zohar teaches that the maneuvers of Jacob with the sticks were considered like laying tefillin.

Each mitzvah creates its own divine energy. We may not be able to understand the exact spiritual process that results in this energy being created – but we accept on faith that this energy does indeed exist. In some way, the sticks that Jacob placed in front of his sheep had a spiritual effect that was the equivalent of laying tefillin. To whatever extent we can understand the spiritual effects of our tefillin, we can understand that Jacob got the same results through peeling sticks.

*

All the mitzvot we do, like tefillin, have their spiritual effects regardless of whether we understand how or why they happen. G-d commanded us to perform a particular action, and He also determined that the action would have a certain effect. We, who lack the knowledge of how this action could have that spiritual effect, nevertheless carry out these commandments since they are the will of G-d.

The end result, the cumulative effects of our mitzvah observance over the generations of exile is the perfection of the world and the revelation of Moshiach. We may not be able to sense now how each mitzvah that we do brings us closer to that goal. But when Moshiach comes, it will be revealed to us. Like Jacob and his sheep, we will reap the tangible rewards of our accomplishments during exile.
 

 


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