The Chasidim speak about raising the sparks. During the process of creation holy sparks flew out of their targets and landed in some of the most unlikely places on Earth. One of the main functions of man is to find these holy sparks, remove them from their unholy environments and make them shine out in their holiness.
Abraham negotiated with Efron and the children of Cheis to buy the Cave of Machpeila in Chevron. He understood that in the midst of Efron’s territory there were sparks of holiness and that it was up to him to raise these sparks of holiness to their full potential. Because of his determined negotiations and effort with the Cheis community, Chevron became the burial place of our fathers and mothers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rivka and Leah. It is one of the holiest spots on Earth. Throughout the generations, thousands have come to this site to pour their hearts out before G-d.
When Abraham wanted to find a mate for his son Yitzchok he sent his servant Eliezer out of Israel to Aram Naharaim. (That is Mesopotamia. Aram Naharaim means “between two rivers”, and refers to the fertile land between the Tigris and the Euphrates. Mesa patem in Greek also means “between two rivers”.)
Aram Naharaim was the birthplace of Abraham, and the vicinity of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel, which Abraham fought so hard against! This was the area in which Abraham was sentenced to death and was thrown into a fiery furnace which, with G-d’s help, he miraculously survived. This was hardly a place to search for a mate for his holy son Yitzchok, and is, in any case, certainly a very unlikely spot to discover the progenitor of the Jewish people! He also found a woman from a family that was certainly not obviously holy. Yet Abraham knew that there were sparks of holiness in that place and in that family, and he sent his servant Eliezer to find them.
It is written that when the Jews were expelled from Jerusalem by the Babylonians, they made a beeline towards Babylon; straight into the lion’s mouth! (Although I’m not sure they had too many choices.) This was because they yearned to return to the birthplace of Abraham. There were sparks of holiness in that place, and the great leaders of that generation directed the people to locate those sparks and raise them up. And out of that place came the Babylonian Talmud.
After the Bar Kokhba rebellion in 135 CE there was a mass exile from Israel and many Jews were sold into slavery. Diaspora, a Greek word meaning dispersion (from dia-, “apart”, + speirein, “scatter”), refers to a time when most Jews resided outside of the Land of Israel, and those Jews who remained in the Land of Israel were subject to non-Jewish rulers and empires. The actual Greek word refers to the act of scattering seeds in a field for the purpose of planting. The Romans later used the term as a polite word for getting rid of Jews and hoping they would disappear. G-d has an ironic sense of humor. Wherever we were scattered we built Jewish communities and became even stronger than we were when we were all together in Israel.
We are taught that our purpose in Golut (the Diaspora) is to raise the sparks that are all around us. There are places that have sparks of holiness, and there are certainly lost souls everywhere that need only to be fanned for those sparks to turn into beacons of light.
In terms that we can understand – there are very few things in this world that are either all good or all bad. The world is a mixture of good and evil. It is only the keen minds and the generous hearts amongst us that have an eye for holy sparks. The Kotzker Rebbe said, if you want to find sparks – look among the ashes!
Let us follow the example of Abraham and find sparks of goodness in every place, in every person and in every situation. Let’s fan the sparks and set the world on fire!