- Written by Daniel Sandground
- Hits: 1255
This week we have another action-packed sedra from the book of Bereishis, with Parashas Lech Lecha. Having had the first two of Avraham's ten trials described in last week's sedra, this week we begin, coincidentally enough, with the third of these trials where he is commanded to leave his land and travel to an unknown destination by Hashem. According to the Midrash, this was the first time Hashem had appeared to Avraham with these prophetic commands finally reaching him after many years of loyal service. According to the Ramchal, what we see with Avraham was the beginning of a new era of spirituality in the world whereby twenty generations of failure came to an end with this one incredible individual who, through his recognition of G-d, was able to positively influence others to Avodas Hashem. The original plan of Creation whereby the whole of mankind would have an equal share in fulfilling the Divine mission and accepting the Torah was therefore passed on solely to Avraham and his descendants. Like any heritage which is passed down, we as Jews therefore inherited this mission from our original forefather, Avraham, to be a light unto the nations and to ultimately bring people to the recognition of Hashem and his sovereignty as the One and only.
So what was the first word spoken by Hashem to the first Jew?...“לך/lech” [12:1]... “Go!”. This is obviously no coincidence as we are a nation of doers whose ultimate goal is the pursuit of perfection through mitzvot, Torah study and acts of chesed. By speaking this word to Avraham, Hashem was setting down the ground rules for all of us as the future generations that we must be people of growth... stagnancy is not an option for Jewish people as the Ramchal brings down in Mesillas Yesharim, “the main purpose of man's existence in this world is solely to do mitzvahs, to serve the Eternal, and to overcome tribulations”. Avraham was the epitome of these character traits and dedicated his whole life to the service of Hashem and was a master of overcoming the ten tribulations which were tested upon him. We must therefore heed this first word from Hashem to our patriarch and use this world as an arena to attain growth, as it is written in Pirkei Avos... “Rabbi Tarfon says; the day is short, the task is abundant, the labourers are lazy, the wage is great, and the Master of the house is insistent” [2:20]... the mefarshim comment that the day being spoken of in the Mishnah is our life and the task is of course utilizing that life and this world to acquire Torah knowledge and to serve Hashem. Time is too precious a resource to waste, it is an unobtainable product and limited to an amount we are unaware of... we must therefore, “לך/lech” [12:1]... “Go!”, and always busy ourselves within our yiddishkeit.
There is an interesting debate amongst the mefarshim as to what this third test of Avraham actually was. The Torah informs us that Hashem told Avraham to... “Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father's house to the land that I will show you” [12:1]. Rashi points out that the reason the Torah uses the double expression of “לך לך/lecha lecha”... “go for yourself”, was to indicate to Avraham that this action would be for his own benefit as he would merit children in leaving 'his land' and through this travelling from place to place, the saintliness of his personality would become publicised. The Baal HaTurim adds that the gematria of this double expression of “לך לך/lecha lecha” is 100 which alludes to that fact that at the age of 100, Hashem would begin to fulfil this promise that he will make Avraham “a great nation” [12:2], for then Yitzhak would be born to him. Although this hints quite nicely at what events unfolded, we are still left with the question, why would Avraham have to leave his home and wander the land in order to merit children? On Yom Kippur we call out (with all our remaining might) the words “ותשובה ותפלה וצדקה מעבירין את רע הגזרה... repentance, prayer and charity remove an evil decree!” which means that we have these avenues of action in which we can technically change our own futures. It is brought down by chazal, however, that there are an additional two ways which we have available which have very deep kabbalistic concepts embedded in them, which are those of shinuy shaim and shinuy hamakom. Shinuy shaim involves the changing of one's name and the relevant one to our question above is that of shinuy hamakom, the changing of one's residence. According to the Maharsha, moving to a strange land has the ability to annul a heavenly decree, since a man's heart is humbled when he is exiled from his home, we therefore learn this last method out from the fact that Hashem told Avraham to leave his land and promised that through this action he would be merited children.
So the Torah tells us how Avraham and Sarah travelled to Canaan (which is Israel), where the Rambam comments that, he spread the name of Hashem and debated the truth of His holy existence with thousands of people who were convinced to become his followers. We in fact see before this travelling that the Torah says... “Avraham took his wife Sarah and Lot, his nephew, and all the wealth they had amassed, and the souls they had made” [12:5], to which Rashi expands that these 'souls which had been made' refers to those whom they had converted to belief in Hashem, with Avraham winning-over the men and Sarah the women. We see that Avraham was therefore the king of kiruv, the first Chabad or Aish, and worked very hard on spreading the truth about the Creator in a generation of idolaters. Another reason for Avraham's travels is brought down in the Midrash which highlights the halacha that one way to acquire a field is to walk its area, length and width, in order to do an action (which is needed for acquirements in Jewish law). It is therefore linked, that this action of Avraham wandering the land of future Israel was made in order to take possession of it. As we know however, Avraham did eventually have to move on as a famine hit the land and forced him to descend down to Egypt. This was just one of the paralleled events which occurred between Avraham and the future generations as the Midrash writes... “every action in our forefather's lives was a precedent for a similar event which would occur to their children in the future”. We therefore see that just as Avraham descended to Egypt due to famine, so too did Yaakov and his sons two generations later. Other similarities include the fact that the Jewish women in Egypt guarded themselves from stooping to immorality in just the same way that Sarah guarded herself from immodest conduct with Pharaoh and Pharaoh was smitten with a plague for attempting these actions which is of course a parallel to the plagues he later endured before the exodus. Lastly Avraham left Egypt with great riches just as the Jews would do all those years later.
Just as we see that every action is paralleled from our forefathers to future events, we also need to learn from the incredible virtues of our patriarchs in order to force such similarities upon ourselves. In this week's sedra several of these points of mussar can be learnt from the actions of Avraham, and in particular concerning his return from Egypt back to Eretz Yisrael. The Torah states that... “He proceeded on his journeys from south to Beth-el to the place where his tent had been at first...” [13:3]. All the mefarshim agree that this language is implying that Avraham stayed in the same places on his return from Egypt as he did when he first travelled down there... but hidden in this small point are sparks of the greatness of Avraham. Firstly, the most obvious point to outline here is that of basic etiquette and that one should not change the place which he usually stays in a particular city when he next returns. This is to avoid the impression to the hosts that the lodgings were unsatisfactory or the other possibility of harming the reputation of the host in the eyes of onlookers. Alternatively, Rashi teaches that he went on the same route so that he could visit the places to pay off bills which he had incurred on his original trip to Egypt. This gives us the plain lesson of being honest in payment and in particular the repayment of debts but surely this was expected of Avraham anyway?... so what is the deeper teaching behind this point made by Rashi? What we need to consider is the people who actually lent to Avraham by allowing him accommodation on the promise of return... they would have been random nomad's who were in the Sinai desert (as this was the route) and what they would have seen in Avraham and Sarah, who were about to travel to Egypt to escape a famine, was surely people who were not going to return? Firstly Egypt was the major empire of the time and people settled there, they didn't return... especially to a place effected by famine... and secondly with such a physically attractive wife, they must have been thinking to themselves that Avraham had no chance of staying alive in the immoral Egypt. So with this knowledge in mind we must ask what attracted them to lend under such conditions? From this inquiry we begin to see what type of person Avraham must have been. In life there are people who naturally strike people as dishonest when first met and they are the type of people who you certainly wouldn't want to lend money to due to this impression... Avraham however, was the complete opposite. Such was his perfected midos that he radiated an image of pure honesty by which even the common layman was prepared to trust in him... and it is in these character traits that we must always be growing to emulate our great patriarchs. To give off such an impression of holiness externally is a reflection of the internal goodness which must be present in all of us.
May we all merit the ability to perfect ourselves and be a kiddush Hashem for all other nations. Shabbat Shalom and chatzlacha rabba for the week ahead,
Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshivah, Jerusalem)