Friday, October 15, 2010

Lech Lecha: Stepping It Up A Notch

In this week’s Parsha we encounter the first Jew. Avraham Avinu appears on the scene and is commanded by God to leave his whole life behind and embark on a journey to some mysterious and undisclosed location… “The which I will show you.”

We need to ask a few questions about Avraham. First we need to consider Avraham’s background. We know that he is the theological originator of monotheism, but how did he arrive at this history altering philosophical conclusion? Secondly, we need to consider why this information is totally left out of the Torah. By Noach the Torah gives us an introductory verse telling us about Noach’s virtue. Only after such an introduction do we begin to discuss how he spoke with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. We don’t see any such preface to Avraham’s first prophetical experience, it seems that he shows up un-announced! Why does the Torah leave out this background?

We can theorize the following claim: After understanding more about the nature of Avraham’s path to monotheism and God’s response to it, the answer as to why the Torah leaves out the information of his journey will become self-evident. Let’s explore.

In the world that we live in, where all the “Isms” have fallen apart (communism, capitalism have crumbled and are crumbling respectively, and the main driving force of pop-culture is ‘post-modernism’ i.e.: ‘We are over ‘Isms’.) the world has taken a newfound interest as to what is the meaning of life. Avraham embarked on this mission millennia ago and his findings were not much different than what we see today – simply because he laid the foundation for such thinking.

The Mei HaShiloach, Reb Mordechai Yosef of Izhbitz pulls from Midrashic literature the following train of thought that Avraham had. “What is life? Is my life the things that I own? My possessions: my car, house, fridge, mattress, and clothing – they all serve a purpose. The purpose is very simple; my day-to-day experience would be far less comfortable without them! I want to get around. I want to stay out of the rain. I want my food to be fresh and my back not to hurt when I wake up in the morning. So what emerges is that the accumulation of my possessions are there to make life easier, to smooth out the bumps along the way – but at the end of the day, when I have all the inconveniences dealt with, when all my difficulties are taken care of – what is life itself? Great, so I removed all the annoyances, but what’s left now? Am I simply living just for the sake of overcoming day-in-day-out hassles? It simply can’t be.”

The Sfas Emes and Chidushei HaRim explain the next step in Avraham’s search. After realizing the world is more meaningful than shallow materialism (just another ‘Ism’) Avraham began to look at nature. “Look at the array of landscapes, the cycle seasons, the fine details of the animal kingdom. Look at my body, how it works, how it heals… There needs to be a Designer.”

The Midrash describes an allegoric representation of Avraham’s search for meaning in the following way. A man was once walking in the street, and as usual, all those who passed by looked totally calm. Business as usual. But he noticed that on the very same street where the masses were totally calm, there was a large tower absolutely engulfed in flames - a Bira Dolakas in the language of the Midrash. How did no one notice? Where was the owner? Not a moment had passed after this thought when a man pats our observer on the shoulder and says, “I own this building.”

The Midrash explains the parable: The man in the story is Avraham. And the burning building is the world. Avraham was born into the generation that tried to wage war on God. He was born into a society deeply trenched in self-indulgence and idol worship. The world looked as if it was on fire. “Who is running this crazy show?” Only Avraham took the time to notice, and it is for this reason that the ‘Owner of the building’ – eventually revealed Himself to Avraham.

Thus it was ‘burning building’ that is this world that Avraham chose to ponder next. The term from the Midrash for ‘burning’ is Dolakas. But as we see from Parshas VaYeitzei, the root Dalak can also mean chase, as in the verse (31:36) Dalakta Acharai, ‘You chased after me.’ Avraham saw that on the surface the world looked ablaze, but on a deeper level the world was moving purposefully to an end-goal, and for such meaning to be present in history a Conductor must be involved.

So after much contemplation on the purposelessness of a life that is merely physical, and after pondering on the intrinsic depth of nature and history, Avraham arrived at a conclusion that changed everything forever - Monotheism. There must be one Unifying Force that is making everything work. Because even though on the surface, the world is a mess, a more penetrating eye picks up on the unity. But where does that come from? There must be a God.

But he didn’t stop there. He shared this with everyone. He went around telling everyone about this new innovative concept called ‘Hashem Echad’. “There is but One God! And guess what? He’s running everything!” And people believed him. Avraham amassed for himself a huge following of monotheists.

And after decades of spreading the good word of Hashem Echad, God finally reaches out to Avraham, “Lech Lecha” – as it is often translated to mean – Go, not only for yourself, but more importantly to yourself.

What is being said here? When Hashem says Lech Lecha - Go to yourself, He says to Avraham “It’s time to become who you are truly meant to be, to take up your true post, not as the preacher to the masses, but rather as the beginning of the Jews.”

With this short interaction with Avraham, Hashem changes everything. Hashem is saying, “Avraham, what you’ve done until now is great, you’ve introduced monotheism on the level of natural speculation – beautiful, good job. But now your role is not spreading monotheism to the people of the world, your job is to start up the Am HaNivchar, the chosen people.”

It’s an undeniable fact. Avraham changed the course of history. Due to him, today there are countless Goyim who hold to monotheistic doctrines. That’s all to the credit of Avraham Avinu. But there is a major difference between the way that Goy relates to God and a Jew relates to Hashem. A Goy with a brain will tell you that the world around him screams meaning and purpose – history is moving to a rhythm, life progresses in a meaningful way, nature is too exact to just be a random biological jumble - there must be a God.

With this we can answer our final question. The reason that the introduction of Avraham’s personal history is not mentioned in the Torah is because all that he accomplished before Hashem says Lech Lecha is relevant to all nations of the world. But as Jews we don’t relate to Avraham in the way he preached to the idol-worshiping world – we relate to him as the first Jew. And it is only with the words “Lech Lecha” that this message beings. So all of Avraham’s personal history up until “Lech Lecha” is not relevant for the life of a Jew, and thus it’s not recorded! Let’s explain.

Hashem says, Lech Lecha ‘Go to yourself.’ You can attain a totally different level of Emunah in HaKadosh Baruch Hu, an Emunah not based on the world around you, but stemming from within yourself. The question is: How is this done?

Hashem says in Bereishis, “Na’aseh Adam B’Tzalmeinu”And God said, “Let us make man in Our Image.” Adam, says the Kol Simcha comes from the term in Yeshayahu, “Adameh L’Elyon” - I will make myself like the Most High (like God). The Sfas Emes extends this to the adage from Pirkei Avos, “Da Mah L’Ma’alah, Mimcha” – Know that which is above you. The word ‘Mimcha’ means ‘from you’ – this renders the literal translation of the saying to be ‘Know that which is above from you.’ But the teaching can be read alternatively. ‘Da Mah L’Ma’alah’, Know that which is above. And from where will you learn it? ‘Mimcha!’ Come to know that which is above you, from yourself!

A Jew must always know that built into the very nature of his being is a Tzelem Elokim, a way of relating to the Divine above the corporeal and physical.

A simple contemplation of nature should be enough for a Goy, but not for a Jew. We have Neshamos, and with these powerhouses of spiritual capabilities we can latch on to Hashem in a way that is far deeper than mere speculation of the natural world and history. We learn the Torah! We have Mitzvos and Tefilah! This separates us from the rest of the world!

When Hashem says “Lech Lecha” He says to Avraham, ‘Go to who you really are. Begin serving Me the way a Jew does. Take advantage of the fact that I am empowering you and your descendants to be totally unique.

Hashem has given us the unbelievably gift of being the chosen people. WE ARE JEWS! We are raised up above the rest of the world and are empowered to bring the universe to its ultimate perfection. Hashem has a job for every single one us – our personal way of making the world a better place to live. And therefore that strength to connect to Hashem, that strength to be a monotheist is totally different as a Jew. Before Avraham is spoken to by God, he’s just a guy preaching Goyish-monotheology. But when Hashem says, ‘Now go become who you truly are.’ – the stage is set for the chosen nation to be totally different.

It’s not easy, but B’Ezras Hashem we should be Zocheh to actualize the potential that sets us apart as the unique breed in all of existence. It is only when we truly realize that we are different that we can begin to act different. If we can do this, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and fullfillment, bringing ourselves closer to HaKadosh Barcuh Hu and ultimately the Geulah!

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