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  KD MAGAZINE!      ב"ה                    
 
 
  PARSHAT LECH LECHA  
 

10 Cheshvan 5769

Where Shall I Go?
By Rabbi Asher Brander
PARSHAT LECH LECHA, BY RABBI ASHER BRANDER: WHERE SHALL I GO?  פרשת לך לך, מאת הרב אשר ברנדר

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lech Lecha - Go! leave your land, birthplace and father's home and journey to the land that I shall show you

Thus begins Jewish history.

Living somewhere in ancient Mesopatamia, at the age of seventy five, Avraham receives that famous command and begins begins again by moving to Eretz Yisrael, sinking roots into the land and creating an irrevocable historic bond between Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. As the midrash poetically notes, Avraham's spiritual journey is framed between two lech lecha's. [Midrash Tanchuma] 

R. Levi b. Chama taught. God said to him: the first and last test shall I  test you with a "lech lecha" [1st] -  "from your land" [12:1] and [2nd] " to the land of Moriah" [22:1 - the binding of Isaac]

Beyond Avraham, Lech Lecha - the phrase, powerfully captures the fate of the wandering Jew. A famous story illuminates:

The Duke of Manheim asked R' Zvi of Berlin: "Why do children ask the "Four Questions on Pesach and not on Sukkos? It would appear that Sukkos brings more changes to their lives than Pesach does!"

"On Pesach," R' Zvi answered, "the child sees everyone sitting around the table, at ease like free men, and not like people in exile. This arouses the child's curiosity and he asks, 'Why is this night different?' On Sukkos, however, the child sees Jews exiled from their homes and without a true roof over their heads. That does not surprise him at all; Jews have always lived that way, ever since they first went into exile."

If Jewish history begins with and is encompassed by lech lecha, we ought to understand it!-  for the obvious question that troubles midrash and meforash alike is the superfluous 2nd word, lecha (the "you" pronoun) - leading to an awkward translation of go yourself out. A simple lech [go] (either from your land or to the land) should suffice! What added nuance is gained with the already implied lecha? Herein, we present several approaches:


 

  1. for yourself -  i.e. for your benefit. Your departure from your land, birthplace and home will allow you to reap great personal dividends - for there you shall have children and expose your spiritual greatness to the world. (Rashi) . A midrashic exposition likens Avraham to fragrant perfume housed in an odious place. Once moved, Avraham's fragrant ways are detected and appreciated

  1. go - you. It is the way of the text to explicate the implied pronoun as in Vayelech lo [and  he went - him], Eilcha li [I shall go - me, Yirmiyahu, 5:5] (Radak,Ramban). Thus, nothing significant is added by the lecha

  2. towards yourself - return to your roots. Man was created from the earth. When Adam was kicked out of Gan Eden, he was to work the land asher lukach misham (from whence he came) [Bereishis, 3:23]. Avraham, original man was created from earth that emanates from Israel and from Mount Moriah. Return to those roots in order to clue into your essential reality (Kli Yakar)

  3. towards your inner self. Every person has an external facade that must be penetrated in order to develop a real relationship with Hashem. Our self-worth might be obstructed (negatively or positively) by material success or societal status . We might even feel compelled by these factors. Leave "your land" and move towards a true definition of inner self developed by exercising one's free will (Rabbis Wein, Sacks, etc.)

  4. go away from yourself. In order to develop greatness, you must leave your comfort zone  - the place where things come easy. Greatness is difficult and oft requires transcending personal needs and creature comforts. [Ishbitzer] . Paradoxically, Hashem promises Avraham, he will get those things anyway (v'eesecha l'goy gadol)

  5. go and go again -  Leave (Aram Naharim) and leave (Aram Nachor). Your journey towards greatness can not be achieved in one fell swoop. It is a process of leaving, arriving and moving forward again. Greatness comes in the form of small consolidated gains. (Midrash Rabah 8)

  6. lech + lecha = 100[1] . After you reach the age of lech and lecha, you will have a child and be able to perpetuate your ideals and knowledge. (Midrash Tanchuma)

  7. you shall (always) be on the go - "lech" (on the go) shall be your lot. In this world we are overcome by constant travels and travails; our life station an unsettling place of short-lived serenity. In the next world, you shall achieve menucha. (Midrash Tanchuma 4)

Two more definitions emerge from a powerful midrash that depicts an anxious Avraham Avinu worrying about the wanderings of his past life. He wonders:  

Shall you say that I have sinned - for I was an idolater all those years?

The midrash portrays Hashem's response through the mouthpiece of David HaMelech's tehillim [Tehillim, 110:3]

אמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא: לך טל ילדותך, מה טל זה פורח אף עונותיך פורחים

God said to him - your youth is like dew to you - just as dew evaporates - so have your sins vanished

In other words: your past, like the tal, (dew) has evaporated: lech lecha - your lecha has gone away. It is a comforting answer.

And yet who wants to erase a piece of their life? Avraham might respond: Yes, thankfully, there are no negative consequences to my meanderings, but what of the lost opportunities, the missed chances. Thus the midrash gives a second answer:

מה הטל הזה סימן ברכה לעולם, אף אתה סימן ברכה לעולם

Just as the dew is symbol of blessing, so are you a blessing to the world

No, Avraham - your past is not gone. Go towards your past - draw from it! Maybe at first glance, it seems to have no positive residual effect, but even as  dew has completely evaporated, it coaxes growth and leaves subtle and significant blessing in the world. Your past is like dew! How so? A simple Rambam illuminates:

 Once Abraham was weaned, he, as a child, began contemplating and thinking day and night, and wondered how a sphere could follow a fixed path without being directed. If so, who directed it? Surely it would be impossible for it to rotate on its own! Abraham did not have a mentor, but was immersed amongst the stupid idolaters of Ur Casdim, where everyone, including his mother and father, served idols, as did he.

In his heart, however, he continued to contemplate, until he realised .. and knew that there is a God .. knew that the whole world was erring, and knew what caused the mistake .. Abraham was forty years old when he recognised his Creator. Once he achieved this, he began to reason with the inhabitants of Ur Casdim and to argue with them, .. Since people were listening to him, the king, Nimrod, sought to kill him, .. and he went to Haran, where he got up and proclaimed to the whole world that there is just one God in the world, whom it is fitting to worship.

He went and gathered people together from cities and kingdoms, until he reached the land of Canaan.. Since agnostics were coming to him with questions about this matter, he would answer each person [in a way] so that he would return to the way of truth, until thousands and tens of thousands came to him. These were the people of the house of Abraham. He placed this important principle in their way of thinking, wrote books, and taught it to his son Isaac. ... This matter became more and more publicized amongst the children of Jacob and those who accompanied them, and a nation who knew God was established in the world.

Avraham utilizes every past mistake, meandering, and mental miscalculation as a platform for new clarity and impact. He draws from his lecha, his roots, to inspire the world. For the ba'al teshuva or the ffb ("frum from birth") who has gone askew and returned, a life gone astray and back, need not be an everlasting shame - for having been there, done that, eaten it, and thought such allows one to tackle the challenges of so many others who still grapple - providing insight and inspiration to show them the path home.


 

[1] לך לך (lamed[30]+ kaph[20]) x 2

 

A Gutten Shabbos
 

Asher Brander

Rabbi Asher Brander is the rabbi of The Westwood Kehilla, an orthodox synagogue in Los Angeles, CA. Their website is: http://www.kehilla.org/

 
 

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