Sunday, October 30, 2011


“And Hashem said to Avraham, go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you, And I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. ” The first command ever made to the father of Klal Yisroel, Avraham Avinu, was to leave his surroundings and to begin a new nation that would be the Am Hashem. The Ramban writes that everything that happened in the life of the Avos is a portent for the future of Klal Yisroel, and their behavior teaches us how we should conduct our lives. This concept seems to pose a difficulty: How does the command of ’lech lecha’ apply to all of us, Avraham was alone in his belief in G-d, and therefore it was necessary for him to leave everything behind and form a new nation. But nowadays there are many Jews who accept the Torah and who live in observant societies - given this fact it seems that the command of ’lech lecha’ does not really apply to us!

On deeper analysis it is clear that the command of ‘lech lecha’ is still very relevant to all of us. Hashem’s command to Avraham was deeper than simply an instruction to leave his surroundings. We are given a hint to this by Rashi; He explains why Hashem promised Avraham fame, money and descendants as a consequence of leaving Charan. “Because traveling causes three things, less [likelihood of having] children, less [likelihood of acquiring] money and less [likelihood of having] fame. Therefore he needed these three brachos.. children, money and fame. ” The simple understanding of this is that Hashem was compensating Avraham for a course of behavior that would normally cause damage to a person. However, it seems that there is a deeper message implicit in this instruction. Hashem was hinting to him that if he undertook the challenge of ’lech lecha’ then he would no longer be subject to the normal laws of nature (derech hateva), rather he would live according to a whole new mode of existence - ‘ beyond derech hateva’. Consequently, even though traveling should, b’derech hateva cause loss of wealth, fame and children, Avraham would not be subject to that system of cause and effect. Instead he would live on a whole different level of existence and would benefit in all these areas.

This idea is also alluded to by the Medrash Tanchuma quoted by Rashi in the first passuk in the parsha where Hashem promises Avraham that “I will make known your teva in the world. ” Why couldn’t the Medrash have simply stated, “I will make you known in the world”, what is the significance of the word, ‘teva‘ here? We can answer with this yesod; that Hashem was promising Avraham that he would live on a whole new level of teva that was hitherto unknown in the world. Avraham would have the merit to share this new form of existence with the world, teaching them a whole new approach to life. Derech drush it is also possible that this message was alluded to in the very words, “lech lecha.” The gematria of “lecha” is 50; 49 is a multiple of 7 that represents this world, whilst 8 represents beyond this world. 49 also represents this world, as is seen in the 49 levels of tuma and tahara, whilst 50 represents beyond that, as epitomized by the fact that the 50th day after Yetsias Mitzrayim was the day of Matan Torah - the occasion where the world took on a whole new level of supernatural existence. Hashem was telling Avraham, ’go to the level of 50’, a new level of existence, beyond teva.

Hashem promised Avraham that if he would live according to a metaphysical reality then he would no longer be bound by the physical reality of cause and effect that drives teva. Indeed, after Avraham successfully passes this test Hashem reveals to him at the Bris Bein Habesarim that he will live according to a different set of rules: The passuk says that He took Avraham outside, Rashi explains that Hashem was telling him to leave the confines of the mazalos, and live on a new level of existence, and that is how he and Sarah could have children even though their mazal was to never procreate . The Zohar says that this promise would only be fulfilled on condition that Avraham and his descendants be osek in Torah and mitzovs. Keeping Torah and mitzvos is the expression of living beyond derech hateva.

A person who lives according to Torah and mitzvos is, automatically living according to a different set of rules from the rest of the world. For example, in many areas of business, the busiest day is Shabbos; a person who lives according to the normal laws of cause and effect will never give up that day’s business in order to observe Shabbos. Only a person who recognizes that the Torah prescribes a different mode of cause and effect, can confidently close his business on Shabbos with the assurance that his parnasa will not suffer as a consequence. Another example of this is found in the Gemara in Bava Metsia . The Gemara discusses a certain scenario where somebody has lent his friend an item and there is now disagreement as to the value of the item. The Gemara concludes that the borrower must take a shevua to validate his claim, whereas the lender is not required to swear. Why is the borrower required to swear whilst the lender is not? The Gemara answers that the borrower trusts the lender because he is wealthy, and that the cause of his wealth is surely the fact that he is honest and trustworthy, because if this was not the case, then “they would not have given him wealth from shamayim .” It is pashut to the Gemara that honesty is the cause of wealth - if we were to ask the average person what is the cause of wealth, honesty would surely be one of the least likely answers he would suggest! According to derech hateva, honesty is not the key to wealth, indeed, many people believe that dishonesty will provide them with money. But, Klal Yisroel lives according to a completely different mode of existence, where shemiras hamitzvos and exemplary midos are the cause of success.

This has been a pattern throughout history; The Jewish people have always been faced with the challenge of living according to the ‘laws of the goyim’ or the ‘laws of Klal Yisroel’. Unfortunately this has proved a most difficult challenge to overcome. The meraglim, for example, fell prey to the tendency to approach the world according to the laws of nature. When they saw the giant inhabitants of the land they felt that it was impossible to overcome them. Their mistake was that they did not accept that if they trusted in Hashem then He would override all the laws of nature for them just as He did at Yetsias Mitzrayim and Krias Yam Suf. This principle is fundamental to the spiritual level of a Jew. It is possible to strive to observe the Torah and yet live, to some degree, according to the regular laws of teva just like the goyim. A person can easily fall into the trap of believing that the amount of time he works is the main factor in determining his financial situation. Consequently, he may increase his work hours at the expense of his learning schedule or spending precious time with his family . There is a frightening consequence to such conduct. Hashem acts mida ceneged mida with us, if we show that we do not trust in Him, rather we rely on our own efforts, then, Hashem hides Himself and we are left more to the laws of nature. This explains why a common pattern of history has been that when the Jewish people turn away from Hashem, He consequently turns away from us, and as a result we are left unprotected from the wrath of the goyim.

Another area of Avodas Hashem in which this concept applies greatly is a recognition that spiritual , and not physical, factors are the sole cause of success or failure. This attitude was epitomized by our Gedolim. Rav Moshe Aharon Stern, zt”l, Mashgiach of Kamenitz Yeshivah, was once walking behind Rav Elyah Lopian zt”l and Rav Chatzkel Levenstein zt”l; so he hurried to be close enough behind them to hear what these two tzadikkim discuss between themselves. Reb Chatzkel noticed that Reb Elyah had a bandage over one eye and asked him what happened. Reb Elyah responded that he must have looked at something forbidden and it damaged his eye. Inspired by the question and response, Reb Moshe Aharon stepped closer to hear Reb Chatzkel’s response. To his surprise, he did not respond, he simply accepted Reb Elyah’s explanation as a point of fact, not noting anything novel or particularly righteous in Reb Elyah’s explanation. Reb Moshe Aharon explained that Reb Elyah understood that when Reb Chatzkel inquired about his eye, he was not asking about the physical condition of the eye, but the spiritual reason behind the injury. Reb Elyah understood that this was the only point of Reb Chatzkel’s question and responded accordingly . These Gedolim understood that spiritual factors were responsible for the cause-and-effect in their lives, they lived with a deep recognition that a Jew’s reality is not defined by the same laws as those of goyim. We asked how the command of ’lech lecha’ is relevant to us today. The answer is that lech lecha was not merely a command to Avraham to leave his evil surroundings, it was a call for him to live according to a different set of rules, defined by the spiritual world, and his reward would be that Hashem would in turn treat him beyond the regular set of laws that define the physical world. This lesson is very much relevant to all of us. The Sfas Emes asks, why Hashem only said lech lecha to Avraham Avinu and not to the rest of the world. He answers by bringing a Zohar that Hashem says lech lecha to everyone, but only Avraham responded to it. In the world today Hashem says lech lecha - the goyim ignore it but we cannot; and our reward for responding to is that we will rise above the limits of this world.

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