Parashat Lech Lecha
Dedicated in Honor of My Wife Renee by Jack Menashe
Parashat Lech Lecha
At the end of last week’s Parasha, we learned how Hashem decided to destroy the world through a Mabul with the exception of Noach and his family. Hashem then waited another 10 generations after Noach, who along with his family was responsible for repopulating the world. As noted in the 5th perek of Pirke Avot (5:3) “There were ten generations from Noach to Avraham-to show the degree of His patience; for all those generations angered Hashem increasingly, until our forefather Avraham came and received the reward of them all”.
Now in this week's Parasha, Lech Lecha, we encounter the beginning of the Jewish nation through Avraham Avinu. Avraham was the first person who, in spite of growing up in a world of idolatry, recognized that an Omnipotent G-d is the one that runs the world. This Parasha opens with the Pasuk: "Vayomer Amonai el Avram, Lech Lecha me’artzecha u’me’moladetcha u’me’beit avicha el ha’aretz asher arecha". “And Hashem said to Abram, go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you.” Avraham will go through a series of tests that Hashem will put him through. These tests will prove his allegiance to G-d, which will ultimately lay the seeds for us. The only way we the Jewish people have been able to pass the tests that we have been faced with throughout the centuries is through the strength and the DNA that we received from being descendants of Avraham Avinu! As soon as Avraham passed the incredible test of walking into the fire in Ur Casdin, which made him very popular, it was at that time that Hashem told him to leave his homeland Haran to “Lech Lecha”.
The first Pasuk starts off with the double lashon of "Lech Lecha", which literally means, "Go for yourself". Rashi comments on the Pasuk: "Go because I commanded you but also go for yourself, because in the end, you will see that it will be good for you!" Avraham's exodus from his land, from his community and finally from his father’s house was considered one of his ten tests. It was an important test because Avraham at this time was at his peak having just survived the fire in Ur Casdin. The numerical value of Lech Lecha adds up to 100, which is also the age at which Avraham had his son Yitzchak. The promise that Hashem will make Avraham a great nation could only happen when Avraham and Sarah would give birth to Yitzchak which they ultimately had at an advanced old age.
Imagine if we were faced with the test of ‘Lech Lecha’ today, to have to pick up and leave our homes, our community and our country to then live in a foreign land with a different language and everything foreign to us. This in fact is similar to a test that so many of our people have experienced as they had to leave their homes and their birth countries throughout our history. From the time of the Destruction of the Temple over 2,000 years ago, the Jewish people have been dealing with the test of “Lech Lecha”.
That same test of picking up and leaving the place where we were born still exists today, as many people have made that sacrifice over the years going back to the early part of the 20th century. Many Jews escaped Russia to start a new home in what was then called Palestine. Then in the mid 1940’s after the Holocaust, many fled to Israel to help fight for its independence. Since the 1980’s many of our brothers from Syria and Egypt were also pressured to leave those countries, as they came to America or made Aliyah to Israel. Now, many years later, the trend continues as Jews from the United States and all over the world are still making the sacrifice to make an Aliyah as they relocate their families to Israel.
Avraham set the precedent for our tests. When Avraham is instructed by Hashem to make the most difficult sacrifice of his son Yitzchak, the theme of self-sacrifice is introduced to us. Though we are forbidden to sacrifice our children, we may be called upon to sacrifice our lives for Hashem. In the time of the Crusades Jews were killed for refusing to convert to Christianity. The Jews of Spain were forced to sacrifice their lives in the Spanish Inquisition, where the choice was to convert or be killed. The tests that Avraham endured planted these seeds in each and every one of us so we would be able to meet the challenges of today’s world.
What are our tests today and why does Hashem have to test us? A test is something that Hashem gives each and every one of us. These tests are tailor-made for us and for our own benefit, and their purpose is to help us grow and better ourselves. We may not be told to sacrifice our child but we are tested with everyday tests. As Rabbi Frand puts it, these everyday tests are our “Lech Lecha tests". A ‘Lech Lecha’ test may be deciding whether to get up on time in the morning for Minyan. It can also be when you come home from work exhausted and you have to decide whether to help your son with his homework or tell him, "Do it yourself, because I'm tired and busy checking my emails." Another test is making sure that we put our children in the proper Yeshivah so that our sons can become a Ben Torah or our girls a Bat Yisrael. We must also be committed to sacrifice some of our conveniences because of our convictions of keeping Shabbat or keeping the Kashrut laws at all costs in addition to keeping all of our other daily mitzvot.
We would not consider these tests as defining moments on the level of Akeidat Yitzhak, Avraham's test of sacrificing his son Isaac. However, we see that after Avraham is promised, “And I will make you a great nation; I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing”. Avraham is then greeted with a severe famine in the land, yet he does not utter a word of complaint. From this we learn that “Lech Lecha” is the test of dealing with the daily grind of health issues, bringing up our children and dealing with financial problems etc, without questioning Hashem's will. These tests are not glamorous or exciting, they're not tests that people will talk about as great tests, but they are no less challenging for us as we live through them. The true indication of a great person is how we handle the everyday challenges of life, our “Lech Lecha tests”!
Sometimes in life we face challenges and frustrate ourselves in our struggle to overcome what stands in our way. But with a simple adjustment in our viewpoint, we can embrace our difficulties – instead of trying to do away with them. We can realize how much better we will become and grow through these very tests or challenges.
Life is one big test and these tests can come in many different forms. There’s a story is of a soldier who was training for Shayetet 13, the most elite combat unit in the world that’s part of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). In order to get to this unit, you have to work quite hard. One of the final tests is known as arbaim al arbaim al arbaim - 40 by 40 by 40. That's going 40 km with 40 kilo on your back with only 40 cm of water. This boy was making his way up the ranks, his life's dream was to get into Shayetet 13. He was a religious boy and the training starts before morning. As they are about to start he notices the sun making its way out. He says to his officer, “can we stop just for a moment, I have to put on my tefillin”. The officer says to him, “not now, maybe soon, just a little while longer”, and they kept going. After another hour he asked again, “please Sir do me a favor, I want to stop for one moment just to put on my tefillin”. The officer said to him...”kid listen, not now, you're leading the pack, we have to keep going”. Again a couple hours later he says, “please sir, I never missed a day of tefillin in my life, please let me stop for one moment. I can only put them on until nightfall and the whole thing will take me just one minute, please”! He says to him “not yet”. As they keep going he notices nightfall rapidly approaching - he only has a few minutes left, he says, “Mefaked (officer), I need to stop”. The officer turns around and says, “you want to stop, you want to give up all your years of training? For tefillin? My friend, right now you have a good chance of making it into this elite unit. It ain't gonna look too good if you fall behind now, is all I can say”. Without thinking much he says...”that’s it, I'm stopping”. The Mefaked says, “suit yourself” and turns around and keeps walking. He sits down takes out his tefillin, slowly wraps it, and as he's wrapping it on his arm, he starts to watch as soldier by soldier is passing him by and he's watching his opportunity of becoming the next elite combat soldier just slipping by. He realizes, What could I do though. He finishes putting on his Tefilin and says the Jewish battle cry “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad”.
He finishes, puts his Tefilin away in the bag and then as he turns around, thinking, if I hurry maybe I can still make it -- maybe I can actually -- and he turns and sees his Mefaked standing in front of him...saying, “welcome to Shayetet 13”. He looks at him and says, “but I didn't complete the mission”? He says, “do you want in or out”? He answers “of course in! But why did you accept me”? The Mefaked respnds...”who would you want backing you up in the field, someone who is willing to give up everything he believes in or someone who stays strong even under pressure”?
Standing up for your beliefs despite whatever the world may throw at you goes to the very essence of what a Jew is. Avraham Avinu was the founding father of the Jewish people. He was known as Avraham Ha'ivri. Ivri comes from the word ever, as in ever la-yam. He put himself on one side and says, even if the whole world is involved in idolatry, those aren't my beliefs and I'm willing to stand at the other side and stay strong according to what is important to me. Every one of us will have challenges in our lives -- we need to refortify ourselves and get to the essence of ivri and to be able, no matter what pressures we may face to not get swept along!
May we all understand and appreciate the tests that Hashem gives so we may realize that while we are being tested, our objective should always be to grow from these tests so that we can become closer to Hashem. Avraham Avinu taught us never to doubt Hashem because he believed as we do that Hashem truly runs the world. Thus we can help our children and others who are younger than us to understand the benefit of life's tests and see them as a good thing that will help us grow while overcoming our Lech Lecha tests!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
Eliyahu Ben Rachel Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Sarah Bat Chanah Esther Bat Sarah
Shulamit Bat Helaina Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rafael Ben Miriam
Rav Haim Ben Rivka Moshe Ben Mazal
Yitzchak Ben Adele Avraham Ben Mazal
Chanah Bat Esthe Ovadia Ben Esther
Moshe Ben Garaz Rahamim Ben Mazal
Avraham Ben Garaz Avraham Ben Mazal
Yaakov Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Kami
Meir Ben Latifa Moshe Ben Yael
Malka Bat Garaz Mordechai Ben Rachel
Yaakov Ben Leah
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