Parashat Lech Lecha
In honor of our parents,
Joseph & Rachel Sayegh and Joey & Jody Cohen,
by Abe and Pamela Sayegh and Family.
Parashat Lech Lecha
Noach Versus Avraham
Last week, we learned how Hashem decided to destroy the world through a mabul with the exception of Noach and his family. Hashem then waited to start a nation for ten generations after Noach, who, along with his family, was responsible for repopulating the world. It is noted in Pirke Avot, “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 (5:3).”
“Noach walked with G-d (6:9).” When the Torah talks about Noach, it says he walked with G-d, and regarding Avraham, it says in Lech Lecha, “Walk before me (17:1).” Rashi comments that Noach needed Hashem’s support, but Avraham would strengthen himself and walk to righteousness on his own. Rabbi Sananes once said, this is as if someone has two children and one child needs some more help and attention, but the other child is more self-sufficient and can support himself on his own. Avraham brought about his own growth and development, and that is the reason why Avraham is the father of the Jewish people.
Now in this week’s Parashat Lech Lecha, we encounter the beginning of the Jewish Nation with the story of Avraham Avinu. Avraham was the first person who, despite 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 passuk “Vayomer Hashem el Avram, Lech Lecha me’artzecha u’me’moladetcha u’me’bet avicha el ha’aretz asher arecha—And Hashem said to Avram, go for yourself from your land, and from your birthplace, and from your father's house to the land that I will show you.” During this parasha, Avraham goes through a series of tests that Hashem put him through. These tests prove his allegiance to G-d, which ultimately plant the seeds for us. The only way the Jewish people have been able to pass the tests that we faced throughout the centuries is through the strength and DNA that we have from Avraham Avinu!
Go For Yourself
The first passuk starts with the double lashon—redundant language of “Lech Lecha” which literally means, “Go for yourself.” Rashi comments on the passuk: “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 from his father’s house was considered one of his ten tests. It was an important test because Avraham was at the peak of his popularity, 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, successful nation, could only happen with the passing of this test.
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 different languages and unfamiliar surroundings. This is a test that so many of our people have experienced when they had to leave their homes and their birth countries throughout our history. From the time of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash over 2,000 years ago to the Spanish Inquisition, to the Greeks, all the way to recently, during the early part of the 20th century. Many Jews escaped Russia to start a new home in what was then called Palestine, and then in the mid-1940s, after the Holocaust, more Jews fled to Israel and helped the country fight for its independence. Since the 1980’s, our brothers from Syria and Egypt were forced to leave those countries.
It is an incredible test that we never want to experience, but unfortunately, we have not had a say in the matter. Although we had to endure all of these expulsions, we always made the best of it, and what is most important is that we always brought our Torah and our Judaism with us. That alone is what saved us wherever we traveled, and was responsible for our success, over a relatively short period of time, in a new and foreign country.
The Jewish people have been dealing with the test of “Lech Lecha” for centuries. Now the trend continues in a more positive way as Jews from the United States and all over the world are making the sacrifice to make aliyah as they relocate their families to Israel, or to build religious communities in areas that need Jewish resources.
Tests and Sacrifices
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. Only 75 years ago, we had the Holocaust. The Nazis’ goal was to rid the world of Jews, whether they were religious or not. The tests that Avraham endured and passed without fail, planted these seeds in every one of us, so we would be able to meet the challenges of today’s world.
Rabbi Mansour brings down that the Ramban says our forefathers were unique in that their actions created templates for the rest of Jewish history. This is known as “Maaseh avot siman lebanim.” For example, he explains that Avraham went to Egypt because of a famine, and G-d punished Pharaoh for taking Sarah, and then Avraham was released and sent away with gifts. And years later, after B’nei Yisrael was taken as slaves by Pharoah for many years, Pharoah was punished, and they walked free from Egypt with great wealth. Avraham created the templates for Jewish history. For this reason, it is important to carefully study the lives of the avot, and the templates they left for us, their descendants, so we may pass our tests as they did.
“Lech Lecha” Tests
What are our tests today and why does Hashem test us? A test is something that Hashem gives to every person without exceptions. These tests are tailor-made for each person and his individual benefit, and the main purpose is to help one grow and better himself. We may not be told to sacrifice our child, but there is no shortage of “everyday” tests. Rabbi Frand describes everyday tests as “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 instead tell him, “Do it yourself, because I'm tired and busy checking my emails.” They could be tests like the Internet, social media, or the immorality of our society today. Another test is making sure that we put our children in the proper yeshivah, so that our sons can become b’nei Torah and our girls b’not Yisrael. We must also be committed to sacrificing some of our conveniences to keep Shabbat and the kashrut laws at all costs.
We would not consider these tests as defining moments on the level of Akedat Yitzchak. However, we see that in the second passuk, 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.” Rabbi Mansour brings down a question from the midrash. Why was “Lech Lecha” considered a more important test than the fire in Ur Casdim? Avraham was promised the entire future of B’nei Yisrael if he were to leave his home, but when he threw himself into a fiery furnace, his reward was not nearly as great.
The answer, Rabbi Mansour comments, is because an open-ended test, day after day, is much harder. G-d commanded Avraham to move to Eretz Yisrael, where he was greeted with a severe famine, and from there he was required to go to Egypt, where his wife was taken captive. Avraham experienced one problem after the other, yet he did not utter one word of complaint. This test spanned years. And because it is harder to live a sacrifice than to die in sacrifice, Hashem rewarded Avraham with great wealth and beracha, and a nation to carry on his legacy.
Rabbi Frand continues, saying, we learn that the meaning of “Lech Lecha tests” is dealing with the daily grind of suffering health issues, bringing up children, and managing financial problems, all without questioning Hashem’s will. These tests are not glamorous or exciting, but they are no less challenging for us as we live through them. The true sign of a great person is how one handles the everyday challenges of life, his “Lech Lecha tests!”
A friend of mine told me of a test he was challenged with over twenty years ago while he was dating his future wife. Although he didn’t work on Shabbat, he kept his stores open on Saturdays with a non-Jewish manager in charge. She wanted to know if he would ever consider speaking to a rabbi about closing his stores entirely on Shabbat.
He took her advice and spoke to a rabbi, and within a few months, he decided to close his stores on Shabbat, which is a big test for a retailer. He calculated that he would be losing the 52 days of Shabbat along with all the Yom Tov days. It added up to a huge potential loss of business. But my friend put his emunah into Hashem and accepted the challenge of this test by closing his stores on Shabbat and holidays. I asked him, “What happened that year?” He told me with excitement that he actually doubled his business that next year while being closed on Shabbat and the holidays. His business continued to climb from then on, defying all logic. As Hashem says, “Lech Lecha,” go for yourself, because you'll see, it will be good for you!
Sometimes in life, we face challenges and frustrate ourselves in our struggle to overcome what stands in our way. But with a simple adjustment of our viewpoint, we can embrace our difficulties – instead of trying to do away with them.
Count the Stars
Rabbi Frand points out that later in this parasha, Avraham questions G-d, “What can You give me? I am childless.” G-d answers by promising Avraham that he will have children. Hashem directs Avraham outside and asks him to look up and count the stars, saying “Thus will be your descendants (15:2-5).” Rav Meir Shapiro asks an important question. What would be our reaction if someone told us to count the stars? We would probably ignore it. It’s an impossible task, so why bother attempting? Avraham did no such thing; he went outside and counted the stars! Hashem responded, “Thus will be your descendants.” Not only was Avraham rewarded with children for trying to do the impossible, but his children and descendants would also be blessed with the same quality.
The Jewish people try the impossible and are rewarded with the impossible. We, as Avraham’s descendants, put our faith in Hashem and believe in the miracles of Hashgacha Peratit—Divine Providence. Many times, those who are ill pray to Hashem and miraculously recover. As we learned earlier, those who have financial issues and stop working on Shabbat, can suddenly pay their bills and draw a profit.
In this week’s haftarah, there is a passuk that says, “Kovei Hashem yachlifu koach—those that place trust in Hashem will be endowed with strength.” (Yeshaya 40:5) How fitting for this parasha. B’nei Yisrael is a nation of impossible strength. They survived and thrived longer than any other nation in the world. They are the children of Avraham, who looked to count the stars when Hashem asked him to.
May we all understand and appreciate the tests that Hashem gives, and realize that though we are being tested, our objective should always be to react properly by growing and becoming closer to Hashem. Avraham Avinu taught us never to doubt Hashem, because Hashem truly runs the world. May we help our children and younger generations understand the benefit of life's tests—to see our “Lech Lecha tests” as a good thing that will ultimately help us grow.
Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey
Although it’s difficult in today’s day and age, do we always stand up for our Torah values even when the world is against us?
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