Parashat Lech Lecha
Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Marcelle Shabe bat Nezli
by Sammy Ayal 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 more positively 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.
A Small Mitzvah Can Lead to Great Reward
Rabbi Frand wrote the following Devar Torah. After the war involving the King of Sodom (among others), “the escapee came and told Avram that Lot was captured (14:13).” There is a Rabbinic tradition that this escapee was Og, the future King of Bashan, who actually ‘escaped’ from the Flood by holding on to the back of the Ark. However, the Rabbis attribute sinister intentions to Og’s deed. Rather than merely wishing to participate in the meritorious act of redeeming captives, Og’s plan was to draw Avram into a hopeless battle of trying to rescue Lot, have Avram die in battle, and then take Avram’s widow — Sarai — for himself.
Nonetheless, the Talmud tells us (Niddah 61a) that many years later, G-d had to reassure Moshe before his battle with Og. Moshe feared that in the merit of Og delivering the message of Lot’s capture to Avram, Og would be protected now in his battle against the Jewish people. Rav Leib Chassman points out, based on Moshe’s concern, that the Torah gives significant credit to even a small, imperfect, mitzvah. This small, good deed of Og was performed with the worst of motives. Chessed was the furthest thing from Og’s mind. Og had diabolical motives. However, since Og was, in fact, responsible for the rescue of Lot, Moshe was afraid to fight against him hundreds of years later.
This is a great lesson regarding the power of a single mitzvah.
In 1942, a husband, a wife, and a small boy named Shachneh lived in Krakow. At that time, the Germans were drafting able-bodied people into work camps. Those who were strong were able to survive; children, generally, did not make it. Mr. and Mrs. Hiller had a dilemma — what to do with their little son.
They realized that their only option was to give their son to a non-Jewish family whom they knew and trusted in Krakow, named Yakovitch. On the night of November 15, 1942, Mrs. Hiller — at risk to her life — walked through the Jewish Quarter of Krakow to the non-Jewish Quarter and brought her child to her friend, Mrs. Yakovitch. Mrs. Hiller said, “If we ever make it through the war, please return our child to us; but if we do not make it through the war, here are two letters — addressed to relatives in Montreal and Washington, DC. When this terrible war is over, please contact them and they will take Shachneh. We ask only one thing, that he be raised as a Jew.
As fate had it, the Hillers were killed in the Holocaust. Mrs. Yakovitch, a religious Catholic, raised the child as her own. After attending Mass together for a while, he learned the Hymns and became like a Christian. In 1946, Mrs. Yakovitch decided that it was time to baptize Shachneh. She took the child to the parish priest and asked him to baptize the boy. The priest wondered aloud how it was that a boy of 10-11 years old was not already baptized. He had a discussion with Mrs. Yakovitch, in which she related all the details of the story.
The priest told her she was acting improperly. The wishes of the boy’s dying family must be honored. After this discussion, Mrs. Yakovitch had second thoughts and contacted the families in North America. Finally, in June 1949, through the efforts of the Canadian Jewish Congress, this child — together with 13 other orphans from Poland — came to Canada. Ultimately, in February 1951, through a special bill signed by President Truman, the boy came to the United States, to his family in Washington, DC.
The lad grew up in the United States but kept in touch with Mrs. Yakovitch, to whom he felt sincerely indebted. He sent her letters, packages, and money. He grew up as a religious Jew. He became the vice president of a corporation, did very well for himself, and always felt a debt of gratitude to Mrs. Yakovitch.
Finally, in 1978, Mrs. Yakovitch, who was getting older, wrote a letter to him, telling him for the first time of her terrible dilemma and her initial decision to have him baptized. In that letter, she revealed the name of the parish priest who convinced her otherwise: Karol Wojtyla, more commonly known as Pope John Paul II.
The Bluzheve Rebbe (Rav Yisroel Spira; 1890-1989) said that although we are not privy to G-d’s ways, we can perhaps speculate that G-d chose to reward this young parish priest for his noble action by raising him to leadership as the Pope.
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.
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 He truly runs the world. May we help our children and younger generations understand the benefit of life's tests as a good thing that will ultimately help us grow.
Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey
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