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PARSHAT LECH LECHA
B'rayshit (Genesis) 12:1-17:27
Haftorah Isaiah 40:27-41:16
The Talmud, when discussing Avraham HaIvri (Avraham the Hebrew) informs us that he was referred to as HaIvri (which means the one from the other side) for two reasons:
1. He came from the "other side" the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
Last week, I wrote of the special nature of Avraham Avinu. Beyond his absolute Bitachon (assurance) in Hashem, Avraham was distinct among his fellow men by always displaying the quality of Chesed (loving kindness). Pirke Avot (1:2) states that: "the world was established upon three foundations; Torah, Service to Hashem and Acts of Loving kindness."
Avraham was unique in a world which was steeped in idolatry, adultery and murder. Since the Time of Noach, no other human being had displayed the proper blend of Torah, Avodah (Service to Hashem) and G'milut Chasadim (Acts of Loving kindness).
When Hashem made His covenant with Noach (B'rayshit 9:1-17), it was a "Torah," an instruction, for all generations to come. In fact, it is still in effect for Gentiles. Avraham wasn't the only person to live by the Sheva Mitzvot B'nai Noach (the seven Noachide Commandments - see last week's Parsha sheet) but he was the only one to actively influence others to do so.
The Jewish concept of Avodah is based on the Temple service. Without a Temple, the service to Hashem has become prayer. The three times for the daily Temple "duty" reverted to established times of prayer set by our ancestors. The Torah states:
"Vayashkaym Avraham Baboker (and Avraham arose in the morning)." B'rayshit 22:3).
The scene in which this verse is found is the morning after Hashem's demand that Avraham sacrifice his only son Yitzchak. Avraham arose early in the morning before they set out for Moriah and prayed to Hashem, drawing the strength he needed before proceeding on his way. Avraham set the tone for all subsequent generations for Avodah.
In later Parshiot, we see examples of Avraham's Chesed: He was a gracious host; he washed his guest's feet; prepared their food; and he even sat at the opening of his tent searching for guests. And when he was confronted with the news of Sodom's imminent destruction, Avraham pleaded with Hashem to save the populace. Avraham was the paradigm of Chesed.
But our tradition teaches us that there were others like Shem and Ever who were great Tzadikim. So why was Avraham singled out by Hashem and given the title "Yedid" (My friend)? The answer can be found at the end of the Psalm for the Sabbath Day (Psalm 92).
"Tzadik Katamar Yifrach, K'erez Bil'vanon Yisgeh, Shetulim B'vayt Hashem, Bichatzrot Elokaynu Yafrichu. (The righteous will blossom like a Date Palm, they will grow just like the Cedars of Lebanon, pla
nted in Hashem's House, they will flourish in the courtyards of our G-d)." In last week's Parsha, we learned that the world was destroyed because of wickedness. Yet Noach and his family were spared because they were righteous. In fact, the opening words of the Parsha were:
"Noach Ish Tzadik Haya B'dorotav (And Noach was a righteous man in his generation)."
True, the world was unworthy of existence because of the degeneration of mankind's behavior. But, amidst all that evil, Noach was an island of virtue.
The Midrash teaches us that it took 120 years to build the Ark, and, Noach constructed the Ark away from any large body of water. Why? So that people would have the opportunity to question why he was building it there, and he would have a chance to encourage the people to repent, and to become righteous. But he failed, and the prophet (Isaiah 54:9) calls the flood "Mei Noach" (the waters of Noach) because he didn't influence the others, and therefore it was as if Noach was the cause of the flood.
Avraham on the other hand, converted many thousands of the evil people around him to righteousness. His Chesed was so profound that it affected not only his family, but also those who came in contact with him.
So the Psalmist explains:
The righteous will blossom like a Date Palm - that describes Avraham.
They will grow just like the Cedars of Lebanon - that describes Noach.
Both the date palm and the cedar are tall, strong trees. Yet, one gives off flowers and fruit and the other does not. Similarly, there are two legitimate types of Tzadikim, one who affects only his own world, and the other whose effect is contagious. The latter Tzadik was Avraham HaIrvri, our ancestor. Through his Chesed, he "crossed over" from a world devoid of virtue, to a world in which he influenced others to have the desire for virtue.
Avraham set the tone for the rest of us. His Chesed is a part of each of us, passed on in our spiritual DNA. Like Avraham, we also must Ovayr (cross over) from a world which lacks virtue to a world where we create in ourselves, our families and in all those with whom we have contact, the desire for righteousness and virtue.
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
Shema Yisrael Torah Network