By Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov, Jax Florida
The renowned Chasid, Reb Yechezkel (Chatche) Faigin, was said to have been a very strong hearted individual. Few were the times he was wont to allow himself the luxury to breakdown and cry. One such rare occasion, however, was when he served as secretary of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe – Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson.
The times were extremely dire and the means extraordinary meager. Much of the weight of the underground activities, carried out by Chassidim who risked their lives in defiance of the communist government, fell on his shoulders.
Reb Chatche toiled day and night with compete self-sacrifice, in order to sustain the holy work of the Rebbe – underground Day schools, Yeshivas, Mikvaos, etc. He carried out his responsibilities loyally and honestly, never a complaint or a thought of self pity.
However, there was one problem. His time was so absorbed with his work that he had no time for his own spiritual nourishment. Oh how he ached to study a Chassidic discourse; to spend a little more time meditating in prayer. His soul was parched for the spiritual waters of Chassidus, but the clock did not allow.
One day, when he could take it no more, he decided to present his case to the Rebbe. Perhaps, when hearing how distressed he was over his situation the Rebbe will agree that he ought to snatch some time from his holy work for his own spiritual needs. He pleaded with the Rebbe four a half hour; just a half hour!
After pouring out his broken heart to the Rebbe, he waited in anticipation for the Rebbe to reply. The Rebbe listened carefully to his passionate and painful plea and then tuned to him saying: “But in this and this place there is still no Yeshiva, in that place there is still no Mikvah. . .” Reb Chatche understood the response, but he could not control his emotions and burst into tears.
Upon seeing this, the Rebbe, himself in tears by now, waited several long minutes and then said: “If we afford ourselves the luxury to do ‘what we desire,’ what will be with the work that must get done? Do you think this is the Divine desire!?
“G-d said to Avraham ‘Lech L’cha,’ – Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
These are the simple words by which the great patriarch Avraham is introduced in the Torah. With this short statement Avraham is indoctrinated to his higher calling – setting into motion his very own transformation, as well as the destiny of the Jewish people and the transformation of all civilization for all time.
Avraham leaves his home in Mesopotamia to begin a pilgrimage to Canaan. Wondering and wandering he goes through the world and “calls out to the people in the name of the Almighty.” A lone man pitted against the entire world, Avraham battles the entrenched paganism of his time, bringing many to a life of monotheistic belief and morality.
Along the way he accrues wealth, a family, an entourage and a new name which reflects his covenantal destiny to become the “father of many nations.” With time this too, comes to fruition.
Avraham proceeds to become the founding patriarch of the Israelite, Ishmaelite and Edomite peoples. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are, in fact, at times referred to as the "Avrahamic religions," because of the progenitor role Avraham plays in their holy books. He is also a progenitor of the Semitic tribes of the Negev, who trace their descent from their common ancestor.
Avraham’s central importance in the Book of Genesis and his portrait as a man favored by G-d is unequivocal. His crowning ideology vis-à-vis the Divine design and intent and his legacy of Divine pursuit, is second only to his wide renown as the patriarch of monotheism.
G-d promised him not only many descendants, but descendants through Sarah specifically. This special covenant was to be fulfilled through their mutual son Yitzchok, though G-d promised that Ishmael would become a great nation as well. In Jewish tradition he is called Avraham Avinu or "Avraham our Father."
Lech L’cha, to be concise, is G-d's call, in all its primal power, to Avraham – a call that sets the stage for the historical, geographical and spiritual journey of Avraham and the Jewish people – a call that has so impacted the world, that it is hard to imagine what it would look like had Avraham failed to answer the call.
In the above regard, the chronological order of Avraham’s story takes-on new significance. The two thousand years since Adam, in which the world floundered in chaos and debauchery – as chronicled in the earlier two Parshas of Bereishis and Noach – serves as an introduction and backdrop to the gradual and perpetual universal transformation brought-on by the “Lech L’cha” command. It underscores the contrast between the state of humanity before Avraham and after.
Given the above, it is quite obvious that every aspect and nuance of Avraham’s journey is replete with critical lessons regarding the perpetual mission for which he and this progeny have been selected.
While there are three entire Parshas devoted, almost exclusively, to Avraham’s life and journey – all of which deserve ample examination and scrutiny – his very first Divine communiqué is obviously most critical. To borrow a phrase from the sages in Pirkei Avos: “Ben Bag Bag said; learn it and learn it, for everything is in it, look deeply into it; grow old and gray over it. . .” Let us hence take a closer look at the original interface between G-d and Avraham.
At the age of seventy-five Avraham could look back upon a lifetime of fruitful; indeed unprecedented, achievement. His inquisitive young mind discerned a greater truth implicit in the workings of the universe and, consequently, came to know the One G-d.
Not only did Avraham make, what some might consider, the most important discovery ever, he furthermore proceeded to become a renowned teacher and mentor. By the time he was seventy five years of age, he had under his belt a rather long and impressive list of accomplishments that very few can match. Among his outstanding achievements were a majority of the legendary “Ten tests,” for which he is well distinguished.
Yet, despite the generous attention paid to the life of Avraham in the book of Genesis, there is astonishingly no mention of all the aforementioned qualities and accomplishments.
As sated above, the first time we get to see Avraham is as an exceedingly accomplished individual, seventy five years of age, when he receives the Divine order of “Lech L’cha – Go from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.”
But why ignore all his earlier outstanding achievements? Moreover, what type of call would drive a man like Avraham to leave his land, his birthplace, and his father’s house for an unknown destination? What can be so important to require a seventy-five-year-old scholar and pedagogue to pack-up and start all over?
This summons is obviously so pivotal to the human story that it eclipses seven and a half decades of prodigious achievement; a call that redefined the meaning of life.
Before G-d charged Avraham with Lech L’cha, Avraham was indeed a monotheist, as well as a great humanitarian and activist. All this, however, came as an expression of his own journey towards G-d and righteousness. His high level notwithstanding, it remained a human endeavor for truth.
Then came the Divine call: “Lech L’cha! Advance forward – transcend yourself, go to a land that I will show you. Now that you have realized the full capacity of your own conscious powers,” said G-d,” I will show you a land that is the essence of your own self, a land that lies beyond the land, birthplace, and father’s house that you know.”
Commencing with Lech L’cha, Avraham experienced a quantum leap, an entirely new dimension of truth – Divine commandments. These commandments depict G-d’s idea of truth as opposed to man’s own. Upon G-d’s command, Avraham literally abandons his country, birthplace and his father’s home. He is entirely transformed. This new Avraham is Avraham the Jew, not Avraham the humanitarian.
Avraham’s life prior to that point is comparatively insignificant – only a preparation to his life after the command of Lech Lecha, thus the lack of mention in the Torah. It is not as a humanitarian that the Torah wants us to know Avraham, but as a true servant of G-d.
This notion is better understood through the lens of Chassidic philosophy. There are many factors involved in forging our individual personalities, according to Chassidus. For the most part, the characteristics that make us who we are can be divided into three general categories: the natural, the impressed, and the acquired.
Our natural desires and inclinations – our pre-programmed drives formed within our psyche and character from birth – constitute the first component of human personality and identity.
The second component is the external influences that affect our lives, such as parents, teachers, associates and environment. These influences leave an indelible impression upon the soul of the maturing individual as he or she progresses through life.
Intelligence is the third and overriding influence in the formation of man’s personality and individual identity. Of all G-d’s creations, man alone was granted an objective intellect. This empowers him to develop himself in accordance to his own understanding and will.
By choosing the stimuli to which he is exposed and the manner in which they shall affect him, man may develop himself in ways that are beyond his genetic and conditioned self, even contrary to his genetic- self. Through his objective intellect, he may transcend his genetic conditioning.
The meaning of “your land,” “your birthplace” and “your father’s house,” in G-d’s call to Avraham, take on far deeper significance. According to Chasidic thought: Eretz, the Hebrew word for “land” and “earth,” is etymologically related to the word Ratzon – “will” and “desire,” hence, “your land” also translates as “your natural desires.”
“Your birthplace” – Molad’techa – is a reference to the influence of environment and society. Finally, Beit Avicha, “your father’s house,” refers to man as a mature and rational being – the character and mindset forged via the transcendent objectivity of the intellect.
By conventional standards, this constitutes the ultimate in human achievement – the development and refinement of one’s natural instincts – the assimilation of learned and observed truths and the remaking of self through the objective arbiter of mind.
In reality, however, the intellect is still part and parcel of our human essence – ever subject to the deficiencies and limitations of the essential mortal temperament. While it may surmount the confines of the inborn and the impressed, our intellect is never truly free of the ego and its prejudices – from our instinctive attractions and tendencies.
But there is a higher-self to man – a self that is free of all that defines and confines the human. This is the “spark of G-dliness,” which is the core of his soul. It is the Divine essence that G-d breathed into him, the – “image of G-d” in which he was created. The Eretz that G-d promised to show Avraham.
In his journey of self- discovery, Avraham must obviously depart the “land, birthplace and father’s house” of his native Mesopotamia. He must obviously reject the pagan culture of Ur Kasdim and Charan. But this is not the only departure of which G-d speaks.
Avraham received this call in his eighth decade – many years after he had renounced the pagan ways of his family and birthplace, recognized G-d, and had a profound impact on his society. Still he is told: Go! Depart from your nature, depart from your habits, depart from your rational-self.
After rejecting your negative, idolatrous origins, you must also transcend your positive and gainful past. Transcend and reach beyond yourself, however perfected it is.
Human perfection is simply not enough. Everything human – even the objective, transcendent intellect – is still part of the created reality, ever subject to and defined by it. Yet, G-d invites us to experience that which transcends all limit and definition - Himself. But first we must “go away.”
Man’s highest level, is not his best effort at being good or kind. Humanitarianism or “Tikun Olam” is not the ultimate in Divine service. It is rather about G-d’s truth – G-d’s will. It is about spirituality and holiness.
To be a Mentch; a decent, honest and compassionate human being is by every means important – it is a prerequisite to higher existence, hence G-d chose Avraham, but by no means is it the highest form of existence.
The Torah is not content with bettering this world physically. The unique quality and characteristic of man, according to Torah, lies in its purpose of improving the world spiritually, to elevate this seemingly detached and self-sustaining world, into a true G-dly domain.
This, according to Chassidus, is the deeper Divine call of Lech L’cha – the first call to the first Jew – Go away from your finite self, to come to the you that only I can show you – the you that is one with Me.
This call resonates throughout history, reminding the Jew of his Divine mission and his highest human achievement – a call for compete transcendence and transformation. May we realize this Divine blessing with coming of the righteous Moshiach.