Welcome to our Shabbos Table!
We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parshas Lech Lecha/ Leaving Home
“And Hashem said to Avram, ‘Go out of your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house, to the land that I will show you’” (Bereishis 12:1).
Seemingly out of the blue, Hashem spoke to Avraham (then known as Avram). Revealing Himself for the first time, Hashem instructed him to leave behind everything he’d ever known and journey to a mysterious destination.
The Malbim asks two fundamental questions here:
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That first step is simply walking out the door, leaving home. Next comes leaving town. Only then can one cross the border into another country. So shouldn’t Hashem have commanded Avraham to proceed in that order, i.e., “Leave your father’s house, your birthplace, and your land…”? Why was he told to do the exact opposite?
Why not reveal to Avraham where he was going? Why all the secrecy?
The Ties That Bind
Avraham was commanded to relocate, explains the Malbim, in order to extricate himself from the immorality all around him. He needed to make a clean break from his past. As Hashem told him, “Lech lecha” – literally, go to yourself, return to your very nature, which differs dramatically from everything you’ve been exposed to.
One’s character is shaped by his environment, which is threefold: (1) his country – its atmosphere and the astrological forces governing it; (2) his city, whose culture he can’t help but absorb; and (3) his home, i.e., his family, the most powerful influence of all. Avraham had to move beyond each one of these concentric circles. His journey was thus not just physical but mental, not just geographical but spiritual.
Hence the order of Hashem’s command: Avraham was to depart first from his land, whose impact was relatively distant and hence easier to undo; then from his birthplace, in which he was more enmeshed; and finally from his home, which gripped him most.
As difficult as it was for Avraham to tear himself away from all of that, not knowing where he was headed made it even harder. (That’s why traveling anywhere for the first time always seems to take longer than the return trip, when we know where we’re going.) By denying Avraham the big picture, Hashem made this test of faith even more difficult, thereby earning him even more reward for meeting the challenge.
Furthermore, the Malbim posits another reason for keeping Avraham in the dark. His father, Terach, had already set out for the land of Canaan. As we read last week at the end of Parshas Noach, “And Terach took his son Avram and Lot … and his daughter-in-law Sarai … and they went forth with them from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan…” (ibid. 11:31). For some reason, “they came as far as Haran and settled there” (ibid.), and there Terach died. But had he known of Avraham’s mission, Terach might have insisted on accompanying him, in keeping with his own original travel plans. His tagging along would have defeated the whole purpose of Avraham’s journey, which was to get away from his father’s idolatrous influence. So to keep Terach from finding out about his son’s destination, Hashem kept Avraham out of the loop as well.
The Malbim offers one final insight into Avraham’s vague marching orders. One doesn’t merit holiness until he has purged himself of its opposite. Therefore, Hashem didn’t divulge the great sanctity of Avraham’s destination until he’d separated himself from his sordid land and birthplace.
From here we see that one who works on himself gains access to the holiest realms. Whoever strives to know and understand Hashem will be rewarded with the ruach hakodesh or even prophecy to do just that. For although the Torah makes it seem as if Hashem spoke to Avraham out of the blue, Chazal tell us that he’d actually spent years searching for Him. That’s how our forefather merited not only revelation altogether but the specific directive to relocate. For just as a vineyard owner makes sure his best vines are planted in the richest soil, where they can soak up the sun, Hashem transplanted Avraham to Eretz Yisrael, where Jews grow best.
Rabbi Yissocher Frand recounted how a secular Jewish woman discovered Torah Judaism. She met several observant families, started learning about mitzvos, and became sincerely interested in living a Torah lifestyle. Despite the many sacrifices involved in making this transition, it all seemed doable to her. Finally, she invited her rabbi to her home to make sure her kitchen was kosher. When he arrived, he saw a pack of Chiclets gum on the coffee table.
“If you want a kosher home,” the rabbi said, “you have to get rid of the Chiclets. They’re not kosher.”
“Give up my Chiclets?!” sputtered the woman. “That’s it. I can’t keep kosher.”
This woman’s concerns may seem laughable, but the truth is that each of us has our “Chiclets,” our own hurdles to overcome. Sometimes the biggest tests revolve around the littlest things. In Rabbi Frand’s words: “We all have … items we cling to so tightly that it seems as if our lives depend on them. But no matter what that something is … we can give it up. We can change.” (Rabbi Yissocher Frand, Listen to Your Messages, p. 31)
This story illustrates the difficulty, and the importance, of making a clean break when necessary.
Question for Discussion:
In every journey to spiritual growth, we have to leave certain aspects of ourselves behind, and that can be hard. What is one secular idea or practice you grew up with that you’d like to let go of?
“Yanki” from Brooklyn, a second-year student in Aish HaTorah’s Gesher program:
During my first year in yeshivah, I became more careful about Torah and mitzvos. After analyzing various ways to improve, I decided to tackle my smartphone. Growing up, nobody installed filters on their computers or smartphones, despite the dangers involved. Nonetheless, I decided it was time to get a filter, ensuring that everything I received and viewed would be free of schmutz. I’m delighted with the filter, and it has actually been very liberating. I’m so much more relaxed now that I’ve screened out all the improper images and language.
By Rabbi Ari Wasserman