The Ramban (Bereishis 12,2) and the Maharal (Netzach 11) ask that when Hashem first speaks to Noach we are introduced to him by first praising all his righteous and virtuous qualities and achievements. Why then when Hashem communicates to Avraham for the first time with his first ordeal of Lech Lecha, there is an intentional omission of his sterling character and his spiritual accomplishments?
Another question that arises at Avraham’s introduction to us is that the first test revolves about Hashem telling Avraham to leave his present surroundings in Charan, an act which will be rewarded very handsomely. The Mefarshim explain that the nature of this test was not whether he will listen to Hashem’s command, but rather why he will listen. The purpose of the test was to examine Avraham’s intention in completing this test. Was it for the sake of Heaven or was he motivated by alterior motives of the incredible rewards waiting for him at the finish line. The Torah testifies to Avraham’s pure motivation by saying וילך אברהם כאשר דבר אליו ה’. The question is why was the nature of Avraham’s first test the ignoring of rewards?
I think both of the above questions can be answered by one foundation. The Maharal answers the question of the omission of Avraham’s spiritual resume with a Mishnah in Pirekei Avos (5,16)
כָּל אַהֲבָה שֶׁהִיא תְלוּיָה בְדָבָר, בָּטֵל דָּבָר, בְּטֵלָה אַהֲבָה. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ תְּלוּיָה בְדָבָר, אֵינָהּ בְּטֵלָה לְעוֹלָם.
Any relationship, that depends upon receiving benefits, when the benefits terminate, so does the relationship. A love that is based upon essence and giving lasts forever. For a fictitious example, I work hard on my relationship with Mr Schwartz because he is very wealthy and famous. My friendship enables me to receive many benefits such as meeting influential people, going to upscale restaurants, being invited to join him on vacations etc. If one day he declares bankruptcy, my association with him will probably disappear. AlI along I was not really connecting to him but rather to his wealth. Even though I gave somewhat to the relationship but truthfully even my giving was selfish being that its primary function was to take.
In contrast a parent and child relationship does not depend upon a parent’s receiving benefit from the child. Of course the conduct of the child will determine the reward and punishment ratio administered by the parent; however, the relationship itself is not based on the parent thriving from the child’s achievements. A child will always be your child. A parent may be heartbroken over his behavior but the essential relationship does not cease to exist.
The former relationship describes that of Noach and Hashem for it was based on spiritual achievements. The Torah’s description of Noach being a tsaddik and tammim, precedes Hashem’s communication to him. This therefore conveys that this relationship has the potential to suddenly dissolve if the righteousness of Noach falls short. This is in contrast to Avraham which the Torah omits the description of his righteousness. This omission tells us that his relationship with Hashem is not based on A+ performance or anything close to it. There is not davar on which it hinges but rather it manifests an essential love and appreciation of the other person and goes beyond deeds. Here too, like the father and son relationship, the Yid’s improper conduct will cause punishment and hester panim. However, the cold shoulder of Hashem given to Am Yisrael due to their failure in mitzvah performance only is a temporary display of Hashem’s displeasure with the way we conduct our lives but it has no effect on the deep core stability of our relationship.
Why is our relationship with Hashem of this character? Of course we can answer that a Yid possesses a neshamah which is an essential part of Hashem in contrast to the gentile. I would like to give another suggestion to our special unique relationship shared by no other than Am Yisrael.
The passuk says ה’ צלך that Hashem shadows you. For example, if you have rachmanus on others then Hashem will have rachmanus on you. If your relationship with Hashem is based on taking and what’s in it for me attitude, then Hashem will mirror your relationship and say then I must also receive in order to preserve our relationship. If however one’s relationship with Hashem is I fulfill mitzvos even without the expectation of receiving reward and payment for my services, then Hashem will mirror his relationship the same way that the relationship exists even if He doesn’t benefit from it.
The gentile relationship with Hashem is in order to receive a pay back as Shlomo Hamelech states חסד לאומים חטאת (Mishlei 34,14) that acts of chesed performed by the nations miss their mark (they are of a selfish nature). Either they are for the purpose of bringing prosecution on Yisrael (Pri Tzaddik Succos 21), or for gentiles to come to fame and honor which causes haughtiness (Sfas Emes Vayishlach ,תרלה Chozeh from Lublin Zichron Zos p. 36). This is in contrast to the Yid who gives to Hashem for the purpose of subjugating and nullifying himself before the Almighty. As the Chazal (Medrash Tanchuma Aikev 3) interpret the passuk (Devarim 7,7) כי אתם המעט מכל העמים that you make yourselves small even after you receive the shefa from shamayim. Our Chazal say (Baba Basra 10b) that even if one gives tzedakah on condition that his sick son may live, he is called a tsaddik gamur, for the act of tzedakah is still not contingent upon these results. For even if his son dies cha’v, he still does not feel any regret over donating the money. This is reflected in Hashem’s response to us that even if Am Yisrael does not give Hashem the expected avodah, the essential core relationship remains intact.
The source of our lasting relationship was created with Avraham Avinu’s first nisayon of Lech Lecha. Even though Avraham was offered incredible rewards for this test, he was not a taker but rather a giver to Hashem solely fulfilling the test lishmah for the sake of heaven. This nisayon and selflessness of Avraham in his refusing Hashem’s offer of rewards, formed Hashem’s relationship with Avraham and his offspring to that of being an essential love totally independent of receiving any benefits.
Now we can see how both questions are answered with one principle. The omission of Avraham’s titles of righteousness demonstrates that his relationship with Hashem is independent of any expectation of payback for our services. Therefore Hashem’s relationship with us is likewise where it doesn’t depend upon our wholesome spiritual deposits. Why did Avraham merit such a bond with Hashem? The answer is Lech Lecha as Rashi points out that the test involved tremendous rewards yet Avraham past the test without any feelings of entitlement of receiving anything for his personal sacrifice. The structure of this first test set us aside from the rest of the world.
Another striking example of Avraham’s incredible selfless character in this week’s parsha is pointed out by Rav Shteinman shilita on the passuk (Breishis 13,14) וה’ אמר לאברהם אחרי הפרד לוט מעמו that after Lot separated from Avraham Hashem returned to speak to him. From here we learn that all the time Lot was with Avraham, Hashem did not speak with Avraham. Now there was nothing more significant and rewarding to Avraham than having Hashem speak to him in nevuah. Yet, Avraham did not ask Lot to please leave for the reason that while he is accompanying him, he is constantly missing out of this most incredible encounter with Hashem and it is a colossal loss on his ruchniyus. But because Avraham possessed a selfless avodah to Hashem, rewards received for this avodah were not taken into consideration. Here too, forfeiting these massive injections of ruchniyus on the chance that maybe his association with Lot might bring him closer to Hashem, was just another manifestation of his relationship with Hashem of giving with even spiritual self sacrifice.
Another example of Avraham’s exceptional giving quality is found in the sefer Toras Hanefesh by Rav Zaichik ztl when there arose an argument between the shepherds of Avraham and those of Lot. Avraham tells Lot that they must separate but Lot would have first choice to any greener pasture his heart desires. If he chooses the northern pastures then Avraham will go southwards. If he desires the southern pastures then Avraham will move to the north yet always remaining a handbreadth away to save him from enemies if ever need be.
Let us examine very closely Avraham’s offer to Lot. Geographically Yerushalaim lay to the south. This is why Avraham’s travel direction was always towards it as the passuk says (Bereishis 12,9 Rashi) ויסע אברם הלוך ונסוע הנגבה. Being so how then should we understand his wholehearted no strings attached offer. For by doing so he was risking his closeness to Hashem and the makom of the Beis Hamikdash if Lot decided to choose the south? The answer is that we don’t even begin to fathom the deep chesed of Avraham. He was willing to give up the most important asset in his life, closeness to Hashem in order to avoid any kind of machlokes. It is so trying and challenging for us to merely give up our pettiness, pride and kovod in order to avoid friction, never mind to surrender a close relationship with Hashem. Avraham’s incredible offer to promote shalom demonstrates that he is a prime giver of the highest caliber and his relationship with Hashem reflects the same.
I recently read a story of a famous modern Jew who was known for his deep meditation experiences. He related that one day while he just started meditating, he heard a loud knock at his door. He ignored it since he was already getting into his avodah. The knocking was persistent and kept on getting louder and more annoying until there was no other choice but to reluctantly open the door. In front of him was standing an indigent looking Yid from his neighborhood whom he came across more than once. The Yid asked him if he could come in and just talk a few minutes about something that was really troubling him. As they both sat around the table you could almost feel the thickness in the air. Our meditator only wanted to return to his meditation. After all, thinking about and connecting to Hashem was an exhilarating experience and at this particular time he felt the coming depth of his awaiting rendezvous. His mind was elsewhere and it was obvious that he was being annoyed by this whole encounter. The uninvited guest was smart enough to pick up on his impatience and he suddenly got up out of his chair excusing himself for bothering him and added that perhaps another time will be more opportune. Our meditator walked him to the door and said goodbye. He then briskly walked back into his meditating corner and continued where he left off in his union with Hashem. The next day he was reading the morning paper over coffee when suddenly he saw the picture of the indigent man who visited him yesterday as a headline. Under the picture was the explanation: Man runs in front of bus apparent suicide. Our meditator just stood there frozen with the cup of coffee in midair. Later he told a friend that his immediate thoughts were Here I was trying to get closer to Hashem and He sent me an opportunity of chesed to accomplish this. I then realized that my closeness to Hashem was a selfish experience. It was not really about Hashem but about me. For would it not have been so, how could I have been annoyed at another Yid my fellow brother who desperately needed my help right then and there. By ignoring him I ignored forming a selfless relationship with Hashem.