By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
We were introduced to Avrohom Avinu in Parshas Noach. Last week, Avrom was mentioned in passing regarding his lineage. This week, the Torah simply tells us that Hashem appeared to Avrom and told him to leave his birthplace, to uproot himself from his ancestral home and to move to the land Hashem would show him.
Without being told anything about Avrom, who he is or why he merits for Hashem to speak to him, the parsha continues, telling us that Hashem promised Avrom that in the land in which he was currently living, he would not merit children (Rosh Hashanah 16b, Rashi ad loc), but if he would follow Hashem’s directive and move, he would be blessed with children and wealth, and his offspring would develop into a great nation.
We still don’t know anything about him, but we assume that he must have been a great man, for why else would Hashem appear to him and bless him with so many brachos?
In order for Avrom to merit being blessed, it was not enough that he was the first person who recognized on his own the existence of the Creator. He would have to separate himself from the heathens with whom he lived and grew up.
That theme seems to flow through the pesukim of the parsha. “Lech lecha, leave your land, your birthplace and your father’s home.” To merit blessing, he had to escape the society that surrounded him.
Lot left his ancestral home along with his uncle, Avrom. It would seem that Lot had good intentions, casting his lot with Avrom and Sorai, setting out for parts unknown. His allegiance was rewarded, as the posuk relates (12:5) that Lot was blessed with material wealth. Rashi quotes the Gemara which states that this was a result of his accompanying Avrom.
When the land of Canaan was plagued by hunger, Lot went with Avrom and Sorai to Mitzrayim. When Avrom was blessed with livestock and riches there, Lot benefited as a consequence of his attachment to his uncle.
A rift developed between the shepherds of Avrom and the shepherds of Lot. Without searching for compromise or peace gestures, Avrom suggested that they separate. Lot looked towards Sedom, attracted by its lush vegetation. Without putting up an argument, he contently offered to move there, while Avrohom settled in Eretz Canaan.
Lot, the talmid and relative of Avrohom, ended up in the city whose very name until today is synonymous with sin.
It took much determination and intelligence by Avrom to chart the course of his life. Although Noach was alive when Avrom was born, the world had already forgotten its Creator. The people worshipped the moon, stars, sun and idols they fashioned. Avrom recognized that the world had to have been created by a Higher Being and spent the first years of his life seeking Him out.
There was much opposition. Avrom was vilified by those around him for violating the doctrines of his day. Worse, he became a threat to his father and the ruling powers. They conspired to kill him and put an end to his dangerous influence.
It would have been much easier for Avrom to play along with them as he pursued his own agenda. His life would have been smoother had he not antagonized the powerful as he went about his personal search to understand how the world came into being.
But Avrom fought for the truth. He discovered the Ribono Shel Olam and shared his finding with the world. He was not deterred by the powerful or by friends, and not even by his own father. He was not enamored by the trappings of pagan life. Their way wasn’t his. Their lifestyle wasn’t his. As soon as Hashem told him to leave, he was gone.
When Hashem’s blessing came to fruition and he was showered with wealth by Paroh, he remained the same person he was in Choron. As he returned from his adventure in Mitzrayim that led to the accumulation of his great fortune, the Torah says that he returned to the same tent in which he had previously lived. He did not permit his material success to give rise to pride, arrogance and gluttony. He returned to the mizbeiach he built prior to leaving the Holy Land.
Lot was close to Avrom for many years, but when he returned from Mitzrayim, the money had changed him. The pesukim (13:3-5) that speak of Avrom’s return to his previous home and mizbeiach are followed by the posuk that states, “Lot who traveled with Avrohom also had sheep, cattle and tents.” Avrom used his newfound wealth for good things. Lot did not.
Sending Lot away, Avrom finalized his separation from the people of his past. The posuk (Bereishis 13:14) relates that after Lot had parted from him, Hashem told Avrom to take a sweeping view of the land, for it would all be given to him and his plentiful offspring. “Walk its length and breath, for I will give it to you,” Hashem says.
Avrom’s separation from Lot was required in order to merit that blessing (see Rashi, ibid.).
Later in the parsha, Avrom went to war to defend Lot and his Sedomites. When the king of Sedom attempted to gift Avrom all the captured wealth, Avrom declined. “Harimosi yodi el Hashem konei shomayim va’aretz. I will not take from you even a thread or a shoelace.”
Once again, following that mark of separation, Hashem appears to Avrom and says, “Al tira Avrom, Anochi magein loch, sechorcha harbeh meod,” issuing him monumental brachos, culminating with the Bris Bein Habesorim (Bereishis 15:17-21).
Separation leads to brocha.
Towards the end of the parsha, Hashem tells Avrom to be a tomim in his service. Hashem changes the names of Avrom and Sorai to Avrohom and Sorah and offers his bris to Avrohom. A covenant is formed between them: Avrohom and his offspring will follow the word of Hashem and separate themselves from everyone around them by performing bris milah, and Hashem will give them Eretz Yisroel and be their G-d. Avrohom will be “av hamon goyim,” our father, and Sorah will be a mother, soon to give birth to Yitzchok, despite her old age and condition.
We are identified as bnei ubenos Avrohom v’Sorah. What does that mean? What does that say about us? What do we do to earn that appellation and maintain it?
Do you want to be My people? Lech lecha. Hishaleich lefonai veheyei somim. Separate yourself from the hedonistic culture that surrounds you.
Avrohom realized that there is a Creator and spent his life spreading the message of truth and following His path with temimus.
The Torah doesn’t tell us more about Avrohom than the directive of “Lech lecha,” for that was his essence – distancing himself from those whose lives are about temporary, fleeting pleasures.
Avrohom arrived at his level of avodah through giving much thought to the world and his place in it. Not only that, but before performing an action, he contemplated whether it would increase or decrease kevod Shomayim. When commanded to perform bris milah, he consulted with his friend, Mamrei (Bereishis 18:1, Rashi) about which venue for the procedure would maximize his ability to bring people to serve Hashem.
This is the foundation of Avrohom’s greatness. As the Ramchal writes in Mesilas Yeshorim, man must think daily about what he is doing, just as storekeepers review their inventory and weights to ensure that they will not err and cause themselves great losses. Someone who fails to do so is enslaved by his yeitzer hora, which causes him to become blinded to the truth. He walks blissfully, thinking that he is safe and secure in his blissful path, only to stumble and fall.
A ben Avrohom must realize that he is here for a higher purpose and ensure that his actions are furthering that goal.
Many of the crises people discuss are symptoms of what ails us, and of the generation in which we live. There are many issues to discuss, and many things that are bringing us down and then there is our terrible image in the press. What are we doing about them? How badly does it bother us when our people are portrayed negatively? What do we do to rectify this?
It seems as if we hear the same speeches repeated over and over again about symptoms and dealing with symptoms. Somehow, however, the heart of the issues that plague us is not addressed. We aren’t reminded that we are the nation of Avrom.
If we would act as Avrohom did, with thoughtfulness, so many people would be helped, so many problems would never have been created in the first place and those which confound us would be more easily corrected.
Learn what life is really all about. Set goals for yourself. Be ambitious. Don’t be superficial. Have some depth. And thought. How does a Jew act in such a situation? How would Avrohom act? How would Sorah? Do that and then you will live. Your life will be fulfilling. And real.
A talmid of Rav Moshe Shapiro was experiencing marital difficulties. He called his rebbi, “I need to speak to you, my wife wants a get, I am distraught.” Rav Moshe told him, “Stay where you are. I’ll get back to you.”
Fifty minutes later, there was a knock on the door. It was Rav Moshe. He dropped what he was doing and came to help the couple.
They went into the study. Pain and tears poured out, as the accusations flew.
Rav Moshe sat quietly and then asked, “Have you learned Iyov?” Without addressing any of the issues so emotionally discussed, he launched into a comprehensive shiur on Iyov. When he finished, he gave the couple a warm brocha and got up to leave.
“But rebbi, you didn’t address any of our issues. You didn’t help us,” the talmid questioned.
Rav Moshe said to him, “Do you really think that I came here to judge who said what, when and how?
“The story between you and your wife, and the story between people, and between people and themselves, has nothing to do with who raised their voice, and who said what, and who cleaned the floor.
“The deeper story is all about how we look at life, how we understand our missions, the meaning of our actions and what Hashem wants from us.
“Sefer Iyov teaches how to live, how to view the world, how to view our existence. It teaches how to ride the waves and not let the waves ride us; how not to fall into ruts that are difficult to climb out of.
“Don’t fall into ruts. Stop waiting for others to lift you from them. Learn how to live.
“Learn. Learn. Learn. Learn Iyov. Learn it with your wife. Learn it.”
Besides being invigorating and inspiring, daily study of Torah and mussar reminds us how to think and conduct ourselves in a tumultuous world.
We have definitely been blessed. We live better than Jews ever did throughout the exile. Do you think that Hashem has blessed us so in order for us to become self-indulgent pleasure-seekers, so self-absorbed that we should become oblivious to the concerns and needs of other people? Do you think that He intends for us to become a people corrupted with an entitlement mentality who engage in pursuits that are of momentary enjoyment, as fleeting as the interest people have in their selfies? Do you think He is happy when we inconsiderately inconvenience people? How about when we demean people who need something from us?
If the glamour and glitz of the very world we seek to separate from appeal to us, it becomes tough to engage in the “Lech lecha” of our time, turning our backs on that realm. If vapid popularity is important to us, we risk eroding our eternal values to find favor with the “in” crowd. If the “good life” attracts us, it becomes difficult to smash the pagan idols of our time.
Avrohom and his offspring will forever be sealed with brocha – “becha chosmin” – as long as we remain loyal to what is true and good. When we follow the ways of Avrohom and consider our actions and words, and we raise our children with Torah values and teach them to be considerate of others, kind, good and honest, we will continue to merit the brachos reserved for the offspring of Avrohom. People who are not seduced by the blandishments of Sedom are deserving of the Divine brachos.
Avrohom Avinu delved into the intricacies of this world and mastered the underlying truth of creation and man’s purpose in this world. Society’s delusions and icons held no appeal for him. As children of Avrohom, we need to be reminded that our path is the correct one. The most rewarding and eternal blessings are reserved for those who know that all else is fleeting.
Let us study the parsha and grasp its inherent lessons. Let us think before we speak and act, always endeavoring to remain loyal to our appellation as bnei Avrohom, ne’emomim to Hashem and his Torah.