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Lech Lecha 5764

By: Shprintzee Rappaport

The first pasuk (verse) of Parshat Lech L'cha contains Hashem's command
to Avram to (12:1) "Go to yourself from your land and from your place of
birth and from your father's house to the Land that I will show you."
But in last week's parsha it says (11:31) "And Terach took Avram, Lot,
and Sarai and left Ur Kasdeem and they settled in Charan." So if they
already left Ur Kasdeem where Avram was born, how can Hashem tell Avram
to leave his place of birth now? He already left!

R. Avraham Eben Ezra says that Hashem commanded this to Avram while he
was still in Ur Kasdeem and that the only reason why Terach took
everyone out of Ur Kasdeem, was because Avram requested it as a result
of Hashem's command. But Ramban (Nachmanides) sees a problem with this
answer because the Torah clearly states "Terach took Avram." If it was
at Avram's request, the pasuk would have described Avram as the driving
factor behind everyone leaving Ur Kasdeem, not Terach. So Ramban
concludes that Avram was not born in Ur Kasdeem, but in Charan. One
proof that he gives for this is that Ur Kasdeem fell into the territory
of Cham (one of Noach's sons) but Avraham's family descended from Shem
(another of Noach's sons). Thus, Avram's family could not have been
living in Ur Kasdeem since it was not their territory. Another proof is
in Parshat Vayetze, when Yaakov runs to his relative, Lavan, who is
living in Charan. Lavan is the grandson of Nachor, Avram's brother.
But the pasuk said that Terach only took Avram, Lot and Sarai to
Charan. How did Nachor end up living in Charan if Terach never took him
there? So Ramban says that Terach was originally from Charan and thus
Avram was born there. Only later did they go to Ur Kasdeem.

But then the question is: why did Hashem have to specifically tell
Avraham to leave his birthplace? After all, if you tell someone to
leave a country and that country happens to be where he was born, you
don't have to make a special mention of telling him to leave his
birthplace because it is automatically implied when you tell them to
leave the country. So Ramban says that the word "birthplace here is not
referring to a geographical place. People often refer to a place where
they feel very comfortable as their "birthplace", even if they were born
somewhere else. So Hashem told Avram "Even though you feel comfortable
here in Charan because all your family is here and it is familiar to you
as your place of birth, I want you to leave and go to the Land of
Canaan." So "birthplace" here is more of a psychological term than a
literal one.

Interestingly, there are a number of incidents in this parsha that can
also be explained in a more "psychological" manner. For example, at one
point in Parshat Lech L'cha, Avraham and Sarah are on their way down to
Egypt. Fearing that the Egyptians will kill him to take Sarah, Avraham
makes that infamous request of Sarah to (12:13) "Tell them that you are
my sister." Most people are a bit taken aback at how Avraham made Sarah
say something that would only save him and not her! But according to
one opinion, Avraham was not thinking of himself. Rather he was betting
on the psychological factor to help save them both. Avraham knew that
the greater the sin, the more the "Yetzer Hara--evil inclination" tries
to make a person do it (along the lines of "forbidden fruit taste
sweetest"). So Avraham knew that if Sarah would say that she was his
wife, the Egyptians would have an even stronger desire to take her since
it would be adultery. But if Sarah told them that she was his sister
and thus available, since it was not as severe a sin as with a married
woman, the Egyptians' temptation would subside and they would leave her
alone. Unfortunately, the lesson here seems to be that evil can often
override psychology, as the Egyptians DID take Sarah in the end.

Reading a bit further on, one comes to the famous "Brit--Covenant" that
Hashem makes with Avraham. As part of this Brit, Hashem tells Avraham
(15:13) "Know that your children will be strangers in a strange land and
they will be enslaved and made to work hard for 400 years."
Interestingly, if one adds up the years from when the Jews went down to
Egypt until they were taken out, the total comes to only 210. So the
Midrash Rabbah (Oral Tradition, Exodus 18) says that the counting began
from the time that this Brit was made and thus adds up to 400 years.
But the Chatam Sofer (R. Akivah Sofer) asks "How can we begin the
countdown from the time of the Avot (forefathers) when the Brit
specifically says that the Jews had to be enslaved for that amount of
time and the Avot were not enslaved?"

The Chatam Sofer answers his own question by saying that human
psychology is such that a person can begin to experience certain
feelings even before the event which causes those feelings actually
takes place. For example, if a poor person hears that someone left him
a big inheritance, he will begin feeling happy even while he is still
penniless. When a person is waiting to be sentenced by a court, he will
begin feeling depressed while he is still free. Similarly, the Avot
cared for and commiserated with their future children so much that as
soon as Avraham heard that his children would be slaves, his happiness
(and that of Yitzchak and Yaakov too) went away and they all felt as if
they were enslaved. As a result of this "mind over matter" the Avot
helped pay off almost half of what would have been the Jews' suffering
later on.

Finally, towards the end of the parsha, Avraham is commanded to (17:10)
"Circumcise yourselves, all males." The Vilna Gaon (R. Eliyahu) notes
that throughout his life until now, Avraham kept the entire Torah. "If
so," says the Vilna Gaon, "why did Avraham wait to do this Mitzvah of
circumcision until Hashem commanded him?" The Vilna Gaon answers this
with a famous saying of the Rabbis that "Greater is the one who was
commanded and does, than he who was not commanded and does." The reason
for this is because human psychology is such that when a person is TOLD
to do something, his immediate reaction is to say "NO!", because no one
likes to be bossed around. Thus, if someone does something because
Hashem commanded him to do so, he is showing greater effort in
conquering his Yetzer Hara to say "no", than someone who does something
voluntarily. But then why did Avraham do all the other Mitzvot BEFORE
Hashem commanded him and only waited to do this one until AFTER Hashem
commanded him? The Vilna Gaon's practical answer is that Avraham knew
that if he did the other Mitzvot voluntarily, he could always perform
them again AFTER Hashem commanded him. But the Mitzvah of circumcision
can only be performed once and Avraham wanted that one time to be a
result of Hashem's command, so that he could overcome his Yetzer Hara in
doing it.

These incidents prove how complex human psychology is. And yet, the
parsha gives us a hint as to how a person can try to understand at least
his OWN psychology. That hint is given in the first two words of the
parsha, in which Hashem tells Avraham (12:1) "Lech L'cha--go to
yourself". With this command Hashem was telling Avram "try to
understand yourself and why you do the things you do." As to how Avram
was supposed to do this, the command is given to him as part of the
directive to go to the Land of Israel. According to the "Ollilot
Efraim" Hashem was telling Avraham that the best way for a Jew to really
get to know himself is to come to the Land of Israel. After all, a
person tries to understand his physical makeup by going back to his
physical roots--i.e. his parents' DNA). According to the Zohar (main
book of Kabbalah) every Jewish soul is born in the Land of Israel.
Thus, for a Jew to understand himself spiritually and psychologically,
he must go back to his spiritual roots--i.e. the Land of Israel. Only
there can a Jew really feel at home, discern right from wrong, feel the
pain of his Jewish brothers and sisters, and overcome his Yetzer Hara in
order to obey Hashem's commands.

Shabbat Shalom,
Shprintz


 

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