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Rabbis' Blog

The Zigzag Course Upwards

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The name designated by Torah to any given object, person or idea is not merely a form of reference but an expression of its true essence. It follows that the name of the weekly parsha articulates the all-encompassing and common theme of every story and lesson contained therein.

This week we learn about the first time G-d communicated a direct command to Avraham. Although he had a glorious past of courageously sacrificing his life for G-d, it was all a preparation to receiving the divine instruction of “Lech Lecha – Go forth into the world and spread the knowledge of G-d to all of civilization!” By traveling upon G-d’s instruction, Avraham reached the Holy Land and, at the crossroads of civilization, was able to accomplish his divine mission.

The words Lech Lecha, designated as the name of the entire parsha, represent constant spiritual elevation and accomplishment.

Most of the stories recorded in the parsha fit the theme of Lech Lecha. Upon reaching the Holy Land he received special messages and blessings from G-d. He set up a hospitality center with the sole purpose of spreading the awareness of G-d and was wildly successful. He miraculously vanquished four trained enemy armies thereby rescuing entire cities from ruthless oppression and entered a covenant with G-d twice, faithfully observing the mitzvah of circumcision at the old age of ninety-nine.

The first major incident of the parsha is glaringly different. During his first year in Canaan, there was a famine in the land, which many pagans were able to interpret as the vengeance of their deities on the newly arrived monotheist. To make matters worse, Avraham had no alternative but to travel to Egypt, the most morally depraved region at the time, exemplified by the fact that his wife Sarah was seized by the Pharoah and was rescued only by divine intervention.

How are these details part of the spiritual elevation of Lech Lecha?

When shooting a rubber band, you quickly learn that the further back you stretch it the further it will travel forward when released. Regression for the sake of progress.

Avraham and Sarah’s descent to Egypt and the problems that followed culminated in their ultimate triumph. Pharaoh begged them for mercy, lavished them with many gifts and riches and sent them on their way with much honor and respect equipped with the tools they needed to fulfill their divine mission going forward.

This became the prototype of all descents and regressions Jews experienced throughout history. Each time we get pulled back, we spring forward with even greater velocity.

On a personal level, although we pray every day not to experience adversity and challenges are no cause for celebration, we must be aware that all regression is temporary and certainly no reason to become despondent. There is always a way to transform every pitfall into a steppingstone to greater heights.

Saving the World

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A millennium after creation, humanity had descended into utter chaos. With no law and order and natural human selfishness unrestrained, civilization was rampant with corruption, thievery and murder. G-d was unwelcome in His own world.

To refine the earth so that it be able to once again reflect divinity, G-d caused a devastating flood to wash away all living organisms. Only Noach, his family and a representation of all species of animal and bird life miraculously survived in the legendary Ark that Noach was instructed to build. 

Noach dutifully followed G-d's instructions and he toiled on the project for 120 years. In addition to constructing the massive boat, he needed to stock provisions to sustain his family and all the animals for the 365 days they would be ensconced in the floating box.

You would think that after his mission was complete and the rain began to fall Noach would kick up his feet and enjoy the year-long cruise. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whereas animals in the wild fend for themselves, Noach was the very first zookeeper and he was responsible for the animals sailing with him. He tirelessly fed them around the clock and it was only due to his great devotion and attention that they all survived and were able to continue their species in the new world.

Despite the fact that his family assisted him with the feedings, the non-stop work proved to be a heavy burden for the 600-year old Noach and he soon became ill. To make matters worse, he was once delayed in feeding the lion and the ferocious cat bit Noach, causing him to groan and cough up blood for the rest of the voyage.

Nevertheless, Noach did not call in sick and he relentlessly forged ahead with his routine of non-stop care for all on the Ark.

This detail of the story is an inspirational lesson for all time. We all have a unique role in nourishing the world with G-dliness. Sharing Torah messages, encouraging others to do another mitzvah and perpetrating acts of goodness and kindness to the best of our abilities.

At times we encounter hardships in fulfilling our mission and we could start to wonder if it is all worth it.

Noach teaches us that even when saving the world, do not expect it to be easy and comfortable. If you encounter challenges on the way, don't complain. Keep moving forward.

This lesson is communicated to us through Noach whose name means rest and relaxation. We pray that as we continue to execute our respective missions to the world, G-d should grant us all our needs in the best possible way.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Levi Greenberg

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