Lech Licha 5784 – To Journey Home

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Lech Licha, we begin the journey with Avraham Avinu.  From the first call of G-d in his life, at the age of seventy-five, till his death at one hundred and seventy-five, Avraham walked with G-d.  Hence the gematria of lech licha, “go for yourself,” is 100 (the numeric value of the Hebrew letters); because for 100 years, patiently, consistently, courageously and faithfully, Avraham walked with G-d (cf. Baal HaTurim, Bereishis 12:1).   

Rabbi Jospeh B. Soloveitchik, the Rav, zt’l, teaches, “‘And the L-rd said to Avraham: Go forth…’ Avraham, the knight of faith, according to our tradition, searched and discovered G-d in the starlit heavens of Mesopotamia.  Yet, he felt an intense loneliness and could not find solace in the silent companionship of G-d whose image was reflected in the boundless stretches of the cosmos.  Only when he met G-d on earth as Father, Brother and Friend – not only along the uncharted astral routes – did he feel redeemed.  Our sages said that before Avraham appeared, majestas dei (Divine Majesty) was reflected only by the distant heavens and it was a mute nature which ‘spoke’ of the glory of G-d.  It was Avraham who ‘crowned’ Him the G-d of earth, i.e., the G-d of men” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Bereishis, p.72).

According to the Rambam (in his commentary to Pirkei Avos 5:3), the first of Avraham’s ten tests was the one with which our parsha opens: לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ, Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you (Bereishis 12:1).

To leave one’s homeland, one’s family, one’s history and one’s past, in order to journey to the unknown, is a heroic test.  And yet, the mishnah (Avos 5:3) teaches us that Avraham passed each of the ten trials.  G-d said to leave, and Avraham picked up and he left his land, family and past behind, all in order to sanctify the name of G-d in the world and to claim Eretz Yisrael as the heritage and homeland of Am Yisrael l’netazch, for eternity.

Rav Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ – The Torah speaks of three departures: physical departure, behavioral departure and kinship departure.  Departure from your land connotes physical departure.  Departure from your birthplace can be understood as leaving the mother who teaches the child the basics of behavior; the early years of one’s life in one’s birthplace shape and determine one’s behavior patterns.  Departure from your father’s house refers to clannish estrangement, alienation from one’s kin.  Avraham was called upon to form a new fellowship, in which the teacher becomes the parent and the student becomes the child.  A new concept of fatherhood emerged, one based upon communication and common devotion rather than upon biological factors.  Parent-teacher and child-disciple relations replace the progenitor-offspring relationship.

““The charismatic personality must dissociate himself from his national connections and completely free himself from the environment he was  born and reared in.  The spiritual straying is the gist of the command here; the physical journey is of secondary importance.  Avraham must forsake his past and transplant himself into a new historical dimension.  His synonym is an Ivri (14:13), a wanderer or a ‘yonderman’ who came from beyond the river, a man who does not belong here.  G-d preferred the shepherd as His confidant; He selected a member of a stable society and converted him into a nomad.  Severance of all ties with an urban, closed environment was an an indispensable condition (conditio sine qua non) for the realization of the covenant” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Bereishis, p.73).

And so, headed into the unknown, faithfully following the command of G-d, Avraham heeded the call; he left the land of his birth and he courageously journeyed to the new land, the land of his destiny and the land of his future children – Am Yisrael – that would be born to him.

On Friday (Oct. 20, 2023), Staff Sgt. (res.) Omer Balva, H’yd, 22, was killed by an anti-tank guided missile launched by Hezbollah at Israel.  Omer Balva, a 22-year-old Rockville, MD, native, was back from his home in Israel. Then, during his U.S. vacation earlier this month, Hamas stormed southern Israel, kidnapping hundreds and killing more than 1,000. Balva’s reserve infantry unit in the Israel Defense Forces quickly recalled him.

But before his return, he wanted to gather supplies he knew that soldiers in his unit might need. So he and his friend Ethan Missner, who has known Balva since they were 7-year-old students at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, went shopping. They bought knee pads, elbow pads, earmuffs and other supplies for the 9203rd Battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade, Missner recalled. The two spent Balva’s last night stateside at Missner’s parents’ home in Potomac stuffing a duffel bag full of gear.

“He was such a loving person,” said Missner, 23. “He brought a lot of light to the world.”  Balva, who grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington with three siblings, was among the 360,000 reservists that the IDF called up to battle.  The pair remained in contact after Balva was deployed to the Israeli border.  “He said that he could hear bombs dropping at night and it was tough for him to sleep,” Missner said. “But on par with who Omer is, if anything he was more concerned with how his family was feeling, his girlfriend, me. He didn’t want people to feel sad for him.”

The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School community — including alumni, students, faculty and staff — is “completely devastated and heartbroken” to learn of Balva’s death, said Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, head of the school, in an emailed statement.  “Omer was a beloved student,” Malkus said. “He was an unabashed advocate for the state of Israel. He is a hero to the state of Israel, the Jewish people and the school. We mourn his loss.”

When Balva enlisted at 18, he wrote Missner a letter to remind him of all they had shared as children and all they had to look forward to as men — marriage, kids, a lifetime of memories.  “He wrote that when he’s having a tough time, he imagines us at 24, 25 with our families on vacation, just being together. … That’s the one thought that always put a smile on his face, because he wanted to start a family young,” Missner said. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/10/22/omer-balva-rockville-israel-idf-gaza-lebanon/)

בברכת בשורות טובות וישועות לכל ישראל,


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