10 Nov 2016 Lech Licha: An Ancient Journey through Modern Times
Lech Licha, Journey forth for yourself. The ancient command that began one man’s journey; the ancient command that blazed the trail for our people from time immemorial; the ancient command that thus began the life, the history, the destiny of every single Jew – in all times, in all places, in all countries and centuries…Lech Licha – Journey forth, for yourself.
And Hashem said to Avram, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ – Go for yourself, from your land, and from your birthplace, and from your father’s home, to the land that I will show you (Bereishis 12:1).
Notes Rashi: לַהֲנָאָתְךָ וּלְטוֹבָתְךָ – This journey will be for your benefit and your good.
Thus begins a dramatic parsha, full of obstacles and trials that Avraham and Sarah must contend with: a long journey to an unknown, distant land, a famine in the Promised Land, an abduction by a foreign king, a war and captive of war, a prophecy of exile and servitude, a command to do bris milah at the age of ninety-nine… And the nisyonos (life tests) that Avraham faced continues on.
Avraham Avinu’s journeys and tests, his struggles and triumphs, have become our past, present and future (until the End of Days). With every step he took, he forged ahead for himself and his wife, as well as for his children after him.
As the Ramban writes, quoting Chazal: אמר הקב”ה לאברהם צא וכבוש את הדרך לפני בניך. ואתה מוצא כל מהשכתוב באברהם כתוב בבניו – The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Avraham: go and conquer the way before your children. And you will find that all that is written regarding (the life of) Avraham Avinu is written regarding his progeny and descendants as well… (Ramban to Bereishis 12:10).
How do we remain grounded, we may wonder, as we journey forth in such a turbulent world? How do we maintain our sanity in a world that seems to have gone crazed? עולם הפוך ראיתי (Pesachim 50a) – We are in an upside down world!
How is it that we remain committed to the path first trod upon by our forefathers and foremothers? How is it that we hold fast to G-d, come what may? How is it that the Jew is able to overcome his struggles and obstacles in an upside down world? How is it that we remain a hopeful people, despite all we have gone through, all that we have witnessed, and all that our nation has experienced?
R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “A person without G-d, a person who denies G-d or negates Him, who drifts from Him or is alienated from Him – such a person is homeless and uprooted. He can never rest or enjoy peace of mind. He never has a feeling of security, no matter how powerful or wealthy he may be. Complete security and peace, harmony and serenity can be found only in G-d. That is why the Shechina (Divine Presence) is like two large wings that cast shade, and in that shade a person finds a cool place and protection against the heat, fatigue, desolation and loneliness. Modern man has been alienated from G-d for so long; he is like a leaf carried by the wind. Under the wings of the Shechinah (see Rashi to Bereishis 12:5) has the connotation of restfulness, peace, serenity, rootedness and being anchored” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Bereishis, p.76).
How can we continue to journey forth, as did Avraham Avinu and Sarah along with him?
It is only if we seek shelter and protection, serenity and peace, under the Wings of the Shechina.
No matter the turbulence that rages around us, if we remain anchored to Hashem, we will always persevere, individually, as well as nationally.
Indeed, Lech Licha – Journey forth for yourself. Journey forth to Hashem and it will then be for your benefit and good.
R’ Yisrael Meir Lau writes of his uncle, R’ Mordechai Vogelman, with whom R’ Lau was sent to live in Kiryat Motzkin, in Eretz Yisrael, after surviving the Holocaust. R’ Vogelman fled Poland in 1940 with his wife and six year old daughter, arriving in Eretz Yisrael penniless, but alive. “In 1940,” R’ Lau writes, “just as the war broke out, the rabbi and his wife left their home in Katowice, fleeing Poland along with their only child, six year old Leah Naomi, a pair of Shabbat candlesticks, four small volumes of Talmud, a tallis and tefillin. I still have the prayer shawl in my home, yellowed with age, but preserved with care…” (Out of the Depths, p.113-114)
If we want to continue the journey first begun by the founder of the Umah Yisraelis, Avraham Avinu, and if we want to triumph in a world that often seems to have gone mad, we must find shelter under the wings of the Shechina.
We journey forth, for our benefit and our good, from land to land, from place to place, always yearning to complete our journey in “the Land that I will show you.” And along the way, we must hold fast to G-d and cling to the tenets of our faith: Shabbos, Torah and tefillah, symbolized in those Shabbat candlesticks, four small volumes of Talmud and a tallis and tefillin that fled Poland and Nazi Germany with their owner, to begin their life in the new land.
As Avraham Avinu journeyed, we journey. As Avraham Avinu was tested, we are tested. As Avraham Avinu persevered, we too shall persevere.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,