Parshas Lech Licha: To Feel Is To Be

Parshas Lech-Licha: the journey of one man that launched a nation.  In the ten generations from Noach to Avraham, mankind forgot about G-d and reverted back to their pagan ways.  As the Sages teach (Avos 5:2):

עֲשָׂרָה דוֹרוֹת מִנֹּחַ וְעַד אַבְרָהָם, לְהוֹדִיעַ כַּמָּה אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם לְפָנָיו, שֶׁכָּל הַדּוֹרוֹת הָיוּ מַכְעִיסִין וּבָאִין, עַד שֶׁבָּא אַבְרָהָם וְקִבֵּל עָלָיו שְׂכַר כֻּלָּם

There were ten generations from Noach to Avraham, in order to make known what long-suffering is His (G-d is slow to anger); for all those generations kept on provoking Him, until Avraham, came and received the reward of all of them.

Parshas Lech Licha: the journey from foreign lands to our homeland.  Lech Licha: the journey from Avram to Avraham Avinu, the father and founder of the Umah Yisraelis.

וַיֹּאמֶר האֶלאַבְרָם, לֶךְלְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶלהָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ, and Hashem said to Avram: go for yourself from your land, and from your birth place, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you; וְאֶעֶשְׂךָ, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל, וַאֲבָרֶכְךָ, וַאֲגַדְּלָה שְׁמֶךָ; וֶהְיֵה, בְּרָכָה, and I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, and you will be for a blessingוַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָם, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֵלָיו ה’, וַיֵּלֶךְ אִתּוֹ, לוֹט; וְאַבְרָם, בֶּןחָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וְשִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה, בְּצֵאתוֹ, מֵחָרָן – and Avram went just like Hashem spoke to him, and Lot went with him, and Avram was seventy-five years old when he left Charan (Bereishis 12:1-4).

אֶלהָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ(Journey) to the land that I will show you,” Rashi comments: אשר אראך. לֹא גִּלָּה לוֹ הָאָרֶץ מִיָּד כְּדֵּי לְחַבְּבָהּ בְּעֵינָיו, וְלָתֵת לוֹ שָׂכָר עַל כָּל דִּבּוּר וְדִבּוּר; כַּיּוֹצֵא בוֹ, אֶת בִּנְךָ אֶת יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר אָהַבְתָּ אֶת יִצְחָק (בראכב), כַּיּוֹצֵא בוֹ עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ, וכיובּ וּקְרָא אֵלֶיהָ אֶת הַקְּרִיאָה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי דֹּבֵר אֵלֶיךָ (יונה ג’) – Hashem did not reveal the land to him immediately, in order to make it precious in his eyes, and to give him reward for each and every statement (about his journey to the land).  Similarly to this we find (in regard to Akeidas Yitzchak), ‘your son, your only one, whom you love, Yitzchak’.  Similar to this, we find, ‘upon one of the mountains which I shall tell you’

Here, Rashi connects the command to Avraham to leave his homeland with the command to take Yitzchak as a sacrifice.  In both instances, the command was not explicit; rather, the final destination or end goal was alluded to in stages, to give Avraham merit for each statement.

On this Rashi,  R’ Dr. Abraham J. Twerski writes, “R’ Henoch Lebovitz (d.2008) cites the Medrash that says that when Avraham put Yitzchak on the altar, Avraham wept profusely.  Although Avraham arose early in the day and was most diligent to carry out the Divine command joyously, he nevertheless felt pain that he was going to lose his beloved son.

“The Altar of Slabodka (R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l, 1849-1927) asked, why did Avraham not use his enormous powers of self-mastery to suppress his feelings for Yitzchak?  He answered that it is not the Divine wish that a person be devoid of natural emotions, but rather that one must overcome them in order to fulfill the Divine will.”

R’ Dr. Twerski relates the following vignette about his great-grandfather, R’ Motele of Hornosteipel, who had a wonderful and precious library that contained rare manuscripts which were destroyed in a fire.  Noting his deep anguish over the fire and lost manuscripts, his chassidim wondered about his emotional reaction.  R’ Motele explained to them, “The Gemara says that one must praise G-d for the bad that one experiences as well as for the good.  If I had come into a fortune, you no doubt would have asked to celebrate with a l’chaim.  You should do so now, as well.”

Hearing this, one of the chassidim asked, “But why was the Rebbe in such obvious anguish over the loss of the library?”  Reb Motele replied, “When G-d causes a person to experience adversity, one must feel the pain associated with it.  G-d does not wish us to be devoid of normal emotions.  It is just that after one has felt the pain, one must have faith that everything that G-d does is for an ultimate good.”

R’ Dr. Twerski concludes and writes, “When reading about the greatness of tzadikim, some people say that they cannot seek to emulate them, because they were spiritual angels rather than mere mortals like us.  It is important to know that our tzadikim were extraordinarily great human beings, but they never lost their humanity.  G-d sough to intensify Avraham’s love for Yitzchak, and Avraham wept at the very moment that he was joyous that he would fulfill the Divine command.

“G-d does not ask us to abandon our humanity and emotions, but to dignify them by being masters over our emotions rather than subject to them” (Twerski on Chumash, p.37-38).

In our world of turbulence, man feels a wide range of emotions in response to the different experiences of life.  בִּשְׁעַת חֶדְוָתָא חֶדְוָתָא בִּשְׁעַת אֶבְלָא אֶבְלָא, in a time of rejoicing, we rejoice and are glad, and in a time of mourning, we mourn and are sad (cf. Rashi to Gen.6:6).   Hashem does not want man to suppress, deny or negate the emotions that we feel.  The RS”O created us as feeling, thinking, emotional human beings.  Avodas Hashem is not to say we don’t feel and everything Hashem does is for the good.  It is, rather, to say we DO feel, and still, we know and believe that everything Hashem does is for the good.

Throughout Sefer Bereishis, the Torah narrates the powerful emotions of our patriarchs and matriarchs.  Including, but not limited to, we learn of Sarah’s frustration towards Hagar and Avraham (16:5), Rivka’s confusion and despair over her (twin) pregnancy (25:22), Leah’s tender eyes from crying (29:17), Rachel’s distress over her barrenness (30:1), and Yosef’s repeated weeping (42:24, 43:30, 45:2).

The Torah is the blueprint as to how we must live our lives and navigate the world in which we live.  To feel is human; to accept our lives as ovdei Hashem is exalted and noble.

May we merit the ultimate redemption, when Hashem will swallow up death forever, and wipe away tears from upon every face (Is.25:8), and our mouths will be filled with only laughter and our tongues with song (Ps.126:2).

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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