077 – Torah Portion of the Week – Lech Lecha – Keep the Faith – the Most Important Quality – A Powerful Parable about the King – A Great Story about Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – Preparation for Marriage
The Torah Podcast Transcript
077 – Keep the Faith – The Most Important Quality
Torah Portion of the Week – Lech Lecha
The verses start out in Lech Lecha like this. It says, “Hashem said to Avraham, go for yourself, from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and I will make your name great. And you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And all the dwellers of the earth will be blessed through you.” So, these verses start out with one of the famous tests that God gave Avraham Avinu – lech lecha, to go out from his land. Rashi explains there that Hashem blessed him because going out of your land, going out on a journey like this, diminishes three things – first of all, it diminishes children. You’re going to have less children if you’re on the road. It diminishes your money. You’re going to make less money if you’re traveling, you’re going to a new place. And it takes away your name, because you have no reputation. You’re going to wind up in a new place.
So, Hashem blessed him and promised him with all of these blessings. The Chofetz Chaim brings down in a verse that comes a little bit later, the verse that said, “He believed in Hashem and he reckoned to him as righteousness.” The Chofetz Chaim said, “This teaches us that of all the principles of yiddishkeit, of all the principles of Judaism, the most important principle is emunah, faith in Hashem. And he brings the verse, “A Tzaddik shall live by his faith. Tzaddik be’emunah yichye. A man will live by his faith. Faith is the most important quality a person could have.” He brings a moshul that if a man is drowning in a river and he sees a tree, he doesn’t just grab onto a little branch. He grabs onto the trunk of the tree, which is like the Torah. It’s a tree of life for those who hold it. Faith in Hashem and in His Torah is a tree of life.
I want to discuss today the important principle of faith, how important it is and why we need it so much. Rav Moshe Feinstein explains, “What was this test of Avraham, that you should go out from your land?” He says, “Simple. God is everywhere. God can bless you wherever you are. So, why is Hashem telling Avraham to leave if He can bless him right where he is?” This went against Avraham’s intelligence. It doesn’t make any sense. If Hashem wants to bless me, so bless me here. Now, there’s also a Midrash Rabba that says, “We don’t know which of these tests are more precious in Hashem’s eyes – the test of the akeida, or leaving his home land.” This test was equal. It’s not clear which test was greater, the sacrificing of his only son, Yitzhak, or leaving his land.
And Rav Moshe Sternbuch explains that he had to leave his entire empire. He had a tremendous following in Charan. He brought many people back to Hashem, thousands of people. And now all of a sudden, he has to leave. He has to leave that all behind. All of his life’s work he has to leave. And he doesn’t understand why. But that’s exactly what faith is. Faith means, going after God even though your small seichel, intelligence does not understand, because God is much bigger and greater than I am.
There’s a Midrash and there’s a Rashi that says on the verse, “Of the land I will show you.” Hashem says to him, “The land I will show you.” He didn’t reveal to him where he was going. He was just telling him to go. He doesn’t even know where he’s going. Hashem says, “Go,” and doesn’t tell him where. The Sfas Emes says like this, “nevatal bechol chushim,” that he should nullify all of his senses and all of his desires, “rach le’ratzon Hashem,” only for the will of God. But I don’t know, I don’t know what it is. Kol hadeveikus hachitzonius, all of his connections to the outside world he has to turn it inside. And he has to bring it to ratzon Hashem, to the will of God. B’az yisgaleh leratzon l’adam, and then Hashem reveals to the man what God’s will is. If you’re willing to give up everything to understand what God wants from you, at that point God will reveal to you which way you’re supposed to go, and what you’re supposed to do with your life.
He says, “The general rule is, rach lishmoa lekabel, our job is to listen and to accept,” because Hashem’s wisdom is so great it has no end. No limitation. Our job is to accept what God wants from us, and to give up our intelligence for the greater purpose of what God wants from us. We don’t understand the bigger plan. Our preconceived ideas of what life is about is not really what life is about. We have to be open to new possibilities, and that’s faith. That’s having faith in God to believe in Him, that He understands what’s best for us, and He will direct us in the right way. The Malbim says that Hashem said to Avraham, “Just go. Go. It doesn’t matter, get away.” He explains there, “Get away from these people, from this society, from the bad influences that you have in Charan and go where? To Eretz Yisroel, to the Holy Land.
The Cli Yakar explains, “As long as Avraham was outside the Land of Israel, he didn’t have the spirit of prophesy, and he could not know or understand the intrinsic nature of his soul, whose source was Mount Moriah.” Chazal tells us that man was created from the dirt. Adam comes from adama, from the dirt from the Temple Mount, where the Beis haMigdash was. That’s our source. That’s the source of a human being.” He continues and says, “It was worthwhile for him to leave everything that he had there, his land, his birthplace and the house of his father, to go and cleave to this holy place. Because there he would achieve the ultimate connection with the Divine presence.” Thus, Avraham understood from the words “lech lecha, go to you, that’s literally what it means, go to you. Go to your own origins. Go to your neshama, to your soul. Connect with your soul. And he was only able to do that, to go to the Beis HaMigdash, to the Temple. That was the only place he would be able to get the level of ruchnius, of spirituality, to be able to connect with his soul. And the Ramchal explains that the verse says, “A land which I will show you.” What do you mean, “I’ll show you?” Only in Eretz Yisroel can you see. Only when you come to Israel, you get a clear and deeper understanding of Me, and the way I run the world. This is what Hashem said. “For your benefit,” it says. “And for your good.” What does it mean, your benefit and your good?
The Rambam also said, a person should put himself in a desert. If the whole world is off the derech, the whole world is going the wrong way, separate yourself from the world. And how can you do that? Only with faith. And how did the Jews survive the Holocaust? How can we put up with all of this suffering that the Arabs are causing us, and the Germans were causing us, and the Spanish were causing us? How do we put up with it? With our faith. Rav Noam Elimelech explains, “It says, lech lecha me’artzecha, go out from your land. What do you mean, the land? The adama. From your middos, from your body, from your bad character traits.” Bad character traits have to do with being connected with the physical. You have to go out from your land, from the physical. A Jew has to be le malah min hateva, above nature.
And the famous word is why things are put opposite here – what does it say? Go out from your country, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house. Just the opposite. When you leave somewhere, first you leave your house. Then you leave your town. Then you leave your country. Why say the opposite? First you leave your country, then your town, then your house. The meforshim, commentators explained it means yes, first leave your country. Leave your culture. Then even leave your town, your more local culture which is more connected to you. Avraham had to leave the house of his father, because his father was doing idol worship. He had to create himself a new world, a new philosophy which connected with the Creator, a world view that nobody in the world accepted. We can’t imagine. But we too have to do that.
And Rav Henoch Leibowitz explained, “Yes, of course you can. If Avraham Avinu was going to be affected by his environment, so all the more so us. We have to separate ourselves from our environment.” But the only way we can go to the beis medrash whether it be all day or half a day, or even a couple of hours, we have to believe that our parnassah, our money comes from God. In order to leave America and France and Europe wherever you are, to come to Eretz Yisroel, you have to believe in God, to believe that God can take care of you. And in order to give up the pleasures of this world which the world is telling us that life is about – a nice car, and a nice house, nice things – in order to give those things up you have to have real faith. But the more one thinks about it, and if you sit yourself down candidly and ask yourself, “What is life about?” so you’ll understand life is about getting daas Elokim, understanding of God, doing God’s will. And when that becomes clear, everything else fits in place.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid mi Dubno brings the verse, “I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great.” He says, “Normally, you have to ask a normal person how much money he has, so he’ll tell you how he has this amount of coins, and he even has a worker. But if you ask a Duke how much money he has, he’s not just going to say he has thousands of coins. He’s going to say he owns entire towns. And if you ask a King how much he has, he’s not just going to say towns, he’s going to say he has several countries. But if you ask the Master of the Universe how much He has, He’s going to reply that He has tens of thousands of universes.” The Midrash says on this verse, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great,” He’s talking about Avraham Avinu by saying what? By saying Elokei Avraham. We pray “the God of Avraham”. So, now we can understand how important was Avraham Avinu.”
Great Stories – Rav Shach
The verse says, “See to me, you have given me no offspring. The Ohr HaChaim asks, “Wait a second. Hashem promised Avraham Avinu that he was going to have children. He said, ‘I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth.’ So, how can he say now this verse says later, how can he say, ‘You haven’t given me any offspring?’” The Ohr HaChaim wants to explain, “No, because he used the loshen, language, the dust of the earth. Avraham Avinu was scared that his children would be on am ha’aretzim. They would be lowly based people, who didn’t know Torah, didn’t have wisdom, like the dust of the earth, they’d be am ha’aretzim, people of the earth. Therefore, God reaffirmed and He said, “Don’t worry. Your children will be like the stars.”
Rav Shach wants to explain, “When a person feels pressured from the yetzer hara, a guy’s going to the beis medrash, he’s supposed to be learning and now he has pressure. He feels like wasting time, and he wants to talk about with his friends, he wants to have idle conversations. He wants to take some unnecessary trips, maybe we’ll travel over here, maybe we’ll do this. I’ll go out and do some errands now. All these different things that a guy has when he goes to the beis medrash, he’s in the yeshiva, are the things that pull him out of the beis medrash.” Rav Shach said that a person has to contemplate, if I don’t sit here in the beis medrash, oy vavoy, I’m going to be an am ha’aretz, an ignoramus. And that’s the worst thing of all. He brings down the famous Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, that’s who used to give mussar. He told him, “If you don’t sit and learn, you’re going to be an am ha’aretz.” That was the worst thing that could happen to a person, that he doesn’t have daas Elokim, that he’s missing an understanding of what life is about. The worst thing that can happen. He said, “After you heard Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka say, “If you don’t learn you’re going to be an am ha’aretz, he didn’t need to hear any more mussar shmoozim after that. That was enough tochacha, enough rebuke to last you a lifetime.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Moshe Aaron Stern explains, you have to prepare for marriage. Just like when you fast if you don’t accept the fast the day before, the fast the day after doesn’t count, so too marriage. You’ve got to prepare yourself for the marriage. He says, “Preparation for marriage is not just a foundation but it’s also a root. A root has two purposes – first of all, the root holds the tree from strong winds blowing it down. And it will also give sustenance. It brings water from the ground. So too, the home needs – you have to have sustenance, and you have to have koach, strength against the outside forces. But the longer a thing lasts, the more preparation it takes to make it. For example,” he says, “Food which doesn’t last too long, it takes a little while to prepare it. Clothing on the other hand, takes more time to prepare. But a marriage is for eternity. So, surely it takes time to prepare. Not only that, when you acquire a physical thing, you acquire it once. I buy it, and that’s it. But not so by spiritual things. There are 48 ways to acquire the Torah. Each one adds something special. So too, when you make a new home. You have to have Torah, you have to have good character, you have to have derech eretz, proper relationships with people. It’s all a big investment for the future, and it’s worth it.
Therefore, a person has to prepare himself to understand the psychology of what it means to live with another person. And he has to think about and learn about derech eretz, having proper conduct. And he also has to have faith, he has to believe in hashgacha pratis, that everything that happens is min hashemayim, it comes from heaven. Then he’s going to be happy in his house also, because a person with those character traits is obviously going to have a good marriage. And just like Hashem created the world for the Torah itself, so too a man has to build his home from the Torah. So, it’s not just enough, it’s not just enough to have derech eretz, but you also have to have Torah.” He brings a raya, proof from Noach. He says, “Noach didn’t get one person to repent. The only person who decided to repent was Noach, but his children no. Why? Because his main thing was derech eretz, good character. But he didn’t have Torah. Torah is the thing that brings a person back to Hashem. Therefore, before a marriage, a person has to realize the tachlis of life is Torah. Therefore, the tachlis of his home is also Torah.” This is what he says. “Our whole purpose of marriage is to fulfill Hashem’s commandments. After careful research, I have found that a person invests in Torah more and more, marital problems become almost non-existent.” So, if you have Torah you’ll have shalom bayis, peace in the home.
That’s it for this week’s Torah podcast. Please share it with your friends, and please leave me comments. I really appreciate when you give comments, because it really helps the podcast.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff
Stephan Sundkvist says
It takes courage and determination to break out from what seems safe and familiar and to go on your own. This is, among many other things, that we can learn from Abraham. What may seem good for us in the first place, is maybe not the best for us in the long run. We need most often to take some provocative steps to set yourself free to follow a higher spiritual goal. True spirituality is never a simple “follow John” way, as it is written:
“Isa 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
Isa 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Very often we calculate about the mundane cost, but following Hashem and the mitzvos is about doing it wholeheartedly no matter the cost. It is about having faith in Hashem and the courage to abandon what is a snare to our spiritual development and blessings.
Abraham exciled in faith into what can be seen as a very insecure future. But Hashem never abandon us and will never leave us, no matter we have to give up everything to reach a deeper spiritual understanding.
Very often we feel forced to live in an evil environment that makes us dirty and block our spiritual awareness.
Israels period in the desert is an example of being cut off from bad influences from the lifestyle of the Egyptians, although it takes time to get detoxified from bad habits. Therefore we need to separate ourselves from the world.
So let us trust in Him who is the King of the Universe and follow His advice and commands that we find in the Torah.