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Parsha Lech Lecha

This weeks parsha is parshat Lech Lecha. There is hardly a section that does not contain and explicit reference to Eretz Yisrael. One could even say that Eretz Yisrael is the main theme of this weeks parsha.

Hashem commands Avraham:

לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך אל הארץ אשר אראך.

Go forth from your land…to the Land that I will show you.

   Rav Meir Yechiel of Ostrovtza points our something so plainly obvious that one can only wonder why nobody mentioned this before. “These words constitute the first mitzvah ever given to a Jew.” Yes, the first thing Hashem ever said to Avraham, the first Jew, was, ‘Leave your birthplace and immigrate to my special land.’ One would’ve thought that belief in G-d, rejection of idolatry or some other cardinal religious principle would’ve been the first commandment. Furthermore, why didn’t Hashem at least introduce himself to Avraham like he did to Moshe Rabbeinu? So why is this? Why did Hashem choose to begin Judaism with the words Lech Lecha-Go forth from your land?

   Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (the author of Sefer HaKuzari) provides a beautiful answer. “You find that after Avraham - the most exceptional person (of his time) - climbed the ladder of perfection and became eligible to cling to G-dliness, he was transferred from his land to Eretz Yisrael, the only place where he could reach absolute perfection…The same thing happened with the descendants of Avraham regarding prophecy. As long as they were in Eretz Yisrael, many of them prophesied; and many factors aided them - (the laws of) purity, Divine service, sacrifices and most of all, the proximity of the shechina.”

   In other words, although Avraham had attained high levels of perfection outside the land, Hashem knew that he would only be able to fulfill his destiny of true perfection inside Israel. This is why he didn’t introduce himself to Avraham. That would come later. First, the conditions had to be right. Avraham had to leave the defiled lands of exile and enter his natural habitat, where he could thrive and grow and produce offspring to do the same.

   As we all know, Avraham was doing some pretty important things in the diaspora. He was discovering his creator, fighting idolatry, converting people to monotheism, performing acts of kindness and the list goes on. Nonetheless, Hashem told him “All of that is great, but you have to accomplish all this in my special land.”

   In this day and age, anyone can make Aliyah quite easily and comfortably. No matter how involved in ones community in the diaspora even if he’s doing those important things that Avraham did, what Lech Lecha teaches us, is that no matter high one can climb on the spiritual ladder of perfection in the diaspora, one can always climb higher in Hashem's special land of Israel. The first divine command ever given to a Jew was Lech Lecha because Israel is a prerequisite for all of Judaism.

   We read in Parashat Lech-Lecha of a conflict that arose between Abraham’s shepherds and those of his nephew, Lot, who had accompanied him when he relocated in Eretz Yisrael. The Sages explain that Lot, whose ethical standards were not the same as his illustrious uncle, allowed his shepherds to bring the animals to graze in private property. Lot justified the theft of pasture on the basis of the fact that God promised the land to Abraham and his descendants. Abraham, however, realizing that the promise had not yet been fulfilled, insisted that the animals must not graze on private lands. Ultimately, Abraham suggested to Lot that they part ways, “Ki Anashim Ahim Anahnu” (“because we are brothers” – 13:8). Rashi (in his second interpretation to this verse) explains that although Lot was Abraham’s nephew, and not his brother, he nevertheless referred to him as a brother because they looked alike.

   The obvious question arises, why would this outward resemblance be a reason for Abraham and Lot to separate? Why did Abraham say to Lot that they should part ways “because we look alike”?

   The Hatam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer of Pressburg, 1762-1839) explained that since Lot looked like Abraham, his unethical conduct would besmirch Abraham’s name, thus causing a Hillul Hashem (defamation of God’s Name). People would mistake Lot for Abraham, and thus conclude that Abraham was stealing pasture. They would then begin to ask, “This is how a person who claims to represent God acts? Is this man somebody who I should listen to? Is this what happens to somebody who believes in God?” Abraham thus decided that there was no choice but to separate from Lot.

   As the descendants and inheritors of Abraham Abinu, this must be our mission at every moment in our lives – to ensure that God’s Name is glorified. We, like Abraham, must carefully weigh our words and actions. Our entire lives must be lived for the sake of Kiddush Hashem – at home, in the synagogue, at work, everywhere.

   Rav Shimon Schwab (Germany-New York, 1908-1993) was once audited by the IRS. The auditor searched through the Rabbi’s papers, and was astonished to see how every dollar was accounted for, and all the paperwork was impeccably organized and in order. When he was finished, he said, “This man has restored my faith in humanity.” As a tax auditor, this man saw people cheating and lying every single day. It was a great Rabbi who restored his faith in the nobility of people, in the ability of people to act honestly.

   This is the kind of Kiddush Hashem that Abraham Abinu taught us. It behooves us all to perpetuate this legacy and follow his example, ensuring to always act in a way that brings admiration for Torah and the Jewish people, and not, Heaven forbid, the opposite.

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