Torah Portion: Lech Lecha
November 9, 2019 | 11/Cheshvan/5780
Appel’s Parsha Page
Abraham reaches out to Help
by Rabbi Yehuda Appel
The Talmud describes the afterlife as “a world turned upside down.” This means that many of the people who have been given little respect here on earth will be accorded much honor in the afterlife, and conversely, many who were prominent in this life will receive little attention there. In other words, from our vantage point here on earth, we simply have no way of knowing the true righteousness of people.
Rabbi Aryeh Levine, known as the “Tzaddik of Jerusalem,” told of a cobbler he would see everyday in the Jerusalem marketplace. Though they never really spoke with one another, whenever he passed the cobbler’s way, something would compel Rabbi Aryeh to put some money in a charity box the cobbler had placed in his store. Then one day, out of the blue, the cobbler invited the rabbi to a special meal commemorating the completion of a tractate of Talmud.
At the celebration the following night, Rabbi Aryeh found the cobbler teaching a group of elderly Jews the last passage of the Zohar, the core text of Jewish mysticism. Listening to their discussion, Rabbi Aryeh — himself a great Kabbalist — was overwhelmed by the group’s great profundity and understanding of Kabbalah.The next morning, Rabbi Aryeh went to seek out the cobbler. When he arrived at his shop, however, he found the doors shut. The cobbler had passed away the night before. Jewish tradition teaches that in every generation there are “36 hidden Tzaddikim” — people whose presence justifies the world’s existence. This cobbler may have been one of them.
But it is not always a good thing that righteousness be “hidden.” A classic example is found in this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha. In the parsha, Abraham is told by G-d to “leave your land, your birthplace, and the house of your father — and go to the land that I will show you.” The commentaries explain that had Abraham stayed in Haran, he would not have been blessed with children; the lack of holiness in Haran would not have allowed the birth of the great Isaac, the only patriarch never to leave the land of Israel. So, if Abraham was to have Isaac, he had to go to the Holy Land.
Abraham’s journey to Canaan was a great test. Leaving his parents behind, he did not know whether he would ever see them again. Moreover, venturing into a foreign land was always dangerous, as one never knew what kind of welcome there’d be from the natives! But the possibility of receiving G-d’s blessings — and obeying G-d’s will — encouraged Abraham to make the journey.
Though this journey was for Abraham’s benefit, the Midrash makes clear it was also for the world’s benefit. The Midrash likens Abraham to a bottle of perfume: As long as the bottle is sealed, no one can enjoy its scent. But once it has been opened, everyone can benefit. In a similar vein, the Midrash explains, as long as Abraham remained in Haran, people in other lands could not be exposed to him or to his message. Abraham’s journey thus allowed others to share in his revolutionary concept of monotheism.
The Chafetz Chaim, the spiritual leader of European Jewry in the early 20th century, severely censured people for not taking such a “journey.” Ibn Paquda, author of the ethical classic “Duties of the Heart,” insists one must be willing “to get down into the mud, and ,if need be, also become muddied, to help people rise from spiritual devastation.”
Of course, there are limits to the risks one should take. For example, we are not to endanger our own lives in order to help others.
The bottom line is that the paths we walk are very narrow, and though a person may appear to be righteous, in truth, his actions may be self-serving. We must be dedicated to helping others as well. And it is only in the next world that the full and unadorned truth will be revealed.
Changing your Life
by Rabbi Nesanel Yoel Safran
Most people find it comfortable keep doing things the way they always have. Even when we discover that there may be a better way to behave or live, we find it difficult to pull away from our old patterns. Yet we learn from this week’s Torah portion the value of being open-minded to question our values and even to be willing to make changes in our lifestyle if we discover a truer way to live. We learn this from the lives of our ancestors Abraham and Sarah, who grew up in a world that worshipped idols. Nobody even knew that God existed. When Abraham discovered the truth, he bravely left behind the world of idolatry and set out to live and teach the world about God and show them a better way to live.
The year was 1872. The door to Tom’s ramshackle beach hut suddenly burst open, flooding the small room with rays from the morning sun. The boy squinted as he propped himself up from his thin straw mattress. He groaned as he recognized the silhouette of his uncle, Bluebeard the Pirate, with his sword dangling jauntily off his hip.
Tom gulped as he noticed the crinkled envelope his uncle was waving before him. It was the letter to England that Tom had planned to send with a messenger the next day.
Tom had always gotten along well with his uncle, who had raised him since he had been orphaned as a young child. But now the large man’s usually jolly face was contorted into an angry snarl.
“Tom Cooke, what is the meaning of this letter!?” he growled. “What do you mean you don’t want to be a pirate anymore?!”
Tom caught his breath. Standing up by now with his night-shirt brushing against his knees, he swallowed and said, “Surely you’ve read my letter uncle. As I’ve written, I plan to sail to England as soon as I can where I hope to find an honest job and…”
The pirate threw back his head in laughter, his big silvery-blue beard shaking as he laughed. “Surely you jest, boy!” he exclaimed. “Why, your father was a pirate, and his father before him. You might say it’s our family business!”
Although Tom felt frightened, he stood his ground. “I’ve been giving it some thought and I have come to the conclusion that being a pirate is wrong. What kind of a life is it? Sinking ships, robbing and hurting innocent people … I can’t do it, and I won’t!”
Seeing that his nephew was serious, the pirate softened his look and tried to appeal to the boy’s emotions. “Listen son, your whole life is here on Pirate Island. Why, you don’t even know a soul in England. Why give up a good, comfortable life?”
Only the squawk of Tom’s parrot cut through the silence in the small room as man and boy stared each other down. Tom felt himself shaking. His uncle was right, he thought. It would be difficult to leave the people and the life he had known. Yet, he knew deep down that their lifestyle was wrong and that he couldn’t stay.
Finally the boy spoke up. “I love you, Uncle Bluebeard. But I’ll be sailing for England with the next merchant ship. Somehow I’ll make it. I have to live according to my principles and I refuse to live a life that’s wrong. A pirate’s life is not for me!”
Q. How did Tom feel when his uncle tried to convince him to stay with the pirates? Is it OK to keep on doing something that is wrong because that is what you’re used to?
Q. Do you think that it is a sign of strength or weakness to change your way of doing things once you realize that certain ideas that you always thought were true really aren’t? Why?
Q. Can you think of a time when you made changes in your life based on your better understanding of the truth?
Ages 10 and Up
O. What would you say takes priority: being comfortable or being moral? Why?
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“If you wait until you find the meaning of life, will there be enough life left to live meaningfully?” –The Lubuvitcher Rabbi
JOKE OF THE WEEK
One Friday afternoon, 5-year-old Moishie came in while his parents were setting the table for Shabbos dinner. Quite surprisingly, Moishie asked if he could help.
His mother said, “No, but I appreciate your asking.”
Little Moishie responded, “Well, I appreciate your saying no.”
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