Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Lech Lecha

Parshas Lech Lecha starts a new chapter in the Torah and in World History. We now focus on Avraham and his descendants, leading into to the time when they will become the Bnei Yisrael. One important thing to remember throughout the entire Sefer Bereishis is that even though it might seem to be a book of stories, it most certainly is not meant to be treated that way. Every episode that is recorded about the Avos (Forefathers) in the Torah is meant to teach us either something very special about them or to teach us lessons in how to live our own lives. So whenever we learn a story in this week’s and the coming weeks’ parshiyos, remember this rule.

Let’s focus on one pasuk in this week’s parshah and see how this idea works. After Avraham comes back from battling the four Kings, Hashem tells Avraham that even though now he is childless, eventually he will have descendants that will number more than the stars. The pasuk then says, “וְהֶאֱמִן בַּי־הֹוָ־ה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה”, “And he believed in Hashem, and he accounted it to him as righteousness” (Bereishis 15:6). The Meforshim all try to explain the intentions of the pronouns at the end of the pasuk. Who exactly considered what an act of righteousness to whom?

Rashi explains that Hashem considered this great act of trust that Avraham showed him that he believed him even though it seemed impossible for this promise to come true, as a great act of righteousness on Avraham’s part. The question then becomes why is this specific act of righteousness mentioned in the Torah more than any of the others which Avraham surely did? The Seforno explains that right after this pasuk, the parshah continues with Hashem speaking to Avraham and promising Eretz Yisrael to his children. However, by this promise, Avraham asks Hashem “בַּמָּה אֵדַע כִּי אִירָשֶׁנָּה“…How will I know that I will inherit it?” (15:8). After the great show of faith in the previous pasuk, Avraham seems to take a pretty big fall, asking Hashem for proof that he will inherit the land! He answers that this pasuk is coming to teach you that this assumption is not true. If Avraham’s asking for a sign from God that he would inherit the land showed a lack of faith, Hashem would not have continued to consider the first pasuk as a show of faith and the pasuk would not have been left as is.

The Ramban translates the pasuk the opposite way; it can’t be that Hashem thought that this show of faith from Avraham was any better than any other great act on his part. After all, this is the man who will eventually go to kill his son for Hashem! Obviously he has a tremendous amount of Emunah! Rather, the pasuk is saying that Avraham considered this promise from Hashem to be an extremely righteous act on Hashem’s part. Both Rashi and the Ramban explain that after Avraham fought and defeated the four Kings, he was worried that his zchusim (merit) had run out. So Hashem tells him, “אַל תִּירָא אַבְרָם אָנֹכִי מָגֵן לָךְ שְׂכָרְךָ הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד“Fear not Avram, I am a shield for you; your reward is very great.” (15:1). When Hashem promises him a few pesukim later that he will have children, he promises him this not based upon Avraham’s great schar but rather “just because”, a gift to Avraham. Avraham considers this to be a great צְדָקָה, righteous act, from Hashem, and treats it as such.

According to both opinions, one question remains. Why did Avraham ask for a sign from Hashem that his children would inherit Eretz Yisrael but did not ask for one when Hashem promised him that he would have children? The Kli Yakar explains that there is a difference between an inheritance and a gift. A gift is given to you specifically, for you to keep forever. You do not have to worry about anyone taking it from you. However an inheritance is given to you over several other candidates who also have a claim to it. Hashem promised Avraham a child as a gift so Avraham was not worried about Hashem fulfilling that promise. But Eretz Yisrael was given over to all the children of Shem (the son of Noach), so the land had hundreds of potential inheritors, and Avraham was not sure if Hashem could fulfill his promise when all the other descendants of Shem also had an equal claim. Therefore, he asked Hashem to give him a special sign that he over all the other descendants would inherit Eretz Yisrael.

What sign does he give him? He doesn’t do a crazy miracle to back up his promise, he tells Avraham to perform a common ceremony which people used back then to make treaties to complete his promise. Furthermore, all the animals that Avraham used during this ceremony correspond to different korbanos that the Jews will do in the future in the Beis Hamikdash, in Eretz Yisrael.

The Avos are our blueprints for how we should relate to Hashem. As we go through the parshiyos of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, we must learn to recognize the lessons that are contained within their stories and use them to strengthen our Avodas Hashem. If we can internalize the message of the Avos, we will surely be worthy of the promises made in this week’s parshah, to be as many as the stars in the sky and the gift of Eretz Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom!

Check out last year's Dvar Torah for Lech Lecha here- we had an intersting discussion topic for last year's Dvar Torah. I'd be very interested to hear your opinion so please email or comment.

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