For the week ending 5 November 2022 / 11 Cheshvan 5783

Parshat Lech Lecha

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Ten generations have passed since Noach. Man has descended spiritually. In the year 1948 from Creation, Avram is born. By observing the world, Avram comes to recognize G-d’s existence, and thus merits G-d appearing to him. At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, G‑d tells Avram to leave his land, his relatives and his father's house and travel to an unknown land where G-d will make him into a great nation. Avram leaves, taking with him his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, their servants, and those whom they converted to faith in G-d. When they reach the land of Canaan G-d appears to Avram and tells him that this is the land that He will give to his descendants.

A famine ensues and Avram is forced to relocate to Egypt to find food. Realizing that his wife’s beauty could cause his death at the hand of the Egyptians, Avram asks her to say that she is his sister. Sarai is taken to Pharaoh, but G‑d afflicts Pharaoh and his court with severe plagues and she is released unmolested. Avram returns to Eretz Yisrael (Canaan) with much wealth given to him by the Egyptians. During a quarrel over grazing rights between their shepherds, Avram decides to part ways with his nephew Lot. Lot chooses to live in the rich but corrup city of Sodom in the fertile plain of the Jordan. A war breaks out between the kings of the region and Sodom is defeated. Lot is taken captive. Together with a handful of his converts, Avram rescues Lot, miraculously overpowering vastly superior forces, but Avram demurs at accepting any of the spoils of the battle.

In a prophetic covenant, G-d reveals to Avram that his offspring will be exiled to a strange land where they will be oppressed for 400 years, after which they willemerge with great wealth and return to Eretz Yisrael, their irrevocable inheritance. Sarai is barren and gives Hagar, her Egyptian hand-maiden, to Avram in the hope that she will provide them with a child. Hagar becomes arrogant when she discovers that she is pregnant. Sarai deals harshly with her, and Hagar flees. On the instruction of an angel, Hagar returns to Avram and gives birth to Yishmael. The weekly portion concludes with G-d commanding Avram to circumcise himself and his offspring throughout the generations as a Divine covenant. G-d changes Avram’s name to Avraham, and Sarai’s name to Sarah. Hashem promises Avraham a son, Yitzchak, despite Avraham being ninety-nine years old and Sarah ninety. On that day, Avraham circumcises himself, Yishmael and his entire household.


Real Relaxation

"Go for yourself from you land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you." (12:1)

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," runs the well-known phrase. Alfred Hitchcock, the celebrated movie director and renowned workaholic, once rephrased it, "All work and no play — makes Jack."

A number of years ago, Rabbi Binyamin Zeilberger, zatzal, took his leave of this world. Rabbi Zeilberger was a remarkable person. During the Second World War, he made a miraculous escape from Lithuania to Japan with the Mir Yeshiva. After the war, he settled in the United States. He was an exceptional matmid, someone whose application to Torah knew no bounds. During the summer vacation, Reb Binyamin could sometimes be found sitting by the bay at the end of Bay Parkway in Brooklyn. One time, a colleague passed by. Rabbi Zeilberger was leaning back, his hands cupped behind his head, his legs stretched out and his gemara on a shtender in front of him. Seeing his relaxed pose, the colleague remarked:

"Reb Binyamin, this is the way you learn?"

"No," he replied, "This is the way I relax."

It may sound on the surface that there is little to choose between "All work and no play makes Jack" and "This is the way I relax." However there is a large and fundamental difference.

Hashem told Avraham Avinu to forsake everything he knew his land, his relatives, and his father’s house. Hashem asked him to give up everything in order that he could become the prototype and progenitor of a nation who would change the world the Jewish People. To fulfill this monumental task, Hashem gave the descendants of Avraham a vastly powerful tool to complete their task: the Torah. However this tool, to be effective, needs constant practice. Like any top-notch professional, the tools of the trade cannot be left idle, even for one day. As Jan Paderewski, the famous pianist, once remarked, "If I don't practice for one day, I know it. If I don't practice for two days, the critics know it. If I don't practice for three days, the audience knows it." If the Jewish People as a whole don't practice the Torah even for one second, not only do we know it, but also so does the whole world. The vital life-giving influx of spirituality from the supernal realm is halted and the world's continuing existence hangs in jeopardy. The Torah and its mitzvot are not just the lifeblood of the Jewish People. They are the lifeblood of existence. We are not in this world to "make Jack." Jacks job is to make the world, and even though we may need to go and sit by the ocean and lean back a little, we can never afford to chill too much because, in the process, the world may freeze over.

* Sources: Nefesh HaChaim and story heard from Rabbi Yosef Shapiro

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