For the week ending 16 October 2021 / 10 Cheshvan 5782

Parashat 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 corrupt 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 will emerge 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.


Visiting One’s Self

“Go for yourself…” (12:1)

Many years ago in a more naive and somewhat safer world, I once hitchhiked from Amsterdam to Pisa in Italy.

Only the young and the reckless (and I was both) would climb aboard the rear seat of a BMW 900 motorcycle on a night of driving rain with a 50 pound pack strapped to one’s back. (This placed my center of gravity somewhere past the outer extremity of the rear wheel.) Every time the rider accelerated, the backpack dragged me backwards off the bike. The autobahn was a sea of rain. It was King David who taught us that G-d “protects fools.” And that night I certainly qualified for protection.

However, hitchhiking taught me something other than G-d protects the foolish; hitchhiking taught me what is called in Hebrew “menuchat hanefesh, literally the “repose of the spirit.”

We live in a world where stress can literally eat us up if we let it. How do we combat this killer?

There’s an elderly lady who sits in a nursing home in New York City and every day she says the following:

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift from G-d — that’s why we call it the present.”

When you stand by the side of the road waiting for a ride, you have no idea whether someone will pick you up in a minute, an hour, or next week.

You are not in control. It’s wonderfully relaxing.

No one in his right mind hitchhikes to an important business meeting or to catch an airplane. The very act of hitchhiking says, “I’m prepared to be where I am. I don’t need to be anywhere else.

A hitchhiker feels the presence of hashgacha (Divine supervision). My life is not in my control. All I have is the present. And therefore I must live in this moment and be here now.

That is why hitchhiking is a great calmer. (No, I don’t mean karma.)

A Jew’s job is to live in the present, but not for the present. Much of our lives are spent thinking about what might happen, or what might not happen, or where I could be/should be now, or what went wrong or what went right. What a waste! This moment is unique. It will never be here again. Sometimes, I just close my eyes and think, “I’m alive!”

The little agenda pilot that lives in our head can steal our lives away without our even noticing, unless we heed our little hitchhiker’s guide to eternity saying, “G-d gave you this moment; live it to the full!”

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, G-d said to Avraham, “Go for yourself…” Actually, the Hebrew translation is Go to yourself…

Avraham is the personification of kindness in the world. The essence of kindness is giving, and only a person who is totally at one with where he is can give fully of himself. Avraham had the ability to “go to himself”, to connect every G-d-given second in his life to eternity.

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