Lech Lecha 5779

Parshas Lech Lecha

Trials of Faith and Trials of Action

The Midrash [1] points out that we find twice in all of scripture the words, “לך לך” (go for yourself). One of them is the verse in the beginning of this week’s parsha: לך לך מארציך וכו’ – go for yourself out of your land, and the second is in next week’s parsha [2]: ולך לך אל ארץ המוריה – and go for yourself to the land of Moriah. At first glance, the Midrash states, we cannot be sure which of the two departures was valued more by Hashem, whether it is the first one when Avram leaves his home, or the second which is discussing Avraham’s travels to sacrifice his son Yitzchok. The Midrash tells us that from the fact that it is written “and go to the land of Moriah” we can deduce that the second leave-taking was more beloved by Hashem than the first.

We must attempt to understand this Midrash. We know from various sources that Avraham withstood ten trials [3], and that two of these trials are: (1) wandering from his home in Haran to a strange land and, (2) the command to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah. The Midrash seems to be evaluating which of these two tests was more compelling. But how can this be? How is it even fathomable to compare these tests of Avraham Avinu? Is it not completely obvious that the Akeidah, where Avraham brought his son – his sole heir, born to him at the advanced age of one hundred as a sacrifice was a more difficult test than leaving the land of his father? Further, what significant idea does the Midrash give us when reaching the obvious conclusion that the journey to sacrifice Yitzchok was more valued by Hashem?

Let us first examine the test of leaving his homeland and his father’s house. The pasuk says, ויאמר ה’ אל אברם לך לך מארציך וכו’ ואעשך לגוי גדול ואברכך ואגדלה שמך וכו’ וילך אברם כאשר דבר אליו ה’ וכו – And Hashem said (using the term “ויאמר”) to Avram, ‘go for yourself out of your land etc., and I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you, and make your name great,’ and Avram went as Hashem spoke (using the term “דבר”) to him, etc.”

Rashi explains that the words “for yourself” mean for your own satisfaction. If so, this poses a difficulty; for by saying “leave your land for your own satisfaction and benefit,” as well as telling Avram he will become the progenitor of a great nation in the new land diminishes the essence of the trial. How can this be considered a trial if he is clearly promised a great reward for his performance?

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh [4] discusses the change of the wording in the pasuk. First it says “ויאמר” as in ויאמר ה’ אל אברם while later the term “דבר” is used as in וילך אברם כאשר דבר אליו ה.
ויאמר indicates a soft tone of voice [5], and דבר a fierce tone [6]. When Hashem told Avram to leave his land and his father’s land, He told him so in a pleasant tone as is also understood from all of the rewards he promised him. However, Avram listened to Hashem and went out solely for the sake of fulfilling what Hashem commanded him and not for any benefit he would receive. Therefore the wording when Avram actually carries out the commandment is “דבר” for Avram went just as if it would have been a decree.

Perhaps we can now understand the true meaning of the test. It was not whether he would go or not, for it was obvious that Avram, who was a prophet and had already sacrificed his way of life and shown his willingness to actually sacrifice his life for his belief in Hashem, would most definitely listen to Hashem. Rather the test really was to determine what Avram’s feelings would be, would he also go in order to receive all of the rewards Hashem promised him, or would he go simply because Hashem commanded him so. As the Ohr Hachaim explained he sincerely passed this test.

Another Midrash says [7]: לך לך (go for yourself) – Hashem said “לך,” for you Avram, have I been waiting. What is the meant by saying that Hashem was waiting for Avram? Rashi says לך means, “for your own satisfaction and benefit.” Hashem is the ultimate good. His sole purpose in creating the world was in order to provide; as it is the way [8] of one who is good to want to bestow good upon others. As the verse states [9], כי אמרתי עולם חסד יבנה – for I said the world is built on kindness.

Hashem can bestow goodness upon all His creatures whether or not they merit His kindness; and He certainly does so. However, Hashem’s desire is not only to show kindness. He wishes to bestow the ultimate benefit on His creation. When He shows grace to the undeserving it is good, but not the greatest possible good – there is the slightest something that it lacking; for the recipient of Hashem’s bounty knows that he is undeserving and must therefore be humbled by Hashem’s grace, as the Gemara [10] explains, a person is self-conscious upon receiving something gratis (something for nothing). But Hashem wishes to bestow the greatest good, without the slightest dimunition of joy for the recipient in receiving Hashem’s gift. This ultimate benefit can occur only when the receipient is worthy of receiving Hashem’s kindness. Only then will Hashem’s benevolence be totally fulfilled.

It is for this reason that Hashem says, “for you, Avram, have I waited” and Rashi says, “לך – for your own satisfaction and benefit.” This means that I (Hashem) have waited for a righteous person as yourself in order to bestow my good on someone worthy, for then it is the ultimate goodness.

The Mishnah relates [11] שכר מצוה מצוה ושכר עבירה עבירה – the reward of a mitzvah is another mitzvah, and the consequence of an transgression is another transgression. The Pri Chaim [12] explains that since Hashem is the ultimate good and He wants to bequeath His goodness onto others, therefore when someone performs a good deed he is now worthy of receiving a reward from Hashem. This is on its own also a mitzvah, for the person has now given Hashem the opportunity to shower good upon him. This is also unfortunately the case in reverse. Upon performing a negative act, which causes Hashem to have to reprimand him, one obviously causes pain (figuratively) to his Creator and as such is, in itself, a bad deed.

Now we can truly understand the test that faced Avram and how Avram passed it.

Avram’s entire purpose in fulfilling Hashem’s words was that Hashem could be shower his good upon him, not for his (Avram’s) sake, rather for the sake of giving Hashem the chance to have someone worthy upon whom to bestow his goodness. This is a virtually impossible feat to accomplish. A person by virtue of his human vulnerablity has feelings, and to so completely remove oneself from his own emotions and do so just for Hashem’s sake is a truly difficult feat!

The test of the Akeidah on the other hand was seemingly a test of what his actions would be and not of his inner emotions triggered by this test. Even if he had a feeling of despair when going to sacrifice his own son, the test was to see whether he would actually execute it or not, and not what his feelings were at the time.

We can now appreciate what the Midrash is trying to determine. Which of these two tests was more difficult for Avram? Was it to fulfill the command of Hashem to sacrifice his son with his own hands, or to leave his land and his father’s house, which would bring him much reward – performing it solely so that Hashem should be able to take pleasure in being able to give to someone worthy of receiving? The Midrash concluded that the akeidah was the more challenging test from the words “go to Moriah.”

The Midrash later says there is no land known as the land of מוריה. It therefore understands the name מוריה as homiletic. It is coming to teach us that this is the place where “הוראה” (Torah instruction) comes forth. Another opinion is this is the place where “יראה” (fear of Hashem) comes forth (הוראה and יראה are both similarly sounding words to מוריה). Had Yitzchok actually been sacrificed there would not have been a Jewish nation. Hence there would be no one to receive the Torah. Alternatively Yitzchok is our forefather who is synonymous with fear [13]. Had Yitzchok been sacrificed there would be a significant void of fear of Heaven in the world.

This than can be what the Midrash concluded from the verse “and go to the land of Moriah.” We can assume that the second leaving was even more favored by Hashem than the first. For in the test of the Akeidah, besides for the obvious difficulties involved, there is also a test of belief and not just actions. Hashem told Avram go to the land of Moriah which signified that from there, both Torah and fear of Hashem would go forth. This in effect is telling us that there would still be a Jewish nation without any void of Heavenly fear. Yet, while Avram understood what Hashem hinted to him by sending him to “מוריה,” he still went to sacrifice his son not thinking for one moment about the conflict of results and believing with utmost faith in Hashem’s words. It is therefore evident from the words, “go to the land of Moriah” that this test was greater than the test of leaving his land, for this test had both physical issues and issues dealing with belief.

This concept is also found later in our parsha. The pasuk says [14], והאמין בה’ ויחשבה לו צדקה – And Avram believed in Hashem, and Hashem accounted it to him as a righteousness. The Sforno [15] explains that the intent is that Avram’s belief in what Hashem told him was wholehearted in spite of the extreme improbability of the promise being fulfilled. Therefore Hashem considered it a righteousness. So too, by the Akeidah, do we see his strong trust in Hashem.

We the Jewish people, the progeny of our forefathers, carry within ourselves the inate ability to reach these same great spiritual levels. We should strive to cultivate these great abilities through our individual service of Hashem.

Good Shabbos

Rabbi Dovid Sochet

[1] Bereishes Rabbah 55:7
[2] 22:2
[3] See Tractate Avos 5:3
[4] Rabbi Chaim Ben Atar 1696-1743
[5] See Tractate Shabbos 87A
[6] See Tractate Makos 11A
[7] Midrash Ruth 8:1
[8] See Tractate Pesachim 112A the Gemara relates that more than the calf wants to nurse for his mother does his mother want to give and sustain him.
[9] Tehilim 89:3
[10] Talmud Yerushalmy Tractate Orlah 1:3
[11] Tractate Avos 4:2
[12] Reb Avrohm Chaim of Zlotchiv (1750-1816), one of the disciples of the Mezhritcher Maggid.
[13] As it says in the verse Bereishes 31:42 ופחד יצחק – the fear of Yitzchack.
[14] 15:6
[15] Rabbi Ovadiah Ben Yaakov 1475-1550