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Parshas Lech Lecha

Emulating the Avos -That Rings a Bell
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Chazal teach "One is obligated to say: 'When will my deeds reach the deeds of my forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?'"(Taana D'vei Eliyahu Ch. 25). We are obligated to strive for greatness and not be complacent in this endeavour. Therefore we aspire to emulate the superlative example set by the Avos. One might ask, "Why don't we try to model ourselves after the great leaders of our times or of the past generation, for example, the Chafetz Chaim?" The answer given is that it is not enough to try to emulate great people - our yearning should be to reach the level of the greatest of the great. The obvious implication here is that the Avos were indeed the greatest. But is this actually true? Certainly they were greater than the Rishonim, the Tanaim, Amaraim and even most of the Neviim. However, were they greater than even Moshe Rabbeinu?

The Torah concludes with the verse: "There will never be another Prophet who will reach Moshe's stature" (Devarim 34:10). Moshe was the greatest Navi there ever was, past and future - including the Avos. This is one of the Rambam's thirteen Principles of Faith. Moshe is also called "Servant of Hashem" (ibid 34:3; see also Bamidbar 12:7). Not only was Moshe greater than the Avos in prophecy but he was also more advanced in character development. We find that Moshe surpassed Avraham in the trait of anava, humility. The Gemara states that while Avraham regarded himself as "afar v'eifer", dirt and ashes, (Bereishis 18:27), Moshe and Aharon said "v'nachnu ma?", what are we? (Shemos 16:8). Even though Avraham was extremely humble, nevertheless he considered himself to be dirt and ashes, which is still something tangible. Moshe and Aharon went further, they did not consider themselves to be anything at all (Chullin 89a). The Torah also testifies, "And the man Moshe was very humble, more than any man on the face of the earth" (Bamidbar 12:3). Why then are we not obligated to use Moshe Rabbeinu as our role-model?

In the last century and a half, there have been great advances in technology. Let us focus on two - the telephone and videoconferencing. The first allows two individuals in different locations to speak to one another. The other not only lets them speak, it actually lets them see each other in living colour. Obviously the latter invention is of greater significance. There is no comparison between a simultaneous videoconference of three individuals in separate continents, and the first telephone that probably did not work over great distances and produced only poor reception. Yet if I would ask you who invented the first telephone, you could quickly answer that it was Alexander Graham Bell. While if I asked you who first developed the technology for videoconferencing, you are unlikely to know; and chances are, you probably do not care either. Why do we know more about an obsolete instrument invented more than a century ago than technological breakthroughs of our own times? The answer is that the telephone came first. Before we had the telephone, we were just as technologically distant from talking to someone far away as we were from being able to see them - they were both just dreams. The invention of the telephone was the start. Using that technology we were able to advance and improve what Bell started, until today when we have videoconferencing. He did something no one thought possible and made it a reality and we built on it. Now every telephone and videoconference is a testimony to Bell's invention.

Herein lies the answer to our question. Even if Moshe was actually greater than Avraham, and reached higher levels, Avraham's achievements are still more significant. He challenged accepted beliefs and found Hashem in a world far removed from G-d. Believing in G-d at that time was probably just as outrageous as speaking on the telephone! Through reflection Avraham saw many different ways of serving Hashem: the 613 mitzvos and all the future rabbinical decrees. He stood up to his attackers and spread the message. No matter how great his successors would be, it could only ever be a case of building on Avraham's great legacy. Even if Moshe Rabbeinu is considered greater than Avraham, his greatness was predicated on Avraham's previous efforts.

This is the significance of the Avos. Since they were the first, they are regarded as the greatest. Therefore we strive to emulate them. And there is another lesson we can learn from them as well. They were successful despite all the challenges they faced. They realized that each test was an opportunity to attain greatness. We also need to persevere in the face of our daily challenges and utilize them to achieve greatness.

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