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Parshas Lech Lecha

Build Your Own World
Excerpt from the sefer "Trust Me!" Adapted from a talk given by Moreinu v'Rabbeinu Ha-Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita, in 5755.

And God said to Avram, "Go from your land, from your birthplace, from your father's house, to the land which I will show you."?(Bereishis 12:1)

A person who seeks perfection in the service of Hashem must clarify and thoroughly understand what his job is in his world. (Mesillas Yesharim ch. 1)

With this powerful principle, the Mesillas Yesharim begins to lead us through the various stages of spiritual growth: to know what one's obligation is in "his" world. What is "his" world? The world a person creates through his actions. We read: "'Everyone goes on to his world' [Koheles 12:5]. This teaches that each tzaddik is given his portion in the World to Come according to the honor he deserves" (Shabbos 152a).

Each person builds his own world - a spiritual world that he creates through his deeds.

R. Elazar said in the name of R. Chanina: "Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it says [Yeshayahu 54:13]: 'and all your children shall be students of Hashem, and the peace of your children will be abundant.' Do not read banayich (απικ - your sons) but rather bonayich (αεπικ - your builders)."?(Berachos 64a)

There is an obvious question on this dictum: what right does the Tanna have to alter a word of the verse? It states banayich. How can R. Chanina change the letters, create a new word, and derive an apparently unintended implication? The Radak answers that although banayich (your children / your sons) is derived from the word ben (son), it also stems from the root-word boneh (build), because the son builds the family; he creates and builds the future generation - the greater family structure. Therefore, when the verse mentions children studying Torah, it is talking about the act of building in which Torah scholars engage. This is the job of talmidei chachamim - to build.

Each person was created to build; to perfect something in his lifetime. R. Yochanan ben Zakkai teaches in Pirkei Avos (2:8): "If you have studied a substantial amount of Torah, do not take credit for yourself, for this is the task you were created to perform." It is important to realize that this statement was made by R. Yochanan ben Zakkai, whom the Gemara credited with knowing the entire Torah (Succah 28a). It took him years of effort and toil to accomplish such an outstanding feat, yet he tells us that this is merely one's job in this world - to constantly engage in the building of spiritual edifices. R. Chaim Volozhin (in his work Ruach Chaim) writes that this is such an important facet of a person's being that, if he doesn't fulfill this obligation, he is reincarnated in order to complete the task.

R. Scheinberg continues:

A young yeshivah student once asked me how he could know if he was on the correct path. He explained that he often wondered if he was doing the right thing. He found that sometimes he was extremely motivated to study Torah and perform mitzvos, and yet the very next day he would lose all his desire and be ready to give everything up. He had so many questions and doubts. In essence, this young man's trepidation - which all of us have felt at one time or another - can be addressed as follows: We have to be aware of the fact that we are the children of Avraham Avinu, and that his tests are our tests. The Ruach Chaim (5:2) writes that Avraham passed on his spiritual strength to us as an inherited trait. What he had to acquire through almost superhuman effort has since become a part of our nature, part of our spiritual "genes."

Avraham Avinu was tested with the command "lech lecha" - "Go out from your land, from your birthplace, from your father's house, to the land which I will show you" (Bereishis 12:1). The commentaries teach that Avraham's greatness in passing this test lay in the fact that he completely severed his ties with his past. One has to be ready to divorce himself from everything he knows and everyone he loves in order to launch a new career in the service of the Almighty. R. Chaim Volozhin writes that it is in our very blood, as descendants of Avraham Avinu, to uproot ourselves from our lives in exile and immigrate to Eretz-Yisrael, and to forgo the comforts of the Diaspora and suffer hardship in order to live in a land full of spiritual values.

The Test of Wandering

When Hashem caused me to wander...?(Bereishis 20:13).

There is another aspect to the trial of "lech lecha" as well. Avraham himself gave a very interesting explanation of his test. He said: "when Hashem caused me to wander..." (Bereishis 20:13). This was part of the trial of "lech lecha," to wander. As Ibn Ezra comments, he wandered about, not knowing his destination.

The implicit message of "lech lecha," and the way to pass a test when facing the unknown, is to remember that although the Almighty commands us to go forward, He is always there to guide and direct us.

When one contemplates this concept, it becomes clear how remarkable it is and how extraordinary was the test that Avraham faced.

Imagine that one day you get a direct, unequivocal command from Hashem: "Go!" Since He is the Creator of the universe, you really don't have much choice, so you obligingly reply, "O.K., but where to?" The Almighty answers, "Just go. When you reach your destination, you'll know." It's very unsettling to go without knowing where you're headed for - but once again, it's not really in your hands.

So you pack your suitcase and bid your family farewell. "Where are you going?" they ask you. "I have no idea, but I'll know when I get there." If this feels strange to you - who received a direct command from Hashem - you know how insane you must appear to others!

Yet still you go. You take a cab to the airport and go to the first desk you see. "I'd like to buy a ticket for the next plane out please." "Yes, where would you like to go?" "I don't know. Just get me a ticket on the next flight." "Oh. I see," answers the agent, giving you a strange look. She peruses the schedule and puts you on the next flight out, going to ... Well, what's the difference, as long as you go. That's what you were told to do, right?

Finally you arrive at your destination, and collect your baggage. You walk out of the terminal and begin to consider your next step. Suddenly a car pulls up, and a bearded man with a yarmulke perched on his head peers out at you from the window. "Hey, Reb Yid! What are you doing here? Where are you going?" "Well to tell you the truth, I don't know. I'm just going." "What are you talking about? You have nowhere to go? Get in the car, you'll come home with me."

Does this sound like a nice story line? Well, that's "lech lecha." To go, and not know where you're going. But in reality, the Almighty is always with you, guiding your every step, even though you may not always be aware of this.

Next Stop, Beirut!

The following incident vividly illustrates this idea. It happened to a certain elderly talmid chacham whom I know personally.

After an extended visit to the United States, he was returning to the Holy Land to be with his family for the High Holidays. Rosh Hashanah was only several hours away, and he was on a very tight schedule. According to his itinerary, he was supposed to switch planes in Paris, but he was so exhausted from the flight that he slept straight through the stopover. He woke up when the plane was well on its way again, and with a start of dismay he realized what had happened. Before he even had the chance to explain his plight to the stewardess and ask where the plane was going, the captain announced over the loudspeaker, "Ladies and gentlemen, next stop - Beirut."

It doesn't take too much imagination to realize the quandary he was in - an obviously Jewish man about to enter a hostile Arab country. When the plane landed, the stewardesses covered him with blankets while the plane refueled and more passengers boarded. After they were safely in flight again, it occurred to the rabbi to ask where the next destination was - perhaps he could catch a plane to Tel Aviv from there. The answer hit him like a ton of bricks - Bangkok! With a sinking feeling, he realized there was no way he would be home in time for the holiday. "Bangkok?" he thought. "There aren't any Jews in Bangkok! What am I going to do for Rosh Hashanah?"

After clearing customs, he was struck by an inspiration. He contacted the local U.S. Army base and asked if there was a Jewish chaplain there. It turned out that there was, as well as a few other Jewish soldiers. And there was a Rosh Hashanah service scheduled to take place on the base that was open to the public. In addition to military personnel, a few people from the city would be attending the service - Israeli tourists, and a few local businessmen. The rabbi made arrangements to stay on the base and acquired some fruit to eat, as it was impossible to obtain kosher food on such short notice.

It goes without saying that the shul - or to be more precise, the chapel - was not exactly an Orthodox one. The few Jews in Bangkok were not observant, and the seating was mixed. With the chaplain's consent, he set up a small, makeshift mechitzah, and sat behind it by himself.

The ersatz congregation was thrilled to have such a learned and distinguished personage in their midst, and asked him to speak. Over the course of the holiday, he delivered several sermons and taught impromptu classes. Many of the people were so inspired by his words that they took it upon themselves to observe Shabbos and other mitzvos. After the "uneventful" passing of Rosh Hashanah, the rabbi arranged a flight to Israel.

Several months later, he was walking down a street in Jerusalem when a young man excitedly stopped him. "Shalom aleichem! Do you remember me? I was in Bangkok during Rosh Hashanah and heard you speak in the chapel on the army base. I was so moved by what you said that I decided to come to Israel and study in a yeshivah."

Incredible! The Almighty had arranged the whole chain of events in order to get a young man to come to Jerusalem and attend a yeshivah! Although we may think it's amazing, it's really just one example of how Hashem directs events so that His will is carried out. Our job is to trust in Him and conduct our lives with the realization that everything occurs by design. Sometimes, as in this story, the hand of Divine Providence behind a sequence of events is obvious. In other situations, things may not be so clear. At all times, we must heed the words "lech lecha" - "go," with the understanding that He is guiding our footsteps and everything will ultimately work out for the best.

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rosh Yeshiva
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.

Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood).

If you would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff please contact him: or 732-325-1257

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