Parashat Lech Lecha

why test?


arashat Lech Lecha begins with Avraham Avinu’s first test – to leave behind his family, household, and childhood possessions in order to follow God’s lead to a new land. Hashem tells Avraham, “Lech Lecha MeiArtzecha UMiMoladtecha UMiBeit Avicha El HaAretz Asher Ar’eka,” “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” Although it must have been very difficult for Avraham to abandon his aged father and leave his homeland, could this really be viewed as a test? Didn’t God, who can foresee the future, know that Avraham would pass the test?

A story is told of a man who trained to become a public speaker. He read all of the material he was able to find and learned many great methods of public speaking. He watched some of the most experienced and charismatic speakers and spent many hours rehearsing by himself. This man may have known all about speaking, but since he never actually lectured in front of a live audience, he cannot be considered a public speaker. This man will be considered a public speaker only after he challenges himself and delivers a speech. It is the only way he can progress.

Similarly, a man challenged with controlling his anger can learn all about the dangers of anger and resolve never to get angry again, but until he is placed into a situation which in the past would have infuriated him and overcomes the urge to become enraged, we cannot say that the man has changed. A test is what advances a person to the next level.

Hashem knows that Avraham will pass the difficult task of leaving his entire life behind. However, He tests Avraham to enable him to enhance his trust in God. The test brings Avraham’s latent potential into reality and makes him a better person, as explained by Ramban to BeReishit 22:1.

“Lech Lecha”  literally means “go to yourself.” This supports the idea that Avraham’s task was an internal one which ultimately enabled Avraham to progress to the next level in his Avodat Hashem. When one passes a daunting test, he discovers his true essence and reveals to himself who he can become.

In Parashiyot BeReishit and Noach, the Torah relates stories pertaining to humanity as a whole, such as the creation of the world and the destruction of most of mankind. This pattern is broken in Parashat Lech Lecha, which focuses on the personal life of Avraham Avinu. In his article “The Power of Example,” former Chief Rabbi of Britain, Rav Jonathan Sacks, explains that the Torah narrows its focus on Avraham Avinu because he is “a living, stunning, persuasive example of what it is to live by the will of God.” Rav Sacks explains that when we read of Avraham’s triumphs, Avraham will serve as an inspiration to us, and we will attempt to emulate him. Each time Avraham Avinu passes a test, he becomes a greater person and serves as an example to the world of overcoming obstacles while maintaining faith in Hashem. We should strive to follow Avraham’s example and view any challenges we encounter as opportunities for growth rather than as difficulties.

facts of life: take this serious

Chessed / kindness

It is written in this week’s parashah, “Hashem said to Avram, after Lot left him, raise your eyes and look, from the place where you are there, to the north, to the south, to the east and to the west, because I will give you, and to your descendants, all this land that you see” (13:14-15). On the words, “urei min hamakom asher ata sham — look from the place where you are there” the Or HaChaim writes, “A great miracle (neis atzum) happened to

[Avram]! He was able to see the north, the south, the west and the east from one place, without needing to turn around.” What was the purpose of this miracle? Is it so difficult to turn around?

The Midrash tells us that Avraham’s tent had four entrances, so travelers coming from any direction, could immediately enter his tent. They didn’t need to go around, to get to the doorway.

It wouldn’t be so difficult to go around Avraham’s tent, but Avraham wanted to save his guests this extra exertion. He cared so much for people; he wanted to save them from the smallest discomfort. Hashem therefore acted with Avraham in the same manner, and he enabled him to see the entire land, without needing to turn around.

Avraham and Sarah, as we know, excelled in chessed. They also certainly avoided all conflicts and disputes.

As it states, “there was a dispute between the shepherds of Avram’s flock and the shepherds of Lot’s flock” (13:7). Avram said to Lot, ‘Let there not be a dispute between us…” (13:8). Avram immediately sought to dissolve the machloket, because Avram and Sarah’s way was always to do loving- kindness and goodness with others – the polar opposite of dispute and dissention.

Only once, did Avraham and Sarah not act in accordance to their high standards of kindness. (The Torah tells us of this one episode so we can learn from it. It isn’t that we fathom the ways of these two spiritual giants.) The Torah relates that when Hagar became pregnant, she shunned and looked down at her mistress, Sarah. Rashi writes, “[Hagar] said, ‘Sarah isn’t inside as she is outside. She shows herself as though she is a righteous woman, but she isn’t a righteous woman. She wasn’t able to become with child all these years, and I became with child…” (16:4). Sarah was very hurt from this belittling, and she complained to Avraham. Avraham told her, “Behold your maidservant [Hagar] is in your hands. You can act with her as you desire.

[Sarah] afflicted her, and she ran away from her.” The Ramban writes, “Our matriarch sinned with this affliction. Also Avraham [sinned] because he permitted her to do so.” What was the retribution? The passuk says, “An angel found [Hagar]… and said to her, ‘Return to your mistress… I will greatly increase your offspring. It will be impossible to count them; there will be so many… You will become pregnant and have a child. You shall call his name Yishmael… He will be a pera adam (donkey/man)…” (16:6-11). The Ramban explains, “Hashem heard her affliction, and gave [Hagar] a son, a pera adam, to afflict Avraham’s and Sarah’s offspring with all forms of affliction.” This prophecy is taking place, exactly as predicted. The Arabs are increasing immensely, and they afflict the Jewish people “with all forms of affliction.”

Many people are wondering, what can we do to stop this outrage? Perhaps knowing how it all began, we lend us the solution. The problem originated when Sarah afflicted Hagar. A solution, therefore, is to increase deeds of kindness and to be careful never to cause harm to others. In this merit, may Hashem protect us and redeem us from this galut, speedily in our days, amen.

something to think about

Can it be that this palace has no owner?

Once Hashem promised Avraham a son, the Torah tells us‭ ‬צדקה‭ ‬לו‭ ‬ויחשבה‭ ‬בה‭ ‬והאמן, and he trusted in Hashem and He reckoned it to him as righteousness ה‭ ‬אני‭ ‬אליו‭ ‬ויאמר, and Hashem said to him, “I am Hashem”.

The Midrash compares Avraham’s discovery of Hashem to a person wandering through a thick, overgrown forest. Suddenly at a distance he sees a brilliantly lit palace. He wondered, can it be that this palace has no owner? Is there no one controlling it? Suddenly the owner comes out to him and says I am the owner of this palace.So, too, said Avraham Avinu. When looking around the world, contemplating nature was sure that there had to be a master. Suddenly Hashem said to him “I am the master.”

However, does the parable really compare to Avraham and Hashem? When the person saw the palace, he said there must be an owner. When the owner comes out and says I’m the owner, the individual sees him, so something was added to his knowledge. However, although Avraham couldn’t see Hashem, he already understood that there was a force behind the world. What was added to his understanding by Hashem saying it’s Me? He still couldn’t see Him.

From time to time, every person has a feeling that propels him to want to get closer to his Maker. At first, it’s only a small feeling. If Hashem wouldn’t help bring him closer, it would just remain like that, a small feeling. Nothing would come of it, for the odds are too strong against him. If his friends aren’t attempting to get closer to Hashem, chances are he never will either. Therefore, Hashem gives special help to those that really want to get closer to Him. Even though Avraham recognized Hashem, he wouldn’t have been able to be the only one going against the world, a world that never heard of Hashem. When Hashem said, I’m Hashem, it wasn’t that now Avraham knew more than he knew before; rather that is what helped him to be able to take on the world and be the one to plant faith into the hearts of all who crossed his path.

It’s interesting, says the Ramban, that when Hashem chose Noach for his historical role, the Torah first describes his righteousness. Now, when He chooses Avraham for his role in the making of the Jewish people, the Torah says nothing of his spiritual greatness. The Maharal sees this question as a perspective on the unique relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people. Were the Torah to infer that Hashem only chose Avraham because of his good deeds, then one could think that any closeness he or his descendants would enjoy is contingent on their righteous behavior.

However, that would be detrimental to the relationship, for, as the Mishna states: any love that depends on a specific cause is lost when that cause is gone. So, if the Jewish people would sin, the relationship with Hashem would be over. Therefore, the Torah deliberately doesn’t tell us about Avraham’s righteousness to show that our relationship with Hashem is inviolable and can never be nullified even if we stray from Him. This lesson is very instructive to us today. Even if we sin or feel that we have sunk too far, Hashem will always be there for us. So, all we need is to feel that little yearning to get closer to Hashem. If we do, He will be right there to help us!

simcha corner

Today, my 808 area code phone number has yet again been mistaken for a 1-800 number. I’ve been getting phone calls at three in the morning from people on the East Coast trying to return their shoes. Even worse, they end up wanting to speak to my supervisor because I “don’t sound professional enough.”


A customer walked up to my 

bank window and asked me to cash a check.

“Of course,” I said. “But I’ll need to see ID.”

She dug though her purse and handed me a snapshot.

“That’s me in the middle,” she said.


After hearing a sermon on Psalm 52:3-4 (lies and deceit), a man wrote the IRS, “I can’t sleep knowing that I have cheated on my income tax. Enclosed is a check for $150. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send the rest.”

Parsha Summary

First Aliyah: G‑d commanded Avram to leave his father’s house and homeland, and travel to the land that He will show him. As reward for doing so, G‑d promised to make Avram the patriarch of a great nation. Avram obeyed, taking along his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot. Once Avram arrived in Canaan, G‑d informed him that He will eventually give that land to his descendents. Avram traverses the length of the land until a famine forces him to travel to Egypt. Fearing that the Egyptians would kill him in order to take Sarai, Avram asked her to allege that he was her brother.

Second Aliyah: And indeed because of her beauty, Sarai was taken captive and brought to Pharaoh. G‑d struck the members of Pharaoh’s palace with a plague, causing Pharaoh to hastily release Sarai. Pharaoh loaded Avram and Sarai with gifts and riches, and had them escorted out of his land. Avram returned triumphantly to Canaan.

Third Aliyah: Lot, who had accompanied Avram and Sarai, was independently wealthy. When Lot’s shepherds quarreled with Avram’s shepherds, the two parted ways, with Lot settling in the province of Sodom, which was renowned for its evil inhabitants. After Lot departed, G‑d spoke to Avram again, reiterating His promise to bequeath the land to his descendents, and promising to make his descendents numerous as the soil of the earth.

Fourth Aliyah: The southern region of Canaan was embroiled in a major war involving many kings. When the dust settled, the victorious kings took captive all the inhabitants of the Sodom region — Lot included. When Avram was informed of Lot’s plight he rushed to the rescue along with a handful of men, engaged the victorious kings in battle, soundly defeated them, released all the captives and returned all the spoils.

Fifth Aliyah: Avram rebuffed the king of Sodom’s wish to award him with all the war’s spoils. When G‑d reassured Avram that he would be greatly rewarded for his righteousness, Avram broaches his childlessness. “What is the point of all the reward and wealth,” Avram cried, “if I have no heir to inherit it?!” G‑d assured Avram that he will indeed have a child, and promised that Avram’s descendents will be as numerous as the stars of the heaven.

Sixth Aliyah: Avram requested a sign from G‑d that his descendents would inherit the land of Canaan. G‑d responded in the famous “Covenant Between the Parts.” Avram and the Divine Presence passed between an assortment of halved animals, and G‑d told Avram that his descendants would be exiled and in bondage for four hundred years. At the conclusion of this period, Avram’s descendents would leave with great wealth, G‑d would punish the nations which enslaved them, and Avram’s children would inherit the lands of Canaan. Following this pact, Sarai — seeing that she and Avram were still childless — suggested that Avram father a child with her Egyptian maid, Hagar. Hagar conceived and began to mistreat her mistress Sarai, who responded with a heavy hand, prompting Hagar to flee. Hagar encountered an angel who encouraged her to return to Sarai, promising her that the child she will bear will become a great nation. She obeyed, and gave birth to Ishmael. At the very end of this section, G‑d added the letter hey to Avram’s name, making it “Avraham.”

Seventh Aliyah: G‑d sealed a covenant with Avraham and his descendants; the sign of the covenant is the circumcision of all males when they are eight days old. Sarai’s name is changed to Sarah, and G‑d promises a delighted Avraham that he will father another son, this time from Sarah. At the age of 99, Avraham circumcised himself, his son Ishmael, and all the members of his household.