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Lech -Lecha

Thursday, 7 November, 2019 - 6:16 pm

 Whenever I read the story of our forefather Avraham and our foremother Sarah, I am struck by the power and impact of their lives. A pioneer is someone who breaks out of the mold and starts doing things differently. After a while people take the new method for granted and don’t realize the sacrifices that the pioneer had to make to blaze the new trail. We see this in many areas of life, especially today in technology, where yesterday’s unimaginable becomes tomorrow’s normal.

Let’s imagine the world that Avraham and Sarah lived in. The average person worshipped the dust on their feet as a deity. Monotheism was considered apostasy and treason against the ruler Nimrod who considered himself a god. Abraham and Sarah introduced faith in one G-d. Not only did they themselves believe this, but they taught and spread the belief far and wide. Abraham was thrown into a furnace for this belief, and survived miraculously. They were the ones who introduced the idea of welcoming guests and offering unconditional kindness to strangers. Today we consider this the work of the righteous, and when we hear of someone who exceedingly generous we are greatly impressed, but nevertheless we expect people to do it. In those days there was no such thing. It was a completely new idea. The fact that we do it today is because we emulate them.

Those are just two examples of many, many things that Avraham and Sarah introduced to the world. Our sages taught: “Ma’asse Avot Siman Labanim” - the works of the forefathers and foremothers are a “sign” for their children. This statement has many layers of meaning. On a superficial level it could mean that we should learn from and emulate their actions. On a deeper level it means that what they did set the stage for their children and gave us the strength to accomplish our mission on earth.

This concept also applies to the troubling story of Sarah being abducted by Pharaoh. Avraham asked her to say that she was his sister because he knew that she would be forcibly taken by Pharaoh as a wife, and that Pharaoh would have no qualms about killing her husband in order to make sure she was single. Twisted sick logic, but that was Egypt. Hashem plagued Pharaoh and he was unable to touch Sarah. He sent her away with many gifts adding up to a huge treasure. Following what I mentioned before, that everything that happened to Avraham and Sarah was a “sign” for their children, Chassidus explains that it was this event that set the stage for the subsequent Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. Pharaoh’s inability to take control of Sarah and his being forced to let her go led to the later Pharaoh’s inability to permanently enslave the Jewish people and their ultimate release “with hand held high.”  Pharaoh giving Sarah much treasure led to the Jews leaving with a great treasure from Egypt.

Many thousands of pages have been filled with the lessons there are to learn from the lives of Avraham and Sarah. One striking point is the depth of meaning in the seemingly simple stories of the Torah. As I have written many times, the written Torah cannot be understood without its interpretation in the Oral Torah. There are so many layers of meaning to every verse and every word if we are willing to take a little time and study the rich tradition of our Torah as it has been handed down by our Sages through the ages.  

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