Lech Lecha - 5779: “How to Babysit Yourself, and other Parasha Lessons”
Thoughts from your Rabbi for Your Shabbos Table
Imagine someone coming up to you asking you to donate time to help orphaned children, right in your own community, who have been stricken with cancer-G-d Forbid, Lo Aleinu. You had no idea these kids were suffering with such real troubles, and you are more than eager to help all you can. You have the ability to help, and you even have plenty funds to contribute to this obviously more than worthy cause. The person who shared this knowledge however adds as part of his pitch, that you should do this because the children’s plight is a high profile one which will actually help you in your own career. The publicity will be incredible and automatic. It will boast your career to the stratosphere, and will do wonders for your reputation and bottom line.
Will you not be insulted? These are your own community members, children with unequivocal need and you have the ability to help!!! Why would you need to be enticed by fame and fortune to do something that is so obviously over the top terrific! And it’s not like the recruiter added the “enticement” in hushed tones as an “added bonus”. The guarantee of “personal benefit” was his main pitch! Who would not find that solicitation as incredibly uncouth, vulgar and downright insulting!
Yet it appears this is exactly how Hashem recruited Abraham to be his agent and messenger of truth to the world, in seeking to establish his world kingdom in his chosen place, Eretz Yisrael. It’s right there in the beginning of this week’s Parasha:
“And the Lord said to Abram, Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.”
אוַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ:
While the English translation just says that Hashem told Abram to “Go forth from your land”, the Hebrew says Lech (go) LCHA-“for YOU”. Rashi, citing the Talmud, provides commentary:
Go forth: Heb. לֶךְ לְךָ, lit. go to you, for your benefit and for your good, and there I will make you into a great nation, but here, you will not merit to have children. Moreover, I will make your character known in the world. — [from Rosh Hashanah 16b, Tan.] לך לך: להנאתך ולטובתך, ושם אעשך לגוי גדול, וכאן אי אתה זוכה לבנים. ועוד שאודיע טבעך בעולם:
In other words, while Hashem is soliciting Abram to spread the most important message the world has ever seen (monotheism) from Hashem’s chosen “Operation Center”-our Holy Land of Israel and Jerusalem (“From Tziyon shall Torah Come Out”), he seems to ignore the global and “holy” aspect of this mission, and just appeals to the basest, low-brow denominator: “do it for YOUR benefit. It will be good for YOU. YOU’ll become a great nation, YOU’ll become famous…”
Is this how you recruit an Abraham, the “Father of All Nations”, an unarguable giant of a man and the loftiest soul of his generation? How can this be-how do you understand this?
A friend (an author of children’s literature) read to me the most amazing book this week, entitled “How to Babysit a Grandpa”, as I anticipate the birth of my first grandchild (with G-d’s help soon a healthy mother and baby!). The idea behind the story is genius of course. It flips the way we look at things totally on their head. While a visit by the wise, experienced and capable Grandpa is usually seen as an effort by Grandpa to watch over and “take care of his grandchild”, the opposite really occurs. From the kid’s perspective, it is GRANDPA who gets watched, taken care of, cared for and accommodated. I am going to give this book to my daughter as soon as I get to Israel next week.
As I was listening to this marvelous children’s book, it hit me. THAT’S what Rashi is telling us. Hashem is telling Abraham: “Of course if I tell you to go to Israel you will do so without hesitation. You will believe and realize that this is perhaps the most important and critical humanitarian mission the world has ever seen. You will undoubtedly be willing to proceed with the greatest self-sacrifice, motivated solely by pure intentions-after all, you are Abraham, the one who already as a child withstood the greatest tests to proclaim your belief in me. But realize Abraham, that when one seeks truth and justice and pursues a path of pure righteousness, HE and SHE benefit in the greatest way. When you devote your life the loftiest of causes, YOU are lifted up. When you help others…you ALWAYS help yourself. There is no need to feel that a life committed to real ideals will result in any lessened personal journey, or satisfying experience. The opposite is always true. Our greatest regrets in life are usually that we didn’t actualize our ideals more in our limited time on this wondrous planet.
As we all go about our own personal “lech Lchas”-our personal journeys, I encourage us all to never seek anything but the “highest ground” in our travels, the purest of purposes as our tour guide through life-babysit the world! Doing so, I have no doubt that we will find the light, beauty and majesty of our own paths shine right back in our face-bringing blessing, happiness and success to every facet of our existence. In the end, we will see that all along we were really just babysitting ourselves!
Shabbat Shalom~A Gutte Shabbos to All!
Shalom Rubanowitz,at the “Shul on the Beach, Venice, California.