“Bucking the Trend” Parashat Lech Lecha 5778

Trends existed long before the internet, but the internet’s capability to reach vast amounts of people in a short time greatly amplifies the effect and extent of any trend. From hover-boards to the ALS ice bucket challenge, the internet is fuelling consumer behaviour patterns on a massive scale. The world of Torah is not exempt from internet-driven trends. While Rashi and the Rambam will always be “in”, other lesser-known Rabbis sometimes enter the sphere of public awareness for a short time only to be relegated to a bookshelf in a back room. The most recent example is Rav Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi, known as “Manitou”, a French Rabbi and philosopher who died more than twenty years ago. He was the Rav of many well-known French-Israeli Modern Orthodox Rabbis, including Rav Shlomo Aviner, Rav Elisha Aviner, Rav Uri Sherki, and Rav Eliyahu Zini. Over the past month, not one day has gone by without mention of Manitou. The Manitou Foundation recently opened a web site to which they upload video, audio, and printed transcripts of Manitou’s shiurim on a daily basis. As part of this trend, our shiur is based on my understanding[1] of one of Manitou’s innovations.

Parashat Lech Lecha begins with Hashem commanding Avraham to leave his home in Haran and to move to the Land of Canaan. Hashem tells him [Bereishit 12:1] “Lech lecha – Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you”. Rivers of ink have been spilled explaining why the word “lecha” – “for yourself” – was appended to the word “lech” – “go forth”. Rashi, quoting from the Midrash, teaches that “for yourself” means “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.” Avraham’s move to Israel would be beneficial for both him and his future family.

One of the questions that Avraham could have asked Hashem but did not was “Where, precisely, do You want me to go?” What is the destination that I should enter in Waze? Hashem tells him only to go to “the land that I will show you”. Avraham’s final destination is not clarified until many years later, at the Akeida, when Hashem once again makes use of the phrase “lech lecha”. Hashem tells Avraham [Bereishit 22:2] “Please take your son… Yitzchak, and  go forth (lech lecha) to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering…” The Midrash in Bereishit Raba asks which instance of “lech lecha” meant more to Hashem: Hashem’s initial order to Avraham that he come on aliya or the order that he sacrifice his son. The Midrash answers that the second instance meant more to Hashem. Manitou concludes from this Midrash that the first “lech lecha” can only be understood in the context of the second “lech lecha” and therefore [1] the “land that I will show you”, Avraham’s destination, was always the land of Moriah, and [2] the reason Hashem ordered Avraham to come to Israel was so that he could one day sacrifice his son on the peak of Mount Moriah.

Perhaps the most prestigious and meaningful posting in the Israel Defence Force is that of the combat pilot. Israeli children dream of being pilots pretty much from birth, sometimes earlier. The Air Force invites a select few inductees to take aptitude tests to determine whether they are worthy of becoming pilots. Of these invitees, a small percentage are invited to participate in what is called “Gibush Tayis”, a 6-day ordeal in which their physical and emotional stamina are stretched to the breaking point. Less than half of those who participate in Gibush make it through and are invited to attend Pilot Training School (“Course Tayis”). According to Manitou, Avraham passed his Gibush only after the Akeida, the tenth test that he was given. Until the Akeida, Avraham was still on probation and it was still not clear that he would father the Jewish People. What was it about the Akeida that determined that Avraham was “the one”?

Manitou explains as follows: Avraham and Sarah had no children while in Haran and they had long passed their child-bearing years. Avraham was not the first monotheist but he was the first monotheist who believed that he could build a nation on his dogma. But it was too late: His ideas would wither and die the same way they had with Noach, Shem, and Ever[2]. When Hashem told Avraham to leave Haran behind, He was telling Avraham that he had to allow room for miracles. Manitou brings the Midrash in which Hashem tells Avraham “Leave your astrology, for you have seen in the signs of the zodiac that you are not destined to have a son. Indeed, Avram will have no son, but Avraham will have a son. Similarly, Sarai will not give birth, but Sarah will give birth. I will give you another name, and your destiny will change”. Believing in Hashem means not limiting Hashem. And so when Hashem tells Avraham to “go forth” to Canaan, Hashem promises him a supernatural abundance of children, money, and fame, three of the things that travel usually causes to diminish. Hashem promises that He will break the laws of physics if Avraham lets him. Avraham’s faith is rewarded: With Hashem’s help, and only with Hashem’s help, Avraham defeats an alliance of the most powerful kings of the time, his wife is kidnapped twice but returned after her kidnappers are struck by plague, and then she proceeds to bear a child at the age of ninety. In the words of David Ben Gurion, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.” Avraham believed in miracles, and on the basis of that belief he built a nation.

Leaving Haran was only the first test in the Gibush. After Avraham passes the tenth and final test, the Akeida, Hashem informs him that he has succeeded [Bereishit 22:12]: “Now I [finally] know that you are a God-fearing person”. What is the meaning of “God-fearing” and how did Avraham attain this title? Manitou explains that while Avraham’s first test was to determine whether he could allow room for the possibility of destiny-altering miracles, his final test was to determine whether he could allow room for a God who did not work through miracles. Hashem has many names, with each name signifying a particular Divine Attribute. The name E-lokim signifies the Divine Attribute of Justice. Many of the Kabbalists have noticed that the Hebrew word for nature (“ha-teva”) has the same numerical value as “E-lokim”. Rav Shlomo Goren explains that nature does not play favourites. The same physical laws are valid for everyone, everywhere. A person who jumps out of a window will fall until his fall (and perhaps his neck) is broken by the ground. Nature shows no mercy. It is the quintessence of justice. When Hashem calls Avraham “G-d Fearing”, He uses the words “Yereh E-lokim”, or “Fearing the Divine Attribute of Justice-as-manifested-in-nature”.

How does Avraham make room for Hashem in the natural world at the Akeida? Rav J.B. Soloveichik, writing in “Community, Covenant, and Commitment”,  asserts that Avraham does this by his willingness to sacrifice everything that he owns to Hashem, including his own self: “Man offers himself by engaging in a movement of recoil from himself, by retreating from the position of illusory strength he is prone to take up at certain times, by withdrawing from attitudes of arrogant self-regard and self-centeredness…” Rav Soloveichik eloquently connects the concept of sacrifice with the study of nature: “When the scientist discovering a new behavioural pattern in nature instead of gloating in his attainment and becoming vain and haughty… stands in awe before his Creator realizing that every scientific advancement deepens the [mystery] involved in creation, which remains, in spite of our achievements, numinous and enigmatic, he engages in sacrificial action, [he] acknowledges that wisdom is not his, but G-d’s”. Avraham’s willingness to sacrifice everything that he held dear opened a window through which Hashem could enter our mundane world. After Avraham accomplished this, Hashem’s original commandment to “go forth” was fulfilled and the Gibush was completed.

Hold on, isn’t the Gibush meant to be followed by Pilot Training School? Absolutely. We, Avraham’s descendants, have been training for the past 3500 years.


Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5778

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza and Tzvi ben Freida.

[1] The transcripts available on the internet are unedited and hence quite difficult to understand. I may very well have misunderstood Manitou’s point.

[2] These men were also monotheists, see Rambam Hilchot Avoda Zara [1:8].

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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