Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Lech Lecha 5634 First Ma'amar
The first Midrash on this week’s parsha compares this world to a burning palace. A wayfarer passes and wonders if someone owns the palace since it is burning and there seems to be no one around. Just then the owner sticks his head out and says that he owns the palace. The wayfarer represents Avraham Avinu and the owner of the palace is God.
What is the meaning of this parable? What lesson is the Midrash teaching?
To understand this Midrash we need to answer a question that arises in the first pasuk of the parsha, “וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל־אַבְרָם לֶךְ־לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ ... אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ/God said to Avram leave your country … for the land that I will show you.” (Breishis 12:1) Why did God not tell Avraham Avinu the name of the land to which he was being sent? What point the suspense?
The Sfas Emes answers that God gets more satisfaction, as it were, from our desire to come close to Him and to understand His Torah than in our actually reaching our goal. The truth is that we can never reach the ultimate goal because God is infinite and we are finite. We reach a certain level of closeness to God and of understanding and realize that there is so much more before us.
Therefore, our desire to come close to God is the main thing. It is in the merit of this desire that we progress at all. And when we reach a milestone, we need to ingrain the lesson deep into our essence so that we are spurred on to work towards the next milestone. It is this desire that keeps us moving from goal to goal and from milestone to milestone in a cycle that lasts for our entire lives. There is no rest in this world, “כִּי־אָדָם לְעָמָל יוּלָּד .../For man is born to toil …” (Iyov 5:7) Rest only comes for the righteous in the next world.
Avraham Avinu looked around and instead of finding a world in which everything is in its place and at “rest” – a completed world – he found a world in which nothing is in its place; a world which needs a lot of work; a world that needs to be attended to. He found, in the words of the parable, “a burning palace.” Why is there no rest in this world, was Avraham Avinu’s question. Why was the world created in an incomplete state?
God answered him that our mission is to work on coming close to God our entire lives. There is no rest in this world. The only possible setting for this is a world that is in an incomplete state; a world in which God is not apparent, in the words of the parable, the palace is burning and the owner is nowhere to be found. God did not immediately tell Avraham Avinu to which land he was being to teach him this lesson. You can never reach a state of completion in this world. You can only desire and pine for it your entire life.
The Midrash applies this concept to explain a redundancy in the following pasuk, “שִׁמְעִי־בַת וּרְאִי וְהַטִּי אָזְנֵךְ וְשִׁכְחִי עַמֵּךְ וּבֵית אָבִיךְ/Listen daughter and see and incline your ear; forget your people and your fathers’ house.” (Tehillim 45:11) Why does the pasuk tell the daughter to listen and then again to incline her ear? The pasuk is referring to this. Life is a never ending cycle of listening, working to come close to God, reaching milestones and then listening again to reach the next level.
The Chiddushei HaRim sees a hint to this concept in the word the Midrash uses for “burning” – דוֹלֶקֶת. This word also means, “pursue” as we find, “... דָלַקְתָּ אַחֲרָי/… you pursued me.” (Breishis 31:36) The Midrash is alluding to the concept that the world is structured around the theme that everything in it constantly pines for and pursues a state of completion, each creation in its unique role.
Our job is to cultivate an intense desire to come close to God and to understand His Torah. May we merit internalizing this lesson and applying it to our lives. Amen.
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