The Parsha opens with Hashem commanding Avraham Avinu, “Go to the land which I will show you.” The obvious question is: why the vague directive? Why did Hashem not immediately tell Avraham his exact destination? Rashi quotes the Midrash that it was to give Avraham reward for every step that he took. Yet the question seemingly remains: wouldn’t Avraham still receive reward with every step, just for following Hashem’s command, even if he knew his destination?
Let’s explain with a story. It was a beautiful morning in the old city of Jerusalem. Rachel Auerbach was leaving her house to pick up some fresh rolls for her children and almost tripped on a basket on her front doorstep. She looked down and there was a cute little baby sleeping in the basket, with a letter attached. The letter read, “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Auerbach. I am a young mother and I have a severe emotional and mental disorder. I am incapable of caring for my child. You have a reputation of being warm, compassionate and hospitable. I plead to you to take care of Dovid. I know you will raise him well. Thank you.”
The Auerbachs searched for the mother, but no one had a clue who she might be. They considered the situation and decided to adopt Dovid as one of their own. Years passed. Dovid graduated high school. The Auerbachs felt it was time to let Dovid know the whole story. Dovid was shocked. Dovid took the news pretty hard and although the Auerbachs took wonderful care of Dovid, he felt a sense of abandonment. Dovid’s schoolwork and behavior deteriorated dramatically. As much as the Auerbachs tried to help, nothing seemed to work. By Elul, his Rosh Yeshiva told him that he needed to “shape up or ship out.” His misbehavior continued, and he was asked to leave the Yeshiva. The next yeshiva also turned out to be a failure. He floundered.
Elul came again, and Dovid joined a new yeshiva. Now he soared, becoming a top student. The Auerbachs were ecstatic! What caused the sudden turnaround? Time went by, and Dovid was about to get married. The night before the wedding, he sat down with his stepparents and thanked them for raising him. “I owe you an apology and an explanation,” Dovid said. “I know you are probably still wondering what caused my erratic behavior and the sudden change for the better. During the month of Elul, I was reciting L’Dovid Hashem Ori and said the pasuk “for my father and mother have abandoned me.” I began to cry. I pictured my mother leaving me. But then I considered the end of the pasuk, “but Hashem has gathered me in.” Suddenly, I was overcome with a tremendous sense of calm. That was my turning point. I went from feeling unwanted, to feeling incredibly precious and cradled in the hands of Hashem, Who gave me you as my parents! Feeling Hashem’s presence allowed me to turn my life around.”
Now we can see the answer. If Hashem had told Avraham where to go, he would still have gotten his reward for each step, but by accepting to “go to a land that I will show you,” Avraham walked into the unknown, placing himself completely in Hashem’s hands. We can now better understand why Hashem elaborated, “from your land, and from your birthplace and from your father’s house.” Avraham was abandoned by his parents spiritually and now he was leaving any connection with them. “For my father and mother have abandoned me, but Hashem has taken me in.”
One of the most unsettling feelings in life is not knowing what will take place in the future. We make plans but we never know what will actually happen. Leave early to work and there is major traffic that makes you late. Go to sleep early to be well rested for the next day, and your child wakes you up in middle of the night.
We constantly live in a state of uncertainty – “To the land that I will show you.” There are two ways to handle this. We can get anxious, over-plan and be upset when plans sometime don’t work out…OR we can put our total trust in the hands of Hashem and feel secure that Hashem is leading us in the proper direction. Which approach do you think will give you a true sense of calm?
This week’s Parsha helps us walk in Avraham’s ways, teaching us that Hashem is always leading us in the way that is best for us. We needn’t worry because every step we take is with Hashem’s guidance. Google Maps and Waze are useful tools, but Hashem is our ultimate Guide!
The most dangerous part of a space shuttle mission, more than blast-off, is its re-entry into earth’s atmosphere. When the spacecraft has ended its space mission, it must re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at a precise angle or it will burn up.
When the waters of the flood subsided, Noach was instructed to leave the teivah (ark) and start the world anew. Noach, too, needed to properly re-enter the land and start a new beginning.
The Nesivos Shalom compares a Sukkah to the teivah. Both the teivah and the Sukkah cocoon its dwellers from the physical and spiritual dangers of the surrounding world. Rav Wolbe points out that at the close of the Yomim Noraim and Sukkot period in which we experienced a spiritual blast-off, we too must re-enter our “mundane” daily schedules properly, or we can lose all the gains from this entire time period.
Let us learn from Parshas Noach how to “re-enter” properly. Upon exiting the teivah, Noach offered sacrifices and thanked Hashem for sparing him and his family. He then set forth to work the land and planted a vineyard to start growing food. However, the Torah takes Noach to task for his planting priority, describing the planting as Vayachel Noach” (Bereishis 9:20). The commentators discuss the definition of this word “Vayachel”. Rashi says it is related to the word “chol“, meaning mundane or ordinary. The Sforno relates Vayachel to the word “techila”, beginning. All the commentators point out that this is a criticism of Noach for choosing to plant grapes as the first crop. Noach thereby debased himself by planting grapes, for wine, before anything else.
But why is Noach being criticized for planting grapes which are used to produce wine and tied to kedusha. All of our holy celebrations – weddings, bris milahs, every kiddush – are in fact sanctified over a cup of wine. Furthermore, Hashem commanded Noach to take vines into the teivah to replant after the Flood. So why is the criticism of Noach justified? Rav Yerucham Levovitz, famed Mashgiach of Mir Yeshiva in Poland, explains that if we analyze Rashi’s words carefully, we will see that the criticism is regarding Noach’s decision to plant the vines before a different crop…wheat.
Planting a vineyard was important for our holy ceremonies but it brought with it the danger of indulgence in luxury. In contrast, planting wheat was a necessity; wheat is the “mateh lechem” (Vayikra, 26:26), the staff of life, the basic staple of man’s diet. The Torah is criticizing Noach’s priorities- he should have planted wheat before the vines. By planting a vineyard first, he actually made the wine chol, not kadosh. It went from being special and luxurious to being common and ordinary; hence vayaCHeL. The Torah makes this clear with the words that precede his planting: “Noach became a man of the earth, and he planted…” He had been so spiritual previously (offering a sacrifice) and now he was “earthy.”
Prioritizing is crucial. We are involved in prioritizing each and every day: our jobs, family issues, calls, emails, texts and so on. It’s up to us to sort out what to do and when to do it. As we see from the Sforno above, beginnings are crucial! Beginnings set the course for the final destination; a small deviation at the beginning of a journey will cause us to arrive at an entirely different destination.
Now we understand why the Shulchan Aruch says that after Yom Kippur, one should immediately start to work on his Sukkah. Transitions – ending one event and getting off to the right start on another – are vital!
We must be careful to restart our year with the goals we set for ourselves during the Yamim Noraim. Many times, we shoot for the stars and fall flat. We then abort the mission. Small, but firm steps create a reliable new path. And often, we’ll need wise counsel to keep our new ways without stumbling. We need to build on our goals based on the foundations and concepts we have absorbed during the last two months of Elul through Sukkos and thereby continue to increase our closeness to Hashem.