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Shiurim & Adult Education
THOUGHTS ON PARASHAT LECH LECHA BY AVI SON
Trying to Look or Looking to Try:
Based on a D’var Torah from Rabbi Reuven Taragin.
Often the name of the parsha reveals a deeply embedded theme and message that is consistent through the entire parsha, this is very much the case in Vayera. The word Vayar means “and he saw” and the notion of sight is a constant theme throughout. There is a particular phrase, “vayisa einav – vayera” – “He lifted his eyes and saw”, which occurs multiple times in this week’s Torah reading, in fact the sedrah both begins and ends with this peculiar phrase.
At the beginning of the Sedrah the Torah states how Avraham “lifted his eyes and saw” the three men, who were actually angels, travelling in the desert near his tent. At this point, true to his character, Avraham, despite being in the process of recovering from his Brit Milah, rushes to greet the strangers and insists on hosting them and providing them with food and drink. It is worthwhile to note that Avraham’s name is not actually mentioned in the parsha until he runs to prepare the food for his guests, until this point only the pronoun ‘he’ is used, perhaps this suggests that performing mitzvoth was such a pivotal part of Avraham’s personality and identity, that he almost didn’t feel like himself when he wasn’t doing them.
At the end of the parsha the Torah tell us that “Avraham raised his eyes and saw” the ram whose horns were stuck in the thickets, Avraham proceeded to offer this ram to Hashem. This occurs after one of the most famous and dramatic episodes in the Torah, Akeidat Yitzchak, wherein Avraham is commanded to sacrifice his beloved son Yitzchak, only to be stopped at the last second by Hashem. This story is one of the most impactful in Jewish history, and from it stems the shofar (ram’s horn) which, as a symbol of the story, has become a genuine symbol of Judaism.
However, if you think about it, this seems strange. One can surely understand the importance of the story, and even appreciate why it is likely that a symbol would come forth from such a dramatic episode, yet the question remains, why is the shofar that symbol? Surely there were more important items used during the main part of the story, perhaps the rope that was used to bind Yitschak or the knife that was so nearly wielded? Why then does the ram’s horn, which seems to be at best a positive anecdote at the end of the story, become the dominant symbol of this event?
The answer is that the sacrificing of the ram was not merely an epilogue to the main event but was in many respects the most important part of the story. At the end of Akiedat Yitzchak, when Avraham was told that he would not have to sacrifice his son, one can only imagine the immense relief and heightened emotions he felt. At this point the normal thing would be to leave, to return home as quickly as possible. But this is not what Avraham did, he proactively sought another means through which he could serve Hashem, he “raised his eyes” and saw the ram, with its horns stuck in the bushes, and seized the opportunity to serve Hashem.
Similarly, at the start of Vayera, Avraham was bothered by his inability to perform the mitzvah of hosting guests, and “raised his eyes” to actively seek travellers whom he could host. Later in the parsha there is almost an exact mirror of the interaction between these travellers and Avraham, when two of them visit Lot in Sodom. Lot in many ways emulates his uncle, Avraham, and acts as a perfect host when first greeting them. Yet, there is one crucial difference in the language, whereas Avraham “raised his eyes” and saw the men (angels), with Lot the Torah just uses the words “Vayar Lot” – “And Lot saw.” When the opportunity presented itself, Lot took it upon himself to do a mitzvah, but only when the opportunity was right in front of him. Conversely, Avraham actively looked and sought out an opportunity to bring goodness into the world. This difference teaches us so much about who we are supposed to be and what it means to be a Jew.
So many of us simply wait until opportunities to do mitzvot and good deeds are presented right in front of us, however, whilst doing any mitzvah is praiseworthy, this is not enough. We have to be proactive and constantly looking for ways we can do good deeds and ways in which we can improve the world around us. Many commentators have focused upon the difference between Noach and Avraham. Noach “Walked with G-d”; Avraham went “before G-d.” Avraham sought out ways he could bring more of G-d’s goodness into the world, and we should all take encouragement from this, and never stop ‘raising our eyes’ to look for new opportunities to make the world a better place!