Implanting the Kedushah Compass by Dr. Elliot Prager


While the closing Pesukim of Parashat Noach inform us that the uprooting of Avraham Avinu’s family from Ur Kasdim and the journey toward Kena’an was first undertaken by Avraham’s father, Terach, less clear from the immediate call thereafter to Avraham – “Lech Lecha MeiArtzecha, UMiMoladtecha, UMiBeit Avicha” (BeReishit 12:1) – is the impetus for Terach’s departure. Was it Terach who was first inspired to seek a new way of life, a new land and a new theological faith, with Avraham continuing the mission his father didn’t (or couldn’t) complete, or perhaps, was Terach, moved by his son’s call and commitment to a revolutionary belief, compelled to follow Avraham’s example? Given the wording of Hashem’s call to Avraham –“from your land” and “from your birth place,” as well as the wording found in the Berit Bein HaBetarim of “I am God who took you out of Ur Kasdim to give you this land as an inheritance” (15:7), the picture of Avraham as the first religious iconoclast would seem to carry more weight.

But how did Avraham Avinu know in which direction to go? Was it simply because his father originally set out for Kena’an? And once he crossed the border into Kena’an, how did he know what path to take? Hashem’s call to Avraham, after all, instructed him not to go to Kena’an, but to the land “Asher Ar’eka,” “that I will show you” (12:1). Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that the word “Ar’eka” is never used to denote “directing.” He writes that it always has the connotation of “letting someone see…. Hence the positive command could have been only as follows: ‘Go away from this place, never mind in what direction, and move about until you come to a place where I will give you a visible sign to show you that this is the land where you are to remain.’… It was of his own initiative that Avraham Avinu at the very outset chose the way which led to Kena’an.” It was not only that Avraham followed Hashem’s call, but more significant, that he independently kept moving toward Hashem’s presence, as if within him was an innate spiritual and moral gyroscope. From Shechem to Alon Moreh, from Alon Moreh to Beit Eil, and later during his own identification of Har HaMoriah as the place where Hashem intended for him to sacrifice Yitzchak (22:4: “And he saw the place from afar”), Avraham seems to naturally gravitate toward holy space and holy experience. Only after he arrives at these places does Hashem appear to him, confirming what he intuitively knew and felt. As Rav Soloveithcik, zt”l, so beautifully states, “Abraham proclaimed to the world that Kedushah is the great attractive force…. The Almighty has implanted in the Jew a sensitivity to Kedushah, to the holy…. Knowledge of God is… dynamic, passionate, experiential, all-powerful and all redeeming… it is ecstatic and perceptional” (Abraham’s Journey).

Each individual has a unique personality. Some of us have a greater proclivity than others toward seeking higher levels of spirituality; for some, the appreciation is more innate than for others. My many years in Jewish education, however, have borne out time and time again the Rav’s words: “Kedushah attracts.” I will never forget the years I spent Davening at the Bostoner Rebbe’s Shul in Brookline, Massachusetts, watching, week after week, college students across the area flocking to spend Shabbat with the Rebbe. Yes, some were there for the free home-cooked meals and, no doubt, some were there because it was one of the many “cool” experiences to be had as a college student. But, invariably, the overwhelming majority of students with whom I spoke each week were attracted to the Bostoner Rebbe because they were searching for a genuine religious experience. It was an internal thirst and quest for a more meaningful life that propelled them forward. Judging from the number of those who continued moving toward greater levels of Halachic observance, they indeed succeeded in finding their Makom Kadosh

We may not be able to implant in every child the kind of magnetic pull toward and intuitive perception of Kedushah exemplified by Avraham, but recognizing that “Kedushah attracts,” parents and Jewish educators alike must strive constantly to create the experiences of Kedushah which will ultimately compel our children to take their own initiatives in seeking, finding and integrating into their lives moments and places of holiness. It begins with the earliest ages and with the most basic “building blocks” of holiness – homes and schools driven by Middot. When a child is raised from his/her youngest years with the constant message of “Es Pas Nisht” (this is not behavior befitting of a Jew) and the positive parental and teacher examples of what “Kedoshim Tihyu” (VaYikra 19:2) means, when Kedushah pervades the child’s everyday life, then we will have taken the first steps in implanting the sensitivity to Kedushah that is “dynamic, passionate and all powerful.”

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