Truth, Blessing, and Perfection by Shmuel Garber


In Parashat Lech Lecha, we meet Avraham Avinu. The Chumash and accompanying Midrashim describe how he is able to overcome the peer pressure of everyone in his corrupt society and becomes the epitome of Chesed reaching perfection. Nevertheless, many other characters in the Torah perform Chesed. What made Avraham a forefather? Why have his descendants become the focal point of the Torah ? 

Rabbi Label Lam tells the following story to explain. When he was a psychology teacher at a high school, he would bring a freshman into a senior class and would hold up an orange object. He would ask the seniors what color the object was. Having all been trained in the ruse, they each responded that the object was in fact purple. Finally, Rabbi Lam would ask the freshman what color the object was, and, invariably, he would respond that it was purple. The freshman, seeing that everyone else was firmly convinced that the object was purple, would actually believe that it was purple. How, then, was Avraham able to withstand the peer pressure? How was he so confident that he was not only able to not believe in the mores of the surrounding culture, but able to convince others that he was correct? Rambam (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 1:3) writes that Avraham embarked on a research project, trying to understand how the heavenly bodies moved and how they could not be independent of a higher power. Eventually, he found Hashem. Through his own research, Avraham Avinu “discovered” Hashem’s hand in the world, and, with this absolutely true knowledge, was able to maintain his Emunah in Ur Kasdim, Charan, and Eretz Kena’an.

Rav Yissocher Frand relates the following point about the Berachah offered to Avraham. Early in Parashat Lech Lecha, the Pasuk states, “VeHyeih Berachah,” “And you will be a blessing” (BeReishit 12:2). Onkelos translates this to mean that Avraham is blessed. However, it is difficult to suggest that Avraham is not already the recipient of tremendous Berachah. What, then, does this Pasuk mean? The answer usually offered is that Hashem gives Avraham the power to bless others; this power was never given to anyone else before Avraham. Similarly, the phrase “Baruch Atah Hashem” means that Hashem is the source of Berachah. Rashi presents two ways to understand the Pasuk, “VeNivrechu Vecha Kol Mishpechot HaAdamah,” “All the families of the earth will be blessed through you” (BeReishit 12:3). The Peshat (straightforward meaning) is that people will bless each other that they should be like Avraham. This is the epitome of blessing. The Derash, explains Rashi, is that Hashem actually gives Avraham the “keys to blessing.” Why would Hashem give away these keys to a mortal man? Hashem knows Avraham is a Meitiv, one who does good for the sake of doing good, like Him. Avraham is the human representative of Hashem’s kindness.

 ater in the Parashah, Hashem tells Avraham, “Hit’haleich Lefanai VeHyeih Tamim,” “Walk before Me and be perfect” (BeReishit 17:1). What is perfection? According to Rav Eliyahu Hoffmann, perfection is the level at which one is always aware that Hashem is around him. The secular ideal of perfection is the highest degree of excellence. However, the Jewish concept of Temimut is always having in mind that Hashem is in complete control. The Pasuk in Tehillim (32:10) states, “VeHaBotei’ach BaShem Chesed Yesovevenu,” “For one who trusts in Hashem, kindness surrounds him.” Chazal explains that even a Rasha who recognizes that Hashem surrounds him will be the recipient of such kindness.

The Pasuk “Atah Hor’eita LaDa’at Ki Hashem Hu HaElokim Ein Od Milvado,” “You have been shown in order to know that Hashem, He is the God. There is none beside Him” (Devarim 4:35), teaches that we must have Emunah that Hashem is the sole power in the world. Rashi comments that Hashem opened up the heavens for a brief moment and showed that He controlled the whole universe. From that time on, we had it imprinted on our souls that there is one God. Although it may appear that everything in life is the result of “nature” and everything is self-sufficient, we know that in actuality, Hashem controls it all.

Rabi Chanina Ben Dosa states that “Ein Od Milvado” teaches the prohibition against sorcery. When a sorceress came to him, attempting to cast a spell on the ground under him, he merely recited the Pasuk of “Ein Od Milvado” (Chullin 7b). Rav Chaim of Volozhin explains that what Rabi Chanina did not depend on a miracle. He had such strong Emunah that he believed that if Hashem wanted the spell to go through, it would, and if not, it wouldn’t.

Avraham teaches us many lessons. We see that we should strive for complete Emunah. We learn that one must embody Hashem’s kindness to be worthy of his blessing. We observe that Avraham discovered absolute truth. Hopefully, we can also achieve all of these lofty goals.

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