Sunday, October 21, 2018

Rav Moshe Weinberger - How to Mend the World - Parshas Lech Lecha 5779

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from Shabbos, parshas Lech Lecha 5779. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Lech Lecha 5779
How to Mend the World

One of the tefilos said on Rosh HaShanah is Achos Lanu Ketana, “We have a little sister,” the title of whichis based on Shir HaShirim 8:8. Rashbam on that passuk explains that the “little sister” refers to the Jewish people. We are called Hashem’s little sister. Just like a big brother loves and feels protective of his younger sister, so too, Hashem loves us in a protective way. But the Midrash (Bereishis Raba 39:3) explains that “little sister” refers to Avraham Avinu. This is because the Hebrew word for sister – אחות – is related to the word לאחות – “to mend.” He was given this appellation because he mended together all those who came into the world and “mended the ripped world – מאחה את הקרע.” How did Avraham mend a torn world?

To answer this question, I will recount a story that connects two well-known yohrtzeits which occur today, 11 Mar-Cheshvan, those of Rochel Imeinu and Rav Nochum Chernobyler, the Meor Einayim zy’a. We know that the one mitzvah Rav Nochum constantly did was raise money for pidyon shvuyim, the redemption of captives. In those days, our gentile neighbors were fond of kidnapping Jews or arresting them on trumped-up charges to exact a ransom from their communities. Rav Nachum traveled frequently to raise money to free imprisoned Jews. Another feature of life for Jews at this time was that unless they were freed, imprisonment meant almost certain death. Accordingly, the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim is extremely important.

During one fundraising trip, the Meor Einayim was carrying a significant amount of money which had been donated by wealthy Jews. The non-Jewish authorities used this money as a pretense to arrest him, accusing him of stealing money from gentiles. Some wealthy chassidim bribed the officials at the prison to move him out of the underground dungeon where he was being held to a second-floor cell with a small, barred window.

The Rebbe was feeling extraordinarily broken at this time. He had dedicated his life to helping Jews escape false imprisonment, but instead of continuing to work on this critical mitzvah, he himself was now falsely imprisoned and suffering. Now he could not continue involving himself with the mitzvah and others would have to redeem him. He could not understand why this was happening and was extremely discouraged.

At one point, he heard a woman’s voice through the window, “Reb Nachum!” He walked over, looked out the window, and saw a woman outside. She said, “Can I tell you a vort on this week’s sedra, parshas Lech Lecha?” “Of course,/” he responded. The woman then said, “We know Rashi says on the first words of the parshah, ‘Go for yourself,’ that Hashem was telling Avraham that he should travel for his own benefit and for his own enjoyment (see Rashi on Bereishis 12:1). If Avraham benefited personally from the journey, why was this considered one of his ten tests?”

Answering her own question, the woman explained that the reason this was considered a test is because Avraham’s mission in life was to provide hospitality and healing to travelers, those who were homeless. Hashem wanted Avraham to truly know the pain of being a traveler who does not know where he will sleep at night or where he will find his next meal. He knew that Avraham would be able to heal the world more effectively and that he would benefit by doing the mitzvah on an even deeper and greater level after personally being humbled and experiencing the same feeling of being a stranger in a strange land that his guests feel.

At this point, Reb Nachum realized that the woman outside the jail was Rochel Imeinu herself, a woman who knows exile because she is buried by the side of the road, away from her husband and the rest of her family in Beit Lechem (Bereishis 35:19). She continued, “So too, Reb Nachum, this imprisonment is ‘for your benefit and for your enjoyment.’ Now you will truly know the pain of those you are working to liberate. While it may seem discouraging, it is for your benefit because you will be able to involve yourself in the mitzvah without hesitation because you will have truly nullified yourself through your deep understanding of others’ pain and suffering.”

How did Avraham Avinu’s and the Meor Einayim’s suffering enable them to mend the world? It caused them to disregard any sense of self and any personal considerations because of their intimate recognition of the pain of those they were responsible to alleviate. Rebbe Nachman says, “Everything a person lacks, whether children, a livelihood, or health, comes from the person himself. This is because the light of Hashem shines upon him constantly. But the person, through his own evil actions, casts a shadow over himself which prevents the light of G-d from reaching him” (I Likutei Moharan 172).

Rebbe Nachman continues, explaining how one can nullify this shade through an amazing reading of the passuk, “The glory of Hashem fills the earth”  (Yeshayahu 6:3). He says that the word for “fills – מלא” can also be read as a “from no.” In other words, through “no,” i.e., the negation of one’s sense of independent self, the nullification of one’s own ego, one can recognize that “the whole earth is His glory.” When one eliminates his own sense of self, he removes the blockage that prevents the Divine light from shining into every corner of his life. When Avraham and Reb Nachum went through the same suffering as the people they were working to help, it helped them bring G-d even more deeply into their own lives by eliminating any consideration of themselves when they worked to serve others.

The Midrash we quoted earlier says that Avraham Avinu mended the world and mended the relationships between people. The sins of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, the generation of the flood, and the generation of the dispersion, where humanity was literally torn and divided (הפלגה) from one another created a separation between humanity and Hashem and created division between people.

We know Avraham mended this separation because before him, even the righteous king, Malkitzedek, was called only “priest to G-d above (Bereishis 14:18), implying that G-d’s existence above was apparent, but His presence on Earth was completely hidden from man. But Malkitzedek blessed Avraham “to G-d above, who possesses Heaven and Earth” (ibid. 19). Avraham mended the division between Heaven and Earth, revealing Hashem’s glory not only in Heaven, but here on Earth as well. How did he do this? How was he able to influence the world in this way, drawing people closer to one another and to G-d?

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohein Kook zy’a, writes (I Oros HaKodesh p. 86) that this influence does not take place in the obvious way one might think: “The universal longing for the influence of the Jewish people in the world does not take place through the dissemination of intellectual teachings, via straightforward and obvious influence and instruction. Rather, when this [the Jewish] nation fully internalizes its unique role, the world is naturally elevated simply through [the Jewish nation’s] possession of this unique mission as part of its own humanity.”

In other words, we mend the world and unite it with its Creator not by broadcasting Torah teachings to the furthest reaches of the world or by having inspiring speakers travel on lecture circuits around the world, as nice as those activities might be. The primary way we heal the world is by nullifying the parts of ourselves which separate us from a true connection with our special and unique mission in the world – to act as agents responsible to reveal G-d’s will and Presence in this physical world.

May Hashem enable us to put aside our own personal concerns to serve Him and help others, thereby removing the blockages we create between His light and our lives. May we thereby mend the brokenness of the world and soon see the time when “the Earth will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem like the water covers the seabed” (Yeshayahu 11:9) with the arrival of Moshiach and the complete redemption soon in our days!

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