Secret Journeys

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Lech Lecha
Secret Journeys

We share a common belief that the Torah is eternal and thereby applies to all people in all times (See Maor Einayim Noach; Degel Machaneh Ephrayim Lech Lecha, Yeshayah 40:8). That being the case, how is the opening verse of this week's parsha applicable to everybody? All it says is, "And Hashem spoke to Avram, go for yourself from your land and from your birthplace and from the house of your father to the land that I will show you." (Lech Lecha 12:1). This was certainly relevant to Avraham, but how is this verse relevant to each and every person in each and every generation?

The Zohar Chadash (Midrash Ne'elam, Lech Lecha, pg. 30b) understands this verse to be speaking about something else entirely different. Yes, it is talking about God commanding Avraham, but it is also talking about Hashem speaking to the soul.

When it says, "And God said to Avram," it means that God said to each and every soul. We can see this from the word "Avram" which is spelled aleph, beis, reish, and mem. When these four letters are divided in half, they spell two words, "Av - Ram" (father - exalted).

These two words describe the nature of the soul. The soul is called an "Av" (father) because, just as a father's primary job is to teach his children, the soul's job is to teach the body how to behave in this world.

The soul is also called "Ram" (exalted) because the soul comes from a very high and exalted place. Therefore, the verse is teaching us that Hashem says something to the soul. But, what is it that Hashem says to her?

The answer lies in the next words of the verse, "Go from your land, from your birthplace, and from the house of your Father." Meaning, at some point in the life of a soul, Hashem says to her that it is time to leave home, the heavenly domain, the place of her origin, from where she was born. She must abandon, temporarily, her Father's house. Her Father is Hashem, our Father, or Parent, in Heaven. And she must go to the "land" that He will show her. That "land" is not only referring to planet Earth but more specifically, it is referring to the "body" which was fashioned from the earth.

When it says, "And Avram went as Hashem had spoken to him," it means that every soul obeys God's command. It turns out that there are two levels of understanding the opening verse in this parsha. There is the "pshat" (simplistic level, the story line), and then there is the "sod" (secretive level from the Zohar).

According to the pshat, at first, Avraham had no idea which country he was going to. We see this from the words, "To the land that I will show you." This means that Hashem did not reveal which country he was supposed to go to. Not yet. That will come later.

This was meant to create anticipation which would make Eretz Yisrael more beloved to him. It was also meant to increase Avraham's reward for each step that he took (Rashi Lech Lecha 12:1 citing Bereishis Rabba, Lech Lecha 39:9).

According to the sod, at first, the soul has no idea into which body it is going to dwell. This brings us to two more questions.

According to the pshat, what additional reward did Avraham receive by not being told which country he was going to? Even if Hashem would have told him that he was going to Canaan, he would still have received reward because he was still unfamiliar with the nature of Canaan. Avraham had no idea what the people were like, what the weather was like, or what the food was like. By going anyway, just to do the will of God, he would most certainly receive reward. So why did the name of the country have to be concealed?

According to the sod, why doesn't Hashem immediately inform each soul into which body it is going to dwell? Why does Hashem withhold that information?

The Berditchever Rebbe (Kedushas Levi, Lech Lecha) shares a powerful teaching with us. He says that when it says that Hashem said, "To the land that I will show you," it teaches us that all the journeys of man, from his very first breath until his last, are all hidden from him. We have no idea what lies ahead. We don't know what's lurking around the corner. We have no knowledge if any given path will bring us up or down. We don't know if things are going to be easy or hard, or if the route will be straight or crooked. We don't know what challenges await us. Nor do we know what it is that we are supposed to fix, repair, and mend in those places. Hashem withholds all this information from us.

But, Hashem promised Avraham and his descendants, "To the land that I will show you," meaning, God will not abandon us. Hashem promises to bring us to our destinations. God guarantees to show us the way. God says to us, "I've got your back. I am with you, guiding you and providing you with the tools necessary to overcome the tests that you will face."

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this answers our first question. The opening statement of this parsha is extremely relevant to every single one of us. Before we were born, we all heard Hashem say, "Leave your home to the land (body) that I will show you." When the soul begins its journey to Earth, it has no idea which body it will occupy. This sets the pace for the rest of its journeys on Earth. The person will not be privy to what lies ahead.

But, just as the soul eventually arrives in the body that's perfect for her, so will each person arrive at the desired destination. Hashem will direct us as He promised us.

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba Vayeira 53:14, Rebbi Binyamin) supports this idea by teaching us that everybody is blind, at least to some degree, until Hashem opens our eyes. How often does it happen that we cannot find something, even when it is right under our noses? We are blind to that object. Only when Hashem chooses to illuminate our eyes do we find that which we were searching for.

Therefore, Hashem does not reveal specifics to the soul. Hashem is teaching all of us a lesson. In life, we are not going to know. We will be in the dark. But, Hashem will bring us there eventually.

Why did Hashem create this system to begin with? Why not just tell us everything from the start? The answer is that this darkness builds a person's emunah (faith). When we don't know, we must place our trust in Hashem.

This explains what additional reward Avraham received by not knowing the name of the country he was going to. Had Avraham known, he would have at least felt confident that he was going in the right direction. But, by not knowing, he wasn't even sure if he was going the right way.

Imagine what it must have been like when Avraham came home that day. He must have said, "Sarah, Lot, chevra (friends), pack your bags. We are leaving." Everybody must have been so excited. They all whipped out their luggage and began packing. As they were putting their belongings into their suitcases, they asked Avraham, "Where are we going?" Avraham replied, "I've got absolutely no idea!" They must've asked, "Wait a minute, when we leave the front door, do we turn right or left?" He said, "I don't know, but we're going!" This takes a tremendous amount of emunah.

By contrast, how often have we prepared for a trip, months in advance. We comb through so many details such as airlines, stop-overs, and transportation from the airport. With such a detailed itinerary, we leave little room for God.

By telling us that He will show us the way eventually, Hashem is teaching us that it's going to be OK. He will be there at our side.

Theoretically, this is a great idea. It's very comforting. However, if we engage in sin, it creates barriers between ourselves and Hashem (Yeshaya 59:2). These partitions create interference which prevents us from picking up on Hashem's signal.

Therefore, the way to cash in on God's promise is to repent along the way. This removes sin and its barriers thus enabling us to pick up on God's frequency. Prayer also has the power to tear down iron walls of separation.

Therefore, practically speaking, when we are in doubt about which path to choose at any given stage of life, we should say, "Hashem, I am so sorry for the sins I've committed in the past. Please forgive me and grant me the strength to never repeat them again."

Then, invite God in and say, "Dear God, I am at a crossroad right now. I don't know what to do. Please lead me in the direction that I am supposed to take, just as You led my great grandfather, Avraham."

This is a prayer that contains teshuvah which can erase sin and remove any barriers so that we can benefit from Hashem's promise, "To the land that I will show you."

At this point it would be apropos to share a Shelah which fits in to this lesson. In Parshas Beha'alosechah (9:18), it discusses the Jewish people's travels in the desert. How did they know when to go? How did they know when to stop? The verse explains, "Al Pi Hashem Yisu, V'al Pi Hashem Yachanu (according to the word of Hashem they would journey, and according to the word of Hashem they would encamp). So, when God said, "Go," they went. And when God said, "Stop," they stopped.