Friday, October 15, 2010

the rewards of the journey

Too pressed for time this week to post, but I want to get something in about the parsha. Avraham is told to leave his land, his place of birth, his father’s home, and to travel to some unspecified location. Hashem sweetens the pot – Avraham is promised that this journey will bring him wealth, progeny, and bracha galore. Did Avraham need this promise of reward to motivate him to leave home? I would hope such a reading is at best a hava amina. A spiritually immature Avraham being coaxed by G-d to get moving is a makes for a tempting reading of the parsha from a literary perspective, but is hard to square with our traditional conception of the Avos as spiritual giants. Midrashim portray Avraham as having discovered G-d already at age three and as willing from an early age to sacrifice his life for his faith when tested by Nimrod. Is this the type person who needs the motivation of material reward? Looking at the text, the words, “Vayelech Avram ka’asher dibeir eilav Hashem…” imply that Avraham left his homeland solely because Hashem had spoken, without ulterior motive.

So why then the promise of reward? Taking a mussar oriented approach, one might suggest that the reward was part of the test being given to Avraham. Not only must Avraham abandon his home, but he must do so without regard to the promise of reward that is part of the deal. The fringe benefits make the test harder, not easier.

But there is another possible approach as well. Books have been written about the phenomenon of boys and girls who mere weeks before seemed not so different from their non-yeshiva teen counterparts, but after entering the Beis Medrash in Eretz Yisrael, entering Seminary, a short while later become changed people. Gone are the plans for medical school or law school, white shirts and dress pants replace the torn jeans and sneakers, Saturday becomes Motzei Shabbos – va’ya’hapoch Hashem es Sdom, to preview next week’s parsha. Along with a new found dedication to learning comes a new found sense of prishus. If the transformation of these young men and women is so jarring, can we even imagine the transformation an Avraham Avinu underwent when he experienced Hashem’s calling?

The promise of children, wealth, bracha, given to Avraham was not a temptation to be avoided – it was a mechayeiv. Hashem was telling Avraham that his calling to avodas Hashem need not and should not come at the price of prishus from the world, of leaving behind everything, but to the contrary, his life should demonstrate how to have wealth, children, bracha, and utilize them properly for the same of avodas Hashem and kiddush Hashem. There are some things that one must abandon -- lech lecha -- but there are things one must take along for the journey and elevate to a higher purpose.

Knowing when materialism is to be eschewed and rightfully recognized as a distracting test and temptation and when it can be used and enjoyed in the service of Hashem can be a challenge. I recently received a postcard of programs from an institution I am an alumnus of. The top line mentioned shiurim being offered on Sunday; two lines below that was advertised, “A Night of Fashion and Glamour featuring Teri Jon Fashion and Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry.” I really don’t think Sarah Imeinu attended a Sunday shiur and then went to check out the Ivanka Trump jewelry of her day – that’s not the lesson to draw from our parsha. There has to be a l’shem shamayim in how we use the world, and only on those terms do we have a right and a chiyuv to do so.

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