Thursday, October 21, 2010

two journeys

Too much work, not enough time for this. Enough said – so I’m behind.

Commenting on the spelling of “ohalo” with an added hey, as if it should be read “ohala,” her tent, Rashi writes at the beginning of Lech Lecha (12:8) that Avraham pitched Sarah’s tent before his own. It is certainly possible that Rashi simply means that Avraham was a gentleman – we can imagine that he held the door open and let Sarah enter first, he pushed her chair close to the table, he pitched her tent first. However, it just seems odd to me that the Torah should go out of its way to tell us this detail. Even if the point is that Avraham was a gentleman, why illustrate the fact by focusing on the act of pitching a tent?

Let’s take a step back. At the beginning of Lech Lecha Avraham is commanded to take a journey. What exactly is this charge supposed to motivate Avraham to do? If we look at the end of Parshas Noach, we find that Avraham and his family (including Terach, at least in the initial stage) have already left home on a journey and are en route to Eretz Yisrael. Isn’t it redundant to tell someone who has already embarked upon a journey to go and embark upon a journey?

I think a clue to the answer can be found in the well-known Midrash at the beginning of Parshas Lech Lecha which speaks of Avraham’s discovery of G-d:

Listen my daughter and see, bend your ear, forget your nation and father’s house (Tehilim 45). Rav Yitzchak said: This may be compared to the story of a wanderer who was traveling from place to place and saw a burning tower. He exclaimed, “Can it be that this tower has no owner?!” The owner of the tower appeared and declared, “I am the owner of this tower.” Avraham Avinu could not believe that the world had no master. Hashem appeared and declared, “I am the master of the world.”

What does this explanation of Avraham’s search for and discovery of G-d have to do with “lech lecha,” Avraham’s journey? The answer is that the Midrash is not teaching us about Avraham’s search for G-d – it is teaching us about G-d’s answer to Avraham’s search. That answer is the command to take a journey -- not a journey to a place, but a journey to a different way of thinking.

It is clear from the Midrash that the wanderer cannot find the owner of the tower. The wanderer searches, but he is left perplexed and mystified. It is only the revelation of his presence by the owner of the tower that brings clarity. Avraham had begun a journey to discover G-d, spirituality, but that journey was by definition limited by Avraham’s power of intuition. Avraham was on a philosophical search for truth, but a philosophical search can travel no further than the limits of human reason. What Avraham needed, what Parshas Lech Lecha provided, was a Revelation.

The Sefas Emes and others explain that the pasuk in Tehillim referenced by the Midrash was chosen not only because of its concluding allusion to Avraham leaving home, but also because of the double exhortation to “Listen… bend your ear.” The double language indicates a double mission. Man may start the journey to G-d with his reason, his intellect, his mind, but that must be followed by a willingness to take the next step and abandon those comforting and secure limitations.

When Avraham enters Eretz Yisrael he builds two altars. The first (12:7) is dedicated, “L’hashem ha’nireh eilav,” to G-d who appeared to him. The second (12:8) is described simply as an altar to G-d, followed by Avraham's, “VaYikra b’shem Hashem,” his davening alongside that altar. The Zohar (see also R’ Tzadok haKohen in Pri Tzadik at length) takes note of these discrepancies and explains that the two altars represent two different faces of G-d. One altar represents G-d as we apprehend him, G-d channeled through our perception and understanding, “G-d who appeared.” The other altar represents Avraham’s commitment to the transcendent, what cannot be understood, which is why it is followed by prayer, the heart’s effort to reach out and grasp what the mind cannot. These in turn, I think, correspond to the two stages of Avraham's journeys.

It is just before the construction of this second altar that the Torah uses the term ohel spelled in the feminine form. The Maharal and other seforim that lean towards the mystical distinguish between masculine and feminine attributes or behaviors. The masculine is associated with giving, with outward expression, with impacting others. The feminine is associated with receiving, inwardness, restraint. Perhaps I am reading too much into things, but I would suggest that by spelling the tent in the feminine form the Torah is alluding to Avraham beginning to build that feminine aspect of his soul. Avraham departed from the search for Hashem “hanir’eh eilav,” using his own powers of discovery, thinking that he could discover the “ba’al ha’birah” on his own, and instead began a different journey, one that involved preparation to receive the revelation of the “ba’al ha’birah” rather than to discover it.

Rav Tzadok ties this duality – the process of discovering wisdom vs. the process of receiving wisdom – to our activities of Torah and tefilah. We too are charged with the command to journey down both roads of discovery in emulation of our forefather Avraham.

No comments:

Post a Comment