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Parshas Lech Lecha (5778)

"Go For Yourself" - The Stuff That Jews Are Made Of

Guess what, folks? It's coming closer to that time of year again! The time of year when we celebrate the birth and life of one of the most important men in the history of the world. A man whose entire life was devoted to helping the rest of mankind. A man who preached love and kindness wherever he went. And a man who, even now, thousands of years after his death, continues to inspire devoted followers across the globe to have faith in the Lord, and to live a G-dly existence.

Once, while I was driving through Atlanta (which is part of the so-called “Bible Belt”), I saw the perfect billboard — a billboard that describes this great man perfectly. It read: HE WAS BORN IN A STABLE. HE NEVER WENT TO COLLEGE. HE NEVER HELD POLITICAL OFFICE. YET NOBODY INFLUENCED THE HISTORY OF MANKIND MORE THAN THIS ONE SINGLE MAN.

Yes, the one man who has given more to our civilization than anyone else … our forefather Abraham. The first Jew on earth to recognize the one G-d and to publicize His name, spreading monotheism and absolute values and morals across the entire world. Without Abraham’s courageous and daring undertaking, seeking out the Truth of the one G-d in a world full of paganism and hedonism, none of the other monotheistic religions would be here today. (Okay, so maybe he wasn’t born in a stable.)

And this is the season — the weeks following the festival of Succos — when we read publicly from the Torah the portions that describe Abraham’s life and his devotion to G-d and to making the world a better place.

WHO WAS ABRAHAM AND WHO ARE WE?

All of us descend from that one great man, Abraham, and, as such, we all have a little bit of Abraham inside us. It is therefore important to know and understand just what made this great person tick; what was the stuff that Abraham was made of that enabled him to see the truth through all the idolatry that was then prevalent in the world. We will thus have a better understanding of just who we are, and how we can use this great legacy that Abraham bequeathed us, in order to help us see through a lot of the falsehood and "idolatry" of our own times.

I would venture to say that we can sum up the essence of this great man, and what he gave to all of us, in just two short Hebrew words. These two short words were the very first words that G-d spoke to the very first Jew, Abraham, when He commanded him to leave his hometown on a spiritual journey that would culminate in the creation of a new nation. And these two short words are also the name given to this week's Torah portion. G-d told Abraham: "Lech lecha ... Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father's house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

Every person is greatly affected in the way he thinks, dresses and acts, by his family upbringing, the local community, and the prevailing culture in society at large. This is an undeniable fact, whether we like it or not. We lead our lives, to a great extent, the way our families led their lives before us, and we often think about issues as important as religion and morals the way the society around us has led us to think. (Today we would call it the media influence.) So that even when we are confronted with an issue about which we might feel, deep down, one way, we often tend to echo the conventional wisdom of whatever is popular to think at the time, and we go in that direction.

What G-d was telling Abraham with those two short words is, that in order to follow Him and do the "right thing", sometimes it means that you will have to "leave" the influence of the prevailing culture, and of your local community, and even of your father's house (Abraham's dad Terach was an idol worshipper!) and "go for yourself". Think for yourself. Follow what you believe to be right - even if that's not exactly the way you're used to, or even if it's not so "popular".

This was the essence of Abraham's greatness - what made him tick - and what has kept all of us, his descendants, alive and ticking for all these years. For the past 3000 years, the Jewish people, by and large, have always stuck to the Torah with its unchanging and timeless values and truths. We have never, nor will never, subscribe to "what everyone is saying" so long as we feel in our hearts that it goes against what G-d would want us to believe. And all this was the legacy of one man, the man who influenced the history of mankind more than anyone else, by standing up for the truth when the entire world was living a life of falsehood and immorality.

Today, as back in Abraham's day, we are constantly being confronted with all types of new and foreign ideologies, which are products of a society in which anything goes. And today, more than ever before, we need to find within ourselves that "little bit of Abraham" - that legacy that enables us to "go for ourselves" – in order to counter these false ideas, and to stay with the absolute truth of the Torah as we know it.

Go for yourself, G-d tells us, don't follow everything you read in the papers or that you grew up believing. Our grandfather Abraham went “for himself” way back when, and that's why all of us are still Jewish today - and proud of it. And that’s definitely something to celebrate. Happy Holidays (-;

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