1. The name of this week’s parshah, Lech Lecha (“Go”), derives from its first verse: “The L-rd said to Avraham: ‘Go from your land, from your birthplace etc.’” In one’s spiritual service, this refers to the type of service man must perform, when one must “go,” rise from one level to another. It does not suffice to remain on the same level, however lofty it may be, but one must always be truly ‘going,’ rising to an infinitely
Even when one’s service is “with all your might,” nevertheless, if one becomes accustomed to such a service, it becomes second nature. Such a person is no longer called one who “serves G-d,” but one who “does not serve Him.” The Talmud states that one who serves G-d is he who learns the same thing 101 times, and one who does not serve G-d is he who learns it but 100 times. The Alter Rebbe (Tanya Ch. 15) explains that the difference between 100 and 101 is that in the times of the Talmud, it was customary to learn everything 100 times. Hence the extra 101st time, over and above his nature and custom, is worth all the other 100 times, and therefore he is called one “who serves G-d.”
If, however, one would become accustomed to learn everything 101 times, then no longer would one be called he “who serves G-d” by learning something the 101st time. He has not now risen above his nature, and is instead called one who “does not serve G-d.” Service entails effort, and since it has now become second nature, he is not a servant of G-d.
A simple example. A child born to religious parents, and sent to a religious school, will grow up in an environment where to serve G-d “with all your might” is second nature, and knows no other way. There is no choice involved, and hence no effort.
This is the lesson of parshas Lech Lecha. One must “go from your land, your birthplace, your father’s house.” Although one’s “land” and “birthplace” were permeated with holiness, nevertheless, since it is one’s birthplace, one’s nature, one is in the status of “not serving” G-d. Hence one must “go,” rise infinitely higher than one’s previous standing, and reach new levels.
This point is underscored by the order of the three parshahs: Bereishis, Noach and Lech Lecha. Parshas Bereishis, the content of which is the story of creation, is the concept of man’s service in the status of tzaddikim (completely righteous). The world was created in its fullness and entirety, and “when men occupy themselves in Torah they keep the world in existence.”
Parshas Noach is associated with the service of baalei teshuvah (those who return to G-d, repentants). Before the flood (narrated in parshas Noach), the world was full of wickedness, and the waters of the flood cleansed and purified the world, similar to the waters of the Mikveh which purify a person from sin — the idea of teshuvah.
After parshas Bereishis and parshas Noach, Jews are on an extremely lofty level, possessing both forms of service of tzaddikim and teshuvah; and not only are these types of service in regard to one’s personal self, but affect the world. Yet, after such lofty levels, when we come to parshas Lech Lecha, we learn that we must rise higher still, to logo” to levels infinitely loftier than previously.
In other words. From the month of Tishrei, all things physical and spiritual flow to Jews for the entire year.’ In the following month of MarCheshvan, in which we “unpack” the spiritual “provisions” garnered during Tishrei, we must learn the lesson of parshas Lech Lecha in regard to the entire year. The service of the year in the matters of Tishrei must not be static, but must be ever higher, rising from previous levels to infinitely loftier ones.
This is the reason for a farbrengen on this Shabbos, to inspire everyone to make even greater efforts in their past endeavors. This applies especially to the recent campaign, to unite all Jews together in an eternal bond by each one purchasing a letter in a Sefer Torah. The world is an extremely unstable position, and many alarming incidents take place daily. The unity of Jews through participating in a Sefer Torah written especially for this purpose is the antidote to this instability.
Unfortunately, efforts in this project have not been sufficient, and many more people must still be encouraged to participate. Thus this farbrengen is to inspire everyone to do their utmost to get all Jews to participate in this Sefer Torah — consonant with the ideal of Lech Lecha, to strive ever higher to reach infinitely loftier heights.
May it be G-d’s will that all Jews unite together through participation in the writing of a Sefer Torah. Then we merit to receive our righteous Mashiach, together with receiving the Divine Presence, in the true and complete redemption, “with our youth and our elders, and with our sons and our daughters.”
2. The necessity of uniting all Jews by having each one purchase a letter in a Sefer Torah does not mean that a Jew’s work ends with that. True, when a person encourages another to buy a letter he has fulfilled the mitzvah of “You shall love your fellow as yourself.” Likewise, when that person has bought a letter, he is on a high level having become united with hundreds of thousands of fellow Jews. Nevertheless, there are 613 mitzvos in the Torah, and one must influence others to fulfill all of them, and not just buy a letter in the Sefer Torah.
Nevertheless, in addition to the general duty of influencing others to keep the entire Torah, certain times demand special interest in a particular matter. We find, for example, that there are differences in the type of service to be performed on the Yomim Tovim: On Rosh Hashanah, the main service is acceptance of the yoke of heaven, and on Simchas Torah the main thing is to rejoice with the Torah. So too with the service of each individual Jew. Although everyone must busy himself with ill matters of Torah, nevertheless, each Jew has a special matter that expresses his unique work.
In other words: There are times when all Jews are the same in their type of service. For example, on erev Shabbos, every Jew is busy with preparations for Shabbos. But there are times when every person has his special service in which to put his main efforts.
In our case, there is the general work of spreading Torah and Chassidus, including the Mitzvah campaigns: Ahavas Yisrael, education, Torah study, tefillin, mezuzah, tzedakah, house full of Jewish books, Shabbos lights, kashrus, and family purity. In addition, there is the present campaign of uniting all Jews through participation in the writing of a Sefer Torah. When a person sets out to do his work, he must plan his day exactly to know how to do all of the above. And if one cannot alone determine in which area to put his main efforts, he can consult with friends and advisors. But the main thing is not to waste time in any great debate as to which field to devote his main efforts, for “action is the main thing.”
One’s efforts in all these things should be consonant with the lesson from this week’s parshah: “Go from your land, your birthplace, your father’s house” — to rise ever higher without any limits. In general, there are two types of “going:” to go from above to below; or from below to above.
The service of man in going from above to below is emphasized in his daily service. First one prays, studies Torah, and then goes from these lofty heights to ‘below’ — to work in the world. This descent then produces a later ascent to a level far loftier than previously.
So too in the life of a person. First and foremost, there are those years in which one’s main occupation is Torah study, beginning with “learning Scripture at 5 years old, Mishnah at 10, Talmud at 15” etc. At such ages, one’s entire occupation is Torah, free as one then is of the problems of earning a living.
Then follow the years in which one’s service is in the mode of a descent from above to below — he descends from his previous lofty heights (of Torah study) to engage in worldly matters, working to earn a living for himself and family.
But even in the years when one’s sole occupation is Torah study, one’s service must still be in the method of “Go,” and in both directions — from above to below, and from below to above. The service of going from below to above is to increase in one’s Torah study and reach greater heights. For although there are only 24 hours in a day, and it might seem impossible for a diligent student who is already fully occupied in Torah study to increase in those studies, nevertheless, increase can be in quality and not just quantity; and one can always improve in one’s quality of Torah study. And in both quality and quantity there are many levels, making it possible to always rise higher.
The same applies to going from above to below. It will not suffice for a student worthy of the name to occupy himself only in Torah study, but he must “go from above to below,” to “go from your land, your birthplace, your father’s house” — to influence Jews on the outside to put on tefillin and to buy a letter in the Sefer Torah. As explained in Tanya, even true Torah sages, who are occupied wholly in Torah study, must engage in good works. But since we are talking of Torah students whose whole enthusiasm and vitality is in Torah study, such a descent to venture into the world calls for self-sacrifice.
This is the general idea of going from above to below — that in addition to the main task of Torah study, one must devote all free time to spread Chassidus to others, followed by the mitzvah campaigns. This must be done warmly and enthusiastically, for otherwise, if done without any enthusiasm or only because one must, the person to whom such efforts are directed will not respond.
The service of “Lech Lecha,” “going,” must be constant, throughout one’s life. Even when one’s service is perfect, he must still “go,” strive to reach even loftier heights. As we find in the case of Moshe Rabbeinu: Moshe Rabbeinu’s service was the peak of perfection, he being the choicest of all mankind, especially after having received the Torah from G-d. Nevertheless, despite his greatness after having received the Torah from G-d, and the immensely lofty level on which he then found himself, he was not content with this, but continued to learn Torah, rising even higher in knowledge of Torah.
Likewise with “going” from above to below: Despite the perfection of his own personal service, Moshe descended from his level to teach Torah to all the Jewish people. Not only did he teach Torah to his generation, the “generation of understanding,” but even after they had all died, and only the generation that would accompany Yehoshua to the Holy Land were left (who were on a less lofty level than the “generation of understanding” of Moshe), he continued to teach them Torah. So too must all Jews, who learn the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu, conduct themselves as Moshe.
Through the service of “Go” we merit the true and complete redemption when “as in the days of your going out from Egypt I will show you wonders.” our going out will be “with an upraised hand,” taking with us all the Torah and mitzvos fulfilled during the exile, and we go with our righteous Mashiach to our Holy Land, speedily in our times.
3. On the verse in our parshah (Bereishis 12:3): “And in you (Avraham) shall be blessed all the families of the earth,” Rashi comments that: “There are many Aggadic interpretations [of this]; but this is the plain meaning [of the text]: A man says to his son, ‘may you be like Avraham;’ and so is the meaning of every occurrence of the words “And in you shall be blessed.” And the following verse proves [that this is indeed the interpretation] (Bereishis 48:20): — “In you shall Yisrael bless, saying ‘May G-d make you as Ephraim and Menashe.”’
There are a few points in Rashi’s commentary that require clarification:
1) Rashi always interprets the verse according to the plain meaning of the verse. Why then in this case does he comment that there are “many Aggadic interpretations” on this verse? What has this to do with the plain meaning?
2) Why does Rashi say specifically that “there are many Aggadic interpretations?”
3) Rashi sometimes quotes an Aggadic interpretation to help resolve a difficulty in the verse. But he only does so if without it there would be a problem in the plain interpretation. In our case, Rashi himself says that ‘But this is its plain meaning...” If then, there is a plain interpretation which does not seem to present any difficulties, why does Rashi say that ‘there are many Aggadic interpretations?!’
4) Not only does Rashi say that there are Aggadic interpretations despite the fact that there is a plain interpretation, but he makes the statement that “There are many Aggadic interpretations” before giving the plain interpretation. Since Rashi’s primary function is to explain Scripture according to the plain interpretation, he should place it first.
There is indeed no problem in the plain interpretation itself. A student learning this verse understands that “In you shall be blessed all the families of the earth” means simply that “A man says to his son, ‘may you be like Avraham.”’ However, there is a problem in the general context in which this verse is found. The preceding verses are the blessings G-d gave to Avraham: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, and you will become a blessing. I will bless those that bless you, and he who curses you I will curse.” These blessings are extremely great ones, affecting both physical and spiritual things. What then has been added in the following blessing of “And in you shall be blessed all the families of the earth?” “Families of the earth” refers to gentiles, who cannot possibly understand the spiritual greatness of Avraham. Yet, G-d blesses Avraham that they will appreciate his greatness (in physical terms!) to the extent that they will bless their children that they should be as Avraham. How can this compare to the loftiness of the previous blessings, and to the degree that it is placed last (and hence the culmination) of all the blessings?!
Therefore Rashi is forced to say that “There are many Aggadic interpretations [of this verse],” telling us that the greatness of this blessing can be appreciated — through the Aggadic interpretations. Likewise, Rashi says “there are many Aggadic interpretations,” for just one interpretation would not suffice to explain the greatness of this blessing that it should be equal to all the other preceding ones (since it is the culmination of all the others). But since there are “many Aggadic interpretations,” when they are all added together one will then understand the greatness of this blessing.
Rashi then continues to say that: “But this is the plain meaning [of the text]: A man says to his son ‘may you be like Avraham.’” In other words, despite the above problem of fitting this blessing into the general context of the passage, Rashi nevertheless offers its ‘plain meaning.’ Rashi must do so, despite the seeming inferiority of this blessing compared to the others, for this is its meaning in every other occurrence of the words “And in you shall be blessed.” To prove this, Rashi quotes the verse “In you shall Yisrael bless, saying ‘May G-d make you as Ephraim and as Menashe.”’ This verse is absolute proof that the words “In you shall be blessed” means that a person blesses another by wishing him to be as a third person. Since this is so, and since in every other place these words have the same meaning (for in other places there is no such problem as in our verse), Rashi is forced to conclude that in the plain meaning, our verse also means the same — that “In you shall be blessed” means “A man says to his son, ‘May you be like Avraham’” (despite the problem stemming from the context).
On the other hand, since there is this problem in the plain meaning, Rashi first says “there are many Aggadic interpretations” that would resolve this problem. And he does not quote these Aggadic interpretations for the simple reason that there are “many Aggadic interpretations [on this verse].” Had there been just one, it is possible that Rashi would have quoted it. But since there are ‘many,’ he does not do so.