Parashas Lech-Lecha

At the beginning of this week’s parashah, Hashem tells Avraham (Bereishis 12:1-2): “Go you forth from your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house, to the land that I shall show you. And I shall make you into a great nation, and I shall bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.” Rashi remarks that the added word you in the phrase “go you forth” was meant to indicate to Avraham that it was for his own benefit that he was being told to go. Now, this remark is understandable insofar as the added word you obviously needs to be explained. It is not clear, however, why Hashem would see a need to tell Avraham that the journey was for his own benefit. Surely Hashem did not have to cajole Avraham to go. Indeed, it is unthinkable that Avraham would resist doing anything Hashem told him to do.
The Maggid brings out Hashem’s purpose by analyzing another teaching. The Midrash says (Yalkut Shimoni I:62):
Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Avraham: “For your first test, and for your last test, I have chosen to present the test using the phrase “go you forth.” In the first test (our verse): “Go you forth from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house.” And in the last test (Bereishis 22:2): “Go you forth, to the land of Moriah.”
It appears that, by using the phrase “go you forth,” Hashem meant to make the test more challenging, so that Avraham’s success would be more glorious. The question is, how did the use of this phrase highten the challenge? On the surface, it would seem that letting Avraham know that his mission was designed for his benefit would actually lessen the challenge. What was Hashem trying to accomplish?
The Maggid answers this question as follows. A mitzvah has two elements: the mitzvah act itself, and the intent that goes along with it. Performing a mitzvah to perfection involves not only careful attention to all the relevant halachos, but also purity of thought – that is, carrying out the mitzvah act specifically and exclusively with the intent of serving Hashem and providing Him “nachas.” Now, with most mitzvos, even if a person did not have perfect intent, he still gets credit for a mitzvah, for, as the Zohar puts it, he carried out his Master’s command. Consider, for example, mitzvos such as putting on tzitzis and tefillin. Even though a person may perform these mitzvos with little thought, it is clear that his intent is to carry out a Divine command, since he has no other reason for doing these acts. It is all the more so with mitzvos such as giving charity and fasting on Yom Kippur, which are hard for people to do – when a person performs the mitzvah act, it is clear that he is doing so for the sake of the mitzvah.
With certain mitzvos, however, the situation is different. A prime example is the mitzvah of honoring Shabbos with delights. This mitzvah involves a worldly benefit in addition to the spiritual elevation, for partaking of delicacies gives a person physical pleasure. Hence, when a person eats his special Shabbos meal, it is not self-evident that he is doing so for the sake of the mitzvah of honoring Shabbos – it could be that he is doing so simply to enjoy good food. In the case of this mitzvah, therefore, the intent is critical.
Overall, the harder the mitzvah act is to do, the easier it is to do it with pure intent, and, conversely, the easier the mitzvah act is to do, the harder it is to do it with pure intent. Now, when Hashem told Avraham to leave his home to dwell in a foreign land, He was giving him something that is naturally very hard to do. Thus, had Hashem presented this instruction as a flat order, it would have been easy for Avraham to act with pure intent. Therefore, in His wisdom, Hashem told Avraham that the journey was for his own benefit, in order to heighten the test. Hashem elaborated on the matter, saying: “I shall make you into a great nation, and I shall bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.” Rashi expands further, relating that Hashem told Avraham: “Here, you will not be privileged to have children, but there you will.” Hashem’s glorious description of the grandeur and fulfillment that Avraham would enjoy in his new land made it a great challenge indeed for him to undertake the journey with the sole intent of doing Hashem’s bidding. The Torah tells us, however, that Avraham went forth “as Hashem had told him.” In so stating, the Torah is testifying that Avraham met the challenge.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

1 Comment

  1. North Jerusalem Maggid of Dubno Project » Blog Archive » Parashas Mishpatim:

    […] spiritual benefit. One example is partaking of delicacies on Shabbos, which we have discussed in a previous piece – this activity involves both the pleasure of enjoying the food and the spiritual benefit […]

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