Little Lower Than the Angels
Lech-Lecha is one of those Torah portions that is so filled with goodies, it boggles the mind – but in a good way. Having said that, I want to share with you a small offering and commentary.
The text says,
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃
The LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
So what’s the problem?
If you were tasked to go on a journey you would probably want to know where you are going. Abram had no such plans. He hears the voice of God and leaves. Why?
The Midrash tells us that God did not tell us where he was going to so that each step would be more ‘beloved in Abram’s eyes.’ In other words, the more he had to work for it, the better the greater the degree of love for the Land when he finally did reach it.
There is great truth in this.
We certainly live in the world of instant gratification. Not only can we buy things instantly – even if we don’t have the money (!) – we can pass things off as our own work without having to research, study and learn. Students hand in papers cut and pasted from Google and PhD candidates take other people’s obscure theses and pass them off as their own. They may get the glory but they really don’t get the wisdom that comes with the struggle.
And there is another aspect to God not letting Abram know where he was leading him.
If you know where you are going, you know that each step is getting you toward a goal. You are taking the step in order to achieve the goal and you know that, at the end of it, the goal will be have been reached. But there is a great deal of personal satisfaction in taking each step and though personal satisfaction is not necessarily a bad thing, doing the task for the sake of personal satisfaction alone is considered by some not to be “a mitzvah for its own sake.” It is as if having any sense of personal satisfaction is somehow a bad thing. I disagree with this. But I do agree with the notion that when we are doing solely to satisfy ourselves we are missing something.
I believe that we miss something when we don’t struggle. It is obvious that we miss the joy of discovering something new on our own. But we also miss the very act of revelation – that sense that arises within us when we have discovered something on our own or understood something through and through and not merely cut and pasted knowledge and called it our own wisdom. Beneath every person of integrity is a person who has struggled.
Abram struggled and in his struggling he came to understand a God who guided to places sometimes without telling us where we are going. Living as a Jew is often like that: there are no promises of heaven and no threats of hell which depend on what we believe. The only thing we know is that God is with us wherever we are and is with us in our struggles. God inspires us to greatness because, as Jews, we believe that we can imitate God and reach heights that only humans can reach. We can be just a small degree lower that the angels. But we can only get there by struggling.
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