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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Lech Lecha

Parshat Lech Lecha

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


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Parashat Lech Lecha                                                                                     Print Version
11 Cheshvan, 5783 | November 5, 2022

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein zt”l
How Do You View G-d?

I once sat down with my Rebbe, R’ Gamliel Rabinowitz shlita, and was very disturbed. “Something is really bothering me,” I said. He looked at me with caring eyes and asked me to discuss what was weighing me down.

“A lot of kids are coming to me today, some religious, some not, some boys, some girls, and they are troubled with the way they understand Hashem. The truth is, once they describe how they view God, it bothers me too. ‘Rabbi Wallerstein,’ they say, ‘I don’t want to believe in a God that is busy making people suffer in this world and burning people in Gehinnom (purgatory). Every time someone messes up, He gets punished. What kind of God is that?”

“The questions coming from these boys and girls are sincere. ‘My teachers have told me that if I do this or that, I’ll get punished with kares! I’ll be spiritually cut off from the Jewish people, die young and have my children die when I’m alive! If my hair is a bit too long, when I die, Hashem will punish me that worms will craw through my hair! Or if I’m not careful with what I look at, an angel will break my eye sockets in my grave!’

“Rebbe, this is crazy!” these students tell me. “This is Hashem? What do I tell these boys and girls? We are described as being loved by Hashem, but if this is the way Yiddishkeit is and how Hashem runs the world, no one wants to be a part of it! That’s not a loving God if the minute you step out of line, you’re finished!’” I felt sincerely stuck with this dilemma. The truth, as I knew, is that there is reward and punishment. There is Gan Eden and Gehinnom. I knew I couldn’t lie to anyone, but I didn’t know how to understand it all.

R' Gamliel sat quietly for a few minutes, mulling over what I just said. And then he sat up and told me the following.

“You’re one hundred percent right. If God punishes us, then He is angry, vengeful and evil. But kares, Gehinnom and other pain is not a punishment. It’s a consequence.” As he said this, I wasn’t jumping out of my seat. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Because it’s a consequence, now I’m happy? That makes it better?” “Let me tell you a mashal,” he continued.

“A man was on his way to a five-star, luxurious wedding at a hotel accompanied by a friend. But, to his dismay, he was having terrible stomach pains and cramps, and before he knew it, he had completely made a mess of himself. His perfect suit was completely ruined. Now filthy and reeking, he knew there was no chance for him to enter the wedding hall. He smelled and looked way too bad, and there was no chance anyone would go near him.

“Without delay, his friend turned the car around and headed straight back home. He helped his friend peel off the disgusting layers of clothing and hop into a hot shower, where he scrubbed him down from head to toe. Afterwards, he put on a new suit and tie, and dabbed himself with some fresh deodorant. He was now ready to head back out and join the wedding.

“Now, would you say that this man’s friend who helped clean him was mean, vengeful and angry? Not at all. You’d admire his care and willingness to help his friend, no matter what. Hashem is just the same,” explained R’ Gamliel. “Our soul emanates from God. It’s a part of Him which He places into a body for a lifetime. When it’s time for the soul to return and become part of Hashem again, able to now bask in the Divine light and delight of God Himself, something must be done first. You can’t walk into a wedding hall all dirty, and so, you need to take a shower, clean yourself up and put on a fresh suit.

“When you come up to Heaven and stand before Hashem, you may not be filthy with physical mud and dirt, but you may have spiritual dirt which needs to be cleaned off. Therefore, Hashem says, ‘Take him to be cleaned up for eleven months and get rid of all the dirt and grime, so he can come into the wedding hall of Gan Eden for eternity.’ God is not saying this out of anger or meting our punishments.

The Zohar tells us that when Hashem created the physical world, He imbued into its DNA the principle of consequence. When plants and trees do not receive the right amounts of rain and sunlight, they wither and die. The world runs based on this operating system. The same is true of a human being’s interaction with the world. If a person sticks his hand into a fire, the consequence is that his skin will get burned. Similarly, if he submerges himself underwater for an extended period, he will die. Likewise, if you take a glass cup and drop it to the floor, it will break. When the cup falls to the floor and smashes into bits and pieces, is the floor angry at the glass? Not at all. It’s not a punishment, but a direct outcome and result of the preceding action. A miracle, to this effect, is when God changes the course of consequence and natural order in the world.

The same, says the Zohar, applies to the spiritual world. The spiritual and physical world are mirrors of one another and share the same operating principles. Just as the glass breaks when it falls to the floor, even though the floor is not upset at the glass, when a person sins, there is a consequence.

Think about it from the perspective of physics. The most basic and first principle of physics is that every action has a reaction. Every action has a consequence. This is true in both the physical and spiritual realms. When a person violates Shabbos, the spiritual consequence is rectified and remedied through the outlined ways mentioned in the Torah. The minute those procedures are completed, the sin is forgiven and fixed. You become cleansed.

Hashem wrote a physics book in the form of the Torah for the soul and told us that every action has a reaction. And alongside this, out of His love and desire for us to receive ultimate eternal goodness, He delineated ways for us to clean ourselves up to enter the wedding of Gan Eden.

“Explain to everyone,” said R’ Gamliel to me, “that if you view God as giving out punishments, then yes, it is unfair and harsh. However, if you know that you are on your way to a wedding and now you are dirty, you will certainly want to run back home and clean yourself up or head to a one-hour cleaners and have your suit, shirt and tie washed. Will you be angry at the cleaners for washing your clothing? No, you want them to do it!

“In order to be near Hashem and the angels in Heaven, we need to be fresh and clean. And that is why He made processes to clean us up.”

Once I heard this, it started making much more sense. But then I threw my rebbe a curveball.

“I’m still unsure about one thing,” I said. “I don’t understand the analogy. If I’m in the middle of a wedding and someone walks in and reeks, I would go over to him and give him something to eat, even without having him wash up. It might be unpleasant, but I’d still do it. I don’t think I’d make him shower. So why must Hashem cleanse us by giving us our consequences? Why can’t we remain the way we are, stained with our sins? If Hashem really loves us, He’d still allow us to be in Gan Eden, even though we smell!”

“Zechariah, you got the whole story wrong!” R’ Gamliel replied. “The story is not about a poor man showing up at the party and then you let him sit there. The mashal is about the groom who is on his way to his own wedding and he dirtied himself! There’s no way he’d walk down the chuppa and stand next to his bride! Of course, you’d delay the wedding, get the groom upstairs and have him clean himself up. The person who is dirty is not a guest; it’s you! You are the groom and God is the bride! There’s no way you can come before Hashem all soiled.

“And not only that,” added R’ Gamliel, “but in Kabbalah, it states but for every minute spent in Gehinnom, you spend five hundred minutes in Gan Eden. And moreover, there’s a window between Gehinnom and Gan Eden that you can look through and see the eternal reward awaiting you.”

Hashem just wants us to just get cleaned up, so we can move onto the wedding.

My Favorite Cracker Jacks

But there is something even more to add, which I have since told to boys and girls who’ve come to my office with the above question.

Hashem created something even before He created the world. Yes, there are spiritual actions and reactions, but there was something that preceded it all: teshuva (repentance). Teshuva gives you the ability to wipe away the consequence. It’s an unbelievable concept. In the physical world, if you drop a glass and it breaks into hundreds of pieces, there is nothing you can do to bring it back to its original and perfect form. Yes, you can put it together, but it will never be exactly the same.

When it comes to the spiritual world, however, if you sin and break the glass, when you do teshuva, it’s as if the glass comes back into your hands and looks exactly like it was before, in its perfect shape and form. Such a reality doesn’t exist in the physical realm. This is why the concept of teshuva needed to be created before the physical world was (Pesachim 54a). Teshuva doesn’t operate within the framework of the physical and its rules; it transcends beyond.

We all have the ability, until the moment we die, to do teshuva for anything we’ve done and change the consequence. It’s an extraordinary and enormous gift Hashem has given us. I therefore said to these boys and girls, “You think Hashem hates you and wants to hurt you? He created something which allows you to perform a miracle. You can change the course of a consequence with teshuva!”

No matter what you have done in your life, there is nothing which stands in the way of Hashem accepting your teshuva. No matter what consequence created, you have the power to undo it. That wouldn’t be coming from a God who is vengeful. If He was, He’d never allow you to correct it and make it right.

I remember when I was a kid, I headed into a store in Monsey, New York to buy a box of cracker jacks. In those days, the cracker jacks around were not kosher, and I was well aware of that. However, notwithstanding, the prize buried at the bottom of the box was an enticing allure that captured my interest and peaked my desire. I walked to the aisle it was stashed, looked around furtively and saw that no one was there, and bought it. One by one, I ate the entire box, knowing that it was not kosher.

Around forty years later, I was spending Yom Kippur in Israel and davening, and this memory of eating cracker jacks suddenly popped into my head. It was bizarre that this incident came to me, but regardless, I knew that I needed to make it right. “I need to do teshuva,” I thought to myself.

“Hashem,” I said, “I’m really sorry. I knew that it wasn’t kosher, but I didn’t know who You were and wasn’t connected to You. I’m asking for forgiveness for those cracker jacks I ate when I was a kid.”

This teshuva of mine wasn’t borne out of fear that I’d go to Gehinnom. It stemmed from my love of Hashem and appreciating everything He meant to me. What I had done as a kid wasn’t with the full grasp of valuing who Hashem was.

After one hundred and twenty years, a movie of my life will be replayed for me, and watching it alongside me will be none other than the Satan. And there I’ll be, on the big screen, walking into the store and towards the aisle with the cracker jacks. “Ahh!” the Satan will yell, growing excited. “I remember the cracker jacks! Oh, you’re going to be in big trouble for that!” The movie reel will proceed to show me strolling through the store and grabbing a box of kosher cake, making a beracha, taking a bite and then making an after-­blessing. Seeing this, the Satan will immediately become agitated. “Who played with the tape! I was there that day and I know exactly what you did! You bought a box of cracker jacks and ate them. And this right here isn’t a box of cracker jacks! Someone has been fiddling with this movie reel!”

To this, the defending angel will respond, “What cracker jacks? I don’t see any cracker jacks … I just see kosher cake! And the boy made a beracha before and after he ate. What are you talking about?” At this point, the Satan will grow incensed. “This can’t be! I was with him and we planned it for a week! He was thinking back and forth if he should get the cracker jacks and he finally caved and gave in! What’s with the cake? In that store, there were no kosher cakes!”

That’s the power of teshuva. It not only rewinds the tape and erases the sin, but replaces it with a mitzvah. Not only did I not eat the cracker jacks; I bought kosher cake and even made a beracha before and after!

No God that hates you would grant you such an opportunity to undo your past. He loves you. He just took your cracker jacks and turned them into kosher cake. Hashem tells us, “Just do teshuva and that will change the consequence.”

We all have this ability. And there’s not one thing that will stop you.


Rabbi Label Lam
Along the Way

In that coded message that was delivered to the first Jew, Abraham Avinu, and which is installed in each and every one of us, he was told Lech Lecha. To leave everything familiar, and to go to a place that's not designated. Why not tell a man where he's going? Why is that clouded in mystery? Every year I look for a new answer to that question, and this year it occurs to me that it's not about getting from point A to point B on the map. It's about going. It's a process, and the process needs to be honored. The train is always arriving. It never arrives. We're learning and we're learning along the way. And that's the message.

The Sfas Emes learns based on an inference from a Zohar that says, “Woe to those people who sleep in their caves. But Avraham Avinu heard and he was responsive,” that Hashem declared Lech Lecha, to begin to go. This was said not only to Avraham Avinu, and not only then, but He said it to the whole world. And He says it constantly. But only Avraham Avinu, from among the people who might have heard it, was responsive. And therefore, it's as if He spoke only to Avraham Avinu. And although it started with one person, the intention was that there should be a world filled with Abraham Avinu’s. And here we are 3600 years later, still talking about it. And on the march.

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