Shalom. My name is Miriam White and I am honored to be a new teacher and Mashgicha at Midreshet Harova. It is a personal pleasure to share some words of reflection and Torah for this week’s Parshat Lech Lecha.
If we look at Parshat Lech Lecha we see that Avraham had his fair share of challenges. He came to the land and there was famine, his wife was kidnapped, he has a family rift, war breaks out in the region and his nephew is taken captive, he suffers through infertility with his wife Sarah. The path for Avraham is not easy. There are many obstacles he must navigate on his mission of Lech Lecha. I’d like to focus in on one particular challenge that feels very timely for us in light of the situation in Israel today.
We read about the war of the 4 and 5 Kings in Parshat Lech Lecha. Another obstacle in Avraham’s coming to the land. There is unrest in the land and Avraham becomes personally effected as his nephew is taken captive by the 4 Kings. Avraham decides to join the battle and to save his nephew. He gets his students and the members of his household ready for battle and they wage war with the 4 kings and are impressively successful. They return all the spoils, and captives (including Lot) all back to where they were taken from. Avraham is the war hero, everyone is an awe of him. Particularly one neighboring King, who was not part of the war but whose kingdom was nearby comes to greet Avraham and commend him for his victory. This king is Malki Tzedek, King of Shalem.
בראשית פרק יד:
(יח) וּמַלְכִּי־צֶ֙דֶק֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ שָׁלֵ֔ם הוֹצִ֖יא לֶ֣חֶם וָיָ֑יִן וְה֥וּא כֹהֵ֖ן לְאֵ֥ל עֶלְיֽוֹן׃ (יט) וַֽיְבָרְכֵ֖הוּ וַיֹּאמַ֑ר בָּר֤וּךְ אַבְרָם֙ לְאֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן קֹנֵ֖ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃ (כ) וּבָרוּךְ֙ אֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן אֲשֶׁר־מִגֵּ֥ן צָרֶ֖יךָ בְּיָדֶ֑ךָ וַיִּתֶּן־ל֥וֹ מַעֲשֵׂ֖ר מִכֹּֽל׃
18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God the Most High.
(א) ומלכי צדק מלך שלם היא ירושלים
The Ramban comments that Shalem is none other than Yerushalayim. Malki Tzedek, a title given to Kings from this kingdom due to inspiring justice that emanates from that place.
Malki Tzedek brings wine and bread to Avraham, blesses him, and G-d.
I came across a fascinating article written by Rabbi Norman Lamm Z”L in 1975 called, “Jewish Youth Is Not What It Used To Be” (A very timeless essay which is remarkably relevant). In this article he quotes his grandfather, Rav Yehoshua Baumol, who had a beautiful drash on this pasuk of Malki Tzedek bringing Avraham bread and wine. He asks – why did he specifically bring him bread and wine after the war? He could have brought anything, why did he choose these items to bring Avraham?
Rav Baumol explained bread and wine were symbolic. He explains the symbolism through a Halachik principal regarding brachot. When we engage in saying brachot for things we eat there is a hierarchy of blessings. Shehakol, Adamah, Eitz, Mezonot, Gefen and Hamotzei. Usually when we eat a food that has been broken down and changed from its original form it goes down in level. For example, if I take an orange which is HaEitz and I squeeze it or pulverize it and make orange juice, I now say a Shehakol on the juice for it was changed from its original state. There are two exceptions to the rule – bread and wine. When I take wheat and change it to create bread the bracha goes up in level, and the same is so with wine. When I take grapes and produce wine it does not become a shehakol rather a pri hagefen. Malki Tzedek was sending a very powerful message. True Avraham you are not the same person you were going into this war – Avraham the teacher, the spiritual leader, the peace seeker. Avraham changed to become a warrior, a fierce fighter for his family taken captive, a king, if you will now, due to his success in gaining control of the region. Perhaps Avraham might have felt – I have lost myself in what I have done and will go down in level. Comes Malki Tzedek and says, “Avraham, I bring you bread and wine to show that you are a changed man but one who is better, higher, more noble.” Avraham is encouraged to look at this difficult time in his life and realize, yes I am not the same person but I have become better as a result of it.
As a fairly new “Olah” myself (my family and I made Aliya on October 19th, 2020), I can’t help but reflect on my own journey each time I read the Psukim of Avraham heeding the call to go on his journey of “Lech Lecha”. This journey that Avraham starts is not just experienced by our forefather Avraham, but it is a call to Jews in every generation, to heed the call to start their journey back to their homeland. My family are forever grateful that we were able to make that calling into a reality.
There is an interesting question about the phrase “Lech Lecha” – the second part “Lecha” seems to be superfluous or unnecessary. G-d could have just said, Lech- Go! Instead He says, “Lecha”. Rashi teaches that the phrase means to go on the journey that will bring you personal benefit. Go because it will benefit you in all ways to embark on this journey.
רשי בראשית יב:א
(א) לך לך. לַהֲנָאָתְךָ וּלְטוֹבָתְךָ, שָׁם אֶעֶשְׂךָ לְגוֹי גָדוֹל, כָּאן אִי אַתָּה זוֹכֶה לְבָנִים, וְעוֹד שֶׁאוֹדִיעַ טִבְעֲךָ בָּעוֹלָם:
לך לך GET THEE OUT (literally, go for thyself) — for your own benefit, for your own good: there I will make of you a great nation whilst here you will not merit the privilege of having children (Rosh Hashanah 16b). Furthermore, I shall make known your character throughout the world (Midrash Tanchuma, Lech Lecha 3)
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”tl says beautifully:
“Lech Lecha can have four meanings: “Go for”, “go to”, “go with”, “go by yourself”.
Personally, thinking about Lech Lecha as someone who has taken the journey of Aliya, Avraham was given the key to navigating Aliya, which is to say, “keep going”, “keep moving”, “keep trying”, no matter what, just keep moving forward through every obstacle and every challenge you face.
- Lech Lecha when things don’t work out the way you anticipated.
- Lech Lecha when you struggle through many of life’s challenges and you don’t know what the future will bring.
- Lech Lecha when there is war and terror and you’re scared but you need to stand up to be there for your brothers and sisters.
- Lech Lecha when your past successes from where you came are just mere memories but you have to recreate success here in Israel.
- Lech Lecha when things seem foreign and difficult to navigate.
- Lech Lecha when you miss the comforts and familiarity of the place where you were raised.
- Lech Lecha when having to sacrifice small and big things to stay in this land.
But Also remember to keep moving forward, and keep going, and never take for granted when:
- Lech Lecha when you feel a sense of belonging in a way you’ve never felt before.
- Lech Lecha when family members follow and join you along the journey.
- Lech Lecha when you finally own a piece of Eretz Yisrael something your great-grandparents could only dream about.
- Lech Lecha when you’re blessed to raise your children in your beautiful homeland and they speak more Hebrew and understand Israeli culture more than you do.
- Lech Lecha when you meet Jews from around the world who also made Israel home.
- Lech Lecha to being able to contribute to the Jewish destiny.
- Lech Lecha when it’s hard to explain all that you’re feeling but just easier to express by taking steps.
During this challenging time of war in Israel, none of us here in Israel and Jews worldwide will ever be the same. How could we ever be the same? However this change should be, as Malki Tzedek taught Avraham Avinu many millennium ago, a change for the better! We can achieve higher heights and capabilities then thought of before. Part of the journey of Lech Lecha for Avraham would include challenges that would change Avraham. It is through these challenges that Avraham becomes the best version of himself.
With this lesson in mind, I daven for the safety of our IDF, for the return of our brothers and sisters from captivity, for a time of peace and tranquility in Am Yisrael. May we recognize that we may never be the same but that the potential to be even better versions of ourselves keeps all of us moving forward on our own personal journey of Lech Lecha.