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Posted on November 3, 2022 (5783) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Go for yourself from your land, your birthplace…to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you, and make your name great; you shall be a blessing…All the families of the earth will bless themselves by you.[1]

Rashi takes “for yourself” to mean “for your own pleasure and your own good.” But how could this be? Hashem calls Avraham “the one who loves Me,”[2] which implies that he served Him purely out of love, without regard to any self-interest!

The answer is in a very important principle regarding the ultimate purpose of our earthly existence.

It is well known that souls in their heavenly abode draw pleasure from the radiance of the Shechinah. This pleasure is, in principle, severely limited, because it is the nehamah d’kisufa/ bread of shame. As the Zohar puts it, “One who eats what is not genuinely his stands in shame before his provider.” We are not happy to be takers, knowing that we have done nothing to deserve what we are given completely at the whim of another. It is an affront to our autonomy, our dignity, our self-respect. For this reason, Hashem has neshamos descend to our world, where we are able to earn our reward for the free-willed choices we make in serving Him. Thus, Avraham was told that by obeying Hashem’s instructions, he would deserve his reward, and therefore be able to take pleasure in closeness to Him, rather than experience shame.

Furthermore, Avraham is told that the good that he ultimately will enjoy will come “from your land,” meaning that it is only through our earthliness that we can properly serve Hashem and truly earn our reward. We must learn to stamp out our pride and arrogance, and see ourselves as lowly and humble, like the earth.

How are we to do that? From our “birthplace,” from contemplating our beginnings. The Mishnah’s[3] advice for avoiding sin is to realize that our lives begin with a “rancid drop,” – hardly a source of pride.

Additionally, travelling “from [our] land” suggests that we accrue merit when we properly address the earthly within us. Engaging it is the jumping off point, the place from which we travel on to a yet better place. When we eat and drink and attend to other human needs with the right intentions (rather than just to fulfil our desires), we elevate the earthly. In turn, we then draw spiritual nourishment from the Shechinah Who then dwells within its precincts. This is what Dovid meant when he spoke of “the lands of the living.” When we elevate the earthly, the Provider of Life finds a place within it. That sanctified place is the “land that I will show you,” the lands of the living.

Where does this all lead? We share the ordinary, the earthly with the nations of the world – as well as with the animal kingdom. How we treat it affects our co-travelers in this realm. When we serve Hashem even with the earthly, we elevate it and banish evil from the world. That is how it comes to pass that “the wolf will live with the lamb…They will neither injure nor destroy in all of my sacred mountain.”[4]

All the nations will then serve Hashem. Because we all share our physical and material space, our avodah affects them. When we elevate the earthly, we elevate them as well. They, too, come to serve Him – but their avodah is reckoned as an extension of ours. “Then I will change the nations to speak a pure language, so that they will all proclaim the Name of Hashem, to worship Him with a united resolve.”[5] This is how we become “a great nation.”

Continuing, “I will bless you, and make your name great.” The Ari z”l taught that every Jew really has two names. One is assigned by his parents; it represents his neshamah, his essence. Because we are amalgams of good and evil, however, the evil portion also has a name. When the rasha dies, he is unable to recall his name. It remains blocked by his negative name. The tzadik, however, negates his evil tendencies, and his negative name becomes sublimated to his essential name. That name is enlarged, swollen with evil that has been transformed into good. Thus, the prediction “and make your name great” is fulfilled.

When this happens, we become conduits for the Divine Influence. All the berachah that descends from Above is transmitted through us. Thus, “you shall be a blessing.”

  1. Bereishis 12:1-3
  2. Yeshayahu 41:8
  3. Avos 3:1
  4. Yeshayahu 11:6,9
  5. Tzefaniah 3:9