Hadrash Ve-Haiyun

by the Reisha Rav, HaGoan Rav Aaron Levine

Translated by Efraim Levine

Lech Lecha

Hashem said to Avram, "Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father's house to the land that I will show you." (Bereishis 12:1)

Commenting on the words lech lecha, "go for yourself," the Midrash writes that we find another instance were Hashem tested Avram with these same words "lech lecha." This is found by the Akeidah:

And Hashem said "Please take your son, your only one, whom you love -- Yizchak and go for yourself to the land of Moriah: bring him up there as an offering upon one of the mountains witch I shall tell you."

The Medrash contrasts these two tests and wonders which was greater. The Midrash concludes that the second reference, the Akeidah, was greater because there Hashem told him the exact destination, i.e., Har Hamoriah, whereas here Hashem just told Avram to go to the land that He would show him.

What different themes do the two trials represent that leads the Midrash to compare them?

The first trial was for Avraham to leave his hometown. The test of leaving his hometown represented Hashem's desire that Avraham attain spiritual self-perfection. Avraham could achieve such self-perfection only if he left his hometown, a town infamous for idolatry and false ideologies. He was instructed to go instead to a new land free of any spiritual contamination.

On the other hand, the test of the Akeidah included Yitzchak. Avraham was asked to sacrifice his son on the altar. This symbolizes being asked to elevate his "son" to a level of spiritual perfection.

With regard to these trials, the Midrash asks which is greater. Is it more important to concentrate on one's own spiritual perfection even at the expense of his children or is it more important to focus on one's children even at the expense of his own spiritual perfection? To this the Medrash concludes that it is more important to concern himself with his children. The children represent the future whereas he represents only the present. With regard to spiritual pursuits, the future always carries more weight.

With this insight we have a new interpretation of the following Gemarah:

If one wishes to be pious let him fulfill the matters of the fathers. (Bava Kamma 30a)

The simple interpretation of this dictum is that one who wishes to be pious should study the matters of the Mesechta that begins with the word "fathers," namely Mesechta Bava Kamma. This Tractate deals with money matters, specifically protecting ones property from causing damage to others. If ones studies and practices these laws he is sure to be pious. We may now suggest a new interpretation. If one wishes to be pious, not only must he attain self perfection but must also fulfil the matters of the fathers. The word "fathers" is interpreted as the responsibility one has to his children. Specifically, he must instruct and motivate his children to follow in the path of yiras Hashem. If one wishes to be pious it is not enough that he himself attain spiritual perfection in the present but must also guarantee that his children follow in his ways in the future.

With this insight we can also understand another Gemara.

The coin that Avraham our father had minted had an old man and old women on one side and a young man and young woman on the other side. (Bava Kama 97b)

Rashi explains that the old man and old women were none other then Avraham and Sarah and the young man and young woman were Yitzchak and Rivkah.

Two points require elucidation. (1) The word used for coin by the Gemara is matbayah. In addition to the simple translation it can also be translated as "a teaching." We find a similar use in the following Gemarah's: "The coin which the Chachamim minted with regard to blessings" (Berachos 40b) and "the coin the Chachamim minted with regard to the text of a divorce document" (Gittin 5b). In both of these Gemaros the word matbayah can be interpreted as teachings. Specifically, the teaching that the Chachamin taught us through the text they instituted in blessings and divorce. Returning to the coin of Avraham we may suggest as follows: When Avraham minted a coin he really issued a teaching to the world. (2) The images of an old man and old women on one side and the young man and young women on the other side represent two generations. The old couple represents the present generation and the young couple represents the new incoming generation.

We can now understand the Midrash as follows: By minting a coin, Avraham taught the world that our goal is to achieve perfection for our generation and an obligation to motivate and influence the younger generation also to attain spiritual perfection. As explained above, the more important of the two sides is the young couple representing the new young generation.