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Shabbat Parashat Lech Lecha 5775

Parashat Hashavua: From Destructive to Mitzva

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Siach Shaul, p. 33

Hashem commanded Avraham: “Walk before Me and be complete, and I will place My covenant between Me and you … Avram fell on his face and Hashem spoke to him” (Bereishit 17:1-3). Rashi explains that before Avraham had a brit mila, he did not have the power to accept the Divine Presence without falling down, as was the case for Bilam (see Bamidbar 24:4).

The idea behind the above phenomenon is that the nations of the world do not know the secret of turning bad into good; rather they know only the simple good and simple bad. Man and G-d are two opposites who seem contradictory, in which one is built only from the fall of the other. In order to receive a revelation from Hashem, man needs to fall on his face, i.e., to nullify his feelings and his self.

Brit mila comes to turn the bad into good. The seal of this holy covenant refines the flesh of the Jew and turns it into something that is connected to sanctity. It turns one of the destroyers of the world, desire, into such a holy matter that it is a means of bringing about fulfillment of the first mitzva in the Torah, p’ru u’revu (procreation).

The elements of self-control and refraining from over-indulgence that the covenant represents by the sacrifice and spilling of one’s own blood, is that which carries out the miraculous transformation of the impure into the holy and lofty. We do not find in Judaism praise for actions of complete asceticism but for sanctifying that which is permitted and refining and elevating actions.

After Avraham performed the brit mila, there was no longer a contradiction between his essence and his desires. That which was permitted became equivalent for him with that which was a lofty mitzva. For that reason, as well, speaking with Hashem did not require Avraham to fall on his face.

Reaching this level does not occur by just speaking nice words. Rather it requires much toil and great self-sacrifice. These ideas are also part of the holiday of Sukkot. Sukkot does not exist because of a need for another holiday but to put the happiness of the process of harvest in proper focus. The goal of the holiday is to transform a personal joy into a situation of “You shall rejoice before Hashem” (Vayikra 23:40). Indeed there are significant preparations for Sukkot. The 40 days before Yom Kippur culminating in that holy day are intended to purify a person and return him to the holy place from which he comes. This prepares a person for the holiday of joy before Hashem.

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