Parshat Lech Lecha
Ten generations have passed since Noach. Man has descended spiritually. In the year 1948 from Creation, Avram is born. By observing the world, Avram comes to recognize G-ds existence, and thus merits that G-d appear to him. At the beginning of this weeks Torah portion G-d tells Avram to leave his land, his relatives and his father's house and travel to an unknown land where G-d will make him into a great nation. Avram leaves, taking with him his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, their servants, and those whom they converted to faith in G-d. When they reach the land of Canaan, G-d appears to Avram and tells him that this is the land that He will give to his descendants. A famine ensues and Avram is forced to relocate to Egypt to find food. Realizing that his wifes beauty could cause his death at the hand of the Egyptians, Avram asks her to say that she is his sister. Sarai is taken to Pharaoh, but G-d afflicts Pharaoh and his court with severe plagues and she is released unmolested. Avram returns to Eretz Yisrael (Canaan) with much wealth given to him by the Egyptians. During a quarrel over grazing rights between their shepherds, Avram decides to part ways with his nephew Lot. Lot chooses to live in the rich but corrupt city of Sodom in the fertile plain of the Jordan. A war breaks out between the kings of the region and Sodom is defeated. Lot is taken captive. Together with a handful of his converts, Avram rescues Lot, miraculously overpowering vastly superior forces, but Avram demurs from accepting any of the spoils of the battle. In a prophetic covenant, G-d reveals to Avram that his offspring will be exiled to a strange land where they will be oppressed for 400 years, after which they will emerge with great wealth and return to Eretz Yisrael, their irrevocable inheritance. Sarai is barren and gives Hagar, her Egyptian hand-maiden, to Avram in the hope that she will provide them with a child. Hagar becomes arrogant when she discovers that she is pregnant. Sarai deals harshly with her, and Hagar flees. On the instruction of an angel, Hagar returns to Avram, and gives birth to Yishmael. The weekly portion concludes with G-d commanding Avram to circumcise himself and his offspring throughout the generations as a Divine covenant. G-d changes Avrams name to Avraham, and Sarais name to Sarah. G-d promises Avraham a son, Yitzchak, despite Avraham being ninety-nine years old and Sarah ninety. On that day, Avraham circumcises himself, Yishmael and all his household.
“And it occurred, as he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, ‘See now, I have known that you are a woman of beautiful appearance. And it shall occur, when the Egyptians will see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife!’ - then they will kill me…’ ” (12:11‑12)
An oft-repeated litany characterizes Orthodox Jews as overly zealous in their observance. Or as they say in Yiddish, they are “fer-frumt!”
Of course it goes without saying that everyone who is less religious than me is an atheist and everyone who is more religious than me is a religious fanatic. That’s human nature. But really, do the Orthodox have to be quite so ORTHODOX? Couldn’t they lighten up just a little around here? Why be so fastidious, so FRUM?
The following is a quote from no less than the Vilna Gaon: “In every generation new barriers need to be erected, for every generation is less than its predecessor and the eruv rav (descendents of the Egyptians who left Egypt at the time of the Exodus) grow stronger. Therefore, it is necessary to barricade anew the breaches (in morality) perpetrated by the eruv rav. This is what the Torah means when it says “Guard my guardings!”(Vayikra 29:9)
The author Jacob Bronowski wrote a famous TV series and book called “The Ascent of Man.” In classical Jewish thought the reverse is true. From Sinai and onwards our story has been “The Descent of Man.” Every generation steps down another rung on the spiritual and moral ladder.
“And it occurred, as he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, ‘See now, I have known that you are a woman of beautiful appearance.'”
How was it possible that only now Avraham recognized Sarah’s beauty? The Arizal says that up till this point in time Avraham had no concept of physicality – like Adam before he sinned. However, as he approached Egypt, the world center of decadence, even his lofty spiritual level lessened until he perceived good and evil – the domain of physicality. Sensing this change in himself, Avraham recognized the depths of impurity that was Egypt. He now sensed that it was indeed possible for man to sink to murder in order to satisfy his physical desires.
Like Avraham, the closer we get to our own little Egypts- the larger our cars, our houses and our physical well-being loom in our lives - the more we know that we need to build stronger and stronger fences against a world that celebrates immorality and conspicuous consumption. And that’s far from being ‘fer-frumt.’
- Sources: Emes L’Yaakov; Biur HaGra l’Tikunei Zohar Chadash 83:3 in Mipirushei HaGra al HaTorah; thanks to Rabbi Chaim Zvi Senter