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
My Cup Runneth Over
“...and all the families of the earth will bless themselves by you” (12:3)
As we get older we fall into two categories: Those who exercise and those who are waiting for their doctors to tell them to exercise.
I try and swim a few times a week. Outside the changing room of the pool there is a basin. Once in a while someone puts there a grubby looking white plastic natlan — a cup for netilat yadayim. It vanishes after about two days. Six weeks or so go by. Someone puts another cup there, but this time it’s secured to the faucet with a serious plastic-covered metal cable. It vanishes after about two days. A few months ago someone went out and bought this beautiful eau-de-nil-colored metal washing cup with chrome handles. It must have set them back a hundred shekels or so.
I thought to myself, “This one isn’t going to last two days — it’s going to last two minutes.”
I was wrong. It was there the next time and the time after that. Two months later it’s still there.
I thought to myself, “What’s the mindset here? Why will someone take something cheap but leave something expensive?”
In Parshat Ekev, Rashi explains the unusual use of the word ekev to mean “if”. Ekev can also mean a heel. Says Rashi, a person must be as careful with the mitzvot that are typically down- trodden with the heel as he is with more serious sins.
I can rationalize taking a cheepo plastic cup, worth a couple of shekels at most, when I need it more than “them” — but to take an expensive item? What, me? I’m no thief!
That’s how I understood the psychology.
My good friend and colleague, Rabbi Yitzchak Dallah, had a different, and, I think rather beautiful, explanation.
He told me a story that a wall in a certain town square was constantly being defaced with graffiti. The local authority had large signs put up on the wall saying, “NO GRAFFITTI!” The result was that the signs were defaced with graffiti. Someone had a bright idea: He got an artist to paint a beautiful mural on the wall. The result? No more graffiti.
When you show me how beautiful the world is, it elevates me into being a higher person. So why would I want to spoil it?
Avraham elevated the entire world. Before Avraham came along, the entire world was busy serving itself. Avraham raised the eyes of the world to gaze Heavenward; to ultimate beauty.
A famous Midrash tells how Avraham’s father owned an idol emporium. One day Avraham took a hammer and smashed all the statues except for the largest one. He then took the hammer and placed it in the hands of that idol. When his father returned to the store he was furious at the destruction. “Who did this!?” he demanded. “The largest idol,” said Avraham. “Look! The hammer is in his hands.” “What nonsense!” said his father. “An idol can’t do that.” Avraham replied, “So why do you worship them then?”
An idol is a way of getting out of the world what you want. You want rain? A quick offering to the “rain god”. You want sun? No problem! A couple of libations to the “sun god”. Avraham was smashing the idea that life is about getting what you want.
Avraham looked into the world and saw design. He saw purpose. He saw that life demands connecting to that purpose. He gave the world the elevated life.
The Midrash says: Rav Yitzchak said, “A traveler was journeying from place to place, and he saw a mansion ablaze with light. He said, ‘Is it possible that this mansion is without a master?’ The owner of the mansion then peeked out and said: ‘I am the owner of the mansion.’ So, too, our father Avraham said, ‘Is it possible that the world is without a Master?’
"These are the generations of the heavens and the earth in their creation” (written “B'hibaram") (Bereishet 2:4). Don't read the word as "B'hibaram," but (rearrange the world's lettering and read it as) "B'Avraham" — for Avraham. (Bereishet Rabbah 12:9)