A big, burly man visited the rabbi's home and asked to see the Rebbetzin, the rabbi's wife, a person well known for her numerous charitable deeds.
"Rebbetzin," he said in a broken voice, "I wish to draw your attention to the terrible plight of a poor family in this district. The father is dead, the mother is too ill to work, and the nine children are starving. They are about to be turned into the cold, empty streets unless someone pays their rent, which amounts to $6000."
"How terrible!" exclaimed the Rabbi's wife. "May I ask who you are?"
The sympathetic visitor applied his handkerchief to his eyes. "I'm the landlord," he sobbed.
I want to describe an image that has always moved me profoundly:
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe (1880-1950) describes how his father, Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber, the fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch (1870-1920) would review the Torah portion of “Lech Lecha” each year on Friday afternoon, prior to the Sabbath. (This is an ancient Jewish custom, to review the weekly Torah portion on Fridays).
The Rebbe related how when his father would recite the opening words of the portion, "Lech Lecha Maartzecha", “two gigantic tears rolled down from his saintly face."
"Lech Lecha Maartzecha" are the Hebrew words expressing G-d’s instruction to Abraham to “Go from your land, your birth place and your father’s home, to the land that I will show you.” Each year, recalling these words, the Rebbe’s eyes swelled with tears.
But what did he see in this verse that melted his heart? What was it about this message that moved him so profoundly?
Capturing the drama
This brief instruction to Abraham – the first communication of G-d to the father of Judaism -- captures the essence, mystery and destiny of 4,000 years of Jewish history, a history soaked in so much courage, blood, tears and triumph. What is Jewishness? What is the ultimate meaning of Jewish existence?
It is the response to a call: “Go from your land, your birth place and your father’s home, to the land that I will show you.” Go away from yourself and become Mine. Judaism, in its truest meaning, is about creating a paradigm shift – from self-centeredness to G-d-centeredness; from my land to the land which I am shown.
3743 years ago, a lone human being, sophisticated and refined, heard a call. This was not merely an instruction about geography, a demand to relocate homes; it was an invitation to an existential shift. Leave yourself. Step away from your perspective, and begin to see things from My perspective. Stop living according to your habits and inclinations, and begin to live according to My will.
For one who never heard the call, this seems like lunacy. But Abraham and his descendant's heard a call, and they could not remain indifferent. To betray it would be akin to a sensitive soul refusing to be moved by a heart-stirring poem or piece of music. When Abraham became aware of the living presence of G-d, there was no turning back. He could deny it all he wanted, but he knew that life without it would be that much more shallow and superficial. To reject the call might have spelled loyalty to the scientific demand for laboratory-type evidence, but would have come at the expense of betraing his deepest layer of self.
Close to 4000 years later, the call still summons us. “Go from your land, your birth place and your father’s home, to the land that I will show you.” Step out of yourself and commit to that which G-d desires of you. Allow your life to be linked to rays of truths looming larger than your ego.
Can we hear the call? Do we know how to respond?
E-mail the author at: YYJ@algemeiner.com