Once a renowned cardiologist visited the Chabad Rebbe. “You should devote your attention to treating healthy people, not only the sick,” the Rebbe told him.
“Am I to improve on what the Almighty has done?” questioned the doctor.
“Yes,” responded the Rebbe. “An ordinary layman, and how much more so a doctor, should be able to improve on what the Almighty has done.”
“Are you asking me to make man perfect?” answered the doctor.
“No,” the Rebbe responded. “Making people perfect is a job for Messiah. But every person should try to make his life and those of the people around him a little bit better.”
This week’s Torah portion is named Lech-Lecha. G-d tells Abraham at the tender age of 75: “Lech (go)! Leave your homeland, your father’s house, leave everyone you know and travel to a yet unspecified place and chart your own new path in life.”
But G-d doesn’t just tell Abraham to go. He adds another phrase, Lecha (for yourself). Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Torah, clarifies: G-d was reassuring Abraham — even though l am asking you to leave everything and everyone you know, please be assured that this will be for your benefit, you will derive both physical and spiritual riches and your rightful heir will be born to you.
Rabbi Moshe Alshich, renowned as one of the great darshanim (sermonizers) of the Jewish world, offers a deeper interpretation. Lecha means “to yourself.” By journeying throughout the world, Abraham was setting out on a path of self-discovery. The purpose of his journey to Eretz Yisrael, his descent to Egypt, his return to the land and all his wanderings, was to enable him to understand his own identity and express his positive qualities in his surrounding environment.
Abraham’s story is not merely a page from a history book. On the contrary, as our rabbis teach, “The deeds of our forefathers are a sign for their children.” Abraham was a singular individual — one man who taught the belief in G-d to a world that did not want to listen.
We are, however, all singularly unique. The Baal Shem Tov taught that G-d loves every Jew with the love parents lavish on an only child born to them in their old age. Just as He commanded and guided Abraham on a journey to his true self, so too, with loving patience, He guides each one of us on our own journey through life. Through a web of interlocking designs, He directs us all to a common intent — that we each reveal to ourselves and to others the unique G-dly potentials that we have been granted.
Our lives have faced great upheaval over the past six months. Many of us may wish to entirely erase the year 2020 from our memories and start afresh from 2021. However, we must acknowledge that many of the changes in the world brought on by the pandemic are going to remain permanent, long beyond 2021. We need to seize the opportunity now to begin this new unfamiliar journey and find the ways we can connect with G-d, His Torah and fellow Jews in new ways, consistent with our new realities.
Through identifying with this process, a person develops a unique appreciation of his or her own self. Through seeing this journey as one’s own and accepting one’s role in it, each of us can rise above our own individual concerns and endow our lives with significance that is truly cosmic in nature.
We are also guaranteed that if we brave this journey, as with Abraham’s journey, our lives will be greatly enriched both physically and spiritually. And we will merit to reach the ultimate destination with the coming of Moshiach. JN
Rabbi Shimi Ash is the rabbi at Chabad Jewish Center of Gilbert.