The Champion of Hishtadlut   

Rabbi Reuven Mann

What are the distinguishing characteristics the truly religious individual? Is such a person only concerned with separating himself from worldly concerns and preoccupying himself with the divine? Many people believe that the “holy” person is the one who renounces this world and all its pleasures which they view as somehow ”tainted by sin”. In my opinion that is not the perspective of Judaism.

The Rabbis say in Pirkei Avot that we should greet everyone we encounter with a “cheerful countenance”. That is to say that one shouldn’t be aloof and withdrawn from his fellow humans but should rather always be concerned and friendly. Why does this seemingly mundane gesture assume religious importance?

This week’s Parsha, Lech Lecha, introduces us to the original Patriarch of the Jewish People Avraham. His great achievement was that he discovered the true G-d (as opposed to the figments of human imagination which all people worshipped). This ranks as one of the greatest intellectual and moral attainments of human history.

We must note that Avraham was raised by his idol worshipping parents who trained him in their religion. Unbeknownst to them their son was a prolific thinker who did not accept opinions because they were commonly held but thought everything out and submitted only to the dictates of reason.

After many years of patient thinking and study he freed himself from all his idolatrous inclinations and recognized the existence of the Supreme Being who had created Heaven and earth “out of nothing”. Avraham recognized that this Being, alone, was G-d and the only one whom man should worship.

Put a different way He was the Creator and everything else besides Him was the created. Worship of any other entity, even angels, constitutes “false worship” or simply idolatry. A very pious and religious person who prostrates himself before, and fervently prays to an imaginary deity which in fact does not exist is quite simply an idolater.

However mere belief in the true G-d does not constitute the totality of appropriate religiosity. We need to understand the correct Derech Hachayim  (approach to life) that emerges from a genuine belief in G-d. The episodes recorded in the next two Parshiot from the life of our first forefather illustrate many of the principles which governed his conduct.

The primary concern of Avraham was for the spiritual welfare of mankind. He sought, through reason and soft persuasion to wean people away from the corrupt religion of idolatry and to lead them to a recognition of the actual Creator.

Avraham’s relationship to the world was based on the ideal of Chesed in terms of their physical and religious needs. He practiced kindness and hospitality as this provided the platform on which he could engage people and convey ideas to them.

And he served as a role model for how a genuine servant of G-d should meet the challenges of human existence. He exemplified the Service of Love doing what Hashem demanded for the sake of love without expecting any special favor in return. After leaving his family and homeland at the commandment of Hashem and traversing the new land to which he had come a severe famine broke out which forced him to seek a new country. Yet, as Rashi tells, us he did not for a moment question the ways of Hashem. That is because Avraham never assumed he would be shielded from the pitfalls of life because of his exemplary deeds.

And Avraham despite his absolute faith and trust in Hashem did not sit back and merely pray for His assistance. Rather he was an activist who believed he must take all possible measures to deal with his problems in an effective manner. He clearly believed in the importance of early intervention.

Thus in the case of the famine he embarked on the journey to Egypt. And on the road he realized the danger he would face when the Egyptians recognized Sara’s great beauty. So to save his life they both husband and wife agreed to pretend that they were siblings.

When a dispute broke out between his shepherds and those his nephew Lot he immediately intervened to preserve the peace as each went his separate way. But this did not mean that Avraham did not appreciate the fact that Lot had also abandoned his birthplace in order to join him on his heroic journey.

So when Lot was in captivity with the other citizens of Sodom which had been defeated by the coalition of the “Four Kings” Avraham did not hesitate to act. He, together with his 318 “trained” men, launched a daring midnight raid and rescued all the people and property which had been taken.

We thus learn that the “Man Of G-d” is also a man of great courage and military capabilities when required as were Moshe Rabbenu, Yehoshua, King David and many others in our history. Of course this does not mean that he relies solely on human military might. He puts his trust in Hashem and does everything possible to solve the problem by natural means praying all the while that the A-mighty will provide whatever assistance may be necessary.

The lessons from the life of Avraham are vitally relevant to us. The Rabbis famously say, “The actions of the Fathers are a sign to the children”. Our forefathers experienced all the challenges which we too will confront and “paved the way before us”. The faith they nurtured was one which impelled them to become actively involved in the betterment of mankind.

They viewed it as Hashem’s Will that mankind be instructed in the true concept of G-d and the proper way to serve Him. This impelled them to face and deal with whatever challenges they encountered in this endeavor. Their great love of Hashem and desire to fulfill His Will gave them the courage to confront the difficulties which came their way.

They were not aloof from mankind nor detached from its concerns. To the contrary they greeted everyone with a cheerful countenance and engaged in Tikkun Olam  (perfecting the world) to the highest degree. May we, their spiritual descendants acknowledge and accept this unique responsibility and strive to raise ourselves to the exalted Abrahamic level of Avodat Hashem 

Shabbat Shalom.