Possessed by Love
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s Parsha, Lech Lecha, initiates the story of Avraham and the other Patriarchs and Matriarchs who constitute the founders of the Jewish People. Avraham separated himself from the people of his time by his singular discovery of the True G-d and utter rejection of any and all forms of idol worship.
It is important to note that mere belief in the existence of the True G-d–while extremely important–is insufficient by itself to render one a truly righteous person. The question remains, how does one’s acknowledgment of the Creator affect the way he lives his life?
Avraham also discovered the appropriate way to “serve Hashem.” Later on Hashem attests to this:
And Hashem said, “Shall I conceal from Avraham what I am going to do, now that Avraham is surely to become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him? For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of Hashem, doing charity and justice; in order that Hashem might bring upon Avraham that which he has spoken of him” (Bereishit 18:17-19).
It is noteworthy that Hashem does not mention the strictly religious or ritualistic actions of Avraham, but focuses exclusively on his righteous behavior towards others. Our religion contains both elements of divine service, but the “way of Hashem” refers to the manner in which we deal with others.
In our Parsha Hashem enjoins Avraham to abandon his family and homeland and embark on a journey to the “land that I will show you.” Avraham’s purpose is to bring the knowledge of G-d to the entire world and to facilitate the establishment of a unique nation which will make that goal its national mission.
However, Hashem’s command to Avraham omitted the destination of his travels and offered no details about the problems that would lie ahead. And therefore we must wonder about the silence and submissiveness of Avraham. He didn’t ask any questions. And this would seem to be contrary to his probing nature. For he was someone with a very curious mindset who constantly questioned why nature functioned as it did until he arrived at the realization that the world had been created by Hashem.
And when Hashem revealed His intention to wipe out all of Sodom and Gomorrah, Avraham was not silent. He challenged G-d’s verdict and argued vociferously that even a small amount of righteous people should be sufficient to stave off that disaster. Indeed, Avraham’s words were not in vain as Hashem agreed that if there were just ten Tzadikim in the place He would refrain from destroying it.
Why, in this case, did Avraham choose to not speak up? He certainly had many concerns. He was responsible for the care of his wife Sarai, his formidable flocks, the wellbeing of the “souls they made in Charan”, as well as his nephew Lot who had joined him in the great journey.
How would he be able to care for his people and possessions? Who would protect them from the many dangers they might encounter on the road? Were there to be any assurances that the “land I will show you” would be hospitable and agriculturally plentiful enough to sustain them? These were very important practical concerns, and yet it seems that Avraham was oblivious to their implications and simply ignored them. (Contrast the attitude of Avraham that of his descendants who spied out the land before entering it- with disastrous results.)
Why were there no questions?
In my opinion, the answer is to be found in the phenomenon of Ahavat Hashem (Love of G-d). Those who serve Hashem on the highest level do not do so because of any expectation of reward or special benefits. Their knowledge of G-d and profound amazement at the infinite wisdom embodied in His creation induces a special awe and love of Hashem.
This is the underlying basis of their relationship to Hashem and intense desire to fulfill His Will. While not everyone can cultivate such a feeling toward a G-d whom they cannot see or visualize, nevertheless, we understand that we do things for those we truly love without expecting or wanting anything in return.
Indeed, not very long after entering and traversing the land of Canaan, a famine broke out and Avraham was impelled to make the journey to Egypt. Rashi says, that this misfortune was not accidental but was a test to see if Avraham would wonder in his heart, “that Hashem had sent me here and now there is a famine?”
Avraham’s life, as that of the other Patriarchs and Matriarchs, was not always smooth and easy. He faced numerous challenges and dangers. Yet, he never wondered why is this happening “to me?”
He did not seem to associate his service of Hashem with particular outcomes in the practical world. He certainly believed in the idea of Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence in the lives of people) as, indeed, he had witnessed it in action on numerous occasions.
But that had nothing to do with his motivation to serve Hashem. That was rooted in his profound love of the Creator. This was a very intense and all-consuming love, with which he was constantly preoccupied. The Rambam says, ( Moreh Nevuchim Part 3 ch. 51):
It is known from statements made in Scripture that these four, the Patriarchs and Moses, had their mind exclusively filled with the name of G-d, that is, with His knowledge and love; and that in the same measure was Divine Providence attached to them and their descendants. When we therefore find them also, engaged in ruling others, in increasing their property, and endeavoring to obtain possession of wealth and honor, we see in this fact a proof that when they were occupied in these things, only their bodily limbs were at work, whilst their heart and mind never moved away from the name of G-d.
Avraham Avinu represented the highest level of the “Service Of Love.” Thus, it was his love of Hashem which compelled him to embark on the journey to which G-d called him. Could there be problems ahead? Of course, but he would deal with them then. There was no point in trying to negotiate any terms with Hashem, for what difference could they make? So he happily accepted the mission with no questions asked.
Being in love means, Hineini (here I am) ready to serve in any way you require. May we be inspired to attain this exalted ideal.