The Mysterious March

 Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

            Hashem commands Avraham to "Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father's home the land that I will show you."  Avraham picks himself up and takes his family on a journey without an end in sight. Why doesn't Hashem tell Avraham what the destination is instead of leaving it a mystery? Rashi offers two complementary reasons. First, keeping the destination a mystery will endear the final destination to Avraham. As the Ner Uziel explains, anticipation of a gift while unwrapping it enhances the experience and the appreciation of the gift. Secondly, and perhaps more to the point, Hashem wanted to reward Avraham Avinu for every step of the journey. Doesn't Hashem rewards us for any and all effort made in the performance of a mitzvah. Would Avraham not have been rewarded for every step even if he had known what the final destination was?

            Perhaps, as Rav Matlin  suggests in Netivot Chaim, Hashem did not want Avraham to be disappointed every time he did not reach his goal, or alternately perhaps, as Rabbi Provosky z”l suggests in Bad Kodesh, not knowing when or where it would end made the journey even more challenging, multiplying the reward for each step. Every step one invests in the performance of a mitzvah merits a reward, whether it's going to shul or carrying out an act of chessed, or preparing for Shabbat. But Rabbi Matlin further explains that while we are indeed rewarded for each step in preparation of a mitzvah, that reward is not the same as the reward for the actual mitzvah performance. Had Hashem told Avraham Avinu the destination, Avraham would have received the reward only for preparation with each step. Not telling Avraham Avinu the destination earned Avraham the reward for each step in performing the actual mitzvah of lech lecha, of the command to go. Further, had Avraham known the final destination, he would have taken the shortest route, taken fewer steps, and merited fewer rewards as a result.

            Ozrot HaTorah citing Chazal and the Chafetz Chayim z”l, supports the assertion that Hashem rewards man for every step he takes in the performance of a mitzvah by bringing proof from Kings II and elucidated by Chazal's interpretation of the medrash. King Chizkiyahu had become deathly ill. After Chizkiyahu's sincere, heartfelt prayers and tears imploring Hashem for his life, Hashem relents and tells Chizkiyahu he will live fifteen more years. He sends the prophet Isaiah to relay the good news and to proffer a sign as to its veracity. Chizkiyahu chooses as a sign that the great sundial's shadow should go back ten "hours", thereby extending the day. Naturally, this phenomenon changed that day throughout the world. Everyone heard that this was a miracle performed by the God of the Jews. The Babylonian King Merodach sent a letter to King Chizkiyahu lauding the Judean King and acknowledging the supremacy of the God of Israel.

            Nebuchadnezzar was King Merodach's main scribe at the time, but he happened to be "out to lunch" when this particular letter was drafted. Upon his return to the "office", Nebuchadnezzar asked what had been written. He was told about the letter and its salutation, "Greetings to King Chizkiyahu, greetings to the City of Jerusalem, greetings to the great God." Nebuchadnezzar understood that greeting God last on the list was an affront to His honor. Nebuchadnezzar ran, trying to catch the runners before the letter was delivered, but he succeeded in running only three and a half steps before the Angel Gabriel stopped him. Why was it necessary to stop him? Because Nebuchadnezzar would be rewarded for each step he took, even for his half step. After Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple, he would be succeeded by two kings of his dynasty, and a third would enjoy only a short reign. That third was Vashti. Had Nebuchadnezzar succeeded in finishing his fourth step, Vashti would have completed her reign and Esther would not have been able to ascend the throne to foil Haman's plan to annihilate the Jews. [Rav Yedid, the Mikra Kodesh, quotes the Mahrasha who explains that the three steps we take at the end of Shemoneh Esrai when we ask Hashem to rebuild the Beit Hamikdosh are to counter these three steps of Nebuchadnezzar who destroyed the Beit Hamikdosh.]

            If the evil Nebuchadnezzar was rewarded for each of the three steps he took to honor God's name, how much greater was Avraham Avinu's reward for each step he took, and how much reward will be in store for each of us for each step we take and each challenge we face to obey Hashem's commands.

            Since we are discussing rewards, we must also discuss how these rewards are paid. Man consists of both a physical body and a spiritual neshama. Almost all mitzvoth (except for a handful of mitzvoth that are primarily thought or emotion) must be carried out by the physical body, although their effects are felt in the supernal world, writes Rabbi Tatz in Worldmask. That's why kavanah/intent is so crucial both in prayer and in mitzvah performance. It also explains why the reward for a mitzvah is in the world to come, while any good deeds of an evil person are rewarded in this physical world. The evil person lives only in and for this world. How can he be rewarded in a world in which he doesn't exist? A righteous person's good deeds builds a bridge between the physical and the spiritual worlds. The evil person has built no such bridge.

            Understanding this connection between the physical and spiritual worlds explains why the evil seem to prosper in this world and why Nebuchadnezzar was rewarded in this world for championing Hashem's honor. Now we can also understand why Hashem wanted to reward Avraham Avinu for each step of following the command of "go for yourself". Avraham was building bridges between the physical and spiritual worlds and creating merit for eternity. In fact, writes Vayovinu Bamikra, there were actually two mitzvoth here, go - undertake the journey to the land that I will show you... get to the as yet unknown destination and go - distance yourself from your land... and from your father's house. As Rabbi Mordechai Ezrachi notes in Birkat Mordechai, each step takes him both closer to the destination and away from his past. Had Hashem told him exactly where to go, Avraham would have focused totally on the destination. Hashem wanted him to also focus on the process, on separating from the past and purifying himself. The journey, the process, is a goal in itself. Therefore, adds the Ohel Moshe, Avraham was rewarded for his spiritual journey away from all he knew as well as for his physical journey, both of which strengthened his faith.

             By not knowing his destination in advance, Avraham had to rely completely on Hashem every step of the way, a process that furthered his humility, explains the Sefas Emes. Further, it raised the journey and the Land to the spiritual level of eternity so that the Land could become an eternal inheritance to Avraham's descendants, not just a temporary reward to Avraham alone.

            Rabbi Shimshon Pincus z:l gives us a kabbalistic metaphor that explains Avraham's performance. Like a chariot that follows the directions of the charioteer, so did Avraham Avinu follow the path Hashem was commanding him each step of the way. Just as the chariot is totally unaware of the destination, so was Avraham unaware of his destination. He headed toward Canaan simple because that what where his father had started out for, not because he had any preconceived notion that that was where he was supposed to go. This characteristic faith and self - nullification is what made our Patriarchs  perfect "wheels" for the merkavah/chariot of Hashem.

            Life is always an open -ended journey. A Jew must take each step with faith in Hashem, writes Halekach Vehalebuv, Rav Avraham Schorr.  As Rabbi Aptel writes in Mesameach Zion,  we each must find our own path toward kedushah and toward forging a relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. We all struggle through the darkness, and it is the struggle that forges the relationship. That's why Hashem tested Avraham ten times, each time making a closer bond.

            We are told that maaseh avot siman lebonim/The history of our ancestors is a paradigm for us, their descendants. Rabbi Pinchas Friedman sees this command to Avraham Avinu and his fulfilling it as a metaphor for each of us. The soul begins its existence in its Father's house in Heaven. From there, Hashem sends the soul down to earth to occupy a designated body and to continue its journey in life. No soul knows its ultimate destination, its designated mission. Life is full of twists and turns, of unseen challenges. Only with faith in the direction of Hakodosh Boruch Hu can man navigate life's pathways. Therefore, one should be careful to ask Hashem constantly for direction and for His help, and to attribute one's success to His guidance. One should remember to say, "Im yirtze Hashem/If God so wills," or, "B'ezrat Hashem/With God's help," when beginning a new project or when completing a project. When one believes he is in control rather than Hakodosh Boruch Hu, he severs his relationship with Hashem.

            Perhaps we can get a better understanding of this relationship by examining the blessing we say after drinking water, continues Rabbi Friedman quoting the Hatam Sofer. We thank God for two things in that blessing. First, that He created souls, that He gave me life. But we also thank God for what we lack, that He created souls vechesronan/and their deficiencies. It is these deficiencies that force us to turn to God and ask for His help. And Hashem has already promised us, through His words to Avraham Avinu, that He will always be with us and never abandon us, for He will lead us el ha'aretz asher arekha/to the land that He Himself will show us.

            As the generation that left Egypt traveled according to God's word and encamped according to God's word, so must we also train ourselves to pray for Hashem's guidance every step of our personal journey along the path of our lives, and every step on our national journey so that we can merit spiritual rewards of a relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu both in this world and in the spiritual, eternal world.