Parashat Lech Lecha: Evolving People, Evolving Nations

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Made in Israel
17 Oct 2007

Parashat Lech Lecha 5768

Part One – The dream of 2000 years is not “in the heavens,” it is real

ויאמר ה’ אל אברם לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך אל הארץ אשר אראך

HaShem said to Avram, “Leave your land, your place of birth and your father’s house, and go to the land which I will show you (Beraysheet 2,1)

ותטענו בגבולנו

Plant us in our land (musaf of rosh chodesh)

HaShem commands Avram to sever himself completely from the influences of his present life and its associations to begin a new life in HaShem’s chosen land – Eretz Yisrael.

HaShem’s call was not an isolated event, for it echoes to this very day in the consciousness of every authentic descendant of Avraham.

In my weekly messages over the past year, I have urged, cajoled even pleaded with the readers to fulfill the mitzva of aliya based on Torah law. But in fact, in addition to the spiritual facet of Eretz Yisrael, there is the very real human side of 6 million citizens living in a country called “The State of Israel”, a land of which I am so very proud to be a citizen.

In Eretz Yisrael there are two levels of kedusha (sanctity) just as there were in the physical aspect of the Bet Hamikdash – kodesh (the outer sanctum) and kodesh kedoshim (inner sanctum.) and in the respective sacrifices – kodesh (lower sacrifices) and kadshei kedoshim (higher sacrifices.)

The higher level of kedusha in Eretz Yisrael is comprised of thousands of batei knesset, hundreds of yeshivot with their tens of thousands of students and hundreds of thousand of people, men and woman, who study Torah daily. Unprecedented in Jewish history of the last 2000 years and more.

But I wish to bring to your attention our fantastic accomplishments in the area of the “lesser kedusha” – the day to day life in this impossible country, which I love.

Israel, is the 100th smallest country in the world, with less than 1/1000th of the world’s population, yet our accomplishments are far and beyond our numbers.

Intel’s new multi-core processor was completely developed in Israel.

The ubiquitous cell phone was developed in Israel by Motorola, which has its largest development center here.

Voice over Internet Protocol (V0IP) [like Optimum Voice] was pioneered in Israel.

AirTrain JFK the 8.1-mile light rail labyrinth that connects the airport to NYC’s mass transit is protected by the Israeli-developed Nextiva surveillance system.

Most of Windows NT operating system was developed by Microsoft-Israel;

The Pentium MMX Chip technology was designed here at Intel;

Both Microsoft and Cisco built their only R&D facilities outside the U.S. in Israel;

Wth more than 3,000 high-tech companies and start-ups, Israel has the highest concentration of high-tech companies in the world apart from Silicon Valley.

We lead the world in the number of scientists and technicians in the work force, with 145 per 10,000, as opposed to 85 in the U.S., over 70 in Japan, and less than 60 in Germany. With over 25 percent of its work force employed in technical professions, Israel places first in this category!

The Weizmann Institute of Science has:

Discovered the molecular trigger that causes psoriasis.

Developed the Ex-Press shunt to provide relief for glaucoma sufferers.

Unveiled a blood test that diagnoses heart attacks … by telephone!

Found a combination of electrical stimulation and chemotherapy that makes cancerous metastases disappear and developed the first fully computerized, non-radiation, diagnostic instrumentation for breast cancer!

Designed the first flight system to protect passenger and freighter aircraft against missile attack.

Developed the first ingestible video camera so small it fits inside a pill used to view the small intestine from the inside, enabling doctors to diagnose cancer and digestive disorders!

Perfected a new device that directly helps the heart pump blood, an innovation with the potential to save lives among those with congestive heart failure, synchronizing the heart’s mechanical operations through a sophisticated system of sensors.

We have huge accomplishments in the fields of: Water shortage, global warming, space travel, anti-virus, anti-smallpox, blood pressure, solar power, paralysis, diabetes, data storage. Our scientists are pioneering in DNA research, using tiny strands to create human transistors that can literally build themselves and playing an important role in identifying defective genes.

We produce more scientific papers per capita than any other nation by a large margin; we have the largest number of startup companies globally, second only to the U.S.

We are No. 2 in the world for venture capital funds, financing all these advances.

Our $100 billion economy is larger than all of our immediate neighbors combined.

We maintain, by far, the highest average living standards and per-capita income, exceeding even those of the UK. Israel is the largest immigrant-absorbing nation on earth, relative to its population.

In the military and highly sensitive areas of security, our accomplishments transcend the accomplishments of the civilian sector, but they cannot be discussed.

We pray in the musaf service of rosh chodesh and yom tov

ותטענו בגבולינו

plant (or embed) us in our borders

There are many people who come on aliya but never become “planted” in the land. They reside in English speaking neighborhoods, and after 20 years here cannot say a sentence in Ivrit or write or read a newspaper.

When I arrived on aliya I realized the meaning of “to plant me in our land”, and prayed to HaShem to grant me to be embedded in the Torah sector of our life here and also in the “people” sector of our nation.

I came here to be part of the renewal of our people in Eretz Yisrael.

I speak and daven in Ivrit; communicate in word and speech better in Ivrit then in my mother tongue of English and have experienced most of our institutions, such as army service of 20 years, served as assistant to a Minister, and was even arrested (for demonstrating.)

As we continue to witness the slow demise of the galut, we must realize that to come to this modern fantastic land is a realistic project for the Jews of the galut.

Despite all the difficulties we have faced here, HaShem has wrought a modern day miracle in our old-new homeland.

The dream of 2000 years is not “in the heavens,” it is real.

The land of the Golan, Kinneret, Galil, Dead Sea, Yerushalayim, the Negev, Yehuda and Shomron. It is all here, waiting for us to take possession of our God given land.

So, “Leave your land, your place of birth and your father’s house, and go to the land which I will show you,” and may HaShem plant you and your future generations in our land for all time.

Part Two: The Uniqueness of the Jewish Nation

In the beginning of the new world order, HaShem created a man and a woman.

The man’s name was Avram, which was later changed to Avraham and the woman’s name was Sarei, later changed to Sarah.

The gentiles who merited to come into contact with Avraham and Sarah felt that this couple was “different” in all ways, as stated by the Council of Chet (Beraisheet 23,6):

שמענו אדני נשיא א-להים אתה בתוכנו

You are a prince of God in our midst

The Canaanites were cognizant of the difference. but could not articulate what it was because the concept of kedusha was beyond their comprehension. The most they could feel was capsulized by chazal:

רבי יהודה אומר כל העולם מעבר אחד והוא (אברהם) מעבר אחד

All the world is on one side (place) and he (Avraham) is on another

To this day the Gentiles are conscious of the fact that Jews are unique, but are still unable to identify what that uniqueness is. We are “something else”, and it is this “something else” which echoes in the background of the first parasha in the Torah, as we shall see, although the names of Avraham, Sarah or Yisrael are not mentioned.

The Torah in parashat Beraysheet relates the story of the second major crime perpetrated in the world – fratricide. We are informed that Adam and Chava had two sons, Kayin and Hevel and that Kayin was a farmer and Hevel a sheperd. Kayin initiates a sacrifice to HaShem of a few low grade vegetables; whereas, Hevel brings the best of his sheep. When Hevel’s sacrifice is accepted and Kayin’s is rejected, Kayin is devastated to the point that Hashem warns him not to give into his frustrations by seeking revenge. At this point Kayin kills Hevel.

The midrash (Beraisheet Raba 41) informs us that Kayin and Hevel were non-identical twins, each born in a separate amniotic sacks. Hevel was born with two sisters and Kayin with one. In time, Kayin marries his natural sister and Hevel marries one of his two natural sisters. Kayin then demands Hevel’s other natural sister and when Hevel refuses Kayin kills him.

When Hashem confronts Kayin saying, “A’yay Hevel a’chicha” (Where is Hevel your brother?) Kayin relies in a less than respectful tone, “Ha’shomer achi anochi” (Am I my brothers keeper!”) When Kayin realizes what he had done, the midrash says he does teshuva and Hashem forgives him half the sin and punishes him for the other half, relegating Kayin to a nomadic life.

The story abounds with questions:

1) The name Kayin is an honorable one. Its root refers to a judicial acquisition, for Chava praised Hashem for granting her the “acquisition of a son”. But the name Hevel is one step above “zevel” which means dung or rubbish. When King Shlomo in Kohelet wished to disclose the vanity in all human affairs, he uses the word “hevel havalim” – all is vanity. Now why would a parent call their child by such an ignoble name as Hevel?

2) Why is it essential for the Torah to inform us of the professions of the brothers? Is it an intricate part of the episode?

3) Kayin initiates a sacrifice to the Creator of a few inferior quality vegetables, so why is he then mortified when Hashem accepts Hevel’s gift of a healthy fat lamb.

4) That the sin of fratricide was perpetrated over a woman is too gross a matter to have been in the mind of such a great man as Kayin, the eldest son of Adam and Chava, handiwork of Hashem.

5) When Hashem asks Kayin where his brother is, Kayin replies with unmitigated chutzpa, “Am I my brother’s keeper!” A little derech eretz when speaking to the Master of all things!

6) How does one do teshuva over killing one third of all mankind? And if so, why does Hashem forgive him for half the crime; he is either forgiven or not!?

7) How does the punishment of leading a nomadic life fit the crime of fratricide?

I suggest:

Rabbi Elazar in Chagiga 12a says that Adam prior to the sin was “from the earth until heaven”. Obviously not a literal description, but a metaphor describing the intimate connection which Adam had with the upper realms of kiddusha. But because of his sin in Gan Eden, Hashem put His hand upon Adam and minimized him, as stated in Tehilim 139,5:

אחור וקדם צרתני ותשת עלי כפכה

Back and forth You have restricted me, and You have laid Your hand upon me

I suggest that there was a major conflict between Kayin and Hevel as to the extent to which Hashem had rejected their parents, and subsequently all future Mankind.

Kayin claimed that we are indeed less then what we were prior to father and mother’s sin, but we are still spiritually connected to Hashem; that we are angels with a minus.

In contrast, Hevel was the world’s first anarchist. He claimed that Hashem rejected the entire human race by severing their spiritual connection, so that humans are now just another species in the Darwinian ladder; not angels with a minus but apes with a plus.

The discerning feature between humans and animals is the ability to pass laws and abide by them. The moral and developmental levels of any society can be measured by the sophistication of their judicial systems. The animal world lives by the “law of the jungle” where the strongest and fittest survive. The human world lives by the order imposed on its inhabitants through their laws and mores.

Kayin, who claimed that despite their parents’ sin humanity remains connected to the Creator through a higher soul, takes the name “Kayin” meaning “kinyan” – acquisition through legal means. His brother adopts the name “Hevel” – nothingness, vanity, chaos for in his view they are now all children of the jungle, where the only law which pervades is the “law of the jungle”.

Kayin perceives himself as still connected to kedusha (sanctity) and involves himself with farming, Hevel becomes a Shepherd. These professions express two ideologies: invasive versus passive. Kayin, the farmer, intrudes upon natures. He changes the topography of the land, designs and builds a plow, sows, harvests, designs and builds apparatus to grind grain into flour, kneads the dough and eats the fruit of his labors. He is the master of his world, changing and improving according to his will.

Hevel, the shepherd, passively accepts what the Creator has produced. He goes out with the animals in the morning and returns with them at sun set, while in the interim he does nothing to change what there is. He is another biological being in nature, more capable then the sheep over which he watches, but inherently no different. He has no spiritual soul after father’s sin, just a smarter model of a monkey.

Kayin offers a sacrifice to the Creator of some left over vegetables. Hevel brings a beautiful animal to appease the Creator. Each one acts according to his world view. The judicial world has no need for esthetics, but rather for being “yo’tzay ye’day cho’va” – to abide by the demands of the law. Kayin does not need to offer Hashem beauty, because as a judicial being any sacrifice will do, as long as the act is accomplished.

Hevel who perceives himself and all humanity as part of the natural world stresses beauty, for nature is judged by its aesthetic features. There is no room in court for beauty. Woe to the judge who condemns or condones an accused based on the external looks of his attorney. But the majestic scenery of the Great Canyon” is breath-taking and alluring.

When the sacrifices are in process Hashem accepts the one of Hevel, thereby stating that Hevel is correct in his assessment of HaShem’s decision after the sin in Gan Eden to relegate humanity to be just one more rung in the ascending ladder of biological intelligence and capabilities.

Kayin refuses to accept HaShem’s decision. He cannot cope with being without the special relationship with the Creator. Kayin is groping for the word that he needs to cry out to Hashem. The word is Yisrael or Yehudi or Jew, but it is beyond his scope, because for the next twenty generations the soul of mankind is indeed cut off from the source of all kedusha, to be restored only to Avraham Aveinu and his future descendants, the Jewish people. Kayin refuses to accept Hashem’s rejection, and is subsequently warned to accept or to suffer.

Kayin demands the second sister of Hevel, who rejects Kayin’s demand on the grounds of the natural state of her birth in his amniotic sack. Kayin claims that she belongs to him because as a first born “bechor” it is his legal right to receive twice as much, including the second sister of Hevel. Hevel rejects Kayin’s claim of “bechor” and the very concept of legality, and then Kayin kills him.

Hashem appears to Kayin asking where is Hevel. Kayin replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper”. The term used by Kayin for keeper is “shomer”. “Shomer” is an halachic term as anyone who has studied the tractate bava metzia knows. Kayin is “reprimanding” Hashem, saying in fact that since You relegated us to the level of one more biological species where the ‘law of the jungle’ pervades; I am no longer my brother’s “keeper”.

Kayin confesses to killing his brother and Hashem forgives half of the crime, as stated in the midrash, justifying the act with the claim that his brother Hevel by God’s own psak accepted the new role of humanity as one more biological species, not governed by intellectual or moral laws, but only by the law of the jungle motivated by compulsion, greed and immediate gratification. Kayin says to Hashem that he knew that at some point Hevel will rise up to kill him in a moment of lust, which is the way of the jungle. So Kayin halachically brought in a verdict that Hevel is a “rodef” (one who threatens the life of another) and as such is liable to the death penalty.

Hashem hears the justification of Kayin and forgives him for half, for in principal Kayin is correct, that is the Halacha – Hevel is a “rodef” and is culpable. However; Kayin is not an halachic being, having been deprived of that status by the cardinal sin of his parents. Hence Kayin is absolved of guilt on one half of his act, because in principal that is the Halacha, but is culpable for the other half because Kayin had no right to use the Halacha.

Kayin is punished by being banished from society, forever to be a nomad, for that is the way of the jungle.

What arises from all this is that the nations of the world were relegated because of the sin of Adam and Chava to the level of just another species within the biological ladder of existence; a superior kind of being to be sure, but no longer connected on the spiritual level to the upper realms of kedusha.

But after twenty generations, Hashem in His love for Avraham returned to him and to his descendants through Yitzchak and Yaakov, the pure soul which was connected to Hashem prior to the sin in Gan Eden. And in Avraham’s merit all humanity was restored to some degree of spirituality, albeit lesser than that which emanated upon the Jewish nation.

This is the reason that HaShem changes his name from Avram, meaning the spiritual father of the peoples of Aram, to Avraham, the spiritual father of the many nations.

The uniqueness of the Jewish nation which the gentile world refuses to accept is not our physical reality of this world, but the spiritual soul which is uniquely Jewish. It is this special relationship with Hashem which catapults our people, wherever we may be, to positions of leadership, and is destined to be carried on in the future to the eternal existence in Olam Haba.

If this appears to be the ultimate racism, be reminded that even today more then half the world believes that humans mutated from apes.

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.