This week’s parshah begins with Hashem telling Avram (Avraham) “Lech Lecha” — “Go for yourself from your land, your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land I will show you!” The word “lecha” — “for yourself” — seems superfluous. It would have been sufficient to merely say “lech” — “go.”

The commentaries give various reasons for adding this apparently extra word.

For example, the Ba’al Haturim (Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, author of the Tur Shulchan Aruch 1269-1340), whose commentary often utilizes numerology to explain things, says that the two words “Lech Lecha” (לך לך) add up to 100, and they allude to the fact that the promise of “I will make of you a great nation” would be fulfilled with the birth of Yitzchak when Avraham was 100 hundred years old.

Another significance of 100 is that Avraham was currently 75 years old and still had another 100 years to live.

As interesting as this may sound, it does not really explain the meaning of the word “lecha” — “for yourself.” To reach the number 100 Hashem could have just repeated the word “lech” saying, “lech, lech” — “go, go” with the same letters and different vowels?

Rashi too was bothered by the unnecessary word lecha — and therefore on the words lech lecha, Rashi writes “l’hana’atecha — for your pleasure — u’letovatecha”— and for your benefit.”

A difficulty with this is that if at the outset Hashem assured him that the trip will be both pleasurable and beneficial; why is this counted among the ten extremely challenging and difficult tests that Avraham underwent? (Avot 5:3) Almost everyone would consent to struggle and endure difficulties if he was assured to ultimately receive a great reward.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, I would like to share with you another explanation of the apparently extra word lecha which conveys a profound message from Hashem to Avraham as well as to every Bar Mitzvah. It is something which is not easily reached, and it takes the difficult work of a lifetime to achieve.

When a child is born, he is like a sealed box containing the most valuable treasures. He has unlimited capabilities and immense potential. Of course the fulfillment of one’s potential varies in each individual. There are even instances, when, unfortunately, one’s abilities remain dormant and latent and sadly enough, one’s potential is sometimes wasted.

Every person is created with a mold that only he can fill. With hard work and diligence every person is expected to fulfill the role created specifically for him. Challenges and nisyonot — trials — are not given to us, G‑d forbid, for punishment, but rather to help us reach that potential. Every challenge that is overcome brings the person a step closer to reaching what only he alone can attain. Thus, life’s journeys are indeed “l’hana’atecha u’letovatecha” — for our pleasure and our benefit.

Hashem’s challenge to Avraham was “lech” — “go” — “lecha” — “to you” or “to yourself” — that is the reach and develop the real you, become yourself to the fullest measure of your potential. You are destined to becoming a great nation, you are capable to have a great name, you have the potential to be blessed and be a source of blessing — but it all depends on lech — go — your making the move. You must exert the effort and face the calling and challenge.

Lecha — thus, does not mean “for yourself” rather “to yourself” to reveal and achieve the real you.

There is a popular saying of an early Chassidic Master, Rabbi Zushe of Anapol (1718-1800) that he once exclaimed, “I do not fear the Heavenly Tribunal may question ‘Why are you not like Moshe Rabbeinu?,’ nor do I fear their asking me ‘Why are you not like the Ba’al Shem Tov?’ because I will respond ‘I am not Moshe Rabbeinu or the Ba’al Shem Tov.’ But I do fear lest I am asked why is Zushe not like Zushe could have been?”

So my message and berachah to you my dear Bar Mitzvah is “lech” — go — that is, use all your efforts to go from this day on, “lecha” — to yourself — that is, to the role that has been especially created for you. Become the great Chassid, G‑d fearing Jew and Torah scholar that you have the potential to be. It is an arduous task and an undertaking for your lifetime. We are confident that you can achieve it, and we wish you that your efforts be crowned with success.


According to halachah — Jewish Torah Law — the life of a Jewish male is divided in two periods. From birth up to the age of 13 one is classified as a katan — minor. From 13 until he leaves this earthly world he is considered a gadol — adult. It makes no difference how accomplished or advanced one may be scholastically, spiritually, physically or materially: every Jew is equal and counted as one in the eyes of halachah. In general terms, a katan is one who is under the care of his parents. It is they who raise, nurture, and prepare him for adulthood. Once he reaches the age of 13 he is on his own, so to speak, and he is expected to formulate and pursue his path in life.

Superficially, there is no mention in the Torah of the Patriarch Avraham’s becoming a Bar Mitzvah. Thus, I would venture to say, homiletically, that this is what the beginning of this week’s Torah reading is about. Hashem said to Avraham “va’agadlah sh’mecha — I will make your name big:” The reason He used the term va’agadlah and not the perhaps more appropriate term of va’afarseim — publicize or popularize — is that Hashem was alluding that now Avraham would attain the name (title) of gadol — a mature Jewish adult.

Hence, the instruction Hashem gave to Avraham — to leave “artzecha — your land, moladetecha — your birthplace — and beit avicha — your father’s house” — are the prerequisites for achieving the state of manhood and becoming a mature Jewish gadol — and a son of Avraham Avinu.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, I would like to share with you a beautiful interpretation from the Rebbe on the significance of these three things.

“Mei’artzecha — from your land” — means go away from your worldliness and mundane matters. Do not follow the physical desires and the dictates of the “world.” As the popular Chassidish saying declares, “Ver nit nitpa’el fun velt.” Do not be impressed by what the world thinks or by its mores. A truly religious Jew cannot concern himself with the customs and conventions of velt — contemporary society. Nor shall he reckon with what velt will say or think about his Torah lifestyle.

“Moladetecha — from your birthplace” — this refers to habits. Every human being develops habits from the moment of his birth. Leaving moladetecha means not studying Torah or doing mitzvot by rote, as a habitual routine which you were brought up to follow. Rather, learn Torah and perform mitzvot with excitement and zeal, permeated with warmth and vigor.

“U’mibeit avicha — and from your father’s house.” In Chassidic thought chachamahwisdom — is referred to as “father” (see Likkutei Amarim — Tanya ch. 3). In this pasuk the “father” refers to the “wisdom” of the Yeitzer HaraEvil Inclination. The Torah tells us: Go away from your “father”! Don’t be a “wise guy” when it comes to mitzvot. Don’t rationalize them away.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, follow these instructions, and you will reach “ha’aretz asher areka”— “the land that Hashem will show” — the lofty spiritual level that Hashem destined for us.


Like any father, Avraham yearned for a son to carry on his legacy. Suddenly, when Avraham was 99, Hashem informed him the good news “V’arbeh otecha bime’od me’od” — “I will increase you most exceedingly.” Upon hearing this tiding Avraham was filled with joy. The Torah relates, “Vayipol al panev vayitzchak” — “He fell upon his face and he laughed” (17:2,17). Following this, again Hashem reassured him, “Indeed your wife Sarah will bear you a child and you shall call his name Yitzchak.” Rashi comments “al sheim hatzechok” — “because of the laughter” (17:19).

Rashi is very brief and does not explain what laughter this is referring to. While the first thing that comes to mind is that it means Avraham’s laughter, this is difficult because Rashi would thus be contradicting himself. Regarding Avraham’s laughter Rashi (17:17) explained earlier in the name of Targum Onkelos that the word “vayitzchak” means “v’chadi” — “and he rejoiced.” (A normal reaction of a father who is told by a doctor that finally his barren wife will be having a child.) Rashi continues “You have thus learned that Avraham believed that he would have a son by Sarah v’samach — and he rejoiced, but Sarah did not believe, and she scoffed. This is the reason why Hashem was critical of Sarah (see 18:13) but not critical of Avraham.”

Moreover, if this was to commemorate Avraham or Sarah’s laughter, the child should have been named “Tzachak” — “he laughed” or “Tzachakah” — “she laughed” — in lieu of Yitzchak which means “He will laugh” in future tense?

My dear Bar Mitzvah, I would like to share with you a novel explanation to the superficially enigmatic words of Rashi.

Avraham and Sarah had undertaken the difficult task of changing the course of the world by educating people about Torah and G‑dliness. They had encountered great difficulties, and Avraham was even cast into the burning furnace by Nimrod (see Rashi, Bereishit 11:28).

As Avraham and Sarah aged and remained childless, those who previously feared them began to laugh and rejoice. “Soon Avraham and Sarah will die,” they thought to themselves, “and without a child to continue their work, they will be gone and forgotten, and so will the ideas and ideals they propagated.”

Avraham was concerned about this and prayed to Hashem for a child who would continue the work he and his wife Sarah had started. Hashem promised him, “Your wife will bear you a son. Name him Yitzchak because he will follow in your footsteps, and ‘he will laugh’ at all those who think that the efforts of Avraham and Sarah will go to waste and be forgotten.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, in the days of Avraham, they laughed and scoffed at him and predicted his oblivion. But along came Yitzchak who continued in his father’s footsteps. He succeeded to spread Torah teaching and ultimately he laughed at them. Likewise, in contemporary times, people who think they know it all, laugh at the frum Yidden — Torah observant Jews — and have declared Judaism a fossil. They see religious Jews as relics who are, G‑d forbid, destined for oblivion. According to them, the future of Torah and mitzvot is bleak.

Hopefully, you will follow in the path of your parents and grandparents and continue to illuminate the world with Torah and Chassidut. You will prove to all those who laughed that Yiddishkeit is a vibrant force that is here to stay. With G‑d’s help, it will expand and flourish, and like our forefather Yitzchak, you will bring laughter and happiness to the Rebbe, your family, and Klal Yisroel.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, don’t be distracted by them. Let them laugh as much as they want, but there is an old adage, “The one who laughs last laughs best.”


Prior to the actual destruction of Sodom and Gomorah, Hashem deemed it proper to inform Avraham of His plan because, as the Torah states, “Ki yedativ l’ma’an asher yetzaveh et banav v’et beito acharav v’shamru derech Hashem la’asot tzedakah u’mishpat” (18:19). According to Rashi, “Ki yedativ” means “I have loved him,” as the pasuk continues that the reason he gained the Divine endowment is “l’ma’an — because — yetzaveh — he commands — (present tense) his sons and his household — acharav — after him — that they keep the ways of Hashem doing charity and justice.”

Targum Onkelos explains “ki yedativ” to mean “for I know lema’an — that — he will command (future tense), his sons and his household acharav — after him — that they keep the way of Hashem etc.”

Rashi notes that according to Onkelos, the word l’ma’an does not fit the language of the verse, for usually it means “because” or “in order,” and if it means “that” it is superfluous since the words asher yetzaveh without the word l’maan means that he will command.

According to Onkelos’ interpretation of yetzaveh — command — in future tense — the words “acharav” [his sons and household] “after him” are all understood since we are discussing his will and testament. However, according to Rashi, yetzaveh is in present tense — “He commands” — and it refers to the ongoing present. So the word “acharav” — “after him” — seems to be superfluous?

Perhaps we can explain the word “acharav,” in the following way:

The supreme obligation of parents is to educate their children. From early childhood they should be trained to develop good habits and distinguish between right and wrong. As the children grow older, parents must teach their children Torah and familiarize them with the performance of mitzvot.

The best way for parents to inculcate and educate is to serve as a dugma chayah — a living example. When the child sees the father or mother doing a certain action, the child is likely to imitate it. This is true both when the parent does the right thing and also, unfortunately, when the parent exhibits a negative characteristic trait, or behavior.

While most parents do their utmost, there are some who are remiss in their responsibility, and at times they fail their children unintentionally.

Let me share with you a story that depicts this scenario.

A non-observant father once sent his child to a Hebrew school. As the child’s Bar Mitzvah was approaching, he took his son to the Hebrew book store and asked the salesman for a Bar Mitzvah set. The salesman opened the box, revealing a pair of tefillin and a tallit. Having no knowledge of these strange items, the boy asked his father with a puzzled expression on his face, “What are these?” The father told him, “My son, this is what every Jew must have once he becomes Bar Mitzvah.” The young boy looked up to his father inquisitively and asked, “So Father, when are you becoming Bar Mitzvah?”

The bottom line is that if we want our children to learn well or daven properly, it is important that the children see the parents engaged in learning or davening. If we want our children to be active in tzedakah and acts of chesed , it is necessary that they see their parents behaving accordingly.

Hashem is declaring that He cherishes Avraham “l’ma’an asher yetzaveh et banav” — because he commands (present tense) his children and family to observe and fulfill the way of Hashem. But he does not merely lecture them about it — he shows them the way, and encourages them “acharav” — that they should follow him. They do as he does, emulating and copying him.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, you are fortunate to have grown up in a home where Torah and mitzvot, tzedakah and chesed were not something spoken about nostalgically, but rather a daily practice. Now that you have reached the age when you are obligated in these things, emulate your parents and grandparents to the fullest measure.

Incidentally, our Sages say “Bakol adam mitkane chutz mibeno” — “A person is envious of everyone except his child” (Sanhedrin 105b). I am confident that your parents will be extremely proud of you even when you manage to excel and surpass their achievements. We all wish you much success in achieving this goal. Mazal Tov.