Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Lech-Lecha

Uncovering the Sparks

At the “Covenant Between the Parts” G‑d said to Abraham: “Know that your children shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they will enslave them and afflict them . . . and afterwards they will go out with great wealth.”

Exile—galut, in Hebrew—is much more than a person’s physical removal from his homeland. A person in exile is a person severed from the environment that nourishes his way of life, his principles and values, his spiritual identity.

The Talmud offers the following explanation for the phenomenon of galut: “The people of Israel were exiled amongst the nations only so that converts might be added to them.” Chassidic teaching explains that the Talmud is referring to souls of a different sort that are transformed and elevated in the course of our exiles: the sparks of holiness contained within the physical creation.

The great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria taught that every object, force and phenomenon in existence has a spark of holiness within it—a pinpoint of divinity that constitutes its soul, its spiritual essence and design. This spark embodies the divine desire that the thing exist, and its function within G‑d’s overall purpose for creation. When a person utilizes something to serve his Creator, he penetrates its shell of mundanity, revealing and realizing its divine essence.

It is to this end that we have been dispersed across the face of earth: so that we may come in contact with the sparks of holiness that await redemption in every corner of the globe.
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Isaac and Ishmael

We read in Genesis (17:7–27) how G‑d appears to Abraham and instructs him to circumcise himself and all the males of his household. G‑d further commands that henceforth every newborn male should be circumcised on the eighth day of his life, as a sign of the “eternal covenant” between G‑d and the seed of Abraham.

G‑d then informs Abraham that, in one year’s time, he and Sarah will have a son, Isaac. Abraham’s reaction to the divine promise was to proclaim, “If only Ishmael would live before You!” Abraham seems perfectly happy to see Ishmael as his heir—as the one who continues his life’s work and perpetuates his unique relationship with G‑d.

G‑d rejects Abraham’s proposal. He reassures him that Ishmael will become a great people, “but my covenant I shall establish with Isaac.” G‑d’s insistence on Isaac as the progenitor of His chosen people tells us something very fundamental about the nature of our relationship with Him

Ishmael came into the world by natural means, while Isaac’s birth was a supernatural event. Ishmael was circumcised at the age of thirteen, the age of daat (awareness), whereas Isaac entered into the covenant of circumcision as an eight-day-old infant—an age at which a person is not even aware of what is taking place, much less of its significance. Ishmael represents a rational relationship with G‑d. Isaac represents a supra-rational bond.

Abraham discerned many positive qualities in Ishmael, and was prepared, to see him as his heir. Yet G‑d insisted that his covenant with Abraham be perpetuated specifically through Isaac and Isaac’s descendants—a people whose commitment to G‑d will transcend the natural and the rational.
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The Journey of Life

This week’s Torah portion is named Lech Lecha, recalling G‑d’s first command to Abraham. Lech means “go.” G‑d was telling him to go out, to leave his native land and his father’s household, to emerge from the cocoon of protected existence and set out on his own path in the world.

R. Moshe Alshich explains lecha to mean “to yourself.” By journeying throughout the world, Abraham was setting out on a path of self-discovery. The purpose of his journey to Eretz Yisrael, his descent to Egypt, his return to the land, and all his wanderings was intended to enable him to understand his own identity and express his positive qualities in his surrounding environment. G‑d leads us all from the cradle onward, step by step, through a variety of experiences — the sum total of which are intended to enable us to discover and express our inner G‑dly potential.

When Abraham set out on his journey, he took with him “the souls he had made in Charan”: the people he had motivated to join his mission. Man’s journey through life is not intended to be a lonely trek on mountain crags or in desert valleys. Quite the contrary, G‑d leads us through a world with other people with whom we interact in synergy, both giving and receiving. For they are on similar journeys, parallel in purpose if not necessarily in route.

As a person grows to appreciate these concepts, he will be able to maximize his opportunities in life, making his experiences happier and more fruitful. He will not be encumbered by fear or worry, because he will realize that at every moment, a watching hand is guiding him, directing him to encounters intended to advance his personal growth and his contribution to the world.
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The Power of Truth

This week’s Torah reading begins with the story of our Patriarch Abraham. The Torah refers to Abraham as Haivri, “the Hebrew.” When explaining the meaning of that term, our Sages note that it literally means “the one on the side” and explain: “Abraham was on one side and the entire world on the other.” Despite the paganism and idolatry of his surroundings, Abraham held fast to the connection with G‑d that he had established. Moreover, he was not content with merely maintaining his own private belief system. He proudly shared his awareness with others, influencing them to adopt the worship of one G‑d.

Numbers were against him, but truth was on his side and when truth is pitted against numbers, truth will always win out. For there is nothing that can stand against the rock-ribbed power of something true.

Abraham transmitted this spiritual heritage to his descendants. Every one of them has the power to stand up against a multitude when he knows that he is right. It’s not chutzpah. It’s the power of truth.
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Young Leaders

Much has been written and taught about the education of our own children in the ways of the Almighty. But as a light unto the nations, we must help educate their children as well: