This week's Torah reading begins: "And G‑d said to Avram, Lech Lecha ('You should go out')" and last week's concluded with the words, "Terach died in Charan." We need to understand what the connection is between the two. Seemingly, they are two different issues, from one extreme to the other, since Terach was an idol worshipper, and here we read about the first revelation of the Creator who is One, Singular, and Unique, to Abraham. Furthermore, out of respect for Abraham, it would seem the Torah should have placed another issue in between these two subjects.

Another question: in the course of the parasha it is written that G‑d promised the Land of Israel to Abraham, as it is written, "He said to him, I am G‑d, who took you out from Ur Kasdim, to give to you this land to inherit it". (Gen. 15:7) Abraham asked G‑d, "Through what will I know that I will inherit it?". (Gen. 15:8) G‑d replies to him, "You will surely know that your descendants will be strangers in a land not of theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them for four hundred years… and afterwards, they will go out with great possessions". (Gen. 15:13-14)

We need to understand how this answers Abraham's question, his desire to ascertain that he would inherit the Land of Israel?

In order to understand these two questions, let us explain the Mishna in the tractate of Pesachim (page 116a) that the Haggadah of Pesach "begins with shame and ends with praise." Why? And what is the shame? There are two views in the Talmud, (ibid.) that of Rav and that of Shmuel. Shmuel says, "We were slaves to Pharoah," this is the shame. Rav says that the shame is, "At first, our fathers were idol worshippers [Terach, the father of Abraham…"]. (Joshua 24:2) must have shame precede praise.

Before we explain the reason for their dispute, we need to understand the reason that one must have shame precede praise.

There is a fixed law in creation that the negative always precedes the positive, as it is written in Creation, "And it was evening, and it was morning, one day." We can understand this better according to the principle written in Ecclesiastes, "Like the superiority of the light from the darkness." (2:13) It is only with the emergence from darkness that the excellence of light is fully appreciated. If a lack is not first felt, we cannot value the filling of that lack, since the value of the filling is according to the size of the lack. Because of this reason, disintegration of the seed precedes the sprouting of the shoot, a question precedes an answer, subjugation precedes deliverance, suffering precedes comfort, night precedes day. Likewise, the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) precedes the Yetzer Hatov (good inclination).

This is the basis for beginning the Haggadah of Pesach with shame and concluding with praise.

Furthermore, there are two aspects of subjugation: 1) the subjugation of the body, and 2) the subjugation of the soul. This is the reason for the dispute between Rav and Shmuel. Rav holds that one needs to begin with subjugation of the body, since the feeling of spiritual subjugation is only applicable to the choicest part of the nation, those most developed in spiritual service. However, subjugation of the body (to be physically oppressed) is understood and felt by all. Therefore, we begin with the shame, "We were slaves to Pharoah…," which is equally applicable to all, the praise being "And G‑d took us out from Egypt… and gave us the Land of Israel."

Rav holds that the shame is the subjugation of the soul. Therefore, one needs to begin with, "At first, our fathers were idol worshippers", the praise being, "And He brought us near to Har Sinai and gave us the Torah" - spiritual freedom. a place where there is...trouble and bother, there is found...evil.

Here is the place to elaborate upon the meaning of Avoda "Zara" (idolatry, literally: "foreign" worship). It is written in the Zohar that in a place where there is a tircha (trouble and bother), there is found the Sitra Achra (the Other Side, i.e. evil). There is Avoda (service, worship) with Simcha (joy), as the verse says, "Serve G‑d with Simcha" (Psalms 100:2) and there is Avoda which has tircha; (it is a bother), as the verse says, "Since you did not serve G‑d your L-rd with Simcha". (Deut. 28:47) The difference between them depends upon the measure of recognition the servant has for his master.

For example, when an important and honorable man requests a service be done for him, any normal person would feel pleasure over this opportunity which has befallen him and would fulfill the assignment immediately, completely, and with enthusiasm. This would not be the case if the man was someone the community did not value. If such a person would ask for some small service, even if someone were to respond and help him, they would feel it to be a burden and a great bother.

It all depends upon the recognition and value that the "server" attributes to the one he is serving. Avoda Zara implies that the worshippers do not recognize and value the one they are serving, for he is "Zara" ("foreign") to them. Therefore, their Avoda is with great bother.

The Baal Shem Tov explains the verse, "There should not be among you a foreign god" (Psalms 81:10) to mean that even if one serves the true G‑d, but does not recognize that He is the Good One and does good, then his Avoda is a bother and trouble for him. Increased recognition correspondingly increases the value of the Avoda.

Now we can answer the two questions which we asked at the start. At the end of parashat Noach, the Torah states that Terach was an idol worshipper. The letter tav can be transposed with the letter tet, for both originate from the tongue. Therefore, the name Terach (tav-resh-chet), can be spelled with a tet (tet-resh-chet), which means Tircha (difficulty and a bother).

...subjugation of the soul must precede spiritual freedom.

Terach was a worshipper of Avoda "Zara", a "foreign" service, which symbolizes Tircha. This is the spiritual subjugation, the subjugation of the soul, which must precede spiritual freedom. Parashat Noach ends with, "Terach died in Charan," meaning that Abraham passed beyond the stage of spiritual Tircha. Therefore, immediately after, the Al-mighty was revealed to him, as we learn from the first verse of Lech Lecha,"And G‑d said to Avram…"

According to Rav who says that the Haggadah must begin with, "At first, our fathers were idol worshippers, ," this was a spiritual subjugation and a preparation for the spiritual freedom through the revelation of, "I am G‑d your L-rd", (at Mt. Sinai), as it is written, "When you take this nation out of Egypt, you will serve the L-rd on this mountain". (Ex. 3:12)

The answer to the second question is that in order to recognize the greatness of physical freedom, one needs the preparation of a physical subjugation. This is what the Al-mighty said to Avram, "You should surely know that your descendants will be strangers in a land not their own, and they will enslave them and oppress them…" (Gen. 15:13) Through the subjugation in the crucible of Egypt, they will acquire the lack (and need) and thus the vessels to know and value the greatness of the freedom of receiving the Land of Israel.

In truth, both subjugations and the opinions of Rav and Shmuel are interwoven together, since "There is no deliverance for the body without deliverance for the soul," and there is no Jewish nationhood without the Torah. The Creator and His Torah and Israel and His Land are all one. And so it is written, "I will take you for me as a Nation, and I will be for you the Lord". (Ex. 6:7)

Sources: Sefer Matan Torah, discourse V’Zos Lihudah and Sefer Peri Chacham, Letters, page 164 (authored by Rabbi Yehudah Leib Ashlag, the Baal HaSulam);
Spoken on Shabbat Lech Lecha 5766 in New York, Translated by Noah Shavrick, extensively edited by staff.

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