Lech Lecha is the first Torah portion whose week is fully in the month of Cheshvan, the month following Tishrei and the High Holidays. It teaches us that arriving "in the Holy Land" is only by leaving our own intellectual limitations. Not only will G‑d reward us by bringing us to our destination, but, also, "I (G‑d) will make your name great". This means that G‑d's Name will be made great and divinity will be revealed in the world, through the ultimate revelation of Mashiach!

When selfishness is the basis, the means used to attain that end are often far from being just….

After describing the Flood, last week's Torah portion ends with quite a lengthy discussion of the Tower of Babel - how the people after the Flood tried to build a city and a tower and how G‑d undid their plan. Especially since many important commandments are only hinted to in the Torah, why is the story of the Tower of Babel written in such length and detail? The Lubavitcher Rebbe answers that when we consider how only a handful of people were saved from the Flood, we can see that our generation is also based on those that survived the "flood" of the past century. The Torah is teaching us that after a tragedy like the "flood", the survivors must avoid acting like the generation after Noah, thereby preventing the unpleasant consequences that resulted. Looking more deeply into the actions of the people from Babel, they wanted to "make a name for themselves" - to not let themselves become dispersed. Why was this so terrible?

When people gather for only one reason - themselves - without any higher purpose, the problem is not only the simple fault of selfishness. When selfishness is the basis, the means used to attain that end are often far from being just and proper. This holds true all the more so when such intentions follow a catastrophe like the flood, which came as a result of inappropriate behavior. What is the teaching? Instead of building a city and tower to protect ourselves, we are being told that we must build cities and towers of holiness. Our towers must be our synagogues, and our cities must be places that teach and spread Jewish values.

It is into this setting that we welcome our forefather Abraham. Even before going to Israel, Abraham was a unique individual, totally in control of himself and spiritually conscious, having reached the highest level he could on his own. Then came the command of "Lech lecha" - "go to yourself" - to reach a higher level. But this could be attained only after circumcision. From this, we can understand how high a level the covenant of circumcision brought him to.

His circumcision brought a completely new dimension of connecting to G‑d….

Everything Abraham accomplished before the circumcision was attained using his own abilities as they were in relation to the finite world. However, his circumcision brought a completely new dimension of connecting to G‑d. It reached a level of drawing down divine energy from a plane superceding the created universe. Just as circumcision removes the foreskin, so too, on a spiritual level circumcision allows a Jew to remove obstacles in order to experience divinity. When the body becomes the vessel and interface for spirituality, all the parameters change. This is such a happy situation that it not only affects the week following the Torah reading, but brings happiness into the entire year, just as Simchat Torah does.

This is the meaning of the first words of Lech Lecha. In order to reach this very high level of divine consciousness, the Torah tells us that more than selflessness which we learn from Noah, it is imperative to realize and then leave our own limitations which our environment imposes upon us and that blind us to our higher mission. This only happens with a firm and unbending commitment to Jewish life and values.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

Adapted from talks by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1960 and 1987

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