Sunday, November 05, 2006

From Moshe Mordechai - Parashat Lech-l'cha: Who's running this show?

So much and more can be said about just the two words lech l'cha. But urgently we need to look at a question that should arise immediately at the start of this Portion: why do we only meet Abra(ha)m at the age of 75? Did nothing happen before that that was worthwhile to report? We know from Rabbiner Hirsch that the Tora is the Note book of the lessons that Moses got, and can be better understood when consulting additional notes: from the Oral Law. But the fact that not all is mentioned in the Tora doesn't understand why this part is missing. We know from the Rabbis through Midrashim that he recognized G^d as a young child and upset everyone with his rejection of idolatry, from his father to the king. Not only upsetting them: standing up to them. He miraculously survived being thrown into a raging oven, greatly spreading G^d's Name. What a chance to say that G^d chose Abra(ha)m because of his excellence.

The Maharal of Prague says that that was the whole point. G^d did not want to do say that. He wants to convey here that He is running the show. It's so obvious that Abra(ha)m is outstanding that it even doesn't need to be said. Anyone can understand that therefore G^d handpicked him. No - the message He wants to get out is: know that I'm the Boss. Not even the greatest excellence can force My hand.

We hear a similar idea from the Lubavitcher Rebbi. Lubavitch has a special understanding of Free Will that I haven't see anywhere else in the Jewish sources. That Free Will is a choice between completely equal options, because as soon as one is better than another, the choice is not completely free anymore. In this framework the Rebbi said that G^d removed himself so far from this world, so to speak, that the difference between Abra(ha)m and other people became indiscernible, and then he chose him. Why? Because He wanted the choice to be completely free. I speculate that that may have been to enable Jews to have Free Will after Him. Or maybe to teach everyone that He runs the show.

We see a similar thing about No'ach. G^d sings the greatest praise of him
(Genesis 6:9) but the Rabbis teach in a Midrash that No'ach (Nun Chet) was saved from the Flood only because he found grace (Chet Nun-Sofit; Zohar) in the eyes of G^d (Genesis 6:8). Not because of his excellence! "Just, because I say so." No Portion of the week is named after Abra(ha)m, or even Moses; the latter's role is not even mentioned in the Haggada at Passover night. The most outstanding lives are mentioned throughout the texts, but from the headlines we need to learn that the best were just servants to the One we should pray to. Free Will needs to go together with knowing your place in the big scene and daring to be just a cog in the machine.

Some (billions of) people are so impressed with G^d's awesomeness that they deny their own Free Will. G^d is in complete control and that disables their picking, they assume. (They don't really deny Free Will - they just don't acknowledge it. Because when they are praised they beam and when someone slays their friend they get angry at the murderer, which shows that they believe in responsibility and so in Free Will.) We Jews are thoroughly educated in Free Will but we also need to remember that He's in charge. Free Will only works as a way to get more Moral. That contradicts to do as one pleases. It demands obedience.

Have a good week,


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