Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Moshe Mordechai: Parashat Lech-l'cha: Sacrificing Our Lives to G^d

Sacrificing Our Lives to G^dhen Abraham makes his way to sacrifice his 37 year old only heir, it is easy to see why this was his hardest trial. However, we must ask - why is it considered his trial - what about Isaac? Wasn't Isaac about to give up his very life for this Command? Having to kill the apple of your eye must be a disaster - but is dying not much more grave?

Many people understand "to sacrifice your life to G^d" to mean sanctifying His Name in death. However, there is another way: hallowing His Name in life! Giving up our lives, no matter how hard, is only a momentary service. Painful or painless, it's only an instant of greatness.

How much greater it would be to consecrate His Name for a lifetime!

In the first portion of the Sh'ma' we pledge to love G^d (and by extension His People), our personal G^d: with all our heart (meaning: thoughts), with all our souls (meaning: even if it would cost us our very life) and with all our might (meaning: money, says Rashi). This is a somewhat strange order of priorities. Our life is dearer than our money? The modern Biblical commentator, Jack Benny, explains in one of his most famous sketches: A street robber accosts Benny, demanding, "Your money or your life!" The studio audience - knowing his skinflint stage character - laughed loud and long. The robber then repeated his demand: "Look, pal! I said your money or your life!" And that's when Benny snapped back without a break, "Don't rush me, I'm thinking it over!" For some people, Rashi explains, it's harder to part with their money than with their lives.

I have an additional take on this. To be ready to give up our lives for our love of G^d is one thing. But, before we would rush to rise to such an occasion, let's consider if there are any options of doing G^d an even bigger favor: using all power we have to live our lives for G^d. Isaac was ready to bring the ultimate sacrifice. But Abraham got a chance to go even further. The ultimate people-lover that he was, he was not only ready to make a snap gesture but to live the whole rest of his life in the shadow of having killed his dearest child. That's why it's called Abraham's test rather than Isaac's. And as the followers of the great religious innovator Abraham, we are asked not only to be ready to die for G^d's Name rather than betray Him, but even to live for His sake as long as we can. It shall be ad mei'a v'esrim - long and well!



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