These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PCJE Dvar Torah] Jeff Amshalem — Go for yourself

Posted on October 25, 2012 by Jeff Amshalem

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The Hasidic master R. Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl, also known by the title of his book Meor Einayim, has this to say on our parsha, Lech lecha:

Rashi comments that God tells Avram that the command to go forth is “for your own good.” This is difficult to understand, since God calls Avram “my lover” because he served God out of love and not for any reward. Later God will call out to Avraham, “Avraham! Avraham!”, just as God calls “Yaakov! Yaakov!” and “Moshe! Moshe!”, because “God’s people is a part of God” — just as we exist in the world below, so our root exists in the world above. We were created with a body in this world only so that even in crude material form we could choose to serve God and not deny God’s image in which we are made. This is why Avraham, like the other righteous men above, is called doubly, to denote his celestial and his earthly self.

It is known that the souls above take their enjoyment from the splendid light of davithe Shekhinah, but since this enjoyment is undeserved, they feel a certain shame. This is why God sent the souls down to this world, so that they may freely choose to serve God Who can in turn pay them with goodness for what they have earned. This is go forth (for your own good), so that you can earn My goodness and not be ashamed. This is why the soul is “garbed” in crude materiality and subjected to material lusts and earthly desires, so that from this materiality it can go forth in the service of God, and this is the meaning of from your land.

King David said, “I will walk before God in the land of the living.” Bodily things like eating, drinking, and sex, if done only for your own pleasure, have no life, but if you do them to satisfy your soul, raising these things up to God with your holy intentions, then you fulfill the verse, “Know God in all your ways,” and all your deeds are for the sake of heaven. Then they are called “Lands of the Living,” for the Life of All Life will dwell in your very earthiness. This is the meaning of to the land which I will show you.

[A fuller version of this teaching is available at]