Role Playing

Thursday, 26 October, 2017 - 1:28 pm

Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl often traveled to collect money for a fund for pidyan shvuyim (redeeming Jewish prisoners). While traveling through the city of Zhitomir on one occasion, local authorities imprisoned him for his “criminal” work.

One day an elderly woman wrapped in a shawl appeared near his cell and began to speak: “G‑d tested Abraham by instructing him: ‘Go forth (lech lecha) from your land, and from your birthplace, and from your father's house,’ promising that this would ultimately benefit him. But what kind of benefit can come from leaving everything one has? I don't understand.”

Rabbi Nachum, who realized that this woman wasn't an ordinary person, remained silent.

She continued, answering her own question: “Abraham excelled at helping travelers with lodging, food and drink. But because he had never experienced the distress of leaving the comforts of home, or the turmoil of spending endless days on the road, he couldn't identify with the people he helped. G‑d wanted Abraham to gain a deeper appreciation for his work.”

Rabbi Nachum understood (as he later related to Rabbi Zev Volf, the maggid of Zhitomir) that the elderly woman intended to provide Rabbi Nachum insight into his own situation. Clearly, G‑d had arranged for him to be in prison so that he could better appreciate the value of the work he did raising funds to redeem prisoners.

“And, the woman in the shawl” Rabbi Nachum added, “was none other than Sarah, wife of Abraham.”


These words, “Lech lecha,” open G-d’s dialogue with Avraham, as well as open this week’s eponymous parsha. 

The message from this story is very powerful. Each of us may – at some point in our lives – wonder why we must endure certain difficulties and challenges.  This gives us a fresh perspective on valuing – and embracing – the trying moments in our lives.

However, I’m still left wondering: If Avraham’s major contribution – and destiny – was his kindness and hospitality, why is the name of the parsha, as well as G-d’s first encounter with him, cloaked in trials and challenges.  Shouldn’t we highlight his mission first and then recognize that the challenges along the way are part of the mission? From the Torah’s sequence and prioritizing, it seems as if Avraham’s main mission in life is to wander and struggle, whereas his accomplishments appear inconsequential.  Why isn’t the Torah spending more time highlighting Avraham’s kindness?

If we believe that the detours in life are here to strengthen us and prepare us for our genuine and primary mission, then they are not secondary aspects of our lives. They are not setbacks that are later redeemed by virtue of the good that emerges from them.

Rather, the obstacles – from G-d’s vantage point – sole purpose is to serve as tools for our greater mission. They are the very essence and core of our destiny.  They are not interferences. In fact, they belong there.

Seen from this perspective, the Torah is illuminating Avraham’s true character and the heart of his relationship with his Creator.  Avraham is primarily a servant of G-d, dedicated to Him with every fiber of his being. His love for G-d is so pervasive that it propels him through challenges and invigorates him to serve humanity with selfless love and benevolence.


Now, that’s a lesson worth hearing from Sarah.

Comments on: Role Playing
There are no comments.