We learn from our Father Abraham that we are different from all other nations. We are directly connected with the Master of the World; we are not bound by the laws of nature.
“[Hashem] took him outside, and said, ‘Gaze, now, toward the Heavens and count the stars….”
Rashi explains: “[Hashem] took [Avram] out of the space of the world and raised him above the stars. This is the [reason the possuk uses the expression] ‘gaze,’ which denotes looking from above to below.” (Genesis 15:5)
Before I became observant, I was desperately seeking a way out of the spiritual slavery which constantly oppressed me. One of the paths I tried was involvement in “nature.” I tried to find spiritual peace in natural surroundings. I became involved in the field of environmental conservation as a spiritual pursuit to the point that “Mother Nature” became idol for me.
Then I learned that nature has a Creator; it is not self-contained. Now I see that “the heavens declare the glory of G-d and the expanse of the sky tells of His handiwork.” (Psalm 19) It is vital to be constantly aware that Hashem created the physical world, and that, when we cleave to Him, we are above nature. Our spiritual and physical existence depends on knowing this.
Two thousand years ago, when the Second Temple was destroyed, we were scattered to the Four Corners of the Earth. The likelihood that we would remain a unified Nation bound to the Torah seemed utterly nil, against all logic. But we live by the standards of Eternity. In fact, the very hatred of the world binds us together in Exile. Hashem will not let us disintegrate. No other nation could have remained a cohesive entity after such a catastrophe. “Who is like your people, one nation on earth!” (Shabbos Mincha)
It all begins in this week’s Torah Portion. “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well on in years. The course of women had ceased to be with Sarah. And Sarah laughed at her insides, saying ‘After I have withered shall I again have clear skin? And my husband is old!’” (Genesis 18:11-12)
Avraham and Sarah were physically incapable of bearing children. “[Abraham] said before [Hashem], ‘Master of the universe, I looked at my constellation and saw that I am unfit to beget a son.’ Hashem said to him, ‘Abandon your astrological speculation. Israel is not under the influence of the constellations.’” (Shabbos 156a)
In response to their devotion to Him, Hashem changed their identities when He changed their names. “Hashem said, “Avram will not beget children, but Avraham will. Sarai will not give birth, but Sarah will.” (Beraishis Rabbah 44:10)
The theme is echoed in this week’s emotional Haftara. “Elisha came into the house and behold, the lad was dead, laid out on his bed. He entered and shut the door behind them both and prayed to Hashem. Then he went up and lay upon the lad, and placed his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, his palms upon his palms and prostrated himself upon him and he warmed the flesh of the lad. He withdrew and walked about the house, once this way and once that way, then he went up and prostrated himself upon him; the lad sneezed seven times and … opened his eyes.” (II Kings 4:32ff)
Our elevation over nature is incorporated into the structure of the Mishkan (Tabernacle in the Desert) and the Holy Temple in Yerushalayim. The Torah says, “Carve for yourself two stone tablets like the first ones … and place them in the aron.” (Deuteronomy 10:1-2) Our Rabbis tell us: “Rav Yosef taught a Baraisa: This teaches us that [both] the [second] luchos and the broken pieces of the [first] luchos are placed into the aron.” (Menachos 99a)
The Holy Ark is the center of the world, the place where we turn when we want to communicate with Hashem. Why did the Holy Ark contain the broken pieces of the first Tablets? Is it not an embarrassment that the Tablets had to be broken? This only occurred because we sinned with the Golden Calf, in itself a terrible blot on the Children of Israel. Would it not have been better to forget this? How can the symbol of our degradation be placed in holiest spot on the earth?
My friends, I believe this is exactly the point. The secret of our existence is that we can rise from sin and frailty. “Cleanse me from unperceived faults. Also from intentional sins restrain Your servant. Let them not rule me!” (Psalm 19) Abraham and Sarah became young again. Their children are forever striving to overcome physical and spiritual limitations.
The other nations are on a treadmill that is bound by birth and death, but our path is eternal. “Hashem is close to the brokenhearted and those crushed in spirit He saves. Many are the mishaps of the righteous but from them all Hashem rescues him.” (Psalm 34) There is no such thing as death for those who cling to Hashem, and thus we thank Him in every Shemoneh Esreh. Techias hamaisim (resurrection of the dead) is not simply a future event. It occurs every second of our lives! Every time that we overcome our taiva … our desires, our anger, our tiredness, our bodily and spiritual limitations, every time we fight to come closer to the Master of the Universe, it is techias hamaisim.
The most difficult prayer of my day is Krias Shema al Hammitah (the prayers said directly before going to sleep). I am so tired! I want to go to sleep! Sleep is a tremendous test! The Evil Inclination wants us to sleep! Forever!
But No! “Wake up! Wake up! For your light has come. Rise up and shine! Awaken! Awaken! Utter a song! The glory of G-d is revealed on you!” (Lecha Dodi)
This we learn from our Father Abraham and our Mother Sarah!
Sunset over Beit El, Israel (Photo by Rebbetzin Sarah Winer)