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From A Distance

A deep and beautiful guest article by my beloved chavrusa Tzvi Moshe Kantor:

In this week’s Parsha Hashem brings Avraham to the peak of all his tests. God commands Avraham to take from his flesh and blood, submit himself to the authority of Heaven and actively kill off his future lineage by taking Yitzchak’s life as a sacrifice. From the nature of this test we will be able to see how Hashem tests us in our personal lives, what He wants from the test, and how to tackle it.

The whole test of the Akeida is put best into context by the Zohar. It’s described there that the whole test came through to Avraham in a channel of ‘Aspaklaria D’Lo Nahara’ ‘A non-illuminated perception.’ There was vagueness in the communication from Hashem to Avraham.

The Mei HaShiloach takes these aforementioned ideas and reconnects them back to the words in the Passuk. The whole episode of the Akeida was introduced as follows (22:1) “V’HaElokim Nisa Es Avraham” ‘And Elokim tested Avraham.’ This Name of God connotes stricter judgment, shorter messages, a pulling back of God’s presence. It is through this distance that the space for test can become a possibility. And It is through this name that Hashem tests the faith of Avraham. (Parenthetically, this answers why the Akeida is a test for Avraham and not for Yitzchak. Avraham received this Aspaklaria D’Lo Nahara, a sense of distance from God. Yitzchak received the message in a crystal clear fashion as delivered by his father, so there were no feelings of doubt by him.)

The Ba’al Shem Tov explains the other side of the coin. When God test us, He slightly and temporarily drains us of our inner light and spiritual inspiration. When are we pushed down in this way, it serves us with a “wind-up” effect, pulling us back just enough that we can burst forth and shoot forwards to greater echelons afterwards.

It is through this that we understand the nature of test. God makes a gap. He pulls Himself back and pushes us down. And with distance created it provides us with the opportunity to prove ourselves.

So Avraham goes on his journey. After traveling for some time the Passuk says (22:4) ”Va’Yar Es HaMakom Me’Rachok,” ‘And he saw the place from a distance.’ But theAvodas Yisrael reads the line differently. He points out that “HaMakom” ‘The Place’ is often a reference to God. After all, God is the source of all space, so it is fitting that some level, we address Him as the entirety of the human experience, and from this we arrive at the title of Hashem, “HaMakom,” God is the totality of space. If this is true, one can read the passuk as follows: “Va’Yar Es HaMakom Me’Rachok,” And Avraham percieved God from a distance. The aspect of the relationship with God that we call “HaMakom" which is reference to the fact that He fills every facet of life, is specifically where Avraham felt a distance.

In light of the above, it is now that we arrive at the first goal of a test: God wants us to train ourselves to feel spiritual distance. He wants us to be kedusha-sensitive enough to see when things are not ok.

So how does Avraham respond to this awareness? He tells Yishmael and Eliezer to stay behind as he says to them (22:5) “Ani V’Ha’Nar Nelcha Ad Koh” ‘Myself and the child (Yitzchak) will travel out to ‘there.’’ But “Ad Koh,” ‘Out to there,’ has a very indefinite connotation. ‘Myself and Yitzchak are going to just go out to whatever ‘there’ is in hopes that there we will there be able to serve Hashem.’

This translates perfectly into what we have said until now! The whole test came through vagueness and distance. And when Avraham becomes aware of this he realizes that his Ikar Avodah, that his main job in the situation is simply to reach out into the fog of uncertainty of Aspaklaria D’Lo Nahara and not stop until he can properly serve God. And how long will this journey take? This yearning needs to be “Ad Koh.” It’s a never-ending journey.

So what is the goal of a test? To see how much greater we become when we do our best to bridge that gap. To venture into the uncertainty and unclarity with the aim of drawing nearer to the Source of all life. Rav Shalom Arush explains it in B’Gan Ha’Emuna that when I try to grow, and things are just not working out like I planned, it is because Hashem is temporarily holding me back, so that when he lets me go I shoot forward like a spiritual sling shot, and end up on a holier level than I would have, had I not had difficulty in the beginning.

So how do we do it? How do we bridge the gap? We can understand based on a method explained by the Yalkut Menachem on our parsha. The Passuk in Tehillim 111:6 says “Reishis Chochma Yiras Hashem” In order to achieve a clearer perception of reality I need to fear God. I need to lower myself, and take an honest accounting of what I am versus what I should be. But He contrasts this passuk to the Gemara inBava Basra 21 says that it is only because of the competitiveness of the scholars that we merit Torah growth in the world. On one side I need to make myself small, on the other side I need to attempt to be big. How do we balance the two? He explains based on a fundamental idea brought down by the Chovos HaLevavos 6:10. If a person makes himself humble and lowers himself, in no way will he be able to take his religious duties lightly. If he knows he is small, then this will empower him to strengthen himself. I essence if I am always thinking that what I am doing now is not enough, then surely I will constantly be striving for more. So through the primary level of being straight with myself and God, will I thereby gain the strength to serve God as powerfully as I can.

Rav Kook explains this idea in Oros HaTeshuva (chapter 3). He says there that when a person takes an accounting of his deeds and attempts to improve his Avodas Hashem he feels a bitterness from the pain of his past, in which has wrapped up inside of it a sense of joy for what is to come from this new aspiration to grow. As person whose soul is sensitive to moral wrongdoing I feel down and distant because of my mess-ups. The guilt weighs down on me, and I long to break free of my shackles. The longing to deal with these issues works like a force to shatter the darkness, opening a new window of light of growth. With my pain in my back pocket, I can use it, with joy as a source of happiness and growth. If I am always feeling like I am just starting out on a path of spiritual growth, then I will always be pushing for the best.

This idea is deeply rooted in the idea of ‘Ad Koh’ that we saw before. The level of growth I can achieve is nothing short of INFINITE as long as I am constantly cognizant that there more to grow. All I need to do is continually keep the mindset that I am just beginning I always have the freshness and excitement to press onward.

If I can constantly push myself to bigger and better levels, then I will see that the possibilities are endless. If I relentlessly reach out into the fogginess of Aspaklaria D’Lo Nahara that all so often clouds my life, then the amount of fulfillment that I will reach will skyrocket exponentially with every level that I strive to attain. WE ALL CAN DO THIS! And if we do there is no doubt we will live lives of meaning, raising to the highest levels of satisfaction and happiness, moving closer to the Creator and thereby closer to the redemption!

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About me

  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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