Sign In Forgot Password

Lech L'cha:  Abraham's Altars-

11/01/2022 05:36:54 PM


Rabbi Moshe Rudin


Reading this week's Torah portion, we see Abraham called by G-d to "Go forth from your land, from the place of your birth and from your father's house to the Land that I will show you."  Abraham's life from that point on seems to be many journeys- across empires and trackless wastes, over mountains and rivers and through the wilderness.  

Along the way are many adventures and encounters: with Pharoah, King of Egypt, Avimelech, King of the Philistines and many others.  When Abraham's nephew Lot is kidnapped during a regional war, Abraham takes up arms and is victorious, lauded as rescuer and acclaimed as prophet.

But through it all, Abraham builds not cities or fortresses but altars.  After each Divine encounter, Abraham marks the vision by erecting a raised fireplace of stone.  The first altar was built near Shchem right across the Jordan where Abraham first entered the Land.  There, G-d appeared to Abraham promising him a future blessed by children, children who would become tribes, tribes who would become a nation.  

The second altar was built near Jericho.  Why?  Because Abraham had the intimation of a time when his descendants would need forgiveness- as indeed happened when the generation after the Exodus betrayed the Covenant and were defeated by the Canaanites.

The third altar was built by Hebron near Jerusalem.  

Why did Abraham erect these altars?  What did he wish to teach or show?  They are not along any border or trade route or way station.  Abraham had bigger fish to fry than such things- although the Land of Israel which Abraham traversed was promised to his descendants.  

But the altars, according to the teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Ladi, were stages in the spiritual evolution of Judaism.

The first altar, built at the site of G-d's promise, was that Judaism is meant to nurture the soul of the world.  Torah and Mitzvot- our teachings and practices are the source of spiritual sustenance.

The second altar, built at the site of future sin, shows that through trials and mistakes, we can achieve a higher place- a place of repentance, Teshuva, rising above, vanquishing our weaknesses and failings.

Finally the third altar shows how Abraham evolved: in the beginning, his journey may have been to achieve a new way of life for humanity based on compassion and justice.  Later, he came to see how this new way of life could effect world-repair and healing.  But at his highest attainment, he saw that the ultimate goal was to be one with the One- no goal aside from connection to the highest, love for the sake of love, truth for the sake of truth.

In our own journey through life, perhaps we arrive at those same three altars.  We discover that there is a dimension to life beyond the material and that this is who we truly are.  We learn that Torah and Mitzvot are how we nurture our souls.

But we encounter failures and obstacles- we live in a broken world- and we learn that we are called to not only nurture ourselves but to heal the world.  

And finally, we come to a place that is beyond ourselves- a place where we can become one with all life, where we can if only for a moment rise up to merge our small self with the ultimate, eternal Self of the universe.  

The journeys of Abraham are Judaism's spiritual quest- Abraham is more than the first Jew.  Abraham is every Jew and each of us, in our own way, our own world, each of us is the first if we live with authenticity, awareness and in the light of Torah... 

Shabbat Shalom-


Mon, July 15 2024 9 Tammuz 5784