Parshas Lech Lecha: The Bigger Picture

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 10/30/20

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
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Avraham enters the promised land traveling first to Shechem, then relocating to the mountain east of Beth-el, pitching his tent with Beth-el on the east and Ai on the west. 

We are taught that he situated himself specifically here since he prophesied how his descendants would face annihilation due to the sin of Achan that will take place on this spot more than four hundred years later, promptly builds a altar and ‘invokes G-d by Name’, praying for their salvation. 

The Talmud derives from this that one should always pray in anticipation of a צרה/misfortune, and not wait to initiate prayer only after facing trouble. (סנהדרין מד:) 

Most of us are not prophets. How then can we be expected to know what to pray for?  

Perhaps it means that in general we should engage in preemptive prayer that all trouble should stay far away from us. But that is not born out from Avraham’s behavior since he knew precisely what he was praying for. 

The episode of Achan revolved around the first battle that transpired at Ai, where the Jewish nation faced surprising defeat with the death of thirty-six of their men. Yehoshua determined it was due to Achan having pillaged the spoils of Yericho, which Yehoshua had previously consecrated, in tribute to G-d over their first conquest in the land. The entire nation was held culpable as they had undertaken before entering the land to assume responsibility for one another. Evidently, they lapsed in their vigilance in allowing one of their own to sin and were thus held equally accountable. 

For this the entire Jewish nation was destined for obliteration if not for Avraham’s intervention. 

What exact merit of Avraham was able to quash this powerful future decree? 

The great disciple of the holy Baal Shem Tov, Rav Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye, records a mystical teaching from his teacher, in explaining the concept of prayer prior to misfortune. 

“Sweetening the harsh judgments at their source” spoken about in the writings of the Arizal, is accomplished by a transmutation of letters, for any decree is only letters.  

Through preemptive prayer one can transform the word צרה/misfortune, comprised of the letters ר צ ה, into רצה/be favorable. 

Perhaps the understanding of this mystical concept is simply that G-d, so to speak, craves our closeness. During our everyday, understandably, distracted existence, He draws our attention by creating difficulties that compel us to reach out for His assistance. Even the צרה — trouble, is an expression of a desire for רצה — favorability.  One, however, who lives with the heightened consciousness of G-d, can forge a relationship of pure רצה — favorability, warding off the need to grab for his attention. 

In the course of the Jewish nation's entry to the land in the days of Yehoshua, everyone was distracted. The nation was too busy conquering the land and were lax in being vigilant in being properly attuned to one another, in conveying a sense of reverence for the will of G-d, that would inspire those around them. That permitted Achan to fall between the cracks and follow his natural inclination for greed. Even Yehoshua was taken to task for instituting a ban on the booty of Yericho, that was his own initiative without divine directive, and imposing it without consideration whether the people could abide by that high standard.(רש"י)  

Each pursued their own agenda without seeing the bigger picture. 

When the Torah describes Avraham’s prayer it merely states, ויקרא — he called, בשם ד' — in G-d’s name. The Ramban explains this to mean his promoting of G-d’s agenda and intimate involvement in our lives for our ultimate benefit. 

One who ‘connects’ to G-d this way lives a life of רצה without a need to resort to צרה. 

After the fiasco, Yehoshua appeals to Achan to take responsibility for his action, ותן תודה, to give an admission — confess. He eventually does take responsibility and is promised that despite being executed for his sin, he will secure a place in the World to Come. 

The word תודה has a dual connotation, to thank and to admit. Achan who lived life distracted by his inclinations finally comes around to seeing the bigger picture, appreciating the intimate involvement of G-d in our lives, for our benefit, which leads him to confess and finally take ownership for his misdeed. 

Avraham Avinu implanted with the Jewish psyche, this greater view of our relationship with G-d. It was this instinct that was provoked by Yehoshua and enabled Achan to realize his folly. 

This was a lesson for all involved, that if we live with that reality, calling out in the name of G-d, in the spirit of our illustrious patriarch, we can stave off disaster indeed. 

We must pray before the צרה and live with a constant state of רצה. 

It is alleged that the prayer we say after the first paragraph of Aleinu, על כן נקוה לך -Therefore we put our hope in You, was authored by עכן, with his name embedded in the first three letters of its first three words. 

He got it. We must live with that awareness of our constant hope in Him. That will inspire our every action in direct them all in the broader scope and mission of avodas Hashem, hopefully preventing any encounter with צרה. Even when we are occasionally brought back to our senses by troubles let us always see the רצה, that is the foundation of it all. 


צבי יהודה טייכמאן