Shaarei Shamayim

A Place of Comfort, Companionship and Healing



Moving is one of the most stressful things a person ever does. When I moved from Morningside to Toco Hills 12½ years ago, it was only 3 miles, but it was still extremely stressful. You can’t appreciate how much stuff, how much junk you have accumulated until you have to move it into a new location. After Cheryl and I married, she moved the contents of her home into mine which was already filled with my stuff and junk and that created a stress of its own. You see, human beings are creatures of habit. We don’t like to move away from places and things that are familiar and comfortable. So moving is stressful, but if we don’t move on to a new place or a new situation at crucial times in our lives, we become stuck in the past and stop growing.

In both this week’s Torah portion and last week’s…moving is a key ingredient of growth. In last week’s parsha, Noah builds an ark to save all life on earth. Starting over—away from the corrupt, immoral society of his time—was crucial if mankind was to survive. But old patterns are hard to break. 10 generations later, mankind had once again descended from its higher self and distanced itself from Gd as it began to worship all sorts of idols.

But there was one ray of light in the world—Abraham! Abraham and his father Terach had been in the idol making and selling business for some time. After significant thought and investigation, Abraham became certain that the idols he made could not be Gd and there was only one Gd. He began teaching this radically different belief to anyone who would listen—especially his father. It soon became apparent to Abraham that he could not remain in his hometown Ur Kasdim in Babylonia—a center of idol worship—because it was becoming more and more hostile towards him. He would have to move. He set out with his father for the land of Canaan and they made it as far as Charan, where his father Terach died.

When Gd saw—even after his father’s death—that Abraham still passionately preached the belief in Gd, He appeared to him and said (Gen. 12:1): Lech, l’cha meyartz’cha…el haaretz asher ar-eka, “Go for yourself from your land... to the land that I will show you.” In other words, Gd tells Abraham, “Get up and move again. You didn’t go far enough in your last move.” Notice, while Gd told Abraham to move again, notice what He didn’t tell him. He didn’t tell Abraham where to go. He didn’t tell him that it would be to the Land of Canaan, the place he had originally set out for with his father.

This certainly seems like a doubly stressful situation. Moving again…to an unknown land…leaving behind friends and community. It’s not easy being a “greener,” a foreigner. But to become one twice? It really wasn’t that hard for Abraham because when someone leaves the familiar and comfortable to go to something of a much higher and worthy cause, then the stress involved in the move is dramatically reduced. Because Abraham was leaving his home to spread the word of Gd, the stress was minimized. He knew Gd had his back.

Suppose a doctor decided to close up his practice, pack his bags, and move to a 3rd world country in order to help people in desperate need of medical expertise. The doctor’s stress of leaving his familiar surroundings is now replaced with excitement and purpose. But if instead, the doctor was moving to a different city just because he wanted a larger practice to make more money, then this move now becomes filled with anxiety and worry.

As creatures of habit we tend to shop in the same stores, have the same circle of friends, and eat the same types of foods. We will always enjoy the comfort of the familiar more than the anxiety of the unknown. But when the unknown is for a higher and greater purpose, then the anxiety is diluted in the sea of purpose.

Up to this point Abraham had made 2 moves in his lifetime—each significant and meaningful. His move away from Ur Kasdim was a move away from idolatry and its corruptions. And his move from Charan to Canaan was a move to Gd and the Holy Land.

Sometimes in life we know we must move away from the situation we find ourselves in because it has become too toxic for us to tolerate. We may think we know where we should be but it could be that we’re just not ready to go there yet, so we make an interim stop—like Abraham stopped in Charan. When we’re ready—after we’ve absorbed and processed the changes we have so far made in our lives—Gd will find a way to call us to where we should be.

Once in Canaan, Abraham’s moving is not done. After Abraham finally gets settled in his new land Gd appears to him and promises him that his reward for following Gd will be very great. But Abraham protests saying, “What good is any reward if I don’t have a child to pass it on to?” Gd reassures Abraham not to fear, that he will, indeed, have child to pass on his faith to. But there was just one more move he had to make before he and Sarah will give birth to Isaac from whom the Jewish people will descend.

The next verse in the narrative (Gen. 15:5) tells us: Vayotzey oto hachutza vayomeyr habeyt na hashamay’ma, “And [Gd] took him outside and said, ‘Gaze, please toward the Heavens.” The simple meaning of the text is that Gd directed Abraham outside to gaze up at the stars to know that his offspring will be as many as the stars.

Rashi quotes another approach from the Midrash that understands it to mean that Abraham is told: “Go out from your astrological calculations that you are not destined to have a son.” In other words, because you believe and follow Gd, Gd has the power to change your destiny. Don’t be concerned with what you may see in the stars.

Let me take this verse one step further. Vayotzey oto hachutza vayomeyr habeyt na hashamay’ma, “And [Gd] took him outside and said, ‘Gaze, please toward the Heavens.” Abraham did not have to be shown the sky to know one can’t count the stars. For me the deeper meaning of Vayotzey oto hachutza, “And [Gd] took him outside,” is that Gd moved Abraham outside of himself—the self that was stuck, the self that needed to come out of the focus on the anxiety and fear of everyday living and see that there was so much more to life. The verse continues, habeyt na hashamay’ma, “Gaze, please toward the Heavens,” meaning move out of yourself and look to the Heavens, look to Gd to help fulfill your potential for you can be so much more.

My friends, there are times in our lives when we must move from one place to another. And there are times when we must stretch and move out of ourselves—out of the anxiety and fears of everyday living—and move more toward Gd. And doing so has the great benefit of leaving the great stresses of the world behind for fear and anxiety is diluted in the sea of purpose. Our higher purpose is awaiting us. Let us like Abraham be up to the call. Amen!

                                      Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis


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