Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Legacy of Avraham Avinu

(Picture by Jack Klein)

Four years ago, in 2006, Rav Elazar Mordechai Kenig, shlita, leader of the Tzefas Breslev community, visited communities in greater New York this time of year. My family and I had the zechus of spending Shabbos Parshas Chayei Sarah with him in Lawrence, and must say that it was an unforgettable experience. As Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Congregation Aish Kodesh of Woodmere self-effacingly said of the Rav, “We give shiurim on Rabbi Nachman’s teachings – but here is someone who truly personifies those teachings!” Both in his words and deeds – indeed, by his presence alone -- Rav Kenig radiates the serene light of Tzefas to all.

Rav Kenig gave over divrei Torah several times during the course of Shabbos.Since we are approaching Shabbos Parshas Chayei Sarah again this week, it would be worthwhile to review the Rav's words, which are as relevant as ever.

On Friday night before Kabbolas Shabbos, he spoke about Avraham Avinu’s legacy of chesed and the test that Eliezer put before Rivkah Emeinu, in order to determine if she was worthy to marry Yitzchak Avinu. When we encounter someone in need and compassionately perform an act of kindness, Rav Kenig explained, this is only natural. However, the avodah of chesed exemplified by our holy ancestors demands a higher level: we must seek further opportunities to give, in even greater measure. In so doing, like Avraham Avinu, we become extensions of Hashem’s chesed, which is truly limitless and unending. This quality was reflected by Rivkah Emeinu when she not only gave water to Eliezer, but even to his camels. And this is the level of divine service to which we aspire as descendants of Avraham who bear his “spiritual genes.”

Before Musaf, he pointed out a difference in the way Eliezer addressed Hashem before and after Rivkah Emeinu’s test. Initially he addressed Hashem as “Elokei HaShomayim, Lord of Heaven.” Only after Rivkah proved herself worthy of being Yitzchak’s kallah did Eliezer refer to Hashem as “Elokei HaShomayim vi’Ha’aretz, Lord of Heaven and Earth.”

Based on Likkutei Moharan II, 7, Rav Kenig offered a reason for this change of terminology. Hashem’s greatest desire is to perpetuate life in this world from generation to generation, and to transmit da’as until “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d like the water that covers the sea.” This is why Eliezer called Hashem “Lord of Heaven and Earth” only after the shidduch was consolidated. Now he felt assured that the legacy of his master would be passed on to the next generation.

Another facet of this concept is that shleimus, wholeness, is achieved only when the Infinite Light shines into the finite realm, illuminating the most ordinary, mundane realities of life. Then “heaven” and “earth” become one. This, too, was central to Avraham Avinu’s mission of communicating da’as – the recognition of Hashem – to all, even those who were steeped in idolatry.

During Shaloshudes, Rav Kenig darshaned on these themes from yet another perspective. In the same lesson from Likkutei Moharan, Rabbi Nachman asserts that the greatest act of compassion is to instill da’as in the world. Without da’as, we are but animals in human form; with da’as, we become bnei adam, true human beings, cognizant of the meaning and preciousness of life. However, the foundation of da’as is emunah, deep faith in Hashem’s Oneness and His dominion over all. This holy emunah enables us to recognize Hashem in all things, and to see that everything that happens reflects hashgochah protis, Divine Providence. We emulate Avraham Avinu’s example of bestowing this gift of da’as through studying and disseminating Torah.

At the public Melaveh Malkah in Cedarhurst, the Rav expounded on the concept of semichas ge’uloh l’tefilloh, connecting redemption to prayer. In the most simple sense, this refers to not interrupting between the brochah “Go’al Yisroel” and the Shemoneh Esreh prayer. However, in Rabbi Nachman’s drush, cited by Rav Kenig, this phrase alludes to redeeming prayer itself from the exile of being recited again and again without the degree of emunah that would awaken the mind and heart of the one reciting it. When we believe that Hashem is present in each and every moment and situation, and that He desires our prayers, we will surely say each word with intense kavanah.

The Rav also described the spiritual challenges of the Lebanon War that Israel had just waged against Hizbullah, and the need to remain resolute in emunah u’bitochon in the face of all threats. This is our most powerful weapon against our enemies, he stressed, not our military might. In these even more dangerous times, this is a message we must not forget.

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