Rabbi Berzansky - Lech Leccha
Our Spiritual Inheritance
Several years ago, my family and I experienced an incident in the airport that we would never forget. We were traveling back to Eretz Yisroel shortly after 9/11 and when we arrived at Kennedy Airport it looked like a ghost town. There were no lines, no traffic, no pushing and shoving; nothing except the airport staff. However, when we arrived at the terminal for the flights to Tel Aviv, everything seemed to be running as usual, as if the Twin Towers never fell. There was noise and hustle and bustle; hatboxes and handbags were flying about. Everybody seemed anxious and excited to board the plane headed for Eretz Yisroel. Not only that, but our flight was even overbooked with people on standby, eager to get a seat! It was a sight to see and remember.
“Can it be,” I thought to myself, “that everybody here did not listen to the news? How can it be that only we continue on with our lives in the wake of the Twin Tower catastrophe, while the rest of the world is petrified from it?” Why were the Jews not fazed by 9/11, while the rest of the world was?
The answer is that we are children of Avraham Avinu. Let us explain. R. Chaim of Volozhin explains that when a tzaddik applies himself, to the best of his abilities, to triumph over a challenge or to acquire a specific attribute or level in his avodas Hashem, he carves a spiritual path that enables his children after him to reach those levels without much effort or toil at all.17 Sometimes those levels could even come naturally to his children. This is what we call a spiritual inheritance. This is one of the reasons why Avraham is called avinu — our father, because he gave us a spiritual inheritance. Many years ago, Avraham Avinu went through a test called Lech Lecha. He had to uproot himself from his homeland and travel to a land that was unknown to him at the time. This required a tremendous amount of emunah in addition to self-sacrifice on his part. R. Chaim of Volozhin explains that every time Avraham Avinu passed a test, he succeeded in inculcating into the Jewish genes the ability to overcome similar tests in the future. The test of Lech Lecha transmitted to his children a passion for Eretz Yisroel. This passion, consciously or subconsciously, has enabled Jews over the centuries to travel on dangerous seas, leave their homelands, or fly a few days after 9/11 in order to realize their dreams of coming to Eretz Yisroel.
The ability to be moser nefesh has also become part of our DNA due to Avraham Avinu’s mesiras nefesh. When Avraham Avinu jumped into the fiery furnace, not only did he attest to his faith in Hashem, but he also carved a pathway for Jews to be moser nefesh as well. We have witnessed over the ages thousands of religious Jews who lost their jobs for the sake of Shabbos kodesh. Countless Jews from the most secular to the most religious were willing to give up their lives for kiddush Hashem. All this can be attributed to the inheritance that we have received from Avraham Avinu. Today, we can say that just as a spider knows how to spin a web, and a beaver knows how to build a dam, a Jew knows how to be moser nefesh for Hashem. Another example is the test of the famine. When Avraham wholly accepted the hardship of the famine with love, he implanted into our hearts the ability to say gam zu l’tovah — to accept all situations with a smile and take on any challenge . Today, it is very rare to find a Jew who is so disheartened from a disaster that he cannot pick himself up and start again. Consequently, we have within us the ability to accept whatever befalls us, as well as the stamina to persevere through any storm. These are only some examples of the hidden riches that we have inherited from Avraham Avinu.
After all that is said and done, an inheritance is worth something only when the beneficiary puts it to good use. We can choose to leave these attributes dormant inside or we can utilize them to our advantage and release them to the world. The decision is up to us.