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Parshas Lech Lecha - Building Upon the Foundation                     9 Cheshvan 5779

10/18/18 13:33:38


I studied just shy of two years in Israel post high school, attending an American yeshiva for boys who had not seized the opportunity to learn Torah in high school and were not introduced to learning in a non-threatening, no-pressure atmosphere. The climate in the Beis Medrash was adjusted to each student’s needs; there was an appropriate rebbi and method of teaching and learning for everyone. The yeshiva was located on top of a mountain while the community was down below, a good five to ten-minute walk depending upon which direction you were coming from. n addition to the incredibly dedicated Rabbeim and staff, the Yeshiva took advantage of having an American/English speaking Kollel in the community. Two nights a week some of these otherwise insulated Kollel Yeshiva men came to learn with the raucous, uncouth post-American high school students. There was a clear generation and societal gap between the black hat, white shirt Kollel guys to the ripped T-shirt and jeans, flip flop-wearing challenging boys with whom they had come to learn.

I had the merit to learn with a young man who was the most respected in all of Telz-Stone. My Chavrusa from the Kollel was a man named Alter Yachnes who taught the youngest class in the Cheder. His job was to teach the children the Aleph Beis, eventually teaching them how to read. Although an extremely humble man, when Reb Alter Yachnes walked into a room full of adults, everyone stood up to honor him. He was the most respected individual on par with the heads of the Yeshiva and head Rabbi of the town because he taught the fundamentals to the next generation. He used his expertise and talent, successfully teaching all the children privileged to learn from him, giving them the building blocks to become great Torah scholars. There are two great lessons to be learned from this: 1) The respect given to a person who isn’t necessarily the Rosh HaYeshiva but rather someone who will try to make others into great Torah and Jewish leaders, and 2) Providing the foundation of a building that is the most critical part of the structure. It is only with a strong, solid foundation that the building will survive any turmoil or trauma. The roots of a person take hold from the beginning; the best teachers give each student the tools to succeed. When we use the expression the ABC’s of life, these are not limited to reading and writing but to life’s experiences.

Whether we are discussing raising a child from birth, or nurturing an adult finding his or her way back to Judaism and religion, the foundation is critical. This rule applies tenfold when introducing a potential convert who is trying to become Jewish with the laying of the new Torah foundation on top of a pre-existing belief. A Ger Tzedek – a convert - needs instruction to replace the old foundation, starting anew with a Torah foundation, taking extreme care that it be laid carefully and correctly. The first person to lay such a foundation, creating the beginning of all Judaism, was Avraham Avinu. We will look and see how important the building of this foundation is through the actions and experience of Avraham.

In this week’s Parshas Lech Lecha Hashem instructs Avraham to take his entire household and travel to Eretz Canaan. In Bereishis 12: the Torah states: “Vayikach Avrom Es Sarai Ishto V’es Lot Ben Achiv, V’Es Kal Rechusham Asher Rachashu V’Es HaNefesh Asher Asu B’Charan Vayeitzu LaLeches Artza Canann, VaYavou Artza Canaan”. “Avrom took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all their belongings, as well as the people they had gathered, and they left, heading toward Canaan”. The words ‘Asher Asu B’Charan’ literally, “the soul that they had made” can be interpreted to mean the servants they had acquired, or, according to Rashi, the people that they had converted to God’s cause. Sarai had taught the women (converting them) while Avrom taught the men (converting them), bringing them to believe in monotheism.

*Rebbi Chanoch from Aleksander asks, “What happened to all those who converted? We don’t hear from them, we don’t hear anything about them, where did they disappear to?” He explains that after Avraham died, they did not want to learn from Yitzchok because they did not look up to him; they did not consider Yitzchok as important and noteworthy to follow as they did Avraham. This fact left them without a rebbi, without a teacher and a leader. These people whom Avraham and Sarah converted to monotheism were, upon Avraham’s death, without a Rebbi and Manhig, devoid of a teacher and a leader. They had no future, no continuation. There was nothing to keep pulling them along because the spring, the source of their growth, was gone. Once the source of direction and inspiration dries up, once that teacher, that leader is no longer present, then the people – nurtured by Sarah and Avraham Avinu - reverted to their old ways. Every person, in order to continue to grow and to deepen in knowledge and belief, needs to seek out a way to fill a void; when the source of learning Torah and Mitzvos is gone. That void must be filled. Hence, the old life style, never forgotten, will call once again, making it so easy to return to a previous way of living. No major effort is required to return to the ways in which we had previously been accustomed to living.

Unfortunately, there are times when a leader of a generation passes on and a younger version of the father comes to replace him. People should be careful and not say that the Gadol , the leader of this generation, isn’t as great as the Rabbi who had come before him. A person must look at the current Rabbi, or leader as the Tzadik of this generation. The leadership of each generation reflects the people of that specific generation. It is imperative that when someone leaves a yeshiva or a seminary to follow through with a new rov, a new mentor in their new location. I strongly encourage individuals prior to leaving this community to find another rov to turn to, to ask questions to, and to establish an overall relationship with. Even the best foundations need reinforcement from time to time; we can’t depend upon original teachings. We learn in Pirkei Avos, Asei L’cha Rav: make sure you have a rov to ask your questions to and to seek out guidance in areas that are not clear to you. Let’s not get lost like the students of Avraham. All of us need to cling to the next person who fills that role, continuously solidifying and building every more deeply upon the foundations laid by our original Rabbis and teachers.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Rabbi Chanoch Henich HaKohen of Alexander was born in Poland in 1798 and died in Poland in 1870. He was a disciple of Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Pshis'cha, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, and Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, the Chidushei Harym.

When Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, the Chidushei Harym, the rabbi of Alexander, passed away, pressure was put upon his grandson, Rabbi Yehudah Leib - the Sefat Emet to become the new leader. He felt unworthy, however, and instead went to Alexander giving his support to Rabbi Chanoch Henich. After only four years, Rabbi Chanoch passed away, and then Reb Yehudah Leib was left with no choice but to comply with the wishes of the Chassidim to become the leader of Ger. Rabbi Chanoch was known for his great wisdom in niglah and nistar, the revealed and mystical aspects of the Torah. A man of miracles and wonders, Reb Yehudah Leib was also known for praying loudly with great excitement.

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780