Leaving home – for good
Rabbi Yossy Goldman, Sydenham Shul
The Gaon asked the Magid to preach to him, as was his specialty. “Give me mussar (words of rebuke). Chastise me,” said the Gaon. “G-d forbid that I should have the chutzpah to chastise the great Gaon of Vilna,” replied the Magid, quite horrified at the suggestion. “No matter, that is your forte and I want to hear mussar from you,” insisted the Gaon.
So, the Dubner Magid thought a while and then, most reluctantly, acceded to the wishes of his illustrious host. “Is it a great achievement to be a Gaon sitting in Vilna in your little secluded kloiz (small study)? Go out into the world, mix with the people, and then let us see what kind of Gaon you will be.”
Indeed, it is much easier to be scholarly and pious in our sequestered ghettoes than it is in the outside world, so often oblivious – or even hostile – to Torah and its values.
This, in fact, was the test of Abraham in this week’s parsha. “Go from your land, from your birthplace, from your father’s house to the land I will show you.”
And it was there – far from his natural environment and immediate comfort zones – that Abraham accomplished G-d’s mission of monotheism. He spread the name of the One G-d to a pagan world and, in the process, his own name and reputation was established for eternity. It was only after leaving home that Abraham became the founding father of the Jewish People.
A hundred years ago, a generation of Yiddish-speaking, observant Jews migrated from Europe. They came to America, the golden land of opportunity, to escape pogroms and persecution. With blood, sweat and tears they transformed themselves from rags to riches and soon came to personify the American dream, an amazing and inspirational success story.
But the fact is that for the most part, as their businesses succeeded, their religious lives failed. Unquestionably, Judaism took a severe body blow.
Most were unable to sustain their old-world values in new world America. The transition from shtetl to suburbia proved too formidable and children and grandchildren grew up blissfully unaware of their own sacred traditions. And the South African Jewish experience wasn’t all that radically different either.
It is when we leave our comfortable cocoons and spiritual safety nets into the wider society, that we may find ourselves losing our Jewish equilibrium. It is then that our faith, our values, our morals and beliefs, are truly challenged.
Please G-d, the children of Abraham will emulate their forefather who left his land and remained strong in faith and family, going on to achieve remarkable success, both spiritually and materially.