Lech Lecha: ‘A Better Place for You’

Baruch loved his home town. He imagined that there could not be another place on earth where he would prefer to live. Baruch’s parents had been born there, and their parents before them, and now Baruch. He felt safe there, for since it was a small town Baruch knew every street, every house, everyone. Of course, merchants would pass through the town peddling their merchandise just as some who lived there would often travel to other places in order to earn their own living. However, rarely did anyone move permanently into the town from elsewhere and Baruch viewed the whole population as one large family.

One day, Baruch was taken into a quiet room by his father. Baruch’s father would usually do this in order to offer Baruch some fatherly advice. This time, however, there was a look on the face of Baruch’s father that Baruch could not recall ever having seen before. It was a look of sadness. Baruch became worried, but when he heard what his father had to say, his worry turned to shock.

“You must leave the town. Travel far from here. There will be a better place for you.” With these words, Baruch’s father began to leave the room, but upon opening the door he turned again to his bemused son and added:

“It is for the best, for your own good.  Here you will never be great.”

Baruch stood still. He licked the tears from his top lip, and sighed a deep, juddering sigh. His father’s words did not seem to make sense. Why should Baruch have to leave? What better place could there be? Of what greatness was this that he had spoken?

Baruch had always obeyed his father immediately, without questioning. He knew that now could be no different. Nevertheless, there was one visit he had to make before beginning his journey.

Not far from Baruch’s home lived a wise old sage. Nobody knew just how old he was, only that there was no one older. This sage was known simply as ‘the Mekubal’, for he was a master of ‘Kabbalah’, the mystical writings of the Torah. People would visit the Mekubal to be cured of illness, to receive blessings at important times in their lives such as prior to marrying, or to hear from him Heavenly Torah teachings.

Baruch said goodbye to his parents and all of his closest family and friends before collecting his clothes, a few possessions and some food and drink into a case and setting off towards the large town gates; but, simply in the hope of receiving a little guidance, perhaps a blessing too, Baruch headed first for the small, humble home of the Mekubal.

It was clear, although Baruch knew not how, that the Mekubal had been expecting him. The front door was slightly open, and Baruch could see the Mekubal beckoning from behind his old oak table upon which lay a large, open brown book with stiff, warped yellow paper and a thick, string-bound aged leather cover. The Mekubal’s face flowed into his graceful white beard and, in turn, the many rivers of his beard flowed into the tired folds in his gown, which was finely striped with grey and gold. Once Baruch had stepped a little closer, the Mekubal spoke a few words in rhyme before returning to his studies:

“Reach the limits of the town

Pursue the sun’s ascent.

Then very soon you’ll understand

Just what your father meant.”

Baruch pulled the door gently to as he left the Mekubal’s house. Now he understood neither the reasons for his father’s instructions nor the strange rhyme of the Mekubal. However, ‘pursue the sun’s ascent’ could only mean that he had to travel towards the east, the home of the morning sunrise. As he reached the town gates, Baruch said ‘Tefilat HaDerech’, then continued to walk and to wonder. What lay in store beyond those hills which were rising before him in the distance? Baruch had never traveled anywhere outside the town; would he survive the journey? Many questions similar to these entered his head from time to time as he walked. However, he had complete faith in his father, and was happy in the knowledge that he was fulfilling his father’s wishes.

After three days of walking, with no breaks except to eat one good meal each afternoon and to sleep at night, Baruch came to a tiny village. It was as if the village existed only for Baruch to rest properly in comfortable surroundings and to refill his case with food and drink before continuing on his way. There was very little in the village to speak of except for about twenty houses, a small shop and a very pleasant inn where Baruch spent the night.

Aside from Baruch there was nobody in the inn except for the innkeeper. Baruch became friendly with the innkeeper and they chatted together for some time. Baruch asked how the villagers managed to survive with no bank, post office, doctor’s surgery or even shul. The innkeeper explained that all of these things could be found in the nearby Flower-Kingdom, which was just beyond the Mountain of Flowers and was only a twenty minute walk from the village. The Mountain of Flowers was more like a hill than a mountain, but nevertheless acted as a very visible divider between the village on one side and the Kingdom on the other.

“Why do the people who live here not simply go to live in the Flower Kingdom, instead of having to travel there so often?” asked Baruch.

“The Flower Kingdom used to be our home,” explained the Innkeeper. The reason we are here is that it has become more and more difficult to live in the Flower Kingdom since the King died five years ago, leaving no-one to succeed him. Without a King, people began to break some minor laws from time to time, and as the law-breaking became far more serious and far more common life in the Kingdom became very difficult for those of us who were still good citizens and wanted things as they had been before. A group of people decided to move away to build a new community and the village you see is the beginning of our work. We hope the village will grow into a town and that it will meet all of our needs, making regular trips beyond the Mountain of Flowers unnecessary. Of course,” added the Innkeeper, “we would all prefer to be able to move back into our old homes, but life in the Flower-Kingdom will be impossible as long as it is without a King.”

The next morning Baruch set off early towards the Flower Kingdom, eager to see for himself the anarchy of which the Innkeeper had spoken. He had decided to take the most direct route, which meant walking up and over the Mountain of Flowers. Upon reaching the top of the hill Baruch bent over in order to catch his breath once again for, stretching forth before him as far as the eye could see was the most enchanting, breathtaking expanse of colour that anyone could ever imagine. Flowers lined the streets, traffic roundabouts were patches of forget-me-nots, garden fences were high rows of honeysuckle, sweet-brier and sweet pea. There were well-tended hanging-baskets outside every door, passion fruit climbing every wall, and pink blossom was the only litter scattered across the light, dark, light striped lawns. Most exciting to Baruch’s eyes were the enormous parks, boasting glittering lilly ponds, trees tall and short and giant, intricate mazes of high, multicoloured rose-bushes. Baruch said the blessing ‘SheKacha Lo BaOlamo’ before continuing on his way.

Very soon Baruch was walking through the streets of the Flower Kingdom admiring the bursts of colour at every glance. As he approached a furniture shop, however, he noticed the front window had been smashed and now bore a gaping hole. A moment later a well-dressed gentleman in his early forties stepped out of the hole in the glass holding an attractive coffee table in his hands. Baruch was more than curious to know what was happening not least because, although it appeared that the man was robbing the shop, at the same time he was smartly dressed and gave no impression at all of wanting a speedy get-away.

“Would you care to explain just what you are doing?” Baruch heard himself interrogate the man;

“I am taking a coffee table from this shop”, came the reply.

“Does it belong to you?”

“It does now!” the man answered, and calmly waked away. However, Baruch pursued the thief and demanded that the coffee table be returned to the shop.

“Why should I do that?” the man asked, “We need a coffee table at home, and this will match the rest of our decor.”

“You have stolen this table! I demand you return it!” exclaimed Baruch, who was by this time most upset with the man’s attitude.

“Oh! Oh dear!” responded the man to Baruch.

“Do you really think I have stolen this coffee table?”

“Of course! You can not simply take an article from a shop and call it yours! You must buy it!”

“You must be a stranger in the Flower Kingdom,” observed the man,

“People here have not actually bought things from shops for several years now. Only a short time after the death of our King even policemen began to just take from shops whatever they wanted, without paying a penny. However, your words do remind me of how we used to think. It used to be wrong to steal but now it has become a way of life.”

Baruch worked hard for several minutes to convince the man that the old way was the right way, and the man eventually decided to return the coffee table to the shop. As he passed other people who were behaving dishonestly Baruch also managed to show them the errors of their ways.

It became clear to Baruch, the longer he was in the Kingdom, that people did not really wish to do wrong – they had simply forgotten how to do right. They needed another King, someone to set a good example, a leader who would command respect and reestablish the rule of law and order. Little did Baruch realise that a plan for a new King was already being worked out and that he was included in the plan.

Since arriving in the Kingdom Baruch had rekindled fond memories in the minds of many people who now began to smile again as new feelings of kindness towards others entered their hearts. The old laws were indeed reestablished, shop-fronts were repaired, stolen goods were handed back to their rightful owners, and the villagers on the other side of the Mountain of Flowers joyfully returned to their homes.

Baruch’s name was uttered with reverence and appreciation in every household and before long everyone in the Kingdom gathered together to witness Baruch’s coronation. As the crown was placed upon his head Baruch thought of the words of his father and of the Mekubal. This was indeed a wonderful place and Baruch had indeed risen to greatness. He whispered two words, audible only to his own ears,

“Baruch Hashem.” Hashem, thought Baruch, had certainly been a most faithful companion.

At the end of the story Baruch realised that his father had been right. Had he remained in his home town Baruch could not have reached such heights as he eventually did in the Flower Kingdom.  He had been destined to become great through his commitment to the good and true values he had learnt in his youth and the desire to impart those values to others, but in a place far from his home.  Furthermore, it was only because he had had such faith and trust in his father that he had been able to muster the courage to leave his home and travel to the place where opportunity awaited him.

***

In the first words of our sidrah, Hashem tells Avram to leave his home and go to another land using the words “Lech Lecha”, which could be translated “go for yourself.” Rashi teaches us what Hashem meant:

“For your own benefit, for your own good. It is there that I will make you into a great nation, whereas here you will not merit having children. Also, I will make your character known to the world.”

(Rashi on Bereishit 12;1)

Leaving his father’s house was to become the first of ten great tests of Avraham’s faith in Hashem. He passed each one, setting an example for the whole world, for all time.

As we go through major changes in our lives, such as home or job moves, it is not always easy to see through the murky fog of exhaustion, confusion and strresss to the potential for growth and success that glistens in the distance, patiently awaiting our arrival.  Our job is to approach each bend and junction on life’s winding road with care and wisdom, to have faith in the rightness of our Torah values and to live by them at all times.  We may then trust that life’s challenges will ultimately lead to spiritual success and well-being for ourselves and those around us.

© J. Richards 2004

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