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Lech Lecha 5763

Lech Lecha (Genesis 12-17 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!  How do you know that you have a soul? Have you asked yourself that question - or have you taken it for granted that you do (or don't)?

What would happen if you woke up in the morning, looked into the mirror and instead of seeing yourself, you saw an image of someone completely different? Would you ask, "Who am I?" or would you ask, "What happened to my body?" Your essence is something other than your physical self (it is interesting, by the way, how much effort we spend on projecting our physical self as our essence).

Why is it that people will sacrifice themselves to help or save others, to put their life in danger for complete strangers? People will give up their lives rather than take the lives of strangers. There is something in the makeup of every human being that goes far beyond "survival of the fittest" - giving up one's own life is not the way for an individual or a species to survive.

Why is it that when someone does something wrong he tends to see himself as right and righteous - whether it is a person cutting off someone in traffic - or Adolf Hitler, may his name and memory be obliterated, announcing that the Germans are the only truly moral people? His "proof"? While the Germans were sending millions to death camps, they were setting up societies to take care of their pets. Why do we need to see ourselves as righteous?

There is something unique in human beings. Our Torah teaches that we have a soul and that is the essence of a human being. The body is the vessel that houses the soul and allows the soul to have expression and development in the physical world. The soul is eternal and is subject to the consequences of our actions and receives reward and punishment.

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Tuvia Hoffman, from, has summarized three approaches to understanding how we know that we have a soul and that it is eternal. I share with you his research:

(1)  From the Torah - the creation of man testifies to the eternal life of the soul. The Torah says, "And the Almighty formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life" (Genesis 2:7). On this verse, the Zohar states that "one who blows, blows from within himself," indicating that the soul is actually part of God's essence. Since the soul is part of "God's essence" it is impossible that it should die.

This understanding leads Maimonides (12th century, Egypt) to write, "The soul is not made of physical matter, which will decompose. It is from God. Therefore, when the body dies, the soul is not cut off [except in the cases specified] from God. It exists forever. This is what King Solomon was referring to when he wrote, "The dust will return to the ground as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it." [Dust refers to man, who was made out of dust, and thusly "will return" to dust. Likewise, the spirit (soul) which was from God, will also "return" to Him] (Ecclesiastes 3:20 and Maimonides - Foundations of the Torah 4:9).

(2)  From Logic - Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (18th century, Italy) demonstrates the existence of the soul after death as follows: God created mankind, in order so that he could give of His goodness to another. However, if He were to give of His goodness indiscriminately it would detract from the goodness. That is because, if one were to receive this "goodness" for free, he or she would be embarrassed. This embarrassment would in turn blemish the "goodness."

To illustrate this, we can compare it to a man who has lost all of his money and was forced to beg. Although he is glad to receive money, he would find it embarrassing to have to survive solely on the goodness of someone else, since he would rather earn his money.

In order not to cause this embarrassment, and maintain the "good" of the "goodness" that God wanted to give, He created two separate time periods. The first period is called the "Period of Effort and Striving." This is the period we are living in. In this period we struggle to live a Torah life and perform Mitzvahs (Torah commandments) despite the various distractions that we run into every day. This is where we earn the goodness. This period is temporary, as it ends with death.

The second period, called the "Period of Reward," starts after death. During that time the soul will receive the "goodness" that it earned while it was connected to a body in the time of "Effort and Striving." According to the Effort and Striving he put in during the first period, will be the amount of reward he will receive in the period of Reward. This period is eternal (The Way of God, 1:3).

(Next week: Nachmanides' approach.)

Torah Portion of the Week
Lech Lecha

The Almighty commands Avram (later renamed Avraham) to leave Haran and go to the land of Canaan (later renamed the Land of Israel). The Almighty then gives Avram an eternal message to the Jewish people and to the nations of the world, "I will bless those who bless you and he who curses you I will curse." Finding a famine, Avram travels to Egypt (once renamed to be part of the United Arab Republic) asking Sarai (later renamed Sarah), to say she is his sister so they won't kill him to marry her (the Egyptians were particular not to commit adultery).

Pharaoh evicts Avram from Egypt after attempting to take Sarai for a wife. They settle in Hebron (also known as Kiryat Arba) and his nephew, Lot, settles in Sodom. Avram rescues Lot, who was taken captive in the Battle of the Four Kings against the Five Kings.

Entering into a covenant with the Almighty (all covenants with the Almighty are eternal, never to be abrogated or replaced by new covenants), Avram is told that his descendants will be enslaved for 400 years and that his descendants (via Isaac, "... through Isaac will offspring be considered yours" Genesis 21:8) will be given the land "from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates." (I do not think that this part of the story made it into the Koran...)

Sarai, childless, gives her handmaid Hagar to Avram for a wife so that he will have children. Ishmael (the alter zedeh of our Arab cousins) is born. The covenant of brit mila, religious circumcision, is made (read Genesis 17:3-8), God changes their names to Avraham and Sarah and tells them that Sarah will give birth to Yitzhak (Isaac). Avraham circumcises all the males of his household.


Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And (the Almighty) took (Avraham) outside and He said to him, 'Look up, please, at the heavens and count the stars, if you can count them.' And He said to him, 'So, too, will be your descendants.'"

What does it mean that the Jewish people will be like stars?

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism, explains that we see stars as tiny specks, yet in reality they are gigantic. So, too, in this world people may look very small, but in reality they have greatness.

In addition, at a distance every star appears about the same. On closer examination, each one is unique. Likewise, with each human being!

If you have ever suffered, please read "Light at the End of the
Tunnel" by Lisa Aiken

(or go to

Jerusalem  4:29
Guatemala 5:22  Hong Kong 5:38  Honolulu 6:46
J'Burg 5:58  London 5:43  Los Angeles 5:57
Melbourne 6:22  Miami 6:33  Moscow 5:04

New York 5:53  Singapore  6:34


Wise men talk because
they have something to say;
fools, because they
have to say something.
-- Plato

In Honor of the Birth of
Our Beautiful Grandchild
Joel and Susan Reinstein

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