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Lech Lecha 5777: Despair is utterly unfounded and non-Existent

This guest Drash is by Rachamim Bitton of Jerusalem’s Nahar Shalom Yeshiva located in the Nachlaot neighborhood.


In this week’s Parsha Hashem promises Avraham that he will merit a son, one that continues in his path, one that will inherit him, one that will become a great and holy nation.

Hashem promises Avraham that Yishmael will not inherit him. Yishmael will not be the continuation of Avraham. Avraham will have another son, Yitzchak, who will be the continuation of the Jewish nation.

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Hashem promises Avraham that the Jewish nation will be as great in quantity and quality as the stars in the universe.

וְהִנֵּה דְבַר יְהֹוָה אֵלָיו לֵאמֹר לֹא יִירָשְׁךָ זֶה כִּי אִם אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִמֵּעֶיךָ הוּא יִירָשֶׁךָ:

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one will not inherit you, but the one who will spring from your innards-he will inherit you.”

וַיּוֹצֵא אֹתוֹ הַחוּצָה וַיֹּאמֶר הַבֶּט נָא הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וּסְפֹר הַכּוֹכָבִים אִם תּוּכַל לִסְפֹּר אֹתָם וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ כֹּה יִהְיֶה זַרְעֶךָ:

And He took him outside, and He said, “Please look heavenward and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So will be your seed.”

ויוצא אתו החוצה: לפי פשוטו הוציאו מאהלו לחוץ לראות הכוכבים, ולפי מדרשו אמר לו צא מאצטגנינות שלך שראית במזלות שאינך עתיד להעמיד בן, אברם אין לו בן, אבל אברהם יש לו בן. וכן שרי לא תלד, אבל שרה תלד, אני קורא לכם שם אחר וישתנה המזל. דבר אחר הוציאו מחללו של עולם והגביהו למעלה מן הכוכבים, וזהו לשון הבטה מלמעלה למטה:

And He took him outside: According to its simple meaning: He took him out of his tent, outdoors, to see the stars. But according to its midrashic interpretation, He said to him, “Go out of your astrology, ” for you have seen in the signs of the zodiac that you are not destined to have a son. Indeed, Abram will have no son, but Abraham will have a son. Similarly, Sarai will not give birth, but Sarah will give birth. I will give you another name, and your destiny will change (Ned. 32a, Gen. Rabbah 44:10). Another explanation: He took him out of the terrestrial sphere and lifted him above the stars. This explains the expression of הַבָּטָה, looking down from above (Gen. Rabbah 44:12).

Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin Ztz”l (the founder of the Daf Yomi cycle of daily Gemara study) explains on this Pasuk that we all know it is impossible to count the stars. However, as soon as Hashem told Avraham to count the stars, as we see at the beginning of the Pasuk, Avraham began counting them. He made no excuses or rationalizations of why he should not count the stars. He didn’t think or say that it was impossible and he therefore should not even begin.

As soon as Avraham heard these words from Hashem he began counting the stars. No questions asked. No “ifs, ands, or buts”.

Hashem then continues, as we see in the Pasuk, and promises Avraham and in this same way, with this same level of determination regardless of circumstances, will be Avaraham’s nation, Avraham’s lineage.

This powerful blessing and promise that Hashem gives Avraham in this Pasuk is that Avraham’s seed will never despair. Avraham’s descendants will be immune to thoughts or feelings of despair. They will persevere no matter what. They will succeed and overcome all the possible challenges and hurdles in their spiritual aspects of life and in their physical aspects of life.

The point we learn from this is, as the Pirkei Avot (2, 15) says

לא עליך המלאכה לגמור, ולא אתה בן חורין לבטל ממנה

“The whole job is not your responsibility to complete, but you are not exempt from doing all you can”

The point here is that part of not subjugating ourselves to feelings of despair is that we do what we need to do with a detachment from whether our outcome will be sufficient or not, successful or not. We do what we need to do, we live, we go on, and we trust that all we need to do is the beginning of the work. Hashem will do the rest. Hashem will make sure that it all works out.

Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin Ztzl explains that the reason our nation’s beginning was from a place of a completely despairing situation of Avraham and Sarah being so old and their physical nature was naturally impossible to have children, in order to teach each and every one of us that despair, יאוש, does not exist for a Jew.
A Jew’s existence is above nature. It is above despair.

We must realize, recognize, remember, internalize, understand, and integrate the truth that there is no despair for a Jew. There is no despair in physical challenges, as the Gemara says:

אפילו חרב חדה מונחת על צווארו של אדם, אל יתייאש מן הרחמים

“Even if the executioner’s sword is already on the neck of a person, He mustn’t despair from Hashem’s endless compassion.”

There is no despair when in spiritual challenges. No matter how far and how deep a person has fallen, or sinned, if he truly desires, believes it possible and expects himself to succeed, he will be successful in having all the darkness be transformed into light, rectification, healing, and an even more permanent and genuine connection to Hashem.

We must realize that every challenge is only to elevate us, to awaken us to bring forth deeper levels of perfection within ourselves which would have remained hidden and unused or unknown otherwise. Every challenge brings us that much more connection to our higher self. This is the reason for the ten challenges of Avraham, the עשרה נסיונות. Once he overcame them all he became תמים, perfected and completed.

He became constantly one and identical with his higher self until there was no distinction between how his higher spiritual self appeared in the spiritual realm and how he appeared in this physical world.

Rebbe Tzadok continues and explains that the deeper lesson about what the Torah teaches us that Avraham fought the four kings who captured his nephew Lot. The Torah teaches us that Avrhama took with him 318 men to fight the kings and save his nephew. The Medrash explains that these 318 men were really only one man. It was his servant and disciple Eliezer, whose name is the numerical value of 318.

The fact that Avraham went and fought these mighty kings and armies, even if he had 318 men with him, was only something possible for someone for whom despair or apathy were nonexistent in his vocabulary.

Rebbe Tzadok explains that the meaning of the name ‘Eliezer’ is the “My God saved me”, and that this meaning of salvation is seen in the context of the similar name ‘Elazar’ for Moshe’s son. There we see that Elazar was named so in appreciation to Hashem who saved Moshe from the sword of Pharaoh.

וְשֵׁם הָאֶחָד אֱלִיעֶזֶר כִּי אֱלֹהֵי אָבִי בְּעֶזְרִי וַיַּצִּלֵנִי מֵחֶרֶב פַּרְעֹה:

and one who was named Eliezer, because [Moses said, ] “The God of my father came to my aid and rescued me from Pharaoh’s sword.”

ויצלני מחרב פרעה: כשגילו דתן ואבירם על דבר המצרי ובקש להרוג את משה, נעשה צוארו כעמוד של שיש:

and rescued me from Pharaoh’s sword: When Dathan and Abiram informed [Pharaoh] about the incident of the Egyptian [whom Moses had slain], and he [Pharaoh] sought to slay Moses, his [Moses’] neck became [as hard] as a marble pillar. — [from Exod. Rabbah 1:31, Deut. Rabbah 2:27]

Rebbe Tzadok explains that the numerical value of the Hebrew word for despair, יאוש, is 317. Adding a one to this number or to this word, symbolizes overcoming this word, overcoming and traversing the state of despair. The 317 with the added one which represents putting our trust in the ONE, in Hashem, makes it 318, the numerical value of ‘Eliezer’, “My God saves me”.

The power through which Avraham miraculously, against all odds, and completely against all laws of nature overcame these mighty kingdoms in one war with only his disciple Eliezer, is the power of trusting in Hashem and knowing that there is no substance to despair. It is non existent.

Rebbe Nachman once cried out “קיין יאוש איז גאר ניט פארהאנדין”

“Despair is utterly unfounded and nonexistent”

May we merit being strengthened and strengthening ourselves by releasing any despair and filling ourselves up with hope, trust, belief, and expectation of salvation because we have a mighty God who created and creates everything that is, who loves us, and is unbound by any laws of nature because he is the one who makes nature in each moment from new.

May we merit experiencing Eliezer, “Hashem, my God saving me”
May we all merit our personal salvation and the complete redemption of our holy nation with the coming of Mashiach and the third Bet Hamikdash speedily in our days Amen!

Shabbat Shalom




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