Some of this year’s shlichim at the preparation seminar earlier in the year. (Photo: David Stein)
Collaborating with G-d
BY RABBI HILLEL VAN-LEEUWEN
Why did G-d select Avraham as the founder of His chosen people? Unlike the choice of Moshe, for whom the Torah relates several outstanding actions as the reason for which he was picked to lead, the Torah itself gives no reason for the selection of Avraham.
The Midrash1 suggests that Avraham essentially chose himself. He saw a “burning palace,” i.e., a world full of pain, tragedy, suffering, wars and bloodshed, and began searching for the palace’s owner to “put out the fire.” The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks noted that although G-d introduced Himself to Avraham as the owner of the place, He did not assume responsibility for putting out its flames! That task was entrusted to Avraham.
As Avraham and Sarah’s descendants, the traits of responsibility, caring for others and working tirelessly to improve life on all fronts – domestically and globally – are in our national genes. The Sfat Emet2 explains that G-d calls out “Lech Lecha” to all people, in all generations; Avraham was simply the first to hear the call and the first to respond to it. This, ultimately, is the root of Avraham’s chosenness.
The Mishnah3 famously identifies the challenges awaiting humanity before Mashiach’s arrival: a culture replete with chutzpah, sky-high cost of living, an absence of truth and a confused generation – a perfect description of our own generation! The Mishnah continues: “And on whom can we lean? On our Father in Heaven.” The common understanding of this last sentence is that our only salvation from this myriad of troubles will come from Heaven.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe,4 however, interprets this Mishnah in a brilliantly radical way: When the Mishnah states, “On Who can we lean? On our Father in Heaven,” the Mishnah is not offering a solution to the challenges of our pre-messianic generation, but rather identifying another one of its challenges. Not only will our generation experience chutzpah, financial difficulty and confusion, but people will also excuse themselves from exerting their own efforts to bring the redemption by passively “leaning on G-d” for help instead!
When asked why it was specifically his generation that merited the first steps of redemption, Rav Kook5 responded: “…it merited redemption (of the Land of Israel) because it busied itself with redemption…” This is the ethos of shlichut – to reject passivity and defeatism, and do all in our power to strengthen our people and bring redemption!
In response to assimilation, intermarriage rates exceeding 85% worldwide, and the rapidly decreasing emotional attachment of many young Jews to Israel, World Mizrachi’s dedicated shlichim – men and women who heard the resonating call of Lech Lecha – take up rabbinic and educational leadership positions all over the world.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has often said that, whereas seventy years ago, the State of Israel was the project for the Jewish nation, today, the Jewish nation is the project of the State of Israel. Indeed, many communities abroad are clamoring for Israeli shlichim to enrich their schools, youth movements, university campuses, JCCs and synagogues to strength their Jewish and Zionist identities through Torat Eretz Yisrael.
1 Bereishit Rabbah 39:1.
2 Lech Lecha 5632.
3 Sotah 5:15.
4 Shaarei HaMoadim II, p. 238.
5 Shemonah Kvatzim 7:201.
Rabbi Hillel Van-Leeuwen is Head of Leadership Development at World Mizrachi and Director of its Shlichut Center. A former IDF paratrooper, Rabbi Van-Leeuwen served as a shaliach in Canada for three years.