This week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, begins to tell us the story of Avraham Avinu. Who was this Avraham Avinu, the forefather of the Jewish people, whom so many religions try to claim as their own? What was so amazing about his outlook on the world that won him the privilege of being chosen by Hashem to be the forebearer of His chosen people?
Avraham Avinu grew up in a world that had a clear knowledge of a G-d; they just had a confused understanding of how to become close to Him. They thought that to connect with Him, a person has to be completely spiritual. They created idols as a way to escape from this nearly impossible ideal. This misunderstanding is still prevalent in many of the other religions on earth today.
What makes us Jews, the children of Avraham Avinu, different? Why is Judaism different than every other religion out there? Avraham Avinu’s chiddush, the new understanding that he brought to the world, is that spirituality works together with physicality.
Think of your favorite mitzvah. How do you do that mitzvah?
Maybe you chose the mitzvah of Sukkah. How do we do that? We take wood (or some other material) and build a Sukkah with our hammer and nails, and then we go and live in it for a week. Can you do the mitzvah of Sukkah with thought alone? Of course not! You need the physical aspects to fulfill such a mitzvah! Do you love the mitzvah of Shabbos? (I do!) How do we keep Shabbos? We light candles. We drink wine. We eat challah. We walk to shul with our feet, we daven with our mouths. No matter what the mitzvah, you’ll find that there is some physical aspect involved in it, then we take that physicality and elevate it to the spiritual. That elevation might involve a bracha, a prayer, or maybe just thinking that it’s for Hashem.
That’s the new idea that Avraham Avinu brought into the world, which nobody thought of before, that nobody besides the Jewish people has adopted since. Judaism is so special because we take all the physical gifts that Hashem gave to us and we use them to serve Him, just like our great-grandfather Avraham Avinu did.
(Based on an excerpt from “Letters to a Buddhist Jew” by Rabbi Akiva Tatz)
How do YOU elevate the physical and make it spiritual?