Lech Lecha

Going Out of Ourselves: Perfecting Our Character Traits

Go out from your land, from your birthplace, and from your fathers house to the land which I will show you.
(Bereishis 12:1)

This verse hints that a person should always search, investigate, and explore the world in order that he will view the greatness of the Almighty in everything he sees.1 Then he will merit the intellect and understanding to understand the upper worlds in his daily life. *

[This could mean that he will see G-d’s providence guiding him on his path through life.]

The way to reach the level of seeing the greatness of Hashem in this world and thus merit to recognize the upper worlds is by rectifying and repairing one’s character traits.

[Everything we see or experience is a message from Hashem. If we could perfect our traits, we would truly see the world around us as a total expression of Hashem. The average person, however, does not see this divine guidance in the world since Hashem is hidden in nature. (This is hinted at by the gematria of hateva, nature, which is equivalent to the gematria of the Name of G-d Elokim — both equal 86.) Only once man has mastered his traits and bends them in the service of Hashem is the mask of nature removed so that he can see Hashem behind everything.]

Hashem created us with many different traits and qualities. Every trait has both a good holy side to it and a negative evil side.

[For example, it is taught in the name of Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev that even though the trait of heresy is evil, there is also a way to use this trait in a positive way. When you see poor people, you might be tempted to say to yourself, “I am a man of faith; I believe in Hashem. Surely Hashem will tend to this poor man and feed and clothe him.” That is when a person should utilize the trait of an apikores and say, “If I won’t give charity and tzedakah to this poor man, then he will starve and who will take care of him?”]

One must use his free will to break himself and transform his bad character traits into the side of pure holiness alone. Then he will merit to recognize the lofty nature of Hashem and to see His greatness. Hashem will open up the wellsprings of wisdom and help him better understand and comprehend things that previously he could not even fathom.

This is the meaning of the words “lech lecha” according to Rashi’s explanation: “Go for yourself, for your own benefit.” You should constantly introspect and examine yourself to aid you in detaching yourself from base earthly character traits and transform them into good qualities, as implied by the word artzecha, “in your land” [literally, “your earth”]. * In other words, go out of yourself, from your lowly bad traits, and repair them. Bring these traits back to holiness.

“And from your birthplace” — if you behave in a deplorable manner, displaying only poor qualities, this will surely manifest itself in your offspring, because one bad trait “gives birth” to others. This is illustrated by the teaching in Avos (4:2) that sin drags and tows with it more sin. So, too, your inclination will influence your future actions. * This then is the meaning of “From your birthplace and from your father’s house.” Certain traits are intrinsically a part of you; they were inherited from birth, from your parents, and they are part of your nature. * Nonetheless, you must “go out” from them and bring them to a state of holiness — bring them “from the house of your father to the land that I will show you.” This hints that you shall merit seeing and understanding the higher world that you have never seen before. *

[Therefore, take time to identify your negative traits. Once you have discovered them, transform them into good qualities and translate your nature into something holy in the service of your Creator. This will open your eyes and help you see the G-dliness in the world around you — just as you can discover Hashem in your bad traits and use them for good, so too you can discover Hashem hidden in nature, speaking and calling out to you to serve Him.]

This is the meaning of the verse “Gol al Hashem darkecha — Commit your way to Hashem” (Tehillim 37:5). The word גול has the same root as the word התגלות, “revelation,” indicating that you should reveal your ways and character, examine them, and see that they are utilized for serving Hashem. “Uvetach alav — And trust in Him” (ibid.) — the exaltedness and greatness of G-d that you are looking to see in the world, that is what is called “trust.” You will see Hashem’s hand in this world and thus trust in Him that everything happens for the best. “Vhu yaaseh — And He shall do for you” (ibid.) — then He will do for you and create for you experiences that you have never previously encountered. * And “He will bring forth your righteousness like a light” (ibid., 6). * Understand this.

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