This article on the portion of the week was previously published in 2019.
The Creator tells Abraham, Lech Lecha, “Go from the land” to Canaan, which is known as Israel. He says, “I will make you a great nation. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. I will make you prosper there.” So, Abraham arrives in Canaan, but a famine comes to the land, and he doesn’t know what to do. He has to decide if he should stay there in the Promised Land or go down to Egypt, where there is food. And he makes the choice to go to Egypt, to leave the place the Creator told him to go, where the Creator told him he would prosper and receive his blessings.
“How many times do we behave in ways that are not truthful?”
It’s an interesting understanding. Not only was Abraham told to go there by the Creator, but he was also told he would prosper there, so when he arrives to famine, it creates, of course, an opening for doubt. And that’s what happens on the spiritual path; an opening for doubt always has to be there. In fact, before any important blessing, growth, or next level a person achieves, there will always be an opening of doubt.
This choice that Abraham makes to leave and go to Egypt is one that has been spoken about and dissected by kabbalists for thousands of years. Was it the right decision or the wrong decision? Should he have maintained his certainty even though he was experiencing famine, and remained in the Land of Israel? Should he have had certainty that a miracle would occur for him, and that he would be able to sustain himself and his family? Or, was it the right decision to go down into Egypt? The opinion of one of the great Spanish kabbalists, Nachmanides, the Ramban, was that Abraham fell a little bit here; that by going down to Egypt, he made a mistake. He should have stayed in the Land of Israel and maintained certainty, and a miracle of sustenance would have come to him.
“It is better to be lower, to fall, and be truthful.”
So, then, how do we understand Abraham’s decision? And more importantly, what is the lesson for us?
To answer this I’d like to share a section from the Talmud. It says that the sages, the great souls, were discussing their spiritual level and where they were in their development and growth. Each one of them says, “Compared to my father, I’m like vinegar to wine,” and they recount how much more elevated their father is than they are, and where they’re falling. This whole discussion is relatively strange. We are talking about very high souls, people who push themselves to grow and change, and yet they recount their failings in comparison to things their fathers can do, when they could easily be doing the same things. As such, the question is: if these sages believed that their fathers’ behaviors and actions were more elevated than theirs, why didn’t they act in that way? The answer brings us to a very important understanding: truth.
When Rav Ashlag, the founder of the Kabbalah Centre, was around seven years old he came to the decision that he would never lie in his life. He teaches that a person cannot be connected to the Light of the Creator if either he lies or lives in lie. It’s one of the things my father, Rav Berg, told me when I was very, very young. So, then what is better – to act as if you are elevated, or to show and act your true self?
When the sages were saying, “I am like vinegar to wine compared to my father,” they were saying, essentially, “Yes, I can act like he did, but I am not on the level that he was. Therefore, it is better to fall and be truthful than to lie and act elevated.” Why? Because truth is the basis of our connection to the Light of the Creator.
Abraham knew that the right thing to do was remain in Canaan, but he also knew that he didn’t have the certainty he needed to awaken a miracle of sustenance for himself and his family. So, he said better to fall and be truthful than to act a lie; if the way we speak or act is different from who we truly are inside, we are not - or cannot be - connected to the Light of the Creator. When the kabbalists refer to the wisdom of Kabbalah, they call it the Wisdom of Truth, because we cannot be connected to the Light of the Creator, and to this wisdom, if we are not acting externally where our consciousness is internally. Therefore, for Abraham, it was better to fall and be in a little bit of darkness in Egypt than to live and remain in Canaan where his consciousness, his spiritual level, was not.
From this we learn a tremendous lesson. It is sometimes easier, or we think it is better, to act in ways that we are not, to say words that are not truthful to us, and to behave in ways that are not where we are. But remember what Rav Ashlag said: to be connected to the Light of the Creator, it is better to be lower, to fall, and be truthful, than to act elevated and be living any degree of a lie.
How many times do we behave in ways that are not truthful? Even in spiritual things, we allow ourselves to do so. Yet, any part of our selves, our words, or our actions that are not true disconnect us from the Light of the Creator, even positive ones. If we do spiritual actions that are not of our level, that are not really who we are inside, they will not bring Light. Because nothing is more important than being truthful. Abraham knew that it was wrong to go down into Egypt, but he said, “This is where I am right now, and it is better to live in truth and fall than to live a lie.” It is a very important understanding that we are given on Shabbat Lech Lecha.