It says in the portion Lech Lecha that Abraham travels from where he was born, but the Creator doesn’t tell him where he is going. We know, in retrospect, that the Creator was sending him to what was then known as the land of Canaan, and today is known as Israel. It was the place where Abraham needed to go in order to get to his next level. And the kabbalists tell us the story beyond the story; Abraham is going to a realm of spiritual work that is beyond nature.
As he sets out on his journey, the Creator says, Lech lecha, el ha’aretz asher ar’eka, “Go to the land that I will show you.” The Creator, as we said, does not tell Abraham where he is going, and just tells him to start traveling. The kabbalists teach that as Abraham is walking, he comes upon different lands; one is a place called Aram Naharayim, where it says he sees that the people are drinking and eating and not very organized or orderly. He doesn’t know if this is where he will have to rest, and prays to the Creator to please not let this be the place.
Abraham continues walking and comes to the land of Canaan, where it says in the Midrash he saw the people who were planting when it was time to plant, and who were reaping their harvest at the time of harvest; their work on the fields was organized. He prayed to the Creator to please let this be where he settles, which, of course, we know he does.
So, what did Abraham see that caused him to pray to not be with one of the groups of people, but to be with the other? The answer has to do with a very important lesson from these two prayers of Abraham.
The first group, the people who were living at the time in Aram Naharayim, had a spiritual awakening and some level of understanding, but they were not organized. They were not serious or meticulous about their spiritual work. When Abraham came to the land of Canaan, however, and saw that the Canaanites did everything in an orderly way, he knew it also meant that their spiritual work was organized, exact, and serious. This is showing us that in regards to spiritual work and connection, there are two types of people. We all have an understanding that in order to connect to the Light of the Creator and bring about the blessings we want in our lives, we have to transform and do our spiritual work. But how serious and exact are we about it?
The kabbalists teach that every individual has 32,000 possible paths in front of him or her, none of which actually lead towards a connection to the Light of the Creator. Amongst those 32,000 paths there is one other path that is called the Orach Chaim, the Path of Life. Many of us, when we look at our spiritual work, therefore, need to see that the question isn’t are we transforming, doing the spiritual work, or connecting, but rather, how exact and serious are we? I think some of us have an understanding that the spiritual path is a general and relatively vague one; comparing ourselves to where we were years ago, or to other people we know, we can see that we are generally on the right path with transformation and connection, but it is vague.
However, the truth is that it’s not like that. There are 32,000 similar paths in front of every single one of us. They are very much alike and look like the right path, what the kabbalists call the Orach Chaim, the Path of Life, but they are not. The number 32,000 is not coincidental. If you take the number 32,000, divide it into the years of a person’s life, and then divide it into the days, it comes out to approximately two a day; 32,000 divided into approximately 80 years.
Therefore, the teaching here is that every single day of our lives we are given the opportunity, or the opening, twice a day to veer off just a little bit. So, if every day when those challenges and tests come, we are careful not to veer off, and we go through 32,000 tests in our life, both in this world or in the next world, then we are connected to the Path of Life. But if we do not take our spiritual work in this precise way, then we can veer off and find ourselves in a path that approximates the real path. But it isn’t the real path… it just looks like it. And this, Rav Ashlag would often say, was his greatest pain in life: seeing so many people who begin their spiritual journey veer off. He said that out of a thousand people who begin their spiritual journey, only one in a thousand - not even one percent - complete the journey. Why?
There are people who begin the path of transformation and connection that, at a certain point, for whatever reason, completely leave it. Worse than that, however, is when we think we are on the path, but we are not exact about it. Because being spiritual and being connected is a vague notion, and we treat our tests in life and the seriousness with which we take our spiritual work in that way. Therefore, we are quick to take one of those 32,000 paths. Every single day, we have approximately two choices, two chances, to veer off just a little bit. In our minds, if we are not careful, if we don’t look at our spiritual work seriously enough, then we are simply in the vicinity of the right path, but not actually on it.
Imagine, for example, you are walking on a tight rope. You know you can’t just go a little bit to the right or to the left because you will fall down; whereas, if you are walking down a huge paved road, you can walk a little bit to the left or to the right and are still on the same general path. The spiritual path is more similar to a tight rope.
There are 32,000 other possibilities that will allow us to tell ourselves we are on the same general path, but spiritual work is exact. Therefore, when Abraham came through Aram Naharayim and saw that the people were awakened to a connection, but that they weren’t serious or precise about it, and that they weren’t exact in their work and in their transformation, he prayed to the Creator to please not have to live amongst those people, because he would wind up being influenced by them. But when he came to Canaan and saw that the Canaanites did everything with seriousness, purpose, and precision, he prayed to be with those people, because that is the Path of Life.
We need to do our spiritual work with seriousness, precision, and the understanding that we can’t just generally be on the path; we have to be on the exact path. We have to consistently make sure that we don’t fall in those two tests a day, because then we can veer off and be approximately on the path, but not the path that leads to a connection to the Light of the Creator. Rav Ashlag’s greatest pain in life was seeing that out of a thousand people who begin their spiritual journey only one completes it. It’s not easy to maintain this seriousness and precision about our transformation and our spiritual work, but it’s what is necessary in order for us to complete the journey and go consistently down the Path of Life. It is a powerful awakening that we receive from Abraham on Shabbat Lech Lecha.