A World of Sand

Rav Ori Lifshitz • 2017

Avraham wandered from place to place, along the length and breadth of the land. Is this a decree, the covenant of fate decreed against the Jew, or is it possible to see another movement here?

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Last summer, all of our extended family entered an outdoor game complex, which included a table of kinetic sand. For those who do not know, it is a mixture of 98% natural sand and 2% of a polymer, making the sand dynamic, shapeless and shaped, allowing it not to dry out or get dirty. A real attraction.

But before we dig into this kinetic sand, a few words about Avraham.

The heroic aliya of Avraham to the land of Canaan, while leaving his country, his homeland, and his father’s house expresses the strength of his faith, determination and devotion to the Lord’s command. It also shows his loneliness, being “Avraham the Hebrew (עבר)- all the world being on one side, while him on the other”.

But a study of Parashat Lech Lecha teaches us something more about Avraham.

Avraham is constantly on the move, his is the ‘constant traveller’. At the end of Parashat Noah, he sets out with his father and his family to go to the land of Canaan, and in our parashah he is going there again. Then he “passes through the land” to the place of Shechem, and from there he “transfers his place” to the mountain - in the area of Beit El and the Ai. And after that - “Then Abram journeyed by stages toward the Negev”.

As a result of the famine, he descends to Egypt, and from there he ‘rises’ to the Negev. The Torah does not simply describe that he returned to his previous place, but rather ‘And he proceeded by stages from the Negeb as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been formerly’. And he proceeded by stages. Traveling onward.

After the separation from Lot, things take on another dimension, a facet of commandment and guidance from God appears: “Up, walk about the land, through its length and its breadth, for I give it to you”.

Indeed, Avraham becomes a “tent dweller” and a wanderer (and thus explicitly in the Radak: ‘he moved his tent away from there and planted his tent from place to place’) until he came to dwell at the terebinths of Mamre.

Even during the Covenant of the pieces (ברית בין הבתרים), when Avraham presents his isolation to God, he uses the verb - “what can You give me, seeing that I shall die childless - מה תתן לי ואנכי הולך ערירי”, and towards the conclusion of our Parasha, on the brink of circumcision, also appears the Divine instruction: “Walk in My ways and be blameless - התהלך לפני והיה תמים”.

In the next Parasha, after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Avraham travels to the Negev, living in Gerar for many days, and from there he goes out and responds to the new order of “Lech Lecha”, to the land of Moriah, “And the two of them walked on together”. From his son’s sacrifice, he returns to Be’er Sheva and then goes to Kiryat Arba to mourn and weep Sarah.

In short, Avraham is called to go, to walk in the land, to walk before God, and he indeed goes and travels, moving his tent from place to place, coming and going.

In my youth, I watched a performance that is etched in my memory, describing the Jewish experience as an experience of wandering and struggle. The Wandering Jew always goes, always escapes, always awaits the arriving plague or the expulsion order that will come. And of course, ‘nevertheless we have not forgotten your name’ - always believes that the good will come, that he will return to his land, that the land will appear.

Nevertheless, the Sefat Emet related the incessant movement of Avraham Avinu to the fact that he was a man of “the attribute of grace” (מידת החסד). “For the attribute of grace must spread very much”, as opposed to the attribute of law (מידת הדין) that is intended to raise and lift things to their roots.

I walk not because I am being forced to, not because I am being persecuted, not even because I want to reach a particular place. Walking is the expansion into the infinite space. The freedom to move, the value added to me in this new place. A movement of grace is a movement that does not define itself, not enclosing and defining, not blocking and locking.

In this sense, Avraham lived in the manner of the ‘kinetic sand’: ןt is dynamic, it spreads, flows, changes, does not dry out and does not get dirty.

Avraham, the man of grace, moving and going from place to place - and if we return to the Sefat Emet, this movement is the movement that is more appropriate to our world.

In the future world, Yitzhak and the law will prevail. The unblemished offering, the one who was born holy, the first person to be circumcised at eight days, is the one who will “rise us up to heaven” and sweeten the commandments at their root. But in our own world, the Sefat Emet writes, we are in a state of ‘World built from grace’, needing Avraham and his attribute to spread to the end of all levels of existence, in order to save us.

Avraham is the father of the profane world, the ‘world of (kinetic) sand’ (עולם החול הקינטי), this world - a world in which one moves and goes, travels, spreads and renews - all this so that he may walk before God and be blameless.

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