The Land that I AM will Reveal to You
Like many other wisdom traditions, the Torah teaches that the path to true greatness is fraught with many challenges. Sometimes a person, despite the challenges, does succeed in attaining an extraordinary degree of holiness during her life. The person may even reveal so strong an emanation of one of the divine attributes that others continue to derive energy and guidance from that exemplary life, long after the person has passed from this world. We call such a person a tzaddik. Accordingly, in our tradition, we say: “the memory of a tzaddik is a blessing.”
However, in drawing to ourselves the blessings of tzaddikim, we should resist the temptation to sugarcoat the experience of becoming a tzaddik. The path of the tzaddik-in-training is often a painful transformation, during which it is necessary to constantly cultivate and harmonize all parts of the self, so that a holy soul can increasingly manifest within us. No matter how lofty the source of our souls may be, few of us, if any, are born in an already perfected form. Awakening necessitates facing many tests.
In the case of Avraham, who succeeded in becoming an archetype of the divine attribute of Hesed (unconditional love), the Torah hints at his transformation by making clear that he was born Avram (Genesis 11:26) and only later became “Avraham.” (Genesis 17:5). Avram’s path from ordinary person to tzaddik is framed by the Hebrew words “lekh lekha. (“Get yourself going”). Few would dispute that Avraham’s greatest test occurred later in the Torah, when he was commanded to sacrifice his son. There it is written, Lekh lekha to the Land of Moriyah (Divine Awe). (Genesis 22:2). This was Avraham’s greatest test because it required him to overcome his own natural tendency to express Hesed (unconditional love). Yet, in the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 39:9), Rabbi Levi, noting that the same words, lekh lekha, appear in our parashah, wonders whether Avram’s initial test may not, in its own way, be as great as the later one. (See Netivot Shalom, Lekh—Lekha).
Avram perceived Be-ing softly vibrating within him as the words lekh lekha. (Genesis 12:1). What was the great challenge implicit in this perception? Most Hasidic commentators read the Hebrew hyper-literally as “go to yourself.” Although what “yourself” may mean is interpreted in various ways, there is general agreement that Avram is being aroused to a quest to discover and follow his unique self.
Before awakening, all of us are a composite of influences, from our culture, our nature, and our family. This is the great archetypal challenge that we all face: Avraham sensed Be-ing softly arousing him to seek his own unique self, apart from cultural influences, innate tendencies, and influences from his family… (Genesis 12:1).
To enter the path of a tzaddik-in-training, we begin by noticing how we are limited by these unconscious formations. There is a growing sense that we are really something more than this composite personality, and dissatisfied with its limitations. This is Be-ing’s way of prompting us to become more conscious through seeking a more authentic self.
In our culture, many people are encouraged to be unique individuals and yet few become tzaddikim like Avraham. The reason is that for most of us, development doesn’t reach beyond a lekh lekha that simply means “go get it for yourself.” What made Avram capable of entering the path of the tzaddik is that he heard a deeper message in Be-ing’s admonition lekh lekha. Thetzaddik-in-training is not satisfied with pursuing narcissistic gratification through individualistic achievements. What motivated Avram was a desire to consciously seek and connect with the deepest part of the soul, called heleq ‘eloha mima’al (a portion of Divinity). (Job 31:2). What he heard Be-ing whispering was Seek the source of your soul in the Land that I AM will reveal to you. (Genesis 12:1).
Our challenge is to discover within ourselves not just a self that is unique, but one that is also holy. One of the great miracles of a divine creation is that every individual element expresses a facet of divinity in a unique way. But the beauty of each unique being is only revealed when we are conscious of our divine source. As Reb Natan of Nemirov teaches in the name of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, wherever we find ourselves, we should always seek the inner point of the source of our soul. Whenever we are centered in our soul’s source, we can become, like Avraham, a channel of Hesed (Divine Love). Then our motivation in life is to make ourselves and others better expressions of the divine purpose in creation.
The Rebbe Elimelekh makes clear that seeking the source of our soul is not meant to radically detach ourselves from this world. Rather, we are to seek a connection to our soul within all of the various components of our experience: Find your real self within your earthiness, feeling states, and thought forms. (Genesis 12:1).
Although the path of the tzaddik-in-training promises a most meaningful and rewarding life, we should always remember that it is not an easy path. Avram was already seventy five years old when he mastered his anger and even then his shadow (Lot) still accompanied him. (Genesis 12:4).
What then enabled Avram to transcend less spiritual modes of achievement? He was willing to follow guidance that came from beyond the personal self. Avram realized that his success in life depended on attunement with a Higher Source and he was willing to follow Be-ing, even when he did not know where It was leading him.
Seek your real self… in a Land that I AM will reveal to you. Then I AM will make you great; I AM will bless you; I AM will expand your vessel’s capacity to contain holiness; and you yourself will have the power of blessing others. (Genesis12:1-2).
Avram’s first great test was to accept Be-ing’s command to put aside personal self-interest and to seek a more authentic self in a way that would only later be revealed to him. Through his willingness to constantly seek the source of his soul, Avram became a devotee of Be-ing and entered the path of the tzaddik.
May we all be stirred by the call of Be-ing
And enter the path of the Tzaddik-in-training.
May we constantly seek the Source of our soul
And become channels of Divine Love,
Through the blessing of the tzaddik Avraham.
Rabbi Moshe Aharon Ladizhyner