Judaism: Lech Lecha: Lighting the Darkness
Moshe KempinskiMoshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Avraham is told to leave his home but then he is welcomed into G-d’s home with the first of several blessings and promises
“And HaShem said to Abram, "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and you shall] be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you. (Genesis 12:1-3)
When describing what will happen to those that will bless Israel and to those who will do the opposite, the verse reads....
” And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse”..
One is struck by an asymmetrical usage of the words in the formation of the verse. When describing blessing, the derivatives of the Hebrew word bracha is used to describe those that will bless and those that will be blessed.
Yet when describing the curses, two different words are used. The word for “who curses you" ( Mekalelcha) is rooted in the word “Kelalah” . The word meaning “will be cursed“, on the other hand, uses the word “Ah-Or” derived from the word Arur ( cursed). What are we to learn from that switch? To understand this we need to explore the inner meaning of blessings and curses.
The word bracha is rooted in two similar thought constructs. We see that when the servant of Avraham, Eliezer, brought his camels to the well where he meets Rebecca, he caused his camels to bend their knees. ”And he made the camels to kneel down ( VaYivrach) without the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time that women go out to draw water.“( ibid 24 :11).
Bracha then is connected to a bending and a posture of humility.
The word bracha is also related to the Hebrew word “L’havrich” . This word describes the agricultural process of the pulling down of a vine and placing part of the branch in the ground so that it can sprout new roots and begin to grow a renewed plant.
So bracha creates a new entity that draws its power from the original and therefore represents that original source of spiritual power in its own growth and development. Spiritual growth is preceded by a humble bending and then followed by an upward release of the strengths and potential already ensconced and found within.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsh points out that the word for curse Kelalah is related to the word in Hebrew “Kalil “which describes a state of lightness and emptiness of substance. Something that is cursed is something that is empty of any inner potential and purpose . This state of Kelalah is one in which direction is lost and destiny is forgotten. It is not a punishment for cursing G-d’s people or G-d’s plan, it is a result.
Bracha is a state of reconnection, growth and upward movement. “Kelalah” is a state of stagnation and emptiness.
The word “Ah-Or” is rooted in the word “Arur” ( curse ) but, the hassidic masters also pointed to its similarity to the word “Ohr” which means light. They continue to explain that Abraham will always be surrounded by light so that even when enemies come against him they will recognize that he is an Ish Elokim - a man of G-d.
Yet perhaps there is another layer of understanding here, as well. We have seen that the cursing of G-d’s plan or the agents of that plan will lead to inner emptiness and loss of direction. Yet one can abide in this state of emptiness and confusion and be completely unaware of that truth. Essentially one is imprisoned by the emptiness.That is the purpose of the light hinted at in the words “Ah-Or” .
Those that curse Israel and as a result lose the connection to Destiny and purpose will have their life illuminated so that the lack of direction will be revealed and confronted. Only then can they have the opportunity to mend their way.HaShem is never interested in punishment for punishments sake . He is always focused on correction and redirection. This is true on the national and mankind level. Yet it is also true of the difficult moments of our personal lives as well. When we lose direction, as mortals are wont to do, and even curse the path that we have been set upon, HaShem will shine a sometimes harsh but always revealing light to help us find the way back home.
In the words of Maran Harav Kook" …the purely righteous do not complain of the dark, but rather increase the light; (Arpilei Tohar p. 27