Go forth from your land

On sanctity in materiality, from two disciples of the Great Maggid.

And God said to Avram, “Go forth from your land, and from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1

From Rebbe Zusya of Hanipol, Menorat Zahav.

Go forth from your land — meaning, from your own soil (1). From your birthplace — from the soil that your mother gave you. From your father’s house — that is, from the soil your father gave you. Then you can go to the land which I will show you through the illuminating light that I pour out upon you. No one can come to this land unless he removes himself from his corporeality (‘earthliness’), so that he doesn’t hear and feel the pleasures and lusts of this world. Unlike the wicked who go always in their soiled-ness and in the world of chaos (God save us!), his thought must cleave always to God.

From R. Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl, Meor Einayim.

Rashi comments that God tells Avram that the command to go forth is “for your own good.” This is difficult to understand, for God calls Avram “Abraham my lover” because he served God out of his love for Him and not for any reward (2).

Now God calls out to Abraham, “Abraham! Abraham!”, [just as He called] “Jacob! Jacob!” and “Moses! Moses!” (3), for “God’s people is a part of Him” (4) — just as the righteous person exists in the world below, so his root exists in the world above. He was created with a body in this world only so that even in crude material form he could choose to serve God and not deny “the seal of the king,” that is, being made in God’s image. This is why Abraham, like the other righteous men above, is called doubly, to denote his celestial and his earthly self.

It is known that the souls above take their enjoyment from the splendid light of the Shekhinah (5), but since this enjoyment is undeserved, they feel a certain shame. This is why God sent the souls down to this world, so that they may freely choose to serve God and He can in turn pay them with His goodness for what they have earned. This is go forth (for your own good), so that you can earn My goodness and not be ashamed. This is why the soul is “garbed” in crude materiality and subjected to material lusts and earthly desires, so that from this materiality it can go forth in the service of God, and this is the meaning of from your land.

Now it is impossible for an arrogant person to serve God, as it says, “He and I cannot both live in the world” (6). And how does one gain humility? The rabbis teach, “Know where you came from — a smelly drop [of semen]. Know where you are going — to a place of worms and maggots” (7). When a person takes to heart that his beginning was a putrid thing and his end will be the dust, how can he be arrogant about what comes between? Thus in remembering your beginning from your birthplace, you will humble yourself to the land which I will show you.

King David said, “I will walk before God in the land of the living.” (8) Bodily things like eating, drinking, and sex, if done only for your own pleasure, have no life, but if you do them to satisfy your soul, raising these things up to God with your holy intentions, then you fulfill the verse, “Know Him in all your ways” (9), and all your deeds are for the sake of heaven (10). Then they are called “Lands of the Living,” for the Life of All Life will dwell in your very earthiness (11). This is the meaning of to the land which I will show you.


1) R. Zusya is playing off the connection between soil, as in land, and soil as in dirt, in the sense of being “soiled.”        2) Isaiah 41:8     3) Genesis 22:11 and 46:2, Exodus 3:4 respectively    4) Deuteronomy 32:9    5) the indwelling, feminine aspect of God, the immanent presence as opposed to the transcendent Other      6) Masechet Sotah 5a     7) Pirkei Avot 3:1   8) Psalms 116:9        9) Proverbs 3:6      10) Avot d’Rebbe Natan 17:7; see also Pirkei Avot 2:12   11) The words for “lands” and “earthliness” are almost identical in the Hebrew.

Jeff wants to know…

are these teachings contradictory or complementary?

This entry was posted in Concepts, Divine Service, Hasidic Masters, Lekh Lekha, Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl/Meor Einayim, Meshullam Zusya of Hanipol/ Menorat Zahav, Parsha. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Go forth from your land

  1. leanna says:

    I’m not sure about the complementary or contradictory aspects of these teachings, but what resonates for me is the coming from a smelly drop and returning to worms and maggots. This kind of perspective offers the reminder of impermanence that allows us to transcend ourselves so that “bodily things like eating, drinking, and sex” may be raised up to a holier experience – in honor of all that is greater than ourselves.

  2. Yes. Some people read that teaching (which is from the Mishnah, so this goes back a couple thousand years and is pretty fundamental) as very negative, even anti-life, but I think it’s just realistic — we do come from a very messy process and we end up as worm food. I’m glad you saw it in what I think is a very positive and empowering way, because the takeaway isn’t that the body is gross, but the potential for taking this often gross vehicle and riding it to some really high places.

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