Parashat Lech Lecha: The Influence of a Sadik
In the beginning of Parashat Lech-Lecha, G-d commands Abraham Abinu to move to the Land of Israel, instructing him, "Go forth from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s home, to the place where I will show you."
Many commentators observed that the sequence in this command seems to be reversed. A person first leaves his parents’ home, then his hometown, and then his country. In G-d’s command to Abraham, however, He tells him to do just the opposite – to leave first his country, then his place of birth, then his parents’ home. How are we to understand the sequence in this command?
One answer that has been suggested is based upon the story told in Sefer Melachim II (chapter 2) about Eliyahu’s departure from the earth. Just before G-d took Eliyahu to the heavens, the students of his main disciple and successor, Elisha, approached Elisha and informed him that Eliyahu would soon be taken from them. Curiously, they assumed that although they were privy to this information through prophecy, Elisha was not. Elisha then replied, "I, too, know" – implying that there was something novel about his being aware of this information. Even though Elisha was clearly a greater prophet than his students, nevertheless, he assumed that it was more likely for them to know about Eliyahu’s imminent departure than it was for him to know. Why?
The Arizal described the impact of a righteous person by way of an analogy to the human heart. When the heart begins to fail, and cannot properly pump the blood, the body’s extremities sense the problem before the other organs of the body do. The organs closer to the heart receive their supply of blood until the heart approaches complete dysfunction; before then, they are not impacted by its deficient operation. The extremities, however, are affected as soon as the heart’s functioning begins to decline, as they receive blood only when the heart pumps with its full force. The same is true of a Sadik. When a Sadik begins to depart, it is those who are more distant from him who first experience a sense of loss. They receive inspiration from the Sadik only when he is "fully operational," so-to-speak, and thus once he begins leaving, they are the first ones to feel an effect. Therefore, Elisha’s disciples figured that only they, who were more distant from Eliyahu than Elisha was, sensed his imminent departure. Elisha responded to them that in fact, he, too, felt the effect of Eliyahu’s departure, because Eliyahu was leaving the world very soon, and so the effects were felt even by those closest to him.
G-d’s command to Abraham Abinu has been understood along similar lines. The sequence in this verse is arranged not in the order of Abraham’s departure, but rather according to the effect of his departure. Abraham’s departure was first felt by those in the remote areas of his sphere of influence, meaning, his fellow countrymen, who did not live near him. Then his absence was felt by his hometown, where he lived, and finally, it was felt by his father’s home, his family. Those closest to him felt his impact and influence even as he began making his way to Eretz Yisrael, just as the organs near the heart continue receiving a full supply of blood even after the heart has begun failing. It was those remotest from Abraham who sensed his absence first, and felt the profound loss of the inspirational influence of the great Sadik who had been living among them.