Boundaries And Baggage ©
Bereishis 12:1 - 17:27

By Dr. Akiva Gamliel Belk

This study of the weekly parsha is dedicated in the loving memory of Dr. Karen Berland, may she rest in peace.

Years ago as a Baal Teshuvah {one who has returned to Judaism}, I frequently visited Denver’s West Side Congregation Zera Avraham in the midmorning, around 11:00 o'clock. Oftentimes on these occasions there was a group of older men studying the Torah; many of them are now of blessed memory. Each of them was retired from the business world but not by any means from the spiritual. One was the owner of nursing homes, another was an electrician, another a butcher and another a property investor and so forth. Altogether they consisted of a minyan {ten men}. It was so pleasing to enter the shul as these men were studying the Torah. One glance carried such incredible meaning with their white hair, white beards, seforim open, each sitting around the same table deeply engaged in discussion.

On one occasion I approached them with a greeting, Hello Rabbi! Hello Rabbi! Hello Rabbi! Shalom Rabbi! and so forth. They had all studied in Yeshiva as young boys and men before the Second World War. Each of them was a survivor of either Siberia or one of the camps ... thank G-d!! Whenever I approached them there was always warmth with a handshake, a smile, a question, a kind word and occasionally a blessing. Most of them are now gone but their memory of studying at Zera Avraham will live on forever, thank G-d!

This leads us into our discussion ... What would the world be like if every community had a minyan of men well into their eighties sitting around a Congregation table in the midmorning, studying Ha Torah? This would require serious mind expansion to comprehend the powerful effect ... However we live in a world where in the Shul, in the Temple, and in the Congregation there are many tables empty in the midmorning. The lights are out. The seforim {books} are neatly placed on a shelf gathering dust,
G-d forbid. The silence is deafening!

The beauty of this minyan of men regularly studying Ha Torah speaks so many languages. First it testifies to the fact that although they were retired from business they were seriously engaged in spirituality.

Second, it shares a way of life of generations gone by ...

Third, it speaks of grandparents and great-grandparents who have raised their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren as observant Jews.

Fourth, that being the situation, it bespeaks hope for the future. It testifies that Yiddishkeit will continue.

Fifth, it brings spirituality into the shul and the community.

Sixth, it establishes a beacon of light for those who are younger to look up to.

Seventh, it offers excitement, adventure, mental exercise, involvement, communication, spiritual growth and so much more after retirement.

A community that lacks such deep wells of wisdom must either develop them or die! When a person reaches the age of retirement it is good to have a minyan already engaged in Torah study that one can join. It is good to have a group of ladies that meets regularly to study Ha Torah. If this had been the case in Charan, then Avram might not have been instructed by Hashem to leave. And Said Hashem to Avraham, ‘Go! Get out! From your land and from your birthplace and from the house of your father to the land that I will show you.’ Bereishis 12:1

When we view Hashem’s Direction in the proper light it is easy to understand why Avram couldn't stay there. This is a message to each of us that rings true! The message is, If you want to grow in Torah, if you want to reach your full potential, if you want to be blessed and if you want to be a blessing, then deal with your present circumstances. What is it holding you back? What is hindering your true potential? What is blocking your path of advancement?

In Avram’s situation it was living in a country... living in a community that recognized and honored many gods ... Hashem was not recognized and honored as the One and as the only true G-d! This being the situation, there were no congregations and there were no tables with grandfathers sitting around them studying Ha Torah! The community Avram lived in was one huge black hole.

Constantly Avram dealt with idol worship in his family and the community. Hashem defined what was hindering Avram. Reading between the lines we see the problem as:

The place of Avram’s birth... the place of Avram’s relatives was a place that hindered and conflicted with his true potential to know and understand Hashem. This is why Hashem said, '...Go away from your birthplace.' In other words, do not return to the place of your birth. The influence of your relatives and friends there is not good.

Originally Terach, Avram’s father, moved from Ur Kasdim {Avram’s birthplace} with Avram, Sarai and Lot to Charan. That was good but it was NOT EXACTLY what Hashem had in mind for Avram. Hashem instructed Avram, in so many words, Do not stay in your present location. This is not the place I have in mind for you. This is not the land that will be selected as the Holy Land, as the place where Hashem’s Presence will dwell. There is, so to speak, static here. There is interference in this place.

And finally do not bring your father with you. He will interfere with what I have in mind for you.

Holy reader, from the viewpoint of friends, relatives and parents, this undoubtedly seems like a harsh, radical and insensitive command by Hashem. Reader, if I had a son who’s G-d Told him to leave his friends, relatives and parents behind, to move away from them, it would be most difficult! Yet, this is what happened to Avram.

Dear reader, each of us must identify the things hindering our spiritual growth as Avram did through Hashem’s guidance. Then after we identify these things we must deal with them! That doesn't mean it will be pleasant! In fact it is very likely to be a burden, a struggle, a constant battle of the emotions and separation. Things that hinder spiritual growth ARE NOT EASY TO WALK AWAY FROM, whatever they may be!! Many hindrances are much more complex than simply leaving one's birthplace, one's present location and one's parents. Avram was a very pure soul!! As a pure soul he did not drag mental baggage with him to the new location.

Confronting Baggage and Opposition Together
This is one area that is different for each of us. If we have serious baggage, moving may not change our hindrances. In other words, wherever we go we carry the problem with us, G-d forbid! Avram did not have this problem!

So in all of this we see that separating from our birthplace, our present location and our parents will not be effective if we carry baggage with us to the new location. That being the point, we may have a complex and difficult problem especially if we need to separate from our birthplace, our present location and our parents. Why? We need a support system with righteous grandparents, parents, relatives and friends to assist us in divesting our hindrances...

Unfortunately this is often not the situation of those who seek us out on the internet. It is quite normal for the classmates of B'nai Noach Torah Institute to come from backgrounds where they are being rejected because they have choosen to begin zeroing out their former religious doctrines and follow our Creator in observance of Ha Torah. So if you find yourself in this position learning at B'nai Noach Torah Institute may be comforting and helpful. If you find yourself in the position of dragging mental baggage that includes birthplace, present location and parents, you are faced with a difficult paradigm shift! Yet all hope is NOT GONE! One in this situation may begin by developing spiritual friends. If possible, visit Torah learning centers.

Learning Torah is like developing moral values. As we grow our values focus and develop. G-d willing, we gradually divest ourselves little by little of things that are hindrances. Tackling the entire problem at once is usually too great. We begin by chipping away piece by piece.

Confronting Opposition
Years ago, I was employed by a non profit organization that was headed by an abusive rabbi. He was a complex individual. He was at times very nice and at times extremely in your face abusive. For years I tried the proactive approach. Frequently proactivity succeeded but not always. Being proactive requires a learning curve mixed with wisdom. Give yourself time to learn how to be proactive then give proactivity time to succeed.

One ally was problem solving. I attempted to anticipate the problem. This is why a learning curve is required. One day while out in the community I received a call from this rabbi. He asked me to make a purchase for him or for the organization. I politely declined. Why? In the past I had agreed to accommodate him when asked. Then, after making the purchase/s, getting reimbursed was difficult. Reimbursement should have been waiting. A check should have been in an envelope on my desk. It wasn’t! I did not agree to finance him or the organization. At that time I was poor! He knew this! He knew checks would bounce if reimbursement was not immediate. Yet on more than one occasion, days later after much difficulty, I was finally reimbursed after several of my checks bounced. I was charged for the bad checks. I was embarrassed. Nothing was done to cover my damages, not even an apology was offered... It was irritating, writing checks for hundreds of dollars and at times over a thousand, knowing they may bounce.

Now, holy reader, the rabbi would make promises, I’ll have a check waiting for you. It will be on your desk... Those promises were also broken. Then the whole problem would repeat itself. More checks would bounce. After experiencing these situations I stood firm! I removed myself from that position by politely declining. Period!!

Being proactive here was difficult. This rabbi was very persuasive, and still is, but it was necessary to politely stand firm if I was to maintain control over my situation. As a solution I suggested that the organization either establish credit with the places they made purchases from or give me checks or a credit card from the organization to carry. They did...

It was wrong for this religious organization to treat me like this! It was wrong for this rabbi to make promises he couldn’t keep! It was wrong to lie! IT WAS WRONG FOR ME TO ALLOW MYSELF TO BE PLACED IN THIS SITUATION AGAIN... Be careful not to allow yourself to be place in situations that are not good for you.

I use this example because people (politicians, rabbis, bosses, parents, relatives or friends) who are into power and control use their influence to get what they want. They will sweet talk. They will promise. They will make you feel guilty. They will use all the power of persuasion they can. If it works they will use it over and over until it stops working. The only way to be free of this type of abuse is to remove yourself from it. Don’t allow them to control you with sweet talk, fancy words, guilt or pity!!

Eventually, after years, it became necessary to leave that organization. It required more proactive skill than I could manufacture. I am referring to the verbal abuse especially, words of which I shall not repeat. The simple fact is, if you work in a barn long enough you will begin to smell like a barn. If you work for a religious institution you should smell holy, you should smell righteous, not like something else... If you cannot be proactive enough maybe a change is required. When I left, that rabbi used all his persuasive power to try to prevent me from leaving. Under those circumstances I ceased all forms of communication. Why? Because sometimes closing a door and locking it is necessary!!

Dear reader, sometimes actions like these are required with non religious influences. Hashem said to Avram, Go away from your land... and from your father's house. This was essentially the same thing as saying, Move away from these influences and stop communicating with them. Why? Think how it was thousands of years ago. Think of how difficult it would be communicating or visiting a very distant relative. It would be equivalent to no communication at all. When Hashem Took Avram from his father’s house, He took him far enough away to limit his communication and improper influence. Sometimes it is necessary for us to follow this pattern.

When an individual has quality spiritual support, sometimes separation from difficult influences is better than struggling with the proactive learning curve. Hashem removed Avram from his environment!

The best of all situations is having spiritual friends, relatives and parents who support our growth and our return to Hashem. Yet for many reading this article that is impossible. Those of us who are strong... those of us who receive such support must share it and share our strength by reaching out to our brothers / sisters needing a spiritual friend. We must become the spiritual grandparents, parents and friends needed to fill that huge black hole... needed to encourage... needed to share our lives... needed to open and expand our family....

Holy friend, I am only one man with a white beard, yet B’nai Noach Torah Institute is enormous outreach for those trying to find their way. We are trying to be there for you when you need us. If you are a Jew or a Spiritualist who needs spiritual support learning at B'nai Noach Torah Institute can be a real blessing! Contact us. Sign up for a course! If you are an individual who wants to be a spiritual friend contact us. If you would like to join in our efforts please contact us.

Blessings and Peace!

Dr. Akiva Gamliel Belk

Written in 5761
Updated in 5765

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