Friday, October 30, 2009

Parashat Lech Lecha

"To your seed I have given this land..."

Parashat Lech Lecha
Bereishit 12:1 - 17:27

What made Avraham unique? Why was he so beloved by G-d? After all, he wasn't the first tzaddik - righteous man - to walk the earth. Noach was also called tzaddik. Nor was Avraham the first human to be addressed by G-d or entrusted by G-d with a task to perform. Again Noach preceded Avraham on both counts. So what distinguished Avraham, and why was G-d determined to make him "the father of a multitude of nations?" (Genesis 17:4)

Torah introduces us to Avraham avinu, (Abraham our patriarch), at the age of seventy five, exactly half way through his life. It is at this point that G-d first calls to Avraham, "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you." (ibid 12:1) This is, indeed, the first time that G-d spoke directly to Avraham, but it didn't occur in a vacuum. An extensive midrashic literature fills in for us what transpired during Avraham's first seventy five years. As a child he already questioned the bon-ton politically correct assumptions of his day. His father Terach crafted and sold idols for good money. Demand was high, and it was an honest living. But young Avraham questioned the underlining veracity of the idol worship culture in which he was steeped, and one day, when left on his own to tend his father's store, he smashed all the idols. All the idols but one, that is, and when Terach returned, and to his great dismay, discovered the shattered idols, he demanded to know who was responsible. Avraham pointed to the one standing idol, "He did it." "Balderdash!" Terach castigated him, "That's only a lifeless lump of clay!" And so Avraham began his life-long effort of seeking G-d in the world and making His presence known to his fellow man.

And it is this which distinguished Avraham. Avraham sought G-d, long before G-d sought Avraham. Noach was a tzaddik, but Avraham was a man of tzedaka - he actively extended himself toward his fellow man, and expressed his love of the One G-d through his acts of kindness to others. Noach walked with G-d, but Avraham walked before G-d, searching G-d's ways, questioning G-d's justice, testing G-d's promise. Precocious from the get-go, Avraham showed to G-d the "sign of life" that G-d had been waiting twenty generations to see! At last a child of G-d that sought out his Heavenly Father, spending a lifetime emulating G-d's attributes of loving kindness and building a community of fellow seekers.

Little wonder that G-d took such delight in Avraham and saw to it that Avraham and Sara would give birth to a single child, Yitzchak, through whom the future nation of Israel would be built, and showed to Avraham the land of Israel, precious in G-d's eye, to be inherited by Avraham's progeny.

Today, a thousand generations later, Avraham's children have returned to the land. Just as G-d commanded Avraham to walk the length and the breadth of the land, and to thereby inherit it, we, too, must traverse the land of Israel from the north to the south and from the west to the east, and by doing so, take possession of it. But the key to our return is not simply traversing the land in a mechanical fashion, but traversing the land as Avraham did, spreading G-d's light, revealing G-d's way, and sharing G-d's love with our fellow man. For we are the seed of Avraham, and to us G-d has given this land.

-Rabbi Chaim Richman of The Temple Institute

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