Was Abraham the most exceptional human ever, or was he more like us?
Table for Five: Lech Lecha
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
And the Lord 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.”
David Sacks, Torah Podcaster “Spiritual Tools for An Outrageous World”
Abraham was 75 years old at the time of this test. The question is, we know so many amazing things that Abraham achieved before this. Why does the Torah omit all of them and begin the story of his life here?
The Maharal explains that it’s because G-d’s love for the Jewish people is not contingent on anything. In other words, had the Torah explained how extraordinary Abraham was first, we’d think that’s why G-d chose the Jews. Therefore, G-d deliberately omits Abraham’s earlier accomplishments to teach us that G-d’s love for us is unconditional. The reason G-d loves us, is because He just loves us!
G-d tested Abraham with ten tests. But if we want a truer understanding of our relationship with G-d, we need to know that we test G-d, too. The classic example is when we ask, “Is Hashem among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7)
The Torah compares this to a father carrying his son on his shoulders. The child sees someone walking toward them and asks, “Have you seen my father?” Meanwhile, his father is the one carrying him. Is G-d with us? The premise to all of life is that G-d is with us.
Just like G-d’s love for us is unconditional, let’s strive to make our love for G-d unconditional, too. We’ll always have questions, and we’ll always need strength, but if we know that G-d loves us, that He’s good, and that He’s with us always, I know that we’ll get there.
Rabbi Nicole Guzik, Sinai Temple
Is blind faith commendable? A plethora of drashot praise Abraham for trusting the Lord. He leaves everything that is familiar and walks toward uncertainty, no physical GPS leading the way. Instead, Abraham cultivates a spiritual navigation, and puts faith in God and himself to journey without any printed directions.
Today, Abraham would be shunned. Imagine the conversation with any somewhat responsible adult. “You’re leaving your home? You’re going where? Who is convincing you to upend your life and change the world?” And while many of us may not be having this exact conversation, we do engage in mini-Abraham-like dramas. We ask ourselves whether we should change careers, start a family, uproot from one location to another, and begin new journeys with no data that proves what life will look like. Nothing, except, a little faith. A hunch. Something that pushes us to take a risk.
God endowed each of us with binah, a sense of wisdom and understanding. I translate binah as intuition. While Abraham did not know whether he would be successful in his quest, he divinely intuited that this road was meant to be. Perhaps, we too, need to rely on our spiritual GPS.
Our path may still feel a bit murky, but do not dismay… we are hard-wired for destinations unknown. A leap of faith is your very first step. And imagine how far you’ll go if you are willing to try.
Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz, Adat Shalom
On the surface, this verse can be read as the fundamental Divine charge for all Jews to be Zionists. That’s the simple reading. The more challenging reading changed my life.
God commands Abram into a journey toward a different place, becoming something more, dreaming of a better way of life. In this way, the command has permitted me to change careers, to return to school, to continue to seek wisdom. The blessing of this verse is not only the journey to the Land of Israel, it is the concept of journey itself. We are a people of travelers, of dreamers. We know it from this verse and we know it from thousands of years of history.
Whether it be the story of Abram and Sarai, Theodor Herzl, Golda Meir, or Sandy Koufax, the great heroes of our people include a spiritual, intellectual, and most often, a physical journey. Yet, as a father, I cry during Fiddler on the Roof when I hear Hodel sing, “How can I hope to make you understand, why I do, what I do? Why I must travel to a distant land, far from the home I love?”
We should be grateful as a people that we do not remain stagnant in a shtetl. And we should still remain a family that cries as we hug and kiss our children and support them as they embark on journeys of their own. The journey of life is challenging and rewarding, and it’s what God wants from us.
Rabbi Tova Leibovic-Douglas, rabbitova.com
I love imagining and reading our biblical characters as archetypes and connecting to the wisdom of their flaws and triumphs. Abraham appears to be the faithful and dutiful servant to God. Yet, if we look critically at Abram, before he became Abraham, it is more likely that he, like us, had to choose faith, despite his doubt.
After many months of navigating a tremendous amount of chaos, we too, have to uncover and recover the pieces of ourselves. We are at a “lech lecha” moment. As a collective, we are in a moment of trauma that moves between faith and doubt, and we may feel like we must leave to find ourselves. For some of us, this may be physically journeying to a new land as the text says to “go from your birthplace, your parent’s house to a new land.” But for most of us, this journey is an internal conversation, one within our soul and with the Divine.
We are seeking, questing, and entering a time of capturing our own being in whatever way possible. The challenge is that we know that there is no specific destination but rather an uncovering or journey waiting for us. If we are lucky enough, we can create the space to listen to that call and lean into faith, despite our inevitable doubt. We can choose this for ourselves, blemishes and all, and that is the blessing.
Michal Morris Kamil, Student Rabbi AJRCA, Intern at Ahavat Torah
There is a fundamental difference between embarking on a self-initiated journey and being sent by another. The Torah is full of emissaries, shlichim, with diverse purposes and destinations, as well as differing degrees of faith and ownership of their mission. The first shaliach, Eliezer, is sent by Abraham to seek a wife for Isaac and succeeds. The spies sent by Moses failed. We can regard the emissary’s purpose in two ways: as representative of another entity’s vision and mission, or the bearer of the deepest personal conviction who wants to enlighten the world.
Not all shlichim are leaders, but all leaders must be shlichim. So at age 75, which was Abram after leaving his birthplace, and his father’s home? Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo differentiates between captainship and leadership. A leader is in front and cannot give full attention to those following or left behind. In contrast, a captain navigates the entire ship and is responsible for the wellbeing of everyone on board, ensuring that all reach their destination. The difference? The captain does not choose his own destination and doesn’t have a deep personal connection to the mission, unlike the leader, who is more invested and committed to honoring the vision of the sender. Abraham’s unique quality is that he is both, always caring for his people and leading from the front. Rabbi Cardozo says, “To be a Jewish leader is to be a captain as well.” This is a quintessential teaching for Rabbis-in-training like me, regarding the transition from Abram to Abraham, from captaining a community to leading it.
With thanks to David Sacks, Rabbi Nicole Guzik, Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz, Michal Morris Kamil and Rabbi Tova Leibovic-Douglas.
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