Parashat Lech Lecha: The responsible one

This week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, opens with God’s instructions to Abraham.

See yourself as responsible for repairing the world: "Make this world better" (photo credit: PXFUEL)
See yourself as responsible for repairing the world: "Make this world better"
(photo credit: PXFUEL)
At the end of the previous parasha, Noah, we met Abraham our Patriarch for the first time (though at that stage, he was still called Abram) through a short description of his first place of residence, Ur Kasdim, his marriage to Sarai (later called Sarah) and his journey with his family from Ur Kasdim to Haran. At that point, the parasha ended.
This week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, opens with God’s instructions to Abraham, accompanied with a blessing, with the reader still not knowing the reason Abraham merited receiving this blessing:
“Now the Lord said unto Abram: ‘Get out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, unto the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and be you a blessing. And I will bless them that bless you, and him that curses you will I curse; and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

How old was Abraham when he was told to embark on this journey to the unknown, “unto the land that I will show you”? We read the answer in the following verse:
“So Abram went, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him; and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran” (ibid. 12:4).
Abraham was 75 years old when he left on this journey, one that would be the start of the Jewish nation’s historical narrative. But this respectable age raises questions for the reader. What did Abraham do until the age of 75? What kind of work did he do? What experiences did he undergo?
We read another verse and discover a clue hinting at what Abraham – along with his wife, Sarah – did during the years prior to receiving instructions and blessings from God:
“And Abram took Sarai, his wife, and Lot, his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came” (ibid. 12:5).
On “and the souls they had gotten in Haran” Rashi (ibid.) interprets: “whom he had brought under the wings of the Shechinah.”
This hints at what Abraham and Sarah did during the years they lived in Haran. They dealt with spreading the word of faith in one God. Abraham, who was born to a family of idol worshipers and was known as the one who discovered and spread monotheism – the belief in the existence of one Creator of the world, as opposed to the accepted practice at the time of worshiping different idols – did not keep to himself, content with having found the correct path. He strove to spread the discovery to as many people as possible.
What was the source of this aspiration and the ensuing activity? What was the source of Abraham’s motivation to teach and instruct the masses about the belief in one God, a belief he discovered on his own after many years of searching?
The characteristic that pushed Abraham forward was his sense of responsibility. He never saw himself as responsible only for himself. He saw himself as responsible for all of humanity, for the entire world. He recognized that idol worship creates a corrupt lifestyle based on narrow interests. He discovered that belief in one God is the route to the humane and moral existence of justice and love, and he worked! He acted! He taught his surroundings about the huge discovery that has led the world for thousands of years to human relationships based on justice and love.
When we compare Abraham to the person we read about last week – Noah, whom the Torah describes as “a man righteous and wholehearted” – the question immediately arises: Why was it Abraham who was chosen as the father of the Jewish nation? What did the righteous Noah lack such that he was not chosen for this important role?
The answer is clear: Noah lived in a generation of corruption and thievery, but his voice was not heard! Noah was a righteous man, but he did not choose to be responsible for the advancement of humanity. Therefore, he was saved from the tragedy of the flood, but was not chosen to be the father of the Jewish nation. He did not receive the promise “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.”
In order to be chosen, this characteristic of responsibility is necessary. Only he who sees himself responsible for the advancement of humanity and the repair of the world (tikkun olam) is worthy of being chosen as the father of the chosen people, the people that acts as the moral compass for all of humanity. Only of him is it fitting to say: “and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.”
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.