Parshat Lech Lecha: The responsible one

What was the source of Avraham’s motivation to teach and instruct the masses about belief in one G-d?

Bible 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Bible 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
At the end of our previous Torah portion, Parshat Noah, we met Avraham Avinu for the first time (though at this stage, he was still called “Avram”) through a short description of his first place of residence – Ur of the Chaldees, his marriage to Sarai (later called “Sarah”) and his journey with his family from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran. At this point, the parsha ended.
This week’s parsha – Lech Lecha – opens with Gd’s instructions to Avraham, accompanied by a blessing, with the reader still not knowing the reason why Avraham 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 Avraham 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.
(Genesis 12, 4) Avraham 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 Avraham do until the age of 75? What kind of work did he do? What experiences did he undergo? We read on another verse and discover a clue hinting at what Avraham – along with his wife Sarah – did during the years prior to receiving instructions and blessings from G-d: 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.
And the souls they had acquired in Haran: whom he had brought under the wings of the Shechina. (Genesis 12, 5 and Rashi) This hints at what Avraham and Sarah did during the years they lived in Haran. They dealt with spreading the word of faith in one G-d. Avraham, 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 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 Avraham’s motivation to teach and instruct the masses about belief in one G-d, which he discovered on his own after many years of searching? The characteristic that pushed Avraham forward was his sense of responsibility. Avraham 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 G-d is the route to the humane and moral existence of justice and charity, and he worked! He acted! He taught his surroundings about the huge discovery that has led the world for thousands of years to personal relationships based on justice and charity.
When we compare Avraham to the person we read about last week – Noah, whom the Torah describes as “a righteous man he was perfect in his generations” – the question immediately rises: Why was it Avraham who was chosen as the father of the Jewish nation? What did the righteous Noah lack 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 you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing.”
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 Nation, the nation that acts as the moral compass for all of humanity.
Only he is worthy of “and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.”The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.