TIKKUN OLAM BEGINS
When we enter Torah Portion Lech-Lecha, an entirely new period begins. So far, we have seen God’s intervention in judgment: both in the flood and in the story of the tower of Babel, God punished man for his sin and rebellion. But when God called Abram, He personally and actively intervened in mercy, not in judgment. The election and selection of what would become the people of God, begins here. From this point on the relationship of God to the children of Abram will dominate the remainder of the Bible, in spite of the fact that the Bible also makes it clear that the ultimate purpose of this relationship is the restoration of the entire world.
The significance of Abraham in both Judaism and Christianity cannot be overestimated. Many issues central to both religions, are connected to the figure of Abraham. Both Judaism and Christianity claim to be the true descendant of Abraham and both claim the covenant that God initiated with Abraham as their special heritage – however, God’s covenant and God’s promises are understood and interpreted very differently in both religions. As a certain scholar wrote, “to see what the writer makes of Abraham is often to see most clearly what the writer is trying to say”.
Genesis 12, where our Torah portion starts, opens with God’s famous words to Abraham – Lech Lecha, לךְ־לְךָ֛ : Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.
Our sages ask: why Lech Lecha? Why, instead of just saying: Lech, Go, did God have to say Lech Lecha? There are different explanations for this, but there is one in particular that I would like to share with you. Lech lecha might be read as: “go to yourself” – and this is what God says to everyone: Lech Lecha, go to yourself, go inside yourself! Even those who are not called to leave their home or their land, God sends on this inward journey of faith: go to yourself – towards your soul’s essence, towards your ultimate purpose, to this inner land that I will show you!
As we all know, Abram was 75 years old. Why did God choose a man so advanced in age, and why him at all? The text is silent on this matter, but two different interpretations have been suggested.
The first says that God’s reason is not humanly discernible. We don’t know why God chooses Abram, since the Bible says nothing about his righteousness (though it did comment on Noah’s righteousness, for instance). Abram is just the vessel, the recipient of God’s grace, and to our knowledge he had done nothing to deserve it.
The second interpretation says that Abram deserved to be chosen. Just as Noah stood out as a uniquely righteous and moral man in his time, Abram’s unique character caused God to single him out. Generally favored by Jewish tradition, this approach often depicts Abram seeking God from his youth.
I believe that in a sense, both interpretations are right. We don’t know anything about Abram’s righteousness before God’s call – however, we do know how faithful and obedient he was after he was called. And even though generations of rabbis, preachers, and students of scripture have been impressed, encouraged, and inspired by this famous “lech-lecha,” for me personally, it is not these words that make this story so special. It is how Abraham responded to these words.
Let me explain what I mean. In response to God’s call, Abraham went forth to go to the land of Canaan: they departed to go to the land of Canaan, and after a while, they did indeed reach the land of Canaan: So they came to the land of Canaan. Nothing, it seems, could be more obvious and self-apparent than this simple sentence. Doesn’t it go without saying that when people start a journey, they intend to finish the journey and arrive at the place they were heading for? However, just a few verses earlier, at the end of the previous chapter, we read: And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarah, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there.
Though the beginning of this passage is the same: they went out to go to the land of Canaan – it ends in a completely different way! Abraham’s father, Terah, also started to go to the land of Canaan; however, he never completed the journey. He never arrived!
Why did Terah start heading for Canaan in the first place? Maybe, before God spoke to Abraham, He had spoken to his father; otherwise, why would Terah leave the very advanced and comfortable city of Ur and start going to Canaan? We know that Terah did not worship the one true God: Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods.” In no way does this mean, however, that Terah had never heard about the one true God, or that he had never heard from the one true God. Perhaps the very first lech-lecha was actually spoken to Terah; perhaps it was Terah who was supposed to have become the father of nations. However, many are called, but few chosen. We all long to hear His voice; we all desire to have a divine encounter, but make no mistake: it’s not the Divine encounter that defines our destiny, but what we do after this encounter. It’s not enough to be called, one must remain faithful to this calling. It’s not what He says to us that defines us, it’s how we respond to what He says!
In this sense, the short verse regarding Abraham – they departed to go to the land of Canaan… They came to the land of Canaan – is much more than merely a technical comment. The biblical description of Abraham’s great faith begins here, at Genesis 12:5; not only did he set out to do what he was called and commanded to do––but he completed it. If Terah was called by God – and maybe he was – he responded to God’s call by beginning the journey, but he never finished it. Abraham was called by God–we know that he was–and he responded to God’s call, not by only starting, but actually completing and accomplishing everything he was called to do. This is what faith is all about, and it’s no wonder that Abraham and his father ended up so differently: Abraham became the father of a people and of peoples, while scripture tells us virtually nothing about Terah, except the fact that he was descendant of Shem and father of Abraham. This is a spiritual law that we should all be aware of: We choose our destiny by the way we respond to God’s call.
 Samuel Sandmel, Philo’s Place in Judaism: A Study of Conceptions of Abraham in Jewish Literature, Cincinnati :Hebrew Union College Press, 1956, p.29
 Genesis 12:5
 Genesis 12:5b
 Genesis 11:31
 Joshua 24:2
 Matthew 22:14
The “Terah’s call” piece is taken from Julia’s book Abraham had two sons. To order Julia’s books, go to her page: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/.