Africa Israel Residences, part of the Africa Israel Investments Group led by international businessman Lev Leviev, will present 7 leading projects on the The Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York on Sep 14-15, 2014.
The call to Abraham, with which Parshat Lech Lecha begins, seems to come from nowhere:
“Leave your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house, and go to a land that I will show you.”
Nothing has prepared us for this radical departure. We have not had a description of Abraham as we had in the case of Noah: “Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noah walked with G-d.” Nor have we been given a series of glimpses into his childhood, as in the case of Moses. It is as if Abraham’s call is a sudden break with all that went before. There seems to be no prelude, no context, no background.
Added to this is a curious verse in the last speech delivered by Moses’s successor Joshua:
“And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the G-d of Israel: Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the [Euphrates] River, Terach, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods’ ” (Joshua 24:2).
The implication seems to be that Abraham’s father was an idolater. Hence the famous midrashic tradition that as a child, Abraham broke his father’s idols. When Terach asked him who had done the damage, he replied, “The largest of the idols took a stick and broke the rest.” “Why are you deceiving me?” Terach asked. “Do idols have understanding?” “Let your ears hear what your mouth is saying,” replied the child. On this reading, Abraham was an iconoclast, a breaker of images, one who rebelled against his father’s faith (Bereishit Rabbah 38:8).
Maimonides, the philosopher, put it somewhat differently. Originally, human beings believed in one G-d. Later, they began to offer sacrifices to the sun, the planets and stars, and other forces of nature, as creations or servants of the one G-d. Later still, they worshipped them as entities – gods – in their own right. It took Abraham, using logic alone, to realize the incoherence of polytheism:
“After he was weaned, while still an infant, his mind began to reflect. Day and night, he thought and wondered: how is it possible that this celestial sphere should be continuously guiding the world, without something to guide it and cause it to revolve? For it cannot move of its own accord. He had no teacher or mentor, because he was immersed in Ur of the Chaldeans among foolish idolaters. His father and mother and the entire population worshipped idols, and he worshipped with them. He continued to speculate and reflect until he achieved the way of truth, understanding what was right through his own efforts. It was then that he knew that there is one G-d who guides the heavenly bodies, who created everything, and besides whom there is no other god” (Laws of Idolatry, 1:2).
What is common to Maimonides and the midrash is discontinuity. Abraham represents a radical break with all that went before.
Remarkably, however, the previous chapter gives us a quite different perspective:
“These are the generations of Terach. Terach fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot … Terach took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terach were 205 years, and Terach died in Haran” (Genesis 11:31).
The implication seems to be that far from breaking with his father, Abraham was continuing a journey Terach had already begun.
How are we to reconcile these two passages? The simplest way, taken by most commentators, is that they are not in chronological sequence. The call to Abraham (in Genesis 12) happened first. Abraham heard the Divine summons, and communicated it to his father. The family set out together, but Terach stopped halfway, in Haran. The passage recording Terach’s death is placed before Abraham’s call, though it happened later, to guard Abraham from the accusation that he failed to honor his father by leaving him in his old age (Rashi, Midrash).
Yet there is another obvious possibility. Abraham’s spiritual insight did not come from nowhere. Terach had already made the first tentative move toward monotheism. Children complete what their parents begin.
Significantly, both the Bible and rabbinic tradition understood divine parenthood in this way. They contrasted the description of Noah (“Noah walked with G-d”) and that of Abraham (“The G-d before whom I have walked,” 24:40). G-d himself says to Abraham: “Walk ahead of Me and be perfect” (17:1). G-d signals the way, and then challenges His children to walk on ahead.
In one of the most famous of all Talmudic passages, the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Metzia 59b) describes how the sages outvoted Rabbi Eliezer despite the fact that his view was supported by a heavenly voice. It continues by describing an encounter between Rabbi Natan and the prophet Elijah. Rabbi Natan asks the prophet: What was G-d’s reaction to that moment, when the law was decided by majority vote rather than heavenly voice? Elijah replies, “He smiled and said, ‘My children have defeated me! My children have defeated me!’ ”
To be a parent in Judaism is to make space within which a child can grow. Astonishingly, this applies even when the parent is G-d (avinu, “our Father”) himself. In the words of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik: “The Creator of the world diminished the image and stature of creation in order to leave something for man, the work of His hands, to do, in order to adorn man with the crown of creator and maker” (Halakhic Man, page 107).
This idea finds expression in halacha. Despite the emphasis in the Torah on honoring and revering parents, Maimonides rules this way:
“Although children are commanded to go to great lengths [in honoring parents], a father is forbidden to impose too heavy a yoke on them, or to be too exacting with them in matters relating to his honor, lest he cause them to stumble. He should forgive them and close his eyes, for a father has the right to forgo the honor due to him” (Hilchot Mamrim 6:8).
The story of Abraham can be read in two ways, depending on how we reconcile the end of chapter 11 with the beginning of chapter 12. One reading emphasizes discontinuity: Abraham broke with all that went before. The other emphasizes continuity: Terach, his father, had already begun to wrestle with idolatry. He had set out on the long walk to the land that would eventually become holy – but stopped halfway. Abraham completed the journey his father began.
Perhaps childhood itself has the same ambiguity. There are times, especially in adolescence, when we tell ourselves that we are breaking with our parents, charting a path that is completely new. Only in retrospect, many years later, do we realize how much we owe our parents – how, even at those moments when we felt most strongly that we were setting out on a journey uniquely our own, we were, in fact, living out the ideals and aspirations that we learned from them.
And it began with G-d himself, who left, and continues to leave, space for us, His children, to walk on ahead.
Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem (www.korenpub.com), in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth since 1991, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”
About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
This young, innocent child gave me a powerful, warm surge of energy and strength.
The Chafetz Chaim answered that there are two forms of teshuvah; teshuvah m’ahava and teshuvah m’yirah.
Question: I recently loaned money to a friend who has been able to repay only part of it. This was an interest-free loan. We exchanged a signed IOU, not a proper shtar with witnesses, since I have always trusted her integrity and only wanted a document that confirms what was loaned and what was repaid. Now that shemittah is approaching, what should I do? Should I forgive the loan? And if my friend is not able to repay it, may I deduct the unpaid money from my ma’aser requirement?
When the Kleins returned, however, they were dismayed to see that the renters did a poor job cleaning up after themselves.
In Parshas Re’eh the Torah tells us about the bechira to adhere to the commandments of Hashem and refrain from sin. In Parshas Nitzavim, the Torah tells us that we have the choice to repent after we have sinned.
As Moshe is about to die, why does God tell him about how the Israelites will ruin everything?
Jonah objected to God accepting repentance based on ulterior motives and likely for short duration.
This week’s parsha offers a new covenant; a covenant that speaks to national life unlike any other
All Jews are inherently righteous and that is why we all have a portion in the World to Come.
If mourning is incompatible with Yom Tov, why is it not incompatible with Shabbat?
Since it is a Rabbinic prohibition we may follow the more lenient opinion.
How can the Torah expect me today, thousands of years after the mitzvahs were given, to view each mitzvah as if I’m fulfilling it for the first time?
Torah isn’t a theological treatise or a metaphysical system but a series of stories linked over time
Torah isn’t a theological treatise or a metaphysical system but a series of stories linked over time
Judaism is a religion of love but also a religion of justice, for without justice, love corrupts.
Culture is not nature. There are causes in nature, but only in culture are there meanings.
Blind obedience is not a virtue in Judaism. God wants us to understand the laws He has commanded us
Israel shows the world that a people does not have to be large in order to be great.
When someone exercises power over us, they diminish us; when someone teaches us, they help us grow.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/completing-his-fathers-journey/2012/10/24/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: