Rav Baruch Weintraub
Former Rosh Kollel in Toronto (2011-2014)
Many commentators address the subtle differences between the beginning of this week’s parshah and the end of last week’s parshah.
Parshat Noach ended (Bereishit 11:31) by telling us clearly that Terach, Avraham’s father, decided to leave Ur Kasdim for Eretz Yisrael of his own free will, but our parshah begins (Bereishit 12:1) by telling us that G-d commanded Avraham to leave the land of his fathers and go to ‘the land I shall show you’. The question is obvious: was Eretz Yisrael chosen as the final destination by Terach, or by G-d?
Rashi and Ramban (Bereishit 12:1) both contend that Terach indeed decided to begin a journey toward Eretz Yisrael for his own reasons.
Upon reaching Charan, Terach decided to stop travelling and to settle down, and then Avraham was called by Hashem to begin walking again. Avraham was not told that the final destination would be Eretz Yisrael, but he could infer it from his knowledge of the special holiness of the land. This is difficult, though; if the commandment to Avraham occurred only in Charan, why is Avraham told to leave his “birthplace and land of his fathers”, which he has already left? (See Ramban’s answer to that criticism in his comments to 12:1).
Ibn Ezra (ibid. 12:1) takes the opposite view: while still in Ur Kasdim, Avraham was told by Hashem to walk to Eretz Yisrael, and this was the reason that the whole family began its journey. Terach then decided to stay in Charan, while Avraham and Lot continued to Eretz Yisrel. This view is not immune to challenge, though; the language of the Torah (ibid. 11:31) seems to make clear that Terach was the one who decided to leave Ur Kasdim.
Perhaps a third, middle way may be suggested. (See Rabbi Mordechai Breuer’s Pirkei Bereishit, beginning on page 224, for a similar treatment of the subject.) The Torah actually describes Avraham’s journey to Eretz Yisrael twice, because there were two completely different motivations for the decision. From Terach’s point of view, the need to leave the family’s place of origin and walk toward Eretz Yisrael was practical one; maybe Terach sought a better livelihood, maybe he left because memories of his deceased son, Haran, haunted him in Ur Kasdim, and maybe, as Rashi and Ramban argued, he was fleeing from the king. Regardless, Terach’s level of motivation to reach Eretz Yisrael was not very high, as can be inferred for his ultimate failure to reach his final destination.
Avraham, on the other hand, was motivated by another goal. G-d himself had ordered him to leave Ur Kasdim, his birthplace, and go to an unknown land, which would be “shown to him” in some way. But Avraham could not set out alone; how could Avraham choose a route, without even knowing the direction?
It seems that this is the moment when the two stories interweave: Tearch needs someone to push him; Avraham needs a signpost to show him the way. The two serve each other’s ends. However, their different motivations also cause, in the long run, their separation; Terach cannot bring himself to suffer the difficulties of the road for too long, stopping in Charan, and Avraham, running on what can be described as” Divine fuel”, finishes his journey in Eretz Yisrael.
The lessons of this reading may be drawn in two levels:
On the national level, Terach and Avraham’s route to Eretz Yisrael seems to set an interesting example for the aliyot of later generations. The young Hebrew nation coming out of Egypt and heading towards Eretz Yisrael was motivated by the Terach-like need to liberate themselves from Egyptian bondage, but also by their Avraham-like Divinely ordained goal of establishing “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Shemot 19:6) However, the practical need is not enough to drive them to face the dangers waiting for them in Eretz Yisrael; the first generation dies in the desert, and only their children are able to enter the land.
Similar events take place in the second arrival in Zion, and then again with the tension between the views of the modern state of Israel as a Terach-like political asylum or as the Avraham-like beginning of our redemption.
On the individual level, the message seems to be clear: Service of Hashem cannot be achieved in a vacuum, and must be finely attuned to the needs and cries of reality. On the other hand, no thorough and complete repair of our world can be achieved without Avraham’s fierce belief and faith in G-d’s words.