After the story of creation in Parashat Bereishit, and the story of the ark in Parashat Noach, as well as some stories of the beginning of humanity, we come to our parasha, Parashat Lech-Lecha, which begins, “Hashem said to Avram: Go forth from your land, from your homeland, and from your father’s home, to the land that I will show you.” Here begins the story of Avraham, the father of our nation, and so, in essence, here begins the story of Am Yisrael.
Several questions arise from this introduction to the parasha. Who is Avraham? Why does the Torah give us no background information about Avraham? Why does Hashem appear specifically to him?
So who was Avraham? Avraham was a brave, freethinking man who did not accept popular beliefs and conventions, and who objected to the dictatorship of Nimrod, which required all citizens to believe in and bow to the establishment’s deities. These deities included the sun, the moon, the stars, and the other powerful natural forces that showed their might before the eyes of mankind. Already as a child, Avraham began asking questions such as, how could the universe constantly run if it does not have a ruler? And who keeps the universe going? Clearly, it cannot run by itself! At the age of three, the Midrash writes, Avraham began his spiritual journey, a gruelling, theological trek replete with angst and frustration, loaded with questions and soul-wrenching struggles. This process continued until Avraham reached age forty, at which point his world outlook finally took shape and he arrived at the belief in a single God. He then demonstrated remarkable courage and resolve, disregarding the dangers and risks entailed in speaking and publicizing the truth. He presented his claims and confounded the idolaters with his questions, shattering their age-old myths. Nimrod sensed the challenge Avraham posed and sentenced him to burning. Miraculously, Avraham was saved and he fled. This is Avraham: the man who was prepared to die on the altar of his faith.
It is indeed astonishing, then, that the Torah completely omits all this biographical information about Avraham, and begins the story of Avraham at this point, when God speaks to him, without mentioning anything about who he was and his achievements. By omitting Avraham’s past history, the Torah draws a clear break between the past and present in Avraham’s life. The moment God orders Avraham, “Lech-lecha” (“Go forth”), Avraham is born again. Until this point, he was a great philosopher who recognized the Creator and His strict ethical standard. But he has now become a person who has earned contact with the Almighty well beyond standard human comprehension. From this point on, every action he performs ismouldedand fashioned by Hashem. Now that God has called upon him, he has received a mission, he is chosen. From here originates the Jewish notion of “Ata vechartanu” – “You have selected us,” the destiny of what will be Am Yisrael.
At this point, we must address the final question: why was he specifically chosen? We find the answer in the opening pasuk. The Almighty tells Avraham to turn his back on the culture of his entire generation, to sever all family ties, to distance himself from everything he has been until now, so that ultimately a large, blessed nation will emerge from him.
In conclusion, today, when we learn about Avraham Avinu, we are essentially learning about ourselves. The story of Avraham is the definition of our essence as a people. He represents the source of Am Yisrael, the “am ha’chidush,” the people of novelty, the people with new ideas. Avraham was not merely a righteous man; he is the root of a nation. Through the designation of Avraham, a righteous people are to be created, a nation that bears the eternal destiny of emphasizing its nationalism and not merely the lives of individuals. Once Avraham is selected, a sharp transformation takes place: from this point on, Hashem’s name will be carried not only by individuals, but also by a nation. Avraham was chosen to be the root of this “chidush,” this novelty, the novelty that is Am Yisrael.
We hope and pray that just as Avraham Avinu opposed the entire world with his firm convictions, so may we stand firmly with our beliefs, such that wefulfilour duty of serving as “a light unto the nations.”