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Parshas Lech Lecha (5773)

Have You Heard The Call?

The great Torah commentator Nachmanides (b.1194 – d.1270) asks a fantastic question on the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Lech Lecha. He points out that everywhere in the Bible that we find G-d communicating with a particular human being and rewarding him with long life, many children, financial prosperity, a special parcel of land, Divine protection and salvation, etc., the Torah first relates something special about the person or some righteous act that he performed that made him worthy of receiving that reward.

For example, before the Torah tells us how G-d communicated with Noach about the flood that was about to destroy the world and how he should build an Ark in which he and his family would be saved (see Genesis 6:13-21), we find a description of Noach’s righteousness. “Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noach walked with G-d…” (Ibid. 6:9). And the same is true with Moses and every other Biblical personality who was chosen by G-d for a particular reward or gift.

That is not the case, however, when it comes to Abraham, the first Jew to walk the planet. All we know about him from the end of last week’s Torah portion is that he was born to Terach his father – no big accomplishment there – and that he had two brothers Nachor and Haran, a wife named Sarai, and that his native land was Ur Kasdim but that the family moved to Charan.

Yet all of a sudden, at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, G-d communicates with Abraham and commands him “Lech Lecha – leave where you are and go for yourself on a spiritual journey …” and promises him that he and his descendants would become a great nation, and that all who bless them would be blessed, etc. Why, asks Nachmanides, do we not find any mention at all of anything Abraham might have done prior to this point to deserve all this reward?

The famous Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter ZT”L (b.1847 – d.1905), spiritual leader of the Gerrer Chassidim and best known by the title of his main work, the Sfas Emes, gives a beautiful answer. He explains that, in reality, G-d wasn’t only speaking to Abraham when he said “Lech Lecha”. In fact, the Zohar HaKadosh (the main book of Jewish Mysticism) teaches that G-d broadcasts this crucial message for mankind - to leave where you are and to embark on a spiritual journey to find G-d and to find yourself - all day, every day, and to each and every human being.

The Zohar HaKadosh, in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, writes regarding those who choose to ignore this Heavenly message: “How hard-hearted are those wayward people who see the [beautiful] paths and ways of the Torah and pay no attention to them; their hearts are hardened and they don’t return to G-d…”

The greatest praise that could be written about Abraham, the first Ba’al Teshuvah (‘returnee’ to G-d and His Torah) in history, and for which he most definitely deserved all the blessings and rewards that G-d promised him, was that of all the people alive at that time, he was the only person who heard the call of “Lech Lecha” and took it to heart. Nobody else paid any attention to it.

It is for this reason, explains the Sfas Emes, that the Torah writes: “And G-d said to Abraham, ‘Lech Lecha’” He wasn’t only speaking to Abraham. The message was really intended for all of mankind. But since Abraham was the only one who responded, it ended up being a conversation between G-d and Abraham alone!

The mystics teach that just as the first blessing of the Amidah (the “Silent Prayer”, also known as the Shemoneh Esrei) ends with the words Magen Avraham, the “Shield of Abraham” (as promised by G-d to Abraham as part of his reward – see Rash”i in his commentary to Genesis 12:2, quoting a Midrash), so, too, will the “end of time” be marked by the spiritual descendants of Abraham, i.e. those who, like Abraham, grew up without Jewish education and observance, yet ‘heard the call’ and found their way back to Torah and Mitzvos.

The truth is that we have seen this mystical ‘prophecy’ borne out in our own times.

Despite all the assimilation, intermarriage, and ambivalence toward religious values that has been ravaging the Jewish people over the past 100 years, many Jews have bucked the trend and have journeyed in the opposite direction – back towards tradition and observance. It was a trickle at first. Nevertheless, a significant number of Jews began following their yearnings to find out about their heritage, the Torah and its ways. And this renewed yearning and return - which has since become known as the "Ba’al Teshuvah Movement" – continues to grow.

Did you ever wonder where this yearning comes from? What gives these strong-hearted Jews the courage and the strength to leave where they were and to go for themselves on this spiritual journey back to their roots? It is only because they, just like their ancestor Abraham, heard the call of “Lech Lecha” that G-d broadcasts every single day to every single person – and for this they are deserving of the greatest praise and the greatest reward.

Have you heard the call?

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