Parshat Lech Lecha: Moving Forward and Developing Constantly

Parshat Lech Lecha: Avraham’s way is about going forward and constantly developing

It is no coincidence that the term halakha is used to denote the path a Jew is commanded to take.  This is the path we tread, the path along which we develop. We don’t remain “boxed-in” or adhere to norms. This is a path that requires us to hear the same call that Avraham heard; to walk, to seek, to move, and to develop in sync with our life conditions.

Moriah Dayan is an advocate in OTS’s Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline for Agunot

Our Parsha opens with a well-known commandment to our forefather Avraham: “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” The first question that arises here is, of course, why this commandment appears at this point, considering that Avraham and his family were already on the way to Canaan, as we read at the end of Parshat Noach (Genesis 11:31).

Furthermore, what was so unique about Avraham, on account of which he merited to be called by Hashem? The text does not tell us anything about what Avraham did. It doesn’t describe his characteristics, or give us any other information that could explain why Hashem calls out to him, and none other. When Hashem called out to Noah, in person, the text explains that “Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age.” We are also given Hanoch’s background: “Hanoch walked with God”. However, in Avraham’s case, the text remains vague, and except for a few technical details on his family history and the decision to leave Ur Kasdim and head to Canaan, we are given no substantial information on his character or actions which might explain why Hashem called upon him. So, why did Avraham merit to be called upon by God?

The Sefat Emet (Genesis 21) uses the Zohar to propose a marvelous explanation:

It appears to me that the holy Zohar sees this very fact as what makes Avraham praiseworthy. He heard the call of ‘go forth’ which comes out from God to all people at all time, as it says `woe to those who sleep in their holes (and do not hear)!’ Our father Avraham heard the call and received its message.

In other words, the call to “go forth” is addressed to all individuals, and wasn’t made solely to Avraham. Hashem called each and every one of us. What’s unique about Avraham is that he heard this call, and accepted it. If we accept this explanation, it can also answer our first question. It is now clear why this call appears where it does in the text, even though Avraham and his family were already on the way to Canaan.

Yet we must delve deeper and reflect on the nature of the call that, according to the Zohar, was addressed to all individuals. What was this call supposed to evoke? Let us try to understand the way of Avraham, and what made him unique. Then, we can understand the nature of the call.

If we read the verses concerning Avraham carefully, we’ll discover several recurring words, such as “walking”, “travelling”, “speed”, “awakening early in the morning”, etc. What these words have in common is that they all indicate a state of motion. Our forefather Avraham was constantly in motion; he was in constant flux, developing all the time.

During the binding of Isaac, we once again encounter the expression lech lecha, “go forth” (Genesis 22:2). In that Parsha (ibid., 22:3), Avraham wakes up early in the morning, just as he woke up early in the morning when Sdom was overturned (ibid., 19:27).

In Parshat Vayerah (ibid. 18:2), Avraham ran out to the angels, and later (ibid., 18:7) he runs out to the cattle. In the same story, he rushes to Sarah, and tells her to hasten and prepare cakes (ibid., 18:8), and he also hastens the lad (ibid., 18:6).

This is perhaps Avraham’s most prominent character trait. This is something new that he brings to the world. “The whole world on one side, and Avraham on the other” (Bereishit Rabbah, Chapter 42). Avraham doesn’t remain rigid. He doesn’t adhere to norms. Rather, he is constantly evolving and tirelessly seeking.

In Bereishit Rabbah (39:1), our sages compare Avraham to a man who moves from place to place, and sees a lit-up mansion. The man wonders who owns the mansion, “the owner of the mansion peered out at him, and said to him: ‘I am the owner of the mansion’. Then, our forefather Avraham would say: ‘Is it possible that this world has no owner?’ God looked down at him and said to him: ‘I am the owner of the world.’ Avraham’s sojourns cause him to constantly explore and seek out the roots of all things. In Bereishit Rabbah, our sages compare him to a plate filled with incense. As long as the plate lays still, it doesn’t give off any scent, but once the plate is moved, its fragrances can be smelled from a distance. Thus, Avraham constantly shifts from place to place, and it’s this constant motion that spreads a sweet scent around the world.

The Sefat Emet (in his interpretation to Genesis, chapter 29), discusses this trait:

Set forth from your land – for man is defined by walking, and must always move up, from level to level, abandoning nature and his habits. Even if one has reached a certain level of worship of Hashem, that, too, becomes second nature. Therefore, at all times, one must renew one’s ways to worship Hashem with one’s soul.

In our Parsha (Genesis 12:9) we find Avraham’s constant flux, which grows even more intense. The verse reads: “Then Abram journeyed more and more toward the Negev”. Rashi comments that “going on more and more refers to going in stages, he stayed here a month or more, then travelled on and pitched his tent in another place.” Perpetual motion.

Later in the Parsha (17:1), just before commanding him to perform the mitzva of circumcision, Hashem says to Avraham: “I am El Shaddai. Walk in My ways and be blameless.” Once more, Hashem calls out to Avraham, commanding him to walk, to remain in motion. The Malbim suggests a marvelous interpretation of this verse: “Walk before Me – for you shall be My partner in the act of Creation, to complete and fix everything.”

Motion and progress are how we become Hashem’s partners to the act of Creation, and as partners, our role is tikkun olam – fixing the world. The call that Hashem sent out to all individuals is the same call that Avraham heard – it was a call to walk and to progress, to be Hashem’s partner in the act of Creation.

It is no coincidence that the term halakha is used to denote the path a Jew is commanded to take. This is the path we tread, the path along which we develop. We don’t remain “boxed-in” or adhere to norms. This is a path that requires us to hear the same call that Avraham heard; to walk, to seek, to move, and to develop in sync with our life conditions.

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