Weekly Shiur- Parshat Lech Lecha- Rav Shames
The opening pesukim of this week’s parsha are a watershed in terms of our genealogy. The generations of people since the creation have been clearly listed and we can easily trace the “yichus” of Avraham all the way back to Adam. Nevertheless we are all familiar with the term “Avot” which indicates three very important individuals, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.
The title “avot” in plural would seem to be a strange notion in any context. A father is a particular individual, how can we refer to more than one person as our father? The father’s father is known as a grandfather and his father as the great grandfather, what is meant by labeling all three as “avot”?
Clearly the message is that these three individuals form the basis of the Jewish people we are not defining a legal level of relationship but rather we are expressing the idea that in order to really understand the Jewish nation, and to take part in it, we must be able to understand the unique contributions that each of these men made to our people.
In the coming weeks we will be studying their lives and we will, once again, attempt to learn the subtle lessons of sefer Braishit.
By the same token that we do not refer to Reuvan, Shimon Levi etc.. as the Avot, we do not look back into parshat Braishit and Noach for our ancestry either. The generations prior to Avraham serve as an introduction to who he is, and where he came from, but only on a technical level and we sever all ties to Terach and the rest of the characters in the previous parshiot. Avraham is our father and yet there is no grandfather.
This may be the reason why the Torah stresses to Avraham to leave his “land, his birth place and his father’s home”. He is not only physically distancing himself from certain geographical locations, but as well, he is putting and end to a chain of one type in order to create a new one.
How is Avraham different from all those that preceded him? What do we see in his personality that makes him unique?
If we compare him to Adam we clearly see the difference. Adam did not listen to G-d and Avraham does. The same will set Avraham aside from Kayin and most others mentioned. However when we compare him to Noach the quest for something special becomes more difficult. Noach received very detailed instructions from G-d and followed each and every one to the tee. The Torah goes out of its way to tell us time and time again that Noach did precisely as G-d commanded him. What does Avraham have that Noach did not?
If we examine Noach a bit more closely we notice something very interesting: Noach is silent. Throughout the entire parsha Noach only says three sentences and all three are in his post drunkenness cursing his descendants that disgraced him and blessing those that protected his honor. It is true that he does exactly as G-d tells him, down to the cubit, but he is a silent man.
Avraham is very different in this respect. We meet Avraham on the beginning of his journey and we witness a man who, as Noach, follows instructions, but suddenly we find a turn of events: Avraham “calls out in the name of G-d” (12:8).
This, I believe is the innovation of Avraham, the central element that sets him aside from all that preceded him. Avraham sees himself as a man with a mission. He is to spread the word of Hashem. We learn from Avraham that it is not enough to do as we are told but we must create a positive spiritual force in the world. The Rambam describes this in the first chapter of Hilchot Avodat Cochavim, as he tells us of the “crusade” led by Avrahm against idolatry. He did not suffice with steering clear of the pagan practices of his time but felt it necessary to make his feelings clear to all and to convince them of the truth of monotheism.
Chazal use a vivid metaphor to describe the difference between Noach and Avraham. Chazal contrast the “coat” solution to the “stove” solution in how to solve the cold room problem. Noach was confronted with a “cold room” and adopted the method of the “coat”, a method that was quite useful in warding of the harmful effects of the elements but proved useful for only himself and a small group that surrounded him. Avraham on the other hand opts for the “stove” solution. “If I am cold others must be cold as well. How can we solve the problem for all of us at once”? Avraham lights a stove and warms the room for all of those present.
It is almost ironic that Avraham is the example used by Chazal to express the idea of “speak little and do much”, which only goes to show that his “speech” was not empty words but rather each statement was backed up by actions that implemented his ideas.
Avraham’s very existence is one of calling out and making change in the world, setting new standards of belief and morality.
In each and every Amidah that we say, we open with “Avot”. The Amidah is a series of Brachot and as such should follow the rules set up by Chazal concerning the syntax of Brachot. One of the most basic rules is the necessity to include the phrase “melech haolam”- The King of the universe. The gemara in Brachot tells us that any bracha lacking this formula is not considered a bracha. If this is the case how can the most important series of Brachot lack this all central ingredient?
Rav Hutner in his “pachad yitzchak” explains that the phrase “Elokei Avraham” that appears in the beginning of the first bracha fulfills the requirement of “Malchut”. G-d, known as the G-d of Avraham is clearly known all over the world as the King of the universe. This was Avraham’s message to the extent that the two terms are synonymous.
When we refer to Avraham as “avenu” we are meant to absorb the lesson of Avraham. We are here for a purpose, we are here as representatives of G-d and we are to let the world know about it.