Dvar Torah delivered by Mike Garmise on Shabbat, 11 Cheshvan 5776, 24 October 2015
Creation of the world – check. Destruction of the world – check. Dispersal of mankind ensuring maximum misunderstanding – check.
Now we can begin our own story with our own hero, Avram. What hasn’t been said about Avram and his devotion to one God – our God – even to the point of almost sacrificing his son who was born when he, Avram was 100 years old. What a man!
But that’s kid’s stuff. There are all the midrashim about Avram’s early realization that there was a God above and beyond the idols that people (including his father Terach, according to the midrash) used to make. And his being thrown into the furnace. And all ten of his trials by God, some of them mentioned in the Torah, others fabricated for our delight by the rabbis.
But reading the text, not even closely, makes many of these midrashic embellishments unnecessary. They create a myth so unbelievable for those beyond a certain age (10 or 11) that maintaining belief in it is almost as great a feat as Avram’s trials and tribulations.
I don’t mean to detract from Avram’s status as a special person. He really was unique. Just consider what we had before. We had Adam and Eve who had no role models, no boxes to think in, no sense of good and bad, right and wrong or justice. What was – was what was.
Then we had Noah, a righteous man in his time, worthy enough to be saved, yet we know of no special steps he took to save anyone else. And when he finally got out of his claustrophobic menagerie of an ark, he took to the bottle. The flood wiped him out completely.
We had the people of Babel who wanted only to reach high, perhaps because the sky was there, and in general did not seem to be up to anything worthwhile.
So we have no one with a conscience, no one with a feeling for others, no one who will go out of his way to give you the time of day – and then along comes Avram and things change.
But before we marvel at Avram’s greatness, and we will, let’s reread the last paragraph of last week’s parsha, Noah. There we see that Terach set out from his homeland of Ur Kasdim with Avram and Nahor and Lot and Sarai, to go to Canaan, but when they reached Haran they stopped there. Why – we don’t know. Maybe Terach was tired. Maybe there were business opportunities he could not resist. But this means that Avram was commanded to leave the land he had come to with his father – if we do the math this may have been 65 years later, but still not his homeland.
And then the question of Lot. Why does Avram take Lot with him? Lot is not like Avram. He is very materialistic so his desire to go with Avram may be connected to Avram’s barrenness. And that may also explain Avram’s decision to take him. Avram and Sarai are childless and not likely to have children, so why not take Lot, his nephew, to be their surrogate son. After all, Lot’s father Haran (Avram’s youngest brother) died pretty early on. He needs a family, Avram wants a family – a win-win situation.
This also explains another story in the parsha. During the war between the four kings and the five kings, Lot is abducted. Avram gets his gang together and they go far north, almost to Damascus. That’s a long way to go without tanks and other machinery. (Imagine the headlines in the London Times – Hebrews massacre in Damascus). And why? Because Lot was family. A potential heir.
So we see that in our parsha Avram’s good actions are based on a sense of justice – but they are also rooted in pragmatics. Including fulfilling his father Terach’s original plan to go to Canaan.
But now we get to the special side of Avram’s behavior. He is in contact with God. Most cases of God-man relationships are one-sided. God doesn’t need anything. We need him for many reasons, (even if only to have someone to blame). Note that every time Avram deals with God, when some promise is made to shower him with riches and sire a nation and bring forth multiple progeny – there is always a price to pay.
You want to be MY representative on earth, leave your home. You want to sire my nation, go through circumcision. You want to have a child – go serve him up as a sacrifice. And each time, Avram says, YES LORD I AM READY, and he goes ahead and does what he is supposed to. At the same time he continues to stand up to God and even berate him: You’re making me a nation? You haven’t even given me one child! How dare you kill those murderous Sodomites without a trial …
This is a man of belief and of principles, and you can find a lot of such people around us today. They have strong beliefs and principles and will kill to uphold them. Disagree with them and they’ll kill you too.
What we don’t have enough of are people with beliefs and principles who also believe in the rights of others to live with their own principles. On both sides. The proportions of type 1 vs type 2 were obvious in the Beersheba bus station early this week when a mob shot and then pummeled a man to death because they thought he was a terrorist – and only one man tried (in vain) to stop them. Even if he had been a terrorist, there was no justification for this brutal behavior.
What we are seeing is the victory of our enemies over us. Not militarily. But ethically. Emotionally. We are on our way to becoming them in terms of behavior. It’s true we are under pressure. It’s true we feel frustrated by the occasional partial success of one attack or another. We want to release our frustrations, so we hit out. At others? More like at ourselves. At our roots. At our most basic tenets.
Lech lecha. It’s time for us to get going – toward the values of life and respect for others, even if some of the others have renounced them. We are Avram’s children. Let’s show that first to ourselves, and then to the world.