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Parshat Lech Lecha 2018
Get going. That was the command Avram received and obeyed. His destination was not stated but from the preceding paragraph, the one that ended last week’s reading, we know that his father Terach left Ur Kasdim to journey to Canaan. For whatever reason, he stopped at Haran and settled there.
This means that Avram was perhaps not completely ignoring his father’s aspirations. We don’t know. We are told in the midrash that Terach was a purveyor of idols and that Avram treated these idols in the same way that George Washington treated the cherry tree. He cut them down.
But perhaps these stories are merely intended to intensify the uniqueness of Avram, to make his decision to follow the One God an even more momentous event. Because if Terach, Avram’s daddy, was also on a spiritual journey to Canaan that might have been connected to the same monotheistic God that Avram chose to serve, Terach Junior would not seem to be so special.
But let’s not rush to strip Avram of his special status because he does deserve credit on more than one count. In addition to Sarai, Avram takes his nephew Lot with him. Lot’s father and Avram’s brother, Haran, died early. We read that last week too. Avram was in locus parentis – he was Lot’s uncle and his big brother, taking him along wherever he went.
But from a literary point of view, Lot is also a touchstone, a static character whose unchanging personality serves to highlight the changes that Avram, undergoes in the Torah stories.
Lot is the person Avram could have been or become. Lot was and remained materialistic. As Rabbi Yehoshua Berman points out, the sentence describing Lot’s abduction during the war between the four kings and the five kings is syntactically strange. “And they took Lot and his property the son of the brother of Avram and they left.” Is the property of Lot also the son of the brother of Avram? Shouldn’t the sentence read “and they took Lot the son of the brother of Avram and his property”?
And the answer Rabbi Berman gives is that the original sentence, putting the property ahead of Lot’s genealogy, indicates Lot’s priorities in life. Lot and his property were one. This is clear in his choice to live in Sodom, which was wicked in God’s eyes, because the area was fertile and just perfect for his livestock. We see this in his unwillingness to leave Sodom when the angels tell him that the city and all its inhabitants are going to be annihilated. And when he finally leaves, he becomes a drunkard.
Lot left Ur Kasdim and Haran, but Ur Kasdim and Haran never left Lot. Avram, on the other hand, was made of different stuff. He left behind his homeland and his father’s home, with all its influences – for good and for bad – and he set out on his own way. Or did he?
Leaving home is of course a difficult task. When our children leave home we feel pangs of longing for when they were children (even if some of those times past were less than peaceful). We may also feel that we haven’t given them enough tools to cope with life out in the cold cruel world, even though they may be more equipped than we are to deal with today’s innovations. Or we may feel relief that finally – they are out on their own and we are on our own again, if only temporarily.
But while our children may leave us, we don’t leave them. Even a child who rebels against everything that his parents stood for may eventually realize that he or she is actually behaving (and thinking) the way his or her parents did during those stormy times of rebellion. It is of course possible to be totally different from your parents in your thought processes and beliefs and behaviors but it is more than likely that underneath these differences lies a thick stratum of similarities that we may or may not want to admit to. These similarities may reflect behaviors and beliefs that go hand in glove, or they may reflect a violent reaction against them. But the source is undeniable.
Based on Avram’s behavior throughout our stories – his utter devotion, his sense of justice, his sincere belief, I would hazard to say that Terach was not an empty-headed idol maker. I might even suggest that his desire to go to Canaan was similar to Avram’s and that his beliefs, while perhaps misguided (if he believed in idols) were nevertheless sincere and deeply rooted. He was a believer.
Avram left Ur Kasdim and Haran for good. Later on he sent his servant for a bride for Yitzhak, and Yaacov journeyed there when he had to escape from Esau. But Avram never went back.
Thomas Wolfe wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again” mainly because you have changed and as a result your home has changed. But a piece of that home remains in us wherever we go, sometimes pulsating, sometimes quiescent. And things we learned or experienced there may float up at the most unexpected times and color our thoughts, perceptions and actions.
Did this happen to Avram? We are not told. But based on our own experiences, we may assume that it did. What would Avram have said to his father Terach? I told you so? You were wrong? You were right? Thank you? And what would Terach have said to Avram? You always were so stubborn? I’m proud of you? There’s a subject for a novel.