Torah for the Times

Friday, October 26, 2012 - 10 Cheshvan, 5773

Torah Reading: Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1 - 17:27
Candle Lighting Time: 5:41 PM

Shabbat ends: 6:40 PM

The Inexorable Journey



Multiple Departures?

This week’s parsha begins with G‑d’s instruction to Abraham to leave his land, his birth place, and his father’s house and go to the land that G‑d will show him.

The Torah then records Abraham’s compliance with G‑d’s directive as he takes his wife, his nephew and all their belongings that they acquired in Charan. The Torah says “they departed heading to the Land of Canaan and they arrived at the land of Canaan.”

When surveying the very first verse where G‑d tells Abraham to leave his land, his birth place and his father’s home, the following question arises:

Hasn’t Abraham already left his birthplace? At the end of the last parsha, the Torah makes it clear that: “Terach took Avram his son, Lot—the son of Haran, his grandson—and Sarai—his daughter-in-law, the wife of Avram his son—and they went out with them from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan. They reached as far as Charan and settled there.”

It is clear that Abraham—who was then still called Avram—together with his father, Terach, had already left his land and birthplace of Ur Kasdim. Shouldn’t the Torah have stated only that G‑d told Abraham to leave his father’s house?

Where was Abraham Born?

This question has prompted a debate among early Bible Commentators about the location of Abraham’s birthplace. According to Nachmanides, Abraham was actually born in Charan. Thus, the opening of our parsha, where G‑d talks to Abraham in Charan and tells him to leave his birthplace, reads much more smoothly.

Ibn Ezra, however, follows the approach that he was born in Ur Kasdim and then moved to Charan. If so, the question remains why did G‑d tell him to leave his birthplace if he had already done so?

Ibn Ezra explains that the command to leave Ur Kasdim actually preceded his father’s move to Charan. But, whereas his father decided to stay in Charan, Abraham continued on his journey to Canaan.

Rashi appears to adopt the position of Ibn Ezra, the indeed Abraham was born in Ur Kasdim. With regard to the question of why G‑d commanded him to leave his land and birthplace, when he had apparently already done so, Rashi explains that G‑d meant he should continue to distance himself from his land and birthplace even further, by continuing on to the Land of Israel.

Three Questions

The question still remains, however, why couldn’t G‑d simply say to him, “Leave your father’s house and go to the land that I will show you?” Why bother mentioning his land and birthplace at all?

Another question raised by Or Hachaim: After G‑d tells him to leave his land, there is no longer a need to tell him to leave his father’s house. Why did G‑d have to refer to both?

One can raise a third question: In the verse that describes Abraham’s departure, it states: “Avram took Sarai…and they departed, heading for the land of Canaan and they arrived at the land of Canaan.”

Why does the Torah have to say that “they departed heading for the land of Canaan” and then say they arrived there? It could have simply stated: “Avram took Sarai and they arrived in the land of Canaan.” If he was in Charan and he arrived in Canaan, it is obvious that he departed for Canaan, why must it be stated explicitly?

A Study in Contrasts: Abraham and Terach

To answer all these questions we ought to contrast the statement here and the one made at the end of last week’s parsha about the respective journeys of Terach and Abraham:

In last week’s parsha the Torah states: “Terach took Avram…and they went…from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan. They reached as far as Charan and settled there.”

Terach also intended to go to Canaan but when he got to Charan he terminated his journey and stayed there. He never made it to his original destination—the land of Canaan.

By contrast, when Abraham departs with the intention of going to Canaan, he actually goes there. He does not get stuck in Charan, but moves on without his father to realize the goal G‑d had set for him.

This not only underscores the greatness and uniqueness of Abraham but it also conveys an important message for all generations—ours in particular.

There are many idealistic people who make resolutions to achieve certain goals. And indeed they are sincere in their intention of realizing their objectives. They set forth on a journey determined to reach their destination. However, when they stop to rest on the way, they find it difficult to continue on their journey notwithstanding their original idealism.

Abraham was different. Nothing could sidetrack or distract Abraham from fulfilling his G‑d given mission; nothing could deter him from pursuing his goal.

The Psychology of Giving Up

Why do people sometimes abort their spiritual journeys?

Several reasons can be proposed that explain why people do not always follow through on their intentions

The first reason is fear. Many discover how daunting the journey can be when they confront unanticipated obstacles. When people confront resistance they are intimated and freeze.

This explanation is hinted in the location at which Terach aborted his journey—Charan. The word Charan is etymologically related to the word Charon, which means anger. When one confronts the opposition and rage of a reluctant and adversarial world, it instills fear and paralysis in the hearts of those who started their journey with idealism and enthusiasm.

A second reason why some cannot realize their life’s goal and cut short their journey is that they are distracted by the enticements of the places they stop at along the way.

A parable that describes this phenomenon is the king who makes an extravagant offer. Anyone may enter the palace treasury and take any article of value for one day only. Many people are so dazzled by the lush gardens that surround the palace, the mesmerizing music, the beautiful artwork that adorns the palace - that never make it to the treasury to claim their treasure.

In a similar vein, we get so caught up in the material and secondary spiritual matters that we forget that we are on a journey that is supposed to take us to a final destination.

A third reason is that people get tired and decide to retire early. People get tired and lose some of their original energy and zeal for the journey.

A fourth reason is complacency. Many people make great strides in the initial stages of their journey and are quite content. They revel in the positive accomplishments that they already enjoy. They no longer feel compelled to advance forward.

Abraham Had his Eye on the Goal

We can now answer the questions posed above.

The reason why G‑d said to Abraham to leave his land and birthplace, considering that he had already left his land and birthplace, is to highlight the inadequacy of just leaving a birthplace—one’s point of origin—only to remain stuck in one place. Terach also left his birthplace but only in the geographic sense. Abraham, by contrast, was able to truly make a complete and total detachment from his birthplace. Abraham did not regress.

Thus G‑d tells him to leave his birthplace even though he had already told him to leave his land. By truly leaving his attachment to his birthplace and the attraction it held for him, he was empowered to leave his land as well. Again the contrast with Terach is highlighted. Terach, though he left his birthplace, could not leave his land because in truth he never really left his roots.

And this answers the question of why the Torah has to add that “Abraham departed.” It is to underscore that Abraham’s resolution to leave towards Canaan was a resolution that actually translated into action, as opposed to Terach’s determination to go to Canaan that was halted.

Our Final Destination

The message for our generation is that we too were told by G‑d to go on a journey that will lead us inexorably to the time of the final Redemption, when the world will become a good and G‑dly world.

A problem arises when we give up on continuing on the journey to finally reach our destination. Whether our hiatus is a result of our being intimidated by the obstacles, enticed by the glitter of he here and now, or we become complacent with our achievements in exile, it must be overcome.

Whatever the reason that might get us “stuck in Charan”, we must learn the lesson from our father Abraham to once and for all take our determination to leave our land, birth place and our father’s house aspects of exile and march toward the final Redemption!

Moshiach Matters

When one says, "We hope for Your salvation," he should bear in mind that he will be asked after his demise, "Did you await salvation?" Therefore, he should intend to be among those who hope for redemption.
However, even though the vast majority of our prayers revolve around expecting redemption, one cannot reply affirmatively when asked, "Did you await salvation?" just because he recited these prayers. Rather, one must expect redemption hopefully and wholeheartedly.(From When Moshiach Comes by Y. Chayoun)

Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit