The Selection of Avraham

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion


PARASHAT LEKH LEKHA

SICHA OF HARAV YEHUDA AMITAL SHLIT"A

The Selection of Avraham

Summarized by Matan Glidai

Translated by Kaeren Fish

 

"And God said to Avram, Get you out of your land and your birthplace..." (12:1). A question immediately arises as to the connection between this verse and the one that concluded last week's parasha: "And Terach took Avram... and Lot... and they departed with them from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan, and they came as far as Charan and they dwelled there" (11:31). Why does God suddenly command Avraham to go to the land of Canaan if Avraham was planning to go there anyway? And if we say that Terach's family had decided to remain permanently in Charan, then what is the significance of the Torah's narration of the original intention of their journey?

This question stands at the center of a debate between the Ibn Ezra and the Ramban. The Ibn Ezra, at the beginning of the parasha, writes that the command to "Get you out" was given to Avraham while he was still in Ur Kasdim. Although he was told to leave also his "father's house," God allowed Terach to join him on the journey, since He knew that Terach would continue no further than Charan.

The Ramban (12:1) rejects this explanation for several reasons. The verse, "I am God Who took you out of Ur Kasdim" (15:7), would seem to substantiate Ibn Ezra's view, but the Ramban explains (11:28) that "who took you out" refers to the miracle that God performed in bringing Avraham out alive from the fiery furnace in Ur Kasdim. This, in turn, is problematic in light of a verse in Sefer Nechemia (9:7): "You are God the God who chose Avram and BROUGHT HIM OUT OF UR KASDIM and made his name Avraham" – which would seem to suggest that bringing Avraham out of Ur Kasdim was an important and critical stage in his selection.

The command "Get you out" presents a difficulty also from another direction. For twenty generations the Holy One had spoken with no one but Noach. Noach was a righteous man who found favor in God's eyes, and so God spoke to him. All the rest of humanity, it seems, was not sufficiently righteous for them to merit God speaking to them. Who, then, is this Avraham? In what way did he merit God's revelation to him? Why are we told nothing about his character, his history, or his actions?

This question becomes even more disturbing if we look at the content of God's command. The Holy One promises Avraham that He will make him into a great nation, that He will bless him and make his name great, but He demands no action on Avraham's part (other than that he depart for Eretz Canaan)! Are there no commandments that he will be required to observe? Is he receiving such great reward "for free"?

The Maharal answers these questions in his book Netzach Yisrael (chapter 11). He explains that it was at this point that Am Yisrael was chosen from among all other nations: God selected Avraham and his descendants after him. Had we learned that the Holy One selected Avraham because of his righteousness, then we would conclude that the selection of Am Yisrael was based on Avraham's actions. Had the Holy One made His reward to Avraham conditional on the mitzvot that he would have to observe, we would conclude that our connection with God is conditional upon our observance of the mitzvot. The Torah wants to show that this is not the case: the selection of Am Yisrael is not dependent on their actions. Even if there would be a generation of Am Yisrael that did not observe mitzvot at all, their chosen status would not cease. If Am Yisrael wished to cease observing mitzvot and to cut themselves off from God, they would not be able to. God has chosen them and they are forever bonded to Him. The selection of Am Yisrael is of eternal validity and is not dependent on anything.

Let us return to the question with which we began: Didn't Avraham and his family plan to go to Eretz Canaan even before the command? It was God's hand that caused them to wish to go to Eretz Canaan, but they had no idea that it was God who was leading them in that direction. God had chosen Avraham and his descendants after him, and He wanted them to get to Eretz Yisrael and live there, and so He directed events in that direction.

Eretz Yisrael is an important and central element in the selection of Am Yisrael. The verse in Nechemia quoted above continues as follows: "You are God the God Who chose Avram and brought him out of Ur Kasdim... and you forged a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanite..." We find here two important principles with regard to the selection of Avraham and Am Yisrael:

  1. The Holy One took Avraham out of Ur Kasdim without Avraham knowing that it was God Who was leading him.
  2. The Holy One made a covenant with him regarding Eretz Yisrael. In fact, the whole Torah comes to teach us how Am Yisrael settled in Eretz Yisrael and then returned to it following a prolonged exile. Rashi, at the beginning of parashat Vayeshev, writes: "After describing the settlements of Esav and his descendants briefly, [the Torah] describes the settlements of Yaakov and his descendants at length and all their manifold exploits, for these are important to God and so He expands on them."

Thus there are three important fundamentals in the selection of Am Yisrael:

a) The selection is not dependent on Am Yisrael's actions.

b) Eretz Yisrael is an inseparable part of the selection.

c) The hand of God guides Am Yisrael without their knowledge.

We may see throughout history how God has guided Am Yisrael towards Eretz Yisrael. The story of Lot teaches us that the settlement in Eretz Yisrael will be beset with problems – so it was from the beginning, and so the situation has continued through the ages. But ultimately things will sort themselves out for Am Yisrael, as they did in the past.

(Originally delivered on leil Shabbat Parashat Lekh-Lekha 5756 [1995].)

 


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