Well I looked into a house I once lived in
Around the time I first went on my own
When the roads were as many as the places I had dreamed of…
Now the distance is done and the search has begun
This week’s Torah portion begins with God telling Abraham that he needs to get a move on.
And the Lord said to Abram, “Go for your own good and go from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you and I am going to ensure you become a great nation…”
Rabbi Noah Weinberg זצ”ל was fond to point out the difficulty in the order of places Abraham was told to leave. It would have made more sense to tell Abraham to first leave his father’s house, then his birth-place and then his country. Go from the more specific and local geographical place to the larger, more general one.
If God were to come to you and tell you to leave the United States, there would be no need to tell you to leave your city/birthplace and certainly not necessary from the very street where you grew up. Once He says to leave the country, the others are covered.
Rav Noach pointed out that in addition to Abraham being told to physically leave, he needed to psychologically and spiritually move on as well. Then the order makes perfect sense, for the easiest values to leave behind are your national ones. You are not as connected to the generic values of a nation as you might be to the localized values of your birth place. And the most influential values are those that you grew up with in the intimacy of a family setting. The closer to home, the more connection you have to the beliefs, nuances and prejudices of that particular area.
Abraham was told that for him to be the great person he would become, to create the nation which would be a leader-nation and light unto others, he had to expand and move beyond his too comfortable surroundings. He had to leave behind the values that locked him into place, physically and otherwise, and get out of there.
We see this all the time that when people move from the comforts of their home and familiarity of their surroundings, they are challenged and become greater, wiser, more open to alternative options and do things that they otherwise would not had they not uprooted themselves from their origins. Horizons open up and new vistas become available to change and grow a person when they take leave of their birthplace.
Abraham was the first to truly challenge the wrong ideas of his surroundings, namely polytheism, and undertook to educate the rest of the world about that. But God pushed him further to really question everything he assumed to be so from his particular community by telling him to move from it.
This becomes a lesson and challenge for each and every one of us to do the same. To question the given truths of the country we grew up in, the values of our immediate environment, and to even put to test and wonder about the most cherished assumptions from our parents. This does not mean you should throw the baby out with the bathwater and redo everything, but to openly investigate the innate views we have from our surroundings.
This has always been a hallmark of the Jewish people – not to accept the status quo, to think outside the box and view things from a different angle. To not walk lockstep with any worldview but forge out on our own. It is why Jews have been at the forefront of creativity throughout history and often alone on the side of moral issues.
This is our inheritance from Abraham and the challenge that God gave him and us. It is lonely at times to jump out ahead of the rest and try to bring them with you to a view few others share. Abraham was the ultimate Renaissance Man and he serves as a beacon for us to do the same so we can better our world and bring them to a place they may never have seen or experienced before. Although the forces of darkness are many and some would like to reverse the progress Abraham created, as history has shown, their days are numbered and their beliefs do not take hold for any significant amount of time. They die out while Abraham’s vision continues to shine bright and far.
The great song-traveler passed through here And he opened my eyes to the view And I was among those who called him a prophet
Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale