We encounter Avraham Avinu calling out in the name of Hashem at various points throughout Parashat Lech Lecha. As Avraham ascends the mountains to the East of Beit-El he constructs a Mizbei’ach and calls out in the name of Hashem. Upon Avraham’s return from Mitzrayim, he revisits that same location and possibly renews his call in the name of Hashem. Following Lot’s departure from Avraham, Avraham travels toward Chevron and builds an additional Mizbei’ach in the name of Hashem. Yitzchak, too, builds a Mizbei’ach in Be’eir Sheva and calls out in the name of Hashem following his feud with the shepherds of Gerar.
Ramban (BeReishit 12:8 s.v. VaYikra) explains that Avraham’s instinct was to inform and publicize Hashem’s divinity and glory whenever he travelled to a new location whose residents were unfamiliar with Hashem’s name. Yitzchak mimicked Avraham’s tendency in his effort to disseminate widespread recognition of Hashem. Interestingly, Ya’akov is never seen calling out in the name of Hashem, unlike his father and grandfather. Ramban reasons that this was due to the makeup of Ya’akov’s family. Ya’akov successfully raised multiple children, all of whom were dedicated toward serving Hashem, and, as a result, recognition of Hashem’s name was publicized via their conduct and the lives that they led rather than through any pronouncement or verbalized message.
In these two models of our Avot, we can identify two distinctive methods of inspiring greater belief, love, and commitment to Hashem. One method entails articulating a verbal message and publicizing that message in order to reach a broad audience. Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzvat Asei no. 3) speaks in these terms in his formulation of the Mitzvah of Ahavat Hashem. He cites the Sifri which identifies Avraham as the paragon of Ahavat Hashem, “Avraham Ohavi.” Avraham’s abiding belief in, understanding, and love of Hashem necessarily and contagiously found expression in Avraham’s educational message to his contemporaries and could not be selfishly contained within himself. An individual who is enthralled by another can’t resist the urge to gushingly praise and speak about that person to whomever is willing to listen.
The Gemara in Yoma (86a), however, presents an alternative method toward realizing the goal of Ahavat Hashem. An individual’s conduct and comportment alone can cause the name of Hashem to be beloved in the eyes of others. Constant study, faithful and honest dealings, and pleasant speech elicit an admiration of Torah, those who are privileged to study it, and the One who delivered it to the Jewish people. It takes true wisdom to know when to lead by example and when an articulated, educational message would be most effective.
The Midrash (BeReishit Rabbah 39:16) develops Avraham Avinu’s call in the name of Hashem one significant step further. Not only did Avraham raise awareness and recognition of Hashem’s presence in the world, but he initiated the conversion of those very same individuals and entered them beneath the divine wings. Avraham’s proselytizing efforts and success are captured in the phrase “VeEet HaNefesh Asher Asu BeCharan,” which describes the people travelling with Avraham and regarding which Rashi (BeReishit 12:5 s.v. Asher) famously describes Avraham’s conversion of his male peers and Sarah’s conversion of her female peers. Rambam (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 1:3) estimates that the number of lives that Avraham and Sarah impacted soared into the thousands and tens of thousands. Rav JJ Schacter once noted that despite the broad influence that Avraham and Sarah had on their generation, we remain permanently unaware of the names of even a single individual who they inspired. The lone name that stands out for posterity is the name of their own child, their son Yitzchak, “Ki BeYitzchak Yikarei Lecha Zara.” The importance of spreading a universal recognition and consciousness of Hashem notwithstanding, the most crucial task for any parent is to ensure the transmission of those very same values within the home to one’s own children.
Onkelos translates Avraham’s call to Hashem not as an outward call to others, but as a direct prayer from Avraham Avinu to Hashem. May those prayers be answered in offering us the vital wisdom and insight to know our audiences and to know when to formulate educational messages that inspire and when to educate through inspirational behavior, broadly, and, most importantly, to those closest to our homes and to our hearts.