At the outset of Parashat Lech Lecha, Hashem informs Avraham Avinu: “Lech Lecha MeiArtzecha UMiMoladtecha...El HaAretz Asher Ar’eca; Ve’Esecha LeGoi Gadol, VaAvarecheka, VaAgadelah Shimcha, VeHeyeh Berachah”, “Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace…to the land I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing” (BeReishit 12:1). Ramban (ibid. s.v. VeHeyeh Berachah) asks: why is Avraham selected to be the recipient of such lofty and exalted blessings, when the Torah provides very minimal background information. Who was this man Avraham and what did he represent?
In Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avodah Zarah VeChukot HaGoyim (1:3), Rambam describes the great spiritual and geographical journey of Avraham. Avraham finds himself in a world steeped in idolatry, and yet he takes a step back and starts to ask: How is the sphere of the earth revolving without anyone controlling it? Who is causing it to revolve? He therefore realizes that there must be one God who controls everything, and he firmly believes that the rest of the world is terribly mistaken. Therefore, he begins to debate with the people of Ur Kasdim, challenges all of their beliefs and ideologies, and pleads with them to exclusively worship Hashem. Avraham was even bold enough to decimate their idols in an effort to forcibly steer them away from their polytheism. Once Avraham Avinu begins to overcome the people with his arguments, the king wants his head and he escapes miraculously to Charan. He continues on his path, going from city to city, country to country until Kana’an, screaming that there is one God in the world; ultimately, through his enormous efforts, he amasses a tremendous following.
The Torah often describes Avraham as “Avraham HaIvri” (cf. 14:13); Rav S.R. Hirsch (ibid.) based on BeReishit Rabbah (42:8) explains this to mean that Avraham stood on the other side, i.e. in opposition to the entire world. The legacy of Avraham was his isolation in his own distinctive character.
In a similar vein, the Navi Yechezkeil tells us that “Echad Hayah Avraham”, “Avraham was one” (33:24), but what does that mean? Rebbe Nachman (Likutei Moharan 2:1) explains that Avraham saw himself as the only person in the world serving Hashem. He ignored all the people who were on the wrong track and were putting obstacles in his way, including his own father. Avraham conducted himself as if he was the only one in the world, and Rebbe Nachman explains that this is a great starting point in our Avodat Hashem. We must take the outlook that there is no one else in the world, and never pay attention to any mockery that could preclude us from executing our greatest Avodat Hashem.
The Chatam Sofer, in the introduction to his She’eilot VeTeshuvot in Yoreh Deah, explains the absolute greatness of Avraham Avinu and what made him so unique. There were spiritual giants who preceded Avraham: Chanoch, who preceded Avraham by several generations, was so great that he ascended to heaven without dying and became a senior angel (cf. Mesechet Derech Eretz Zuta 1). Why was Avraham, however, “only” given the title “Ohavi”, “the one who loves me” (Yishayahu 48:1), never reaching Chanoch’s exalted status? If Avraham wanted to, he could have achieved the same level as Chanoch. Had he gone into isolation, and spent time meditating and contemplating, he also would have risen up to Shamayim without dying. He went out to the public, however, to increase the recognition of the Malchut Shamayim among the nations and to spread the word of Hashem throughout society. Avraham Avinu truly was the “Ohavi”; he loved Hashem so much and desperately desired to spread belief in Hashem to everyone in sight.
This understanding now takes us full circle in terms of why Avraham was worthy to be the recipient of such blessings. The Ramban (op. cit.) explains that Hashem told Avraham to go to Canaan and continue his monumental work in the Holy Land. It would be a much more ideal place to spread the wisdom and knowledge of Hashem. The place of Hashem’s heightened Shechinah is the most opportune place to speak of Hashem. Additionally, His name would be great there, and many nations would bless each other using his name. Through Avraham Avinu’s great reputation and renown, he would be further enabled to successfully and productively continue his incredible mission in the land of Cana’an.
This is our legacy as B’nei Avraham. We must be willing to stand in opposition to the whole world, and our commitment to Hashem should be unwavering, for He is the source of our joy, pride, and blessings. We should take all steps to constantly increase the Kavod Shamayim in the world. Then, BeEzrat Hashem, we can all reach greater heights.