The Jewish Way by Mordy Friedman


At the very beginning of our Parsha, apparently out of nowhere, Hashem tells Avram to "go forth from his land, the place of his birth and his father's home, to a land that He will show him" (בראשית י"ב:א'). Something very strange appears to be going on here. The seemingly excessive details concerning the place Avram is to leave is startling in contrast to the ambiguity concerning the place Hashem tells him to go. It would have made more sense to say it the opposite way, concentrating the details on the land of Avram's destination, for Avram surely knew where he was leaving since he lived there. What he didn't know was where he was going. Why, then, did Hashem present the details concerning what seems to logically be the wrong place?

The conclusion we can draw from here is that the main purpose of Avram's travel was not that he was to go to any one particular place. Rather, the main purpose was for Avram to leave his land, the place of his birth, as well as his father's home. Why was this necessary?

The Gemara in Nedarim (דף ל"ב:) tells us that at the age of three, Avram, after long hours of deliberation, came to a logical conclusion that there has to be a G-d. Ever since that time, Avram was in constant theological conflict with his father, Terach, who was an idol-seller. In fact, the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah (פרשה ל"ח סימן ח') records the story where Terach left Avram alone to tend to his idol store, and Avram smashed all the idols, and then told Terach that the biggest idol had done it. Had he stayed in his father's home, and the idolatrous society of his homeland, Avram would never have become

Avraham Avinu. He never would have succeeded in his fight against idolatry, because it would have brought him into continual conflict with his society, his idolatrous family and especially with Terach his father. Rather than having Avram live in conflict with all these evil influences, Hashem tells him to take the peaceful route, to depart. By departing, Avram could continue his life-long battle against idolatry and at the same time avoid painful clashes with his parents, for such confrontations would certainly not enable him to honor his parents, a concept which the Torah holds in very high esteem.

Many Meforshim try to "cover-up" the fact that Avram seemed to have done an improper thing by leaving his father, who was an old man. The Midrash later (שםפרשה ל"ט סימן ז') says that this is why the Torah writes that Terach died in the last Posuk of Parshas Noach (שם י"א:ל"ב), so that people would not get the bad impression that Avram left his father in his old age. The Midrash (שם סימן ח') even documents a complaint by Avram about this very matter, whereupon Hashem told him not to be concerned, for they are plotting against his (Avram's) life, so no guilt should be felt by leaving them. Similarly, Ibn Ezra tries to cover up this apparent act of disrespect by Avram by saying that Terach was a wicked person, and wicked people are considered as if they are already dead; Avram was therefore exempt from the Mitzvah of honoring his father. Although these answers are nice, it is still difficult to explain how Avram could have left his old father. We must therefore accept the idea that it was impossible for Avram to fulfill his G-d given mission of spreading monotheism and starting Hashem's nation while still living in the house of Terach. Avram may have done something which seems inappropriate, but, due to the circumstances, he did the best he could, and, even more so, he had Hashem's permission to do this.

Hashem's decision to spare Avram from the massive conflict that would have resulted had he remained in Terach's home enabled him to depart and avoid the issue totally, for both Hashem's and Avram's own good. This attitude of abandoning a conflict in order to keep peace between one's family is the so called "Jewish way." The Jewish way is not to seek battle, but to avoid it; not to embrace conflict (unless necessary), but to run away from it. In fact, the Torah records an incident only a little later (שם י"ג:ז') where the shepherds of Avram were locked in a conflict with the shepherds of Lot; Avram shies away and retreats from the conflict, telling Lot to choose any land he wants for grazing, and he, Avram, will take what's left. Avram knew that it is crucial to avoid conflict at all costs. Of course, there are limits; one can not shy away to all conflicts. Avram knows this too, and when Lot is captured by the four kings, nothing stands in Avram's way as he launches a massive attack to rescue Lot from captivity (שם י"ד:י"ד). Similarly, the Torah commands us to engage in a מלחמת מצוה, a war which is a Mitzvah to engage in. But the Torah sets limits, and we are authorized to fight only under certain circumstances. Although the Jewish way is not to be too enthusiastic about conflicts, fighting, and wars, the Torah understands that there are some times when engaging in conflict and wars is necessary. We hope, though, that the Jewish people will merit being able to avoid any battle, and, as we say every day in the prayer of Az Yashir, "שמעו עמים ירגזון חיל אחז ישבי פלשת...נמגו כל ישבי כנען," "Nations heard and trembled, terror gripped the dwellers of Philistia...all the dwellers of Canaan disappeared" (שמות ט"ו:י"ד-ט"ו), without any conflict - the Jewish way.



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