Friday, October 19, 2018

Dvar Torah & Podcast for Parshas Lech Lecha

 Parshas Lech Lecha begins planting the seed of the Jewish People with the introduction of Avraham Avinu. Avram, as he was originally known, was famously commanded by Hashem to leave his homeland and his family and travel to a far-off land, where Hashem would make him into a great nation. Many commentaries explain that this was the first test of Avraham’s faith in Hashem that showed he was worthy of being the father of the chosen nation.
       It is this pasuk, the first in the parsha, that I would like to focus on. The pasuk says, “וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ“Hashem said to Avram, ‘Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Bereishis 12:1). The commentaries discuss why Hashem tells Avram to leave three different places, his land, his birthplace, and his father’s house. It’s important to first understand the explanation of these three places, and the differences between them.
       I understand these three places as follows: “Your land”, this is the place that you know. You know the streets and the shops, you know the culture and customs. It’s a place you have called home. “Your birthplace”, is the place which knows you. Your parents, grandparents, extended family are all known in this town. You may have lived there for a short or long time, but if you return and mention your name, it’s recognizable; not necessarily because of you personally, but because of your family. “Your father’s house” is the most obvious; it’s where you have familial support. In this case, it doesn’t matter if you know the place or if the place knows you; even without either of those, you know you can survive there because you have family who will support you. With this, we can understand what Hashem was asking Avram to do. He was asking him to leave a place of familiarity, of sentimentality, of support, and venture out on his own.
       But there’s one thing strange with request. At the end of the previous parsha, the Torah tells us that Avram’s father, Terach, took his entire family out of the town of Ur Kasdim to Charan. This week’s parsha tells us that Avram left Charan to go to Eretz Yisrael. Charan may have been Avram’s land and the home of his family, but it most certainly wasn’t his birthplace! The Torah even tells us this specifically (See 11:28). So when Hashem asks Avram to leave his birthplace, it has already been done; what is He asking for?
       With an examination of the next pesukim, another question arises. The only reason the Torah tells us the age of any individual is for historical context. For example, if we know this person was born in year ‘x’ and was this old when he died, then we can figure out how long the Jewish People spent in Mitzrayim; or something similar to that. However, in our parsha the pasuk writes, “וְאַבְרָ֗ם בֶּן־חָמֵ֤שׁ שָׁנִים֙ וְשִׁבְעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה בְּצֵאת֖וֹ מֵֽחָרָֽן“…Avram was seventy-five years old when he left Charan” (Bereishis 12:4). There doesn’t seem to be any significant reason why we need to know Avram’s age at this point. Furthermore, why would it matter his age specifically when he left Charan?
       I would like to begin answering these questions by examining the end of last week’s parsha. Parshas Noach ends similarly to Parshas Bereishis, with a listing of the genealogy from Noach until Avram. But when we arrive at Avram’s father, Terach, the Torah tells us a whole long story about him. First, he has Avram at the age of seventy. Then, his son, Haran dies. The his other two sons get married, then Terach uproots his entire family to head towards Eretz Yisrael only to stop in Charan for some unknown reason. Finally, the parsha ends with his death in Charan at the age of 205. Why the need for this whole story? To tell us that Avram got to Charan from Ur Kasdim? The Torah can figure out another way of telling us that.
       Furthermore, Rashi there brings a confusing Chazal. If you calculate the age difference between Terach and Avram, when Terach died, Avram was 145; which means that Terach was still alive when Avram left him to go to Eretz Yisrael. So why does the Torah say that Terach died before Avram left? They answer that in order to protect Avram from people saying he didn’t honor his father for the last 60 years of his life, the Torah kills him off before Avram leaves.
       This Chazal is confusing for two reasons. First, the Torah has been following a similar pattern since Adam’s death. It lists the birth of the next generation, the length of the person’s life, and then their death. It completely ignores the historical order of events and focuses only on the chronological history. Why should it be any different here by Terach? Secondly, if the Torah wanted to hide the fact that Terach was still alive when Avram left, it didn’t do such a good job! Just four pesukim later, it tells us that Avram was 75 when he left Charan; simple math tells us that Terach was still alive at the time!
       I’d like to propose an explanation which answers all of our questions. The command from Hashem to Avram to leave his hometown did not occur chronologically at the beginning of this week’s parsha, but rather, at the end of Parshas Noach. That’s why Hashem tells Avram to leave his hometown, because at the time, he was still in his hometown! But when Avram went to tell his father he was leaving, Terach actually agreed to go with him! What prompted this move on Terach’s part? Perhaps this is the reason why the Torah goes into his seemingly unimportant life story.
       There is a famous midrash that might explain why Terach left Ur Kasdim. Avram had challenged the authority of the evil King Nimrod by teaching monotheism. Nimrod threw him into a furnace only to see Avram escape unscathed. At this point, Hashem had seen that Avram had the potential to become the father of the Jewish People, and decided to get the ball rolling on that process by commanding Avram to head out and find his destiny.
       Perhaps seeing Avram miraculously survive convinced Terach of the truth of Hashem, and when Avram told him Hashem had commanded him to head to Eretz Yisrael, not only did Terach agree to go, he led the way (See 11:31)! This whole set of pesukim is written only as a credit to Terach; he accepted the word of Hashem and was actually heading towards Eretz Yisrael to fulfill that command! Along the way, for whatever reason, Terach stopped in Charan and settled there. (As the pasuk says, “וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ עַד־חָרָ֖ן וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם“they arrived at Charan and they settled there” [ibid].)
       At a certain point, even though he didn’t want to leave his father, Avram had to continue on to fulfill the will of Hashem. So at the age of 75, he left Charan to continue to Eretz Yisrael, taking his wife and nephew, but leaving his father. This is why the Torah mentions Avram’s age, because this is a significant moment, it’s when he actually left to fulfill the word of Hashem. And that’s why his age is specific to his leaving Charan. Until this point, Avram hadn’t fulfilled the requirement to leave his father’s house; now he finally was.
       It can also explain what Chazal mean that the Torah ‘hid’ Terach’s real death date from us. They were concerned that people would think Avram didn’t honor his father; nothing could be further from the truth! Avram honored his father a tremendous amount! He allowed him to take center stage on a journey that was supposed to be Avram’s show of faith in Hashem (The pasuk says, “וַיִּקַּ֨ח תֶּ֜רַח אֶת־אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֗וֹ“And Terach took his son Avram…” [ibid]. This wasn’t Avram’s journey, Terach took him along!) He stayed with him in Charan even though he was supposed to be continuing on to Eretz Yisrael. He went beyond his scope of responsibility. So while the fact that Avram left during Terach’s lifetime isn’t exactly hidden by the Torah, the fact that it’s not written explicitly is important to note. The respect of Avram towards his father must be preserved.

Shabbat Shalom!

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