וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃
This straightforward verse is really not as simple as it seems.
Abraham already knew where he was going as is evident from the end of last week’s Torah portion.
וַיֵּצְא֨וּ אִתָּ֜ם מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֗ים לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ עַד־חָרָ֖ן וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם׃
“...and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.” (Gen. 11:31)
Additionally, this verse (Gen. 12:5),
וַיִּקַּ֨ח תֶּ֜רַח אֶת־אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֗וֹ וְאֶת־ל֤וֹט בֶּן־הָרָן֙ בֶּן־בְּנ֔וֹ וְאֵת֙ שָׂרַ֣י כַּלָּת֔וֹ אֵ֖שֶׁת אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֑וֹ וַיֵּצְא֨וּ אִתָּ֜ם מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֗ים לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ עַד־חָרָ֖ן וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם׃
“Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.
according to Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin, sets up a parallel; they knew where they left from and they knew where they were going.
If this is the case, why does God tell Abraham to go to the land that He “will show” Abraham.
Rabbi Henkin suggests that when God says that he will “show” Abraham the land, it is not a geographical lesson that God wished to offer Abraham, but rather an ethical one!
Abraham was sent by God to Canaan in order to establish a nation on a foundation of righteousness and justice.
כִּ֣י יְדַעְתִּ֗יו לְמַ֩עַן֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצַוֶּ֜ה אֶת־בָּנָ֤יו וְאֶת־בֵּיתוֹ֙ אַחֲרָ֔יו וְשָֽׁמְרוּ֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ יְהֹוָ֔ה לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט לְמַ֗עַן הָבִ֤יא יְהֹוָה֙ עַל־אַבְרָהָ֔ם אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֖ר עָלָֽיו׃
“For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, in order that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what He has promised him.” (Gen. 18:19)
God wants to make sure that Abraham understood the people living in the land and what his challenges may be. God paints a very sober picture of what Abraham will encounter.
וַאֲבָֽרְכָה֙ מְבָ֣רְכֶ֔יךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ֖ אָאֹ֑ר וְנִבְרְכ֣וּ בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָֽה׃
“I will bless those who bless you, and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” (Gen. 12:3)
Abraham, God says, will encounter those who curse him, yet those that curse him will, nonetheless, be blessed by his presence. Despite expecting poor treatment, Abraham is commanded to aid his neighbors. This is what וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה “And you shall be a blessing” in the previous verse means. “Your neighbors will curse you”, God tells Abraham, yet, “you must respond by working to improve their conditions - be a blessing!”
This is powerful stuff and a great challenge.
What I glean from this is that when one works to be a blessing, one should not base their sense of satisfaction on approval or confirmation.
Maybe this is what the Rabbis meant when they said: (Pirkei Avot 1:3)
אַל תִּהְיוּ כַעֲבָדִים הַמְשַׁמְּשִׁין אֶת הָרַב עַל מְנָת לְקַבֵּל פְּרָס, אֶלָּא הֱווּ כַעֲבָדִים הַמְשַׁמְּשִׁין אֶת הָרַב שֶׁלֹּא עַל מְנָת לְקַבֵּל פְּרָס, וִיהִי מוֹרָא שָׁמַיִם עֲלֵיכֶם:
do not be like servants who serve the master in the expectation of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve the master without the expectation of receiving a reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you.”
I always thought that this teaching was about not expecting reward from God, but maybe it is more general than that. We should never allow reward or recognition from anyone to motivate us.
Our impetus to do good should be because it is the right thing to do (This Is what I think “and let the fear of Heaven be upon you”, means) .
This is one of the first things that God teaches Avraham and can serve as a great guide for us.
Rabbi Barry Gelman
Rabbi Barry Gelman is the Director of the Bobbi & Vic Samuels Center for Jewish Living and Learning (CJLL). Rabbi Gelman teaches a number of classes at the ERJCC and is working on injecting Jewish content to existing programs as well as developing new programs to highlight the beauty and relevance of Judaism.