by Rabbi Jeff Berger
Last week’s parsha ended with the 10 generations from Noah until Terach, father of Avram. Lech Lecha begins with God’s first communication to Avram asking him to embark on a journey. ‘Leave your land, birthplace, and father’s house, to the land I will show you’ (Genesis 12:1).
For his faithfulness in undertaking that journey, God promised: ‘I will make you into a great nation, will bless you and make your name great … Those who bless you will be blessed and those who curse you will be cursed, and through you will the families of mankind be blessed.’ (Ibid 12:2-3).
Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 5:3) states that Abraham was tested 10 times during his life of faith, but the list isn’t provided. In his commentary to the Mishna, Maimonides (the Rambam), basing his analysis on references from the Torah – and not from Midrashic literature – fills in the missing details.
Leaving his homeland was the first and the command to sacrifice Isaac was the last. In between, were the challenges of the famine that forced him to Egypt, the capture of his wife by Pharaoh, rescuing Lot from the Battle of the Four versus the Five Kings, taking Hagar as a surrogate mother and his circumcision.
In next week’s parsha, we find the capture of Sarah by the King of Gerar, the command to send away Hagar and Yishmael, and Yishmael’s subsequent estrangement.
It is well-known that the Torah is not a history book, although its references shed light on much that occurred in the ancient world.
The stories of the Patriarchs are not just explanations of why these remarkable individuals – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – merited to be the patron figures in Judaism, whose names and memories we invoke daily in our prayers and at special times during the year.
Additionally, they serve as examples – for every generation – of the pathways to spiritual growth. Like Abraham, are we willing to go against civilisation to follow God’s requests?
Do we maintain faith when our decisions meet with failure and need amending? Do we have courage to fight those stronger than us, even to question God’s justice?
Are we willing to give up what we cherish most? As members of the Abrahamic family, we will be challenged to emulate his journeys. And, in succeeding, we, too, will be blessed and serve as a source of blessing for others.