There’s a persistent question that’s likely been on all of our minds for decades, but which has been particularly nagging over the past three weeks. Looking at the war in Israel and the antisemitism here and elsewhere, how often do you ask yourself if things will ever change? Even if (hopefully when) terrorist groups are taken down and eradicated, does antisemitism go away? Does anti-Israel sentiment go away? Is peace achieved?
Lately, I’ve been wondering about the ability human beings have to change, to adapt, and to accept changes in others. There are the somewhat superficial changes, like the ease with which my kids can go from having a favorite food to absolutely despising that same food in the blink of an eye. Then there are the more significant, impactful changes, like the ways in which my personal theology, values, and style have shifted and morphed over the years. The arc of my life story is one that shows how very different the human being I am today is from the one I was thirty, twenty, or ten years ago. I’d venture to say that may be true for you as well, and it’s certainly true for the first patriarch in the Torah, Avram, as we read in this week’s parshah.
In Parshat Lech Lecha, we are finally introduced to Avram and Sarai – later Avraham and Sarah – who become the great patriarch and matriarch of the rest of our narrative. We learn that Avraham follows God with full intent, without questioning, and that Sarah goes with him, both of them acting through their faith in God and each other. The text from last week ends with the genealogy of the generations starting with Noah. Very little information is given about this time period other than these highlights: Avram and Sarai were married, Sarai could not have children, and Avram’s father took him and his family, including his grandson Lot, on a journey toward a new land. We also know that Terach, Avram’s father, was 205 when he died, and this time-based fact leaves a few unanswered questions. How old was Avram? Did they all go willingly? What were they doing in Haran? Was Avram happy there? Why did they leave?
You’ve probably heard the story from midrash (commentary on the Torah) that tells of Avram taking a stand against polytheism and smashing the idols his father made. But that story’s not in the text. All we know is that Avram went on a journey with his father and family, they stopped before they got the their final destination, and then his father died. The next line of the text is the beginning of Lech Lecha, where God is speaking directly to Avram and pushing him to go to the promised land, the land to which his father was en route.
The first 75 or so years of Avram’s life are passed over without mention. The main parts of his story are shared when he begins to act on his own, with his own convictions and beliefs. Perhaps the midrash of smashing idols is so prevalent in our storytelling because it signifies the change that Avram wanted to make in his life, and it helps us reconcile the gap in the narrative and in Avram’s apparent frame of mind. One of the messages of Parshat Lech Lecha is that change is possible, and it can have enormous consequences, but it only happens when, individually, we decide the journey is worth it.