by Rabbi Joan Glazer Farber, Adult Learning Specialist, Union for Reform Judaism
“And the Journey Continues…”
Preparing for a journey of any kind can be daunting. So many questions guide our steps: With whom will I be travelling? What is the purpose of the trip? What will I need for my journey? What will the weather be like? Should I bring the laptop or escape from technology? The answer to each question leads to additional questions and actions to be taken. Until we have answered the questions and completed the actions, we cannot begin the journey.
For Avram and Sarai, their journey seems to begin with our parashah and a series of instructions to Avram. However we need to step back to find the first stage of their journey.
Then Terah took his son Avram and his brother’s son Lot son of Haran
and his daughter-in-law Sarai, and they left Ur of the Chaldeans to go
to the land of Canaan; and they got as far as Haran and settled there.
The years of Terah’s life came to 205; then Terah died in Haran.
Thus the journey begins not with God calling Avram but with Terah moving his family from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran. We are not told why Terah decided to move nor why only Avram, Lot and Sarai traveled with him. We are told where they were headed – Canaan – but Terah never reaches his destination. So why did Terah leave Ur? We are given a hint in a midrash:
Rabbi Hiyya said that Terah was a maker of idols. One time, he went
out, and he left Abraham to sell [the idols] in his place. A person
came and asked to buy one, and [Abraham]asked him, ‘How old are
you?’ And the man said to him, ’50 or 60 [years].’ And [Abraham] said,
‘Oy to the man who is 60 years old and needs to worship [an idol]
that is a day old!’ [The man] was embarrassed, and he went [on his way]
In another example, Avram is again left in charge of the idol shop and stages a battle between the various idols, destroying all except the largest idol. When Terah returns and surveys the damage, Avram explains that the largest idol destroyed all the other idols. Terah is forced to acknowledge that the idols aren’t alive and could not have done what Avram described.
Avram’s actions in Ur and in his father’s idol shop were detrimental and contrary to Terah’s professional life and his spiritual leanings. If we include the midrashim in our understanding of the development of Terah’s journey, we begin to see Avram as a catalyst for change and the need to depart from Ur. Avram questions his father’s beliefs and his chosen profession, asking: How can you believe in idols made of wood and stone, which cannot help you? Terah was pushed to reconsider his beliefs and to seek a new path.
Perhaps Terah initiates the journey to Canaan as a reaction to Avram’s actions. This journey enables Avram’s separation from the idol worshipping culture in Ur and ultimately as preparation for separating from his father. Thus Avram, Sarai and Lot continue the journey begun by Terah.
וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָֹה אֶל־אַבְרָם לֶךְ־לְךָ מֵֽאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶֽךָּ
The Eternal One said to Avram, “Go forth from your land, your birthplace, your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)
It seems bold that the initial contact between God and Avram requires a leap of faith to enter a journey with an unknown deity to an unknown location. In fact, the Torah does not give any background information about Avram beyond his birth and traveling with his father.
If God has selected Avram because of the actions which are described in the various midrashim, then we are led to understand that Avram is willingly on the journey to separate from idol worshippers and to explore his own understanding of the Divine. God’s instructions are very clear: Avram must leave his father behind both physically and emotionally. As Nehama Liebowitz wrote on Genesis 12:1:
The first revelation of the founding father of the Jewish people, is
characterized but an extreme particularism, placing a barrier
between Abraham and the rest of the world, taking him out of his
social surroundings, his family and his country.
By separating and continuing on the journey, Avram is setting the example for all to follow: in order to mature and become responsible adults, some must separate from families and the insular communities of our youth and begin to forge our own identities. Others need to individuate themselves from their parents while remaining in close proximity. Avram is guided by God and is blessed with the knowledge that Terah was understanding of the need for journeys.
May we, like Avram, be able to continue the journeys begun by our ancestors and be blessed with a sense of the Divine in our lives.