Vort from the Rav: Lech Lecha

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Genesis 15:4

כִּי אִם אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִמֵּעֶיךָ הוּא יִירָשֶׁךָ
This one will not inherit you, but the one who will spring from your innards-he will inherit you.

This promise is the culmination of a long and frustrating journey for Abraham. When Abraham received God’s command of lech lecha, he also received a promise that the Almighty would make him a great nation and he would be a blessing to all people on earth (Gen. 12:1-3). Abraham interpreted this promise to mean that his mission was to convert the nations of the world to monotheism, starting with the inhabitants of the land he would be shown. Since he was concerned with converting the people he would meet, on his journey he took not only Sarah, his wife, but also Lot and the converts that he and his wife had already made in Haran. We do not, however, hear another word about these converts; they apparently abandoned Abraham the closer he came to Canaan. Abraham then “passed through the land” (Gen. 12: 6), directing his message to the Canaanites. Although God then appeared to Abraham and said, “to your own children will I give this land,” Abraham thought that the message referred to spiritual children, so He built on that spot an altar to God in accordance with his interpretation of God’s message (Gen. 12: 7). It is noteworthy that the Torah never says that he sacrificed upon the altars he built, for apparently he built them to attract a crowd so that he could address the people.

Abraham kept traveling further southward towards Egypt, which was then the center of civilization. Who better to heed his message than the Egyptians? Only when Abraham realized how immoral the Egyptians were, and that his message had no chance of catching on there, did he leave. After the great disappointment of his encounter with the highly civilized but grossly immoral Egyptians, Abraham escapes Egypt, again unsuccessful in his mission. Yet he continues his journey and goes back to the same places he had come to before, and finally to the very place where he had earlier pitched his tent, east of Beth-El. He returns, indeed, to the very altar he built from which he preached to all, and again calls out in God’s Name (Gen. 13:3-4).

And here began his second great disappointment. Among Abraham’s entire coterie, his nephew Lot should have been most affected by his message. Yet Lot and his shepherds forsook Abraham and his mission, and chose to dwell among the most wicked people of that time, the people of Sodom. Abraham is not sure where to turn to continue his teachings. If Lot would not listen, then who else would? Yet Abraham is so imbued with belief in his message and his conviction that the people of the land, even of Sodom, would ultimately heed it, that he moves his tent to another location, Elonei Mamre, and again builds an altar (Gen. 13:18). His last hope is that the power is yet within him to convince the inhabitants of the land of Canaan (including Sodom and its wicked neighbors) of the error of their ways. There is a war of four kings against five; Lot and his family are taken prisoner together with the King of Sodom and his followers. Abraham is forced to arm his household and to rescue them. Abraham triumphs, saves Sodom’s king and his followers as well as his nephew Lot and his family. Does the King of Sodom mend his ways, or even show gratitude? On the contrary, he says Give me the souls, and the possessions take for yourself. “Abraham, your spiritual message is meaningless. We know what really interests you. You take the booty.” For the first and only time in the Torah, Abraham displays fury. In the king of Sodom’s cynical words, Abraham sees his perceived mission of influencing mankind crumble before his eyes.

So Abraham now answers God’s promise of reward with a desperate, heartbreaking cry. In response, God assures him that Eliezer will not be his heir; that actual children and not converts will carry on the message. With the Bris Bein Habesarim Abraham begins a new mission. (R. Nisson Shulman Notes, 1952)

About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav's Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

One comment

  1. Channelling Ramban, perhaps, do you understand the Rav to mean that Melech S’dom’s cynicism was based on Avraham’s return from Mitzrayim a wealthy individual, having exposed Sarah to potential danger?

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