OU Torah Insights ProjectParashat Lech Lecha
"And G-d said to Avraham: Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace, and from your fathers house, to the land that I will show you."
How Avraham ascended to the stage where Hashem appeared to him is not mentioned in the Torah, but the Midrash is full of stories of a youthful Avrahams journey, how he studied nature and local social practices until he became convinced of Hashems existence.
The Midrash gives many accounts of Avrahams debates with the people of his generation regarding his newly discovered G-d. They did not take kindly to his pronouncements and ultimately threw him into a fiery furnace--from which he emerged, miraculously, unscathed.
None of this background, however, is recorded in the actual text of the Torah. Instead, we find Hashem commanding a 75-year-old man to uproot himself from familiar ground and undertake an undefined journey.
Why does the Torah choose to introduce us to our Patriarch in this manner?
Allow me to suggest that Hashem wanted to clarify at the very outset that Judaism is fundamentally different from other faiths. In Judaism, deed takes precedence over creed; action is more important than belief.
Faith is not the goal of Judaism--it is an assumption, a foundation upon which our religious lifestyle is built. Faith is not the end result of Judaism; it is the beginning.
In Judaism, salvation comes through action and correct behavior. Perhaps that is why there is only one mitzvah of belief among the 613 Biblical commandments. It is the first of the Ten Commandments, " I am the L-rd your G-d."
All the rest are commandments of action or inaction.
It follows, therefore, that while Avraham became the very epitome of human faith in G-d, he is introduced as a simple man of action. His faith is already there and secured.
How did he arrive at it?
For Avraham, it was as obvious as creation. He saw it in the rising and setting of the sun, in the cycles of nature, and in the order of life.
But beyond faith is action. Now it is time to go forward, Hashem tells Avraham.
"Go for yourself from your land and from your birthplace." Targum Onkelos translates this last phrase, "Go from your youth." It is time to move on.
Faith is indeed the primary prerequisite for a religious personality; but only correct action makes a person pious.Rabbi Howard Zack
Rabbi Zack is rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, California.
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