LECH LECHA

“And he be­lieved in the Lord ; and He counted it to him for right­eous­ness” Gen­e­sis 15:6

The Jewish Chronicle - - Judaism - ELAINE ROBIN­SON

AL­MOST OUT of the blue, at the beginning of Parashat Lech Lecha, God ap­pears to Abra­ham, com­mands him to travel to the “promised land”, blesses him and prom­ises him that he will be­come a great na­tion. How­ever, the To­rah never tells us why Abra­ham was cho­sen for this great task.

Al­though one would ex­pect the To­rah it­self to pro­vide the an­swer to such a fun­da­men­tal ques­tion, the Book of Bereshit seems to skirt the is­sue en­tirely. In con­trast to Parashat Noach, which in­forms us right at the out­set of the rea­son for Noah’s dis­tinc­tion — “for he was a righ­teous man” — Parashat Lech Lecha never re­veals the rea­son why God sin­gled out Abra­ham.

What ini­tially do we learn about Abra­ham? He leaves his fa­ther’s house without so much as a by-your-leave; he lies to Pharaoh about his wife Sara, say­ing she is his sis­ter, and puts her life in dan­ger; he has a child by his wife’s ser­vant Ha­gar, and then harshly ban­ishes her to strug­gle in the desert soon af­ter giv­ing birth. Hardly moral choices that sin­gle him out to be the “fa­ther of many na­tions”.

What else do we learn about the per­son­al­ity of Abra­ham? He is a suc­cess­ful ne­go­tia­tor; he lis­tens to the voice of his wife, he wel­comes in guests, and we are told that he will teach his chil­dren “the way of right­eous­ness and jus­tice”. If we re­turn to the ex­am­ple of Noah as a hint, we can look closely at our text and make an ed­u­cated guess that Abra­ham is cho­sen for some as yet un­re­vealed char­ac­ter­is­tic — his right­eous­ness – an as­sump­tion com­pounded by the num­ber of times the word is used in con­nec­tion to Abra­ham (see Gen­e­sis 15:6, 18:19; and seven more times in the ex­change be­tween Abra­ham and God over whether to spare Sodom and Go­mor­rah, in next week’s parashah).

What does it mean to be righ­teous? A righ­teous per­son is one who dis­plays cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics: in­tegrity, eq­uity, jus­tice, up­right­ness. Some­one who is just, true and sin­cere. Per­haps we could look at th­ese seem­ingly neg­a­tive sto­ries about Abra­ham, cited above, through a dif­fer­ent lens: Abra­ham is a hu­man be­ing who strives for right­eous­ness, and that is why he is cho­sen.

Ju­daism has high ex­pec­ta­tions of hu­man­ity. Many of us strive to be moral, eth­i­cal peo­ple, but some­times we make mis­takes. We should not de­spair when we in­evitably make them. Rather we should find the strength to pick up and con­tinue on our quest for right­eous­ness.

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