“Go from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.”
When we meet Abraham, the first Jew, he is commanded to leave his home. His reward for following this seemingly mundane commandment is the destiny to be “a great nation and… a blessing.”
But who is Abraham? What did he do to deserve such a great reward for merely moving? We have no clue or context. Abraham’s narrative in the Torah begins at seventy-five.
If we look at rabbinic literature - in the Talmud and Midrash - we are regaled with a host of epic stories about Abrahams past: His precocious recognition of the Creator, his gambit to smash his father’s idols and his miraculous escape from Nimrod’s fiery furnace. All of these stories help us understand who Abraham was, how much he accomplished and put on the line for his burgeoning Jewish identity.
But the Torah tells us none of this. It doesn’t even tell us that Abraham was righteous or upright, as it does with other previous figures.
The lesson is one foundational to being Jewish today: Abraham’s previous exploits were based on his personal service - his understanding, his cunning, his willingness to sacrifice himself for his own convictions. But ultimately, no matter how powerful and true or actions are, they are limited. Everything we see, think and do is born out of the physical limitations of our corporeal existence.
Abraham was no different. He may have been thrown into a fiery pit . . . but it was for his beliefs.
The performance of a mitzvah, the foundational actions of Judaism, are altogether different. They are not the actions of creation, but rather the will of the Creator. They are the divine bonds that hardwire us to our Source.
When Abraham left his home, when he set forth on a personal exodus, he was following the commandment of G-d. This was not an earthly act of a limited entity, but rather the forging of a transcendent bond with an infinite Creator.
That is where the story of the Jewish people begin - everything before that is just commentary.
Abraham smashes the icons of his father. Art by Sefira Creative for Chabad.org
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