Lech Lecha is a Torah portion of journeys, of beginnings. It is a portion dedicated to setting the course of history.
Avram is commanded to go forth from his ancestral home. Together with Sarai and Lot, he travels as far as the land of Canaan and receives God’s blessing that the land will belong to his seed in perpetuity. Although they arrive together in the land, they don’t stay still long; in this portion alone, their wanderings continue through Egypt, around the land of Canaan, facing famine and war, infertility and conflict, evil leaders and righteous kings, name changes and eternal covenants.
In order to understand the journey of Abraham, we must look back before the journey to see what set the stage.
Abraham is the first Torah personality for whom we know much of the life of his father. At the end of last week’s portion, we read of the line of Shem, Noah’s son. Issuing from that line, we learn of Terach, the father of Avram, Nahor and Haran. The narrative shifts suddenly from recording births and deaths to the question of journeys. Parshat Noach concludes:
“Terach took his son Avram, his grandson Lot, son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, wife of his son Avram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there. The days of Terach came to 205 years; and Terach died in Haran.”
This yields a clear contradiction in the Biblical text.
Lech Lecha sees God commanding Abraham to leave his “native land” and “father’s house” to set out toward Canaan. What we find is that Avram actually begins this journey together with Terach.
Abraham is not created out of a void. His journey does not begin from a blank slate. He is a product of his father.
What can we say about Terach? Some recall the story of Abraham’s father being an idol maker, the young iconoclast smashing the statues. But that is Midrash, a story intended to yield an important lesson, not a Biblical “truth.”
Terach, we learn from the Torah, began the journey toward the land of Canaan; he left his home, brought Avram, Sarai and Lot along, but in Haran his journey ends.
Tradition speaks of the 10 trials of Abraham. Most will say the greatest trial is the binding of Isaac, the Akedah. The exact list of what constitutes the 10 trials is a source of debate, but I would like to assert that beginning this journey, following God’s call, is perhaps the most significant — because from it, the entire rest of the story flows.
To understand Abraham’s journey, to understand our collective journey and the individual journeys that each of us is on, they must be seen in context. Pulling the lens back on Abraham, we see the greater picture of his journey. Terach takes steps of faith toward a brighter future. Though he never makes it there, Abraham continues that journey. We see beyond the journey of Abraham, as Isaac continues that path, charts his own road but unquestionably extends his father’s journey. With the lens pulled back even further, we see ourselves in this journey, this ongoing quest to fulfill the mandate of Abraham — to make of our journey a blessing.
Rabbi Craig Axler is spiritual leader of Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Md.