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Changing Course

Friday, 19 October, 2018 - 2:38 pm

There is a famous anecdote about George Washington’s youthful years. Once he chopped down his father’s cherry tree. When confronted by his father, he readily admitted his misdeed. “I can't tell a lie, Pa,” he is quoted as replying.

Interestingly, this story only surfaced after George Washington’s death. Having become the great general and President of the United States, there was obvious interest in his childhood. Biographer Parson Weems interviewed acquaintances that knew him half a century earlier to discover this gem of a story.

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This week’s parsha Lech Lecha opens with G-d’s dialogue to Avram. He is commanded to leave his homeland for another unknown land. Avram eagerly complies with these instructions.

This is the very first episode that the Torah tells about Avram’s life. Avram was no spring chicken at the time. He was 75 years old.

We might assume that this omission is due to the fact that nothing dramatic – or at least nothing significant to his becoming the first Jew – occurred prior to this event. A cursory reading of the Midrash, however, reveals several remarkable stories of Avram – from his discovery of Hashem to his refusal to bow to idols (even smashing his father’s idols). Further, the Midrash tells that the king of the time, Nimrod, had Avram thrown into a fiery furnace in a public display of punishment for promoting his monotheistic ideas. Miraculously, Avram survived – and obtained many followers to his nascent group.

The Torah does not explicitly relate any of these tales. It simply begins with a conversation between G-d and Avram at 75 years old.

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Avram was indeed an accomplished man. He was already the founder and leader of the world’s only monotheistic movement at the time. It’s not like we needed some biographer to come along and point to some prior events that validate Avram’s standing. So, why does the Torah choose to ignore this in the text?

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Imagine you are Avram. You have a different belief system than the entire world. You are persecuted for it. Despite all this, you establish a movement and gain adherents. You are a success. You are a pioneer. All for the sake of G-d.

Nonetheless, the G-d that you believe in does not reach out to you. He does not give you a pat on the back. He does not communicate to you, instruct you, or even scold you. He appears absent from your life.

Finally, He speaks. And He tells you to move on. To begin anew. To do something different.

How would you have felt?

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The greatest accolade that we can give Avram is his perseverance and dedication. For all the years, he continued worshipping Hashem without any conditions. When Hashem finally spoke to him, He said to do something different; to move on.

Avram is the first Jew because Avram had the fortitude to continue – unheralded – doing what was right. And then – when asked – to change course.

This is the compliment that Hashem gives Avram when He instructs him simply to “be perfect.”

***

The future of Judaism is secure when we follow in the footsteps of the founder of Judaism. To move forward in the way that G-d asks, whether or not we receive the greatest compliments for doing so.

I’m not 75 yet, so I know that I have a lot to do before even dreaming that I have persevered.

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