This week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, Genesis 12.1 – 17.27,[i] is a rich narrative that begins with the calling out of Avram (Abraham) and his family, and ends with the sealing of a covenant with Abraham and his family via the rite of circumcision. In between there are episodes interactions with Lot, foreign powers and domestic harmony as well as disharmony.
An interesting aspect of this parasha is the appearance of the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people, specifically to Avram, the first patriarch, – לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ “Get going out from your land, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you” (12.1). The previous time it is recorded that Hasehm spoke to anyone, He told Noach to build an ark, a concrete project to which Noach could set his mind and hands. Plus, there was a completion or end to the project in sight. Avram did not have such an option or opportunity – “get up and go to a place I will show you” requires faith not only on Avram’s part but also on the part of Sara, his still barren wife, and the members of his extended family, specifically Lot. Avram chose to follow the leading of Hashem, even though it was into the unknown. In recounting Israel’s history, Joshua would proclaim, “Thus says Adonai, God of Israel: ‘From ancient times your fathers—Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor—lived beyond the River and worshipped other gods’” (Joshua 24.2). So, it must have been quite a surprise to Avram for Hashem to reveal Himself both audibly and discernibly – Avram both heard the LORD and understood His message – and he acted upon it. Rav Shual may have had the life of Abraham as an example in mind when he wrote to the believers in Corinth
What agreement does God’s Temple have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God—just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from among them, and be separate, says Adonai. Touch no unclean thing. Then I will take you in. I will be a father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says Adonai-Tzva’ot.” (2 Corinthians 6.16-18)
The idolatry in Corinth was well known throughout the world of the Second Temple Period, and Rav Shual was commanding the Yeshua-believers there, just as Hashem commanded Abraham, to leave the familiar behind and to separate themselves from the idolatry of their homes and communities. לֶךְ־לְךָ, come out from among them, continues to be the admonition for both Israel and Yeshua-believers. We are to be a people separated unto our LORD. Daily, as we recite the Shema, we affirm שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה אֶחָֽד “Hear, O Israel, the LORD, our God, the LORD alone” (Deuteronomy 6.4). He alone is the One to be worshipped and adored. The first of the Ten Words, (Ten Commandments) is “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20.3). Our God is a jealous God, and He will not share with any other gods or with anything else that potentially could come between Him and His people (cf. Exodus 34.14).
But, as is common to all humankind, Israel slipped, was disobedient to the mitzvot of the LORD, was disciplined and was taken into exile. In the Haftarah for Lech Lecha, Isaiah 40.27 – 41.16 we hear the prophet reminding Israel that she will not be forgotten nor cast away from the presence of the LORD forever. Written, probably while Israel was in exile sometime in the mid-sixth century BCE, the Ruach of ADONAI reminds disciplined Israel
But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, My friend – I took hold of you from the ends of the earth, and called from its uttermost parts, and said to you, “You are My servant – I have chosen you, not rejected you. Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Surely, I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41.8-10)
When reading in English, we often miss the subtle nuance of the word “but” in Isaiah 41.8. The inclusion of this word should draw us back to the preceding verse(s) – specifically verse 7 for the comparison between Israel the LORD’s servants and progeny of His friend Abraham, and idolaters. Rashi sees the craftsman as the one who forms the idol, the smith overlays it with gold, the one with the hammer adds the finishing touches, and then all together they agree that the idol is good.[ii] Therefore, the conjunction “but” separates the idolaters from Bnei Yisrael, even though it is well known that throughout the prophets, Israel is admonished to put away, to destroy all the foreign idols – separating themselves from them as Avram did, and as Rav Shaul encourages all Yeshua-believers to do.
It was Avram’s (Abraham’s) faith in Hashem, the God who communicated with him though unseen, that saw him through all the trails and struggles of his life. It is that same faith that continues to carry and keep Israel secure in the “righteous right hand” of Hashem, even in the midst of being disciplined. It is the same faith that caused the author of the letter to the Hebrew Yeshua-believers to proclaim
Keep your lifestyle free from the love of money, and be content with what you have. For God Himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” so that with confidence we say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What will man do to me?” (Hebrews 13.5-6; cf. Deuteronomy 31.8)
In closing, let the reminder of the same author encourage each of us, as he did his readers centuries ago. Speaking of all those who walked in faith before us, in good times and bad, he wrote
Therefore, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also get rid of every weight and entangling sin. Let us run with endurance the race set before us, focusing on Yeshua, the initiator and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12.1-2a)
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[ii] Rashi on Isaiah 41.7, http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15972/jewish/Chapter-41.htm#showrashi=true