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Lech L'cha: The Irresistible Power of Small Things

10/12/2021 07:53:18 PM


Rabbi Rudin


The Never-Ending Journey of Lech Lecha: The Israel Forever Foundation

We all know that Abraham is the first Jew and that G-d calls to him with an invitation to become the living channel by which G-d's blessings flow to and nurture humanity.   But what is it about Abraham that uniquely equips him for this task?  

As in everything else, context is everything.  Right before Abraham is called, a strange story appears in the Torah.  The human community, still recovering from the flood, decides to build a tower to heaven.  Are they making a survival plan in the case of another flood?  The Torah doesn't say, but their goal is clear and stated bluntly:  "come, let us make a name for ourselves and build a tower and a wall."  

So, using the pinnacle of technology at the time, they organize a production line of baking bricks and begin work.  The single-minded purpose of serving the cause of "making a great name" extends for generations.  Eventually, the clash of egos becomes too great and the project is abandoned.  Humanity fractures and scatters.

While all of this is happening, a tiny, seemingly insignificant story takes place.  In a city called Ur, a man named Terach has three sons: Abraham, Nachor and Haran.   Haran dies, leaving a wife (or perhaps daughter) and young son.  The fate of orphans and widows in the ancient world is dire.  Impoverishment and slavery were the norm, but abandonment and starvation were common, none of this through ill will, but through the economy of insecurity, scarcity and instability of an idolatrous society not based on compassion, but on power, not on the common good, but on the good of the well-connected and wealthy who claimed to be "god-kings."

But Sarai and Lot, Haran's family, do not share this fate.  Abraham steps up.  He adopts Lot and takes Sarai in levirate marriage: this is when a man marries his brother's widow to continue the line of his poor, dead brother.  In a generation of tower-builders focused on self-aggrandizement, one man is ready to put aside his own legacy, his own greatness, wealth and power to help the most disenfranchised: taking in a widow and orphan without any benefit to himself.  The children born would be considered Haran's children, not Abraham's.  

Now this, we can imagine G-d saying, is someone I can work with.

Greatness truly rocks and changes the world.  But greatness isn't found in "towering moments" or on high podiums or speeches or grand gestures.  It is found in small acts of kindness that reverberate and bring on an avalanche of renewal and a radical reordering that overthrows old hierarchies and priorities.  One mitzvah, one act of kindness at a time.

The story of the Torah is contained in the lesson of the ladder: we rise one rung at a time.  We are not required to reach the highest rung, nor to climb to the top overnight.  But we are required to keep moving upwards -- Abraham began the ascent and being a Jew means that the climb continues with us.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thu, June 20 2024 14 Sivan 5784