The past two weeks, we have focused on the creation story from the perspective of humanity’s role to continue the process: the mandate of God to Adam and Chava in Parshat Bereshiet, to be God’s junior partner in the creation saga. (Genesis 1:28)
The mandate that is found in Parshat Noach’s Haftarah, that if we are going to ensure that there’s never the destruction of the world, of society, it is our responsibility to be involved in Tikkun Olam, the perfection of the world. (Isaiah 54:1 – 55:5)
And in Parshas Lech Lecha, we are introduced to the most important couple to organized religion, to Islam, Christianity and Judaism. And that is Avraham and Sarah. They are perhaps the most famous couple in human history.
What do we know about these two people before they ascend the world stage as leaders? The Torah tells us nothing about them, nothing.
Yes, Midrashic texts, rabbinical texts, and even pseudepigrapha try to fill in the gaps. So much has been proposed about their upbringing and their past, but the Torah tells us nothing.
We’re told that Avraham finds God through the cosmos, but the Torah tells us nothing. (Breishit Rabbah 39:1)
We’re told that Nimrod throws Avraham into a fiery furnace to perish because of Avraham’s rebellion against idol worship, but again, the Torah tells us nothing. (Breishit Rabbah 38:13)
The bottom line is that in the text of the Bible, in the text of the Torah, we learn nothing about Avraham and Sarah until they are 65 and 75 years old, and become citizens of national importance.
Maybe the absence of a background is to communicate to all of us that what makes Avram, “Avraham”, and Sarai, “Sarah”, is not their pedigree, it’s not their wealth or their stature, but their willingness to “Lech Lecha”, to go and to make a difference in the world. (Genesis 12:1)
Despite their challenges of infertility, despite the issue of famine or kidnapping of family members, they are able to engage others: “And the souls they had acquired in Haran”. (Genesis 12:5)
Avraham faces his arch nemesis, Nimrod, in the battle of the four to five kings. It’s over the soul of society, and he is triumphant. He rescues his family. (Genesis 14:1-15)
He deals with kings with respect, yet with a commitment to ethics and allegiance to God: “The Most High God, Who possesses heaven and earth”. (Genesis 14:22-24)
His relationship to God is so meaningful that he can even question God: “What will You give me, since I am childless.” (Genesis 15:2)
You want to know why we don’t know anything about their past? Because what defines them, indeed, what defines us, is not our past, but our capacity to “Lech Lecha” to get up and make a difference.
And in the process of “Lech”, of going. we learn “Lecha”, so much about ourselves. The message of Sefer Bereshit continues: it moves from a universal paradigm to a more particular one.
But it reminds us that what makes Avraham and Sarah, our patriarch and our matriarch, is not their past, but what they’re willing to do to change the world, and in the process, change themselves.