This week we meet Avraham, again. There’s always something special and reassuring about this reacquaintance. I have nothing bad to say about Adam or Noach, but they’re distant and somewhat alien. But Avraham, he’s our Zeidy, and I feel the kinship. Maybe because I was born into a proud, but not really observant family in the Diaspora, I sense a kindred spirit. It’s comforting to feel that, in a more humble way, I and many of us have trodden the path that he blazed. So, in this year’s reliving of those experiences, I again try to discover the moment that our beloved Patriarch became the larger-than-life hero of our people and our family.
This year I’m drawn to a verse towards the beginning of the Torah reading: From there (the Shechem area) he moved on to the hill country east of Bet El and pitched his tent, with Bet El on the west and Ai on the east; and he built there an altar to God, and invoked (called out) God by name (Breishit 12:8).
Full disclosure: I really love this verse. It appears on the wall near where I sit in the shul of my daughter’s community in the area called Binyamin. This small village a couple of kilometers west of Beit El, on the main north south highway through the Shomron is called Givat Asaf. Those wonderful and spiritual individuals who live there feel very strongly that they inhabit the approximate spot referenced in our verse. It can’t be too far away, but it’s hard to get too accurate, because we really don’t know where Ai was.
Going back to our verse, I believe that we’re being taught that Avraham developed as a spiritual personality during his progress through the Land. In the Shechem area, he first felt the KEDUSHA (special sanctity and aura) of Eretz Yisrael, and he responded to this feeling by bringing an offering. But here something else happened.
Avraham ‘called out in the Name of God’. What does that mean? The authoritative translation of Onkelos avers that he prayed. This is the first time that we’re informed that a Jew davened. Cool! Something motivated our beloved Zeidy to address God.
There is a suggestion that Avraham was doing TESHUVA for the Generation of the Tower of Bavel. He built an altar, and called out in the Name of God to undo the damage of those sinners who were building a wondrous Tower to make a SHEM (name) for themselves. Here’s Avraham teaching that the only truly significant Name to call upon is God’s.
However, the Ibn Ezra adds another approach. He suggests: It may also mean that he called upon men to worship the Lord. This concept appears to be based on a Midrash:
this teaches us that he caused God’s Name to be called by every person. Alternatively: ‘He called’ – he began converting converts and bringing them under the wings of the SHECHINA (Divine Presence, Bresihit Raba 39:16).
A century after the Ibn Ezra, the Ramban expanded upon that idea: The correct interpretation is that Abraham loudly proclaimed the name of the Eternal there, before the altar, informing people of Him and of His Divine essence. In Ur Chasdim, he taught people but they refused to listen. Now, however, that he had come to the land which he had been promised, And I will bless them that bless thee (verse 3 above). He became accustomed to teach and to proclaim the Deity.
This is fascinating! We have all these Midrashim about Avraham influencing people in his homeland. Plus, we are told that he brought people with him into the Land (verse 5). It may be that these people who were moved by Avraham’s (and Sarah’s) behavior, rather than words. But it’s at this moment, in this place, that Avraham becomes an NCSY regional director or a Chabad Shaliach, and influences with the force of his rhetoric.
The S’forno adds that he picked this location because it was halfway between two relatively large population centers. It was here he could attract crowds. Good strategy.
I find meaning and significance in a different, perhaps more literal, explanation for the verse. He found his voice in Eretz Yisrael. Jews definitely like to talk wherever they live. But that doesn’t mean that they found their voice. Everybody notices that we feel safe saying things in certain places or settings. One of the nicest compliments one can give another is: I feel comfortable telling you this.
Generally, I find that here in our Homeland I feel more comfortable sharing personal things, which in the Diaspora I wouldn’t. Even stupid things. Here, people seem more open to sharing details, even with strangers, than in the rest of the world people just don’t. I’ve told perfect strangers how much I paid for our car or what my monthly rent is.
But that’s not profoundly significant. What is truly important is that we talk about our beliefs and ideas more openly here. It was only after I made Aliya that I had the nerve (CHUTZPAH?) to talk to others about living in Eretz Yisrael, and what it means to me.
Even in the DIVREI TORAH delivered after our daily Minyan by the congregants, there is an openness to express feelings as well as ideas. This means a lot to me. We shed certain inhibitions here, and I believe strongly that it’s of great consequence for our lives to feel this way.
There’s a clear reason for this: Only in Eretz Yisrael does a Jew truly feel at home. Avraham Avinu, again, paved the way towards a momentous reality.