These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PCJE] Lech-Lecha: Hearing the Call

Posted on November 3, 2014 by Binyamin Cohen

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Night Seder Chevrutas Binyamin Cohen and David Wallach
join together to reflect on this week's parshah.

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בְּרֵאשִׁית י”ב:א

“וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ”

‘God said to Abram, “Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.”’ (Gen. 12:1)

This sentence which opens our parshah introduces us to the man who will be the first of our forefathers. While this command opens up many complex questions, we must first ask a very important one, which the text neglects to address. Imagine for a moment, you opened up Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone and the book began, “And Harry Potter found himself in his first class at Hogwarts…” You would be quite confused. Who is Harry Potter, and what is he doing at Hogwarts? What is Hogwarts? Our verse poses the same problem, and it is one that the Ramban addresses. We know that Abram is the son of Terach, but why did God choose to appear to him? When we read about Noah, the Torah is sure to explain to us that he is righteous, and as such, we understand why God chose to speak to him. However, with Abram, we have no idea. So what was so special about Abram that he merited God’s instruction and choice?

The Midrashim, as is their fashion, try to fill in the details by creating stories to prove to us that Abram was a good choice. However, the Sfat Emek, quoting the Zohar, brings about a more beautiful answer. The Zohar, he claims, says that it was not only Abram to whom God called; rather, God called out “Lech Lecha” for all in the world to hear. What made Abram so special? He not only heard the call, but he listened to it. The whole world may have heard the words, but they did not do anything about the call. They didn’t stand up to the task.

This might be easier to understand through a parable. A company put out an advertisement for a new jingle creator. There were many applicants, all of whom were asked to come in on the same day, at the same time, for an interview. They all arrived, and took their seat in the waiting room, anxiously awaiting their interview. While they were waiting, some nice music was playing in the background. After ten minutes, some of the applicants began to wonder if any of them were ever going to be called in. Twenty minutes, thirty minutes, still no sign of the CEO inviting any applicants in. Finally, all of the sudden, one of the applicants burst into the CEO’s office. Moments later, it was announced that he had received the job. Perplexed, another applicants asked the CEO what had taken place in those thirty minutes. He explained that the music playing on loop in the waiting room consisted of the words “the first person to come in to my office will get the job.”

All the applicants heard the music, but only one of them really paid attention to it. Only one of them truly listened to its message. The same is true with Abram in our parshah. The Zohar and the Sfat Emet tell us that the whole world heard the call from God, but only one individual knew to listen to it. This man was Abram.

In this understanding lies a deep and meaningful lesson for all of us. God, or the world around us is always calling out to us, with lessons and messages. We all hear the sound, but often, maybe too often, we don’t listen to the message. The opportunity is before us at every moment, we just need to listen and heed to it.


Based on the Sfat Emet al HaTorah, by Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the second Gerrer Rebbe.