The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Marcheshvan 13, 5769/November 11, 2008

"Avraham My friend"
(Isaiah 41:8)

The two Torah readings of Lech Lecha, (Genesis 12:1-17:27) and Vayera, (ibid 18:1-22:24), chronicle the life and travels (both physical and spiritual) of Avraham avinu - our father Abraham. Very revealing of who Avraham was is the fact that G-d's first words to Avraham, "Lech lecha" were spoken only after decades of spiritual search and discovery by Avraham taken upon his own, and only his own, initiative.

Avraham was troubled by the politically correct anthropocentric humanistic relative moralism of his day. In other words, he rejected the claim that man and man alone is the arbiter of right and wrong. Avraham lived in a world in which glorified thugs like Nimrod, the ruler of Ur (Babylon) and Pharaoh, the leader of Egypt, by virtue of their temporal powers, assumed the roles of gods, issuing decrees of life and death in accordance to their own convenience and sense of self aggrandizement.

Little wonder then, that, having left Ur for Haran, where he was able to pursue his search for the one G-d which he intuitively knew ruled all of creation, and where he was freer to teach others his new discovery, G-d commanded Avraham to travel onward to the land "that I will show you." (ibid 12:1) For the land of Canaan to which Avraham set out, was beyond the spheres of influence of both Nimrod and Pharaoah, Babylon and Egypt, the two super powers of the day. But G-d's call to travel westward was also a call to Avraham to redouble his efforts to attain a spiritual clarity of a world created by one G-d, and man's purpose in that world: "Lech lecha:" "Travel for your own sake," or perhaps, "Continue your spiritual odyssey into your own inner truth, ("that I will show you"), where you will merit a direct encounter with the Divine."

Still, it was Avraham who, through his searching, initiated his encounter with G-d, and it was G-d, who, without the fanfare of an attending vision or dream-state appearance, responded with the encouraging, "Lech lecha." For ten generations G-d had not actively engaged man, for man had grown surely and dismissive of G-d, attempting to drive Him from this earth. Avraham, unique in the annals of human history, courted G-d, as it were, and not the other way around. It was Avraham, as it were, who encouraged G-d to re-engage man in the task that He had originally intended for man: the perfection of creation through the emulation of G-d's loving kindness and the teaching of the knowledge of Him to all mankind. This was the measure of Avraham and it was Avraham's guileless give-and-take with the Creator of the universe that earned him the Scriptural sobriquet, "the friend of G-d."

In this light we can better understand the opening words of Vayera:

"Now the L-rd appeared to him in the plains of Mamre and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent when the day was hot. And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground." (ibid 18:1-2)

The verses plainly state that Avraham was engaged in a direct spiritual encounter with G-d, when he himself interrupted the prophetic experience for the sake of offering hospitality to three undistinguished wayfarers. This would seem to violate all the rules of proper etiquette. We would hardly behave in such a manner before an earthly sovereign, much less the Sovereign of the universe! Yet Avraham, the friend of G-d, knew that godliness was embodied in action, not in contemplative detachment from the world.

And again, in this light we can gain insight into Avraham's graceful and loving submission to G-d's word in the final and greatest of the tests he faced in his life: the binding of his beloved son Yitzchak. For, despite the seeming contradiction between all that he had come to understand concerning G-d and G-d's promise to him, and the immense task with which G-d had now entrusted him, Avraham remained true to the moral imperative that had been his guide throughout all his spiritual journeys: there is but one G-d in the world to which all knees bend and to which all wills submit. Only by remaining steadfast to this Avrahamic truth can we muster the courage and vision to measure up to the tests that G-d visits upon each and every one of us.

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss Avraham Avinu, the seeker of G-d and true citizen of the world. Tenaciously grounded in this world, Avraham reintroduced his fellow man to G-d and to godly behavior. By doing so, he changed the course of history, kindling in the hearts of his spiritual and biological progeny a love of G-d that burns brightly to this very day.

Part 1
Part 2