The young man stood amongst the debris. Shattered torsos, crumbled arms, broken legs… clay and stone that moments before had posed as gods littered the ground. As his father’s footsteps echoed in the hall, he quickly planted a stick into the still hand of a large idol—the only one left standing. Avram’s father, Terah, returning to his shop, surveyed his decimated inventory and cried out, “Who did this to them?” His son answered, “A woman brought a grain offering for the idols, and they argued about who would eat first. Then the largest got up, took the stick and shattered them all!”
According to the midrash, Terah bellowed, “What nonsense are you telling me—are they then conscious?” Avram rhetorically replied, “Do your ears not hear what your lips are saying?”
This midrash from Bereshit Rabah 38:13 is one of the best-known rabbinic anecdotes of the life of Avram (soon to be Avraham), the forebear of the Jewish people. It introduces us to a young revolutionary, recently awakened to monotheism, passionate and determined to rip the blinders off of a complacent, hypocritical, idolatrous society. He is not only a radical but is willing to give up everything, to leave his home and his hometown, all for his belief in the one God.
In fact, Avram is seventy-five when, in this week’s parshah, God addresses him for the first time. And it is to him that God offers an unparalleled challenge and promise: “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you.” By this time, Avram has developed from a lone revolutionary into a respected leader. He is a wealthy man, the head of a large household, and together with his wife, Sarai, he has already converted a dedicated following to his cause, that is from Genesis 12:5, “the souls that they had made in Haran.” The verb used for “made” here caused Rashi to comment that Avram had brought them under the wings of the Divine Presence. Rashi continues, “Avram proselytized the men and Sarai the women,” and thus they “had made” them. God saw this and speaks to Avram now because he has proven himself a capable emissary, prepared to share his message. This Avram is ready to heed God’s directive to change society from the ground up, in essence creating history’s first grassroots movement.
Nonetheless, Avram soon discovers what many of us have learned in our own lives and through our own work: that the path to substantive, enduring change can be daunting. Progress can be slow, fraught with false starts, mistakes and backward steps. From the outset, his mission is beset by obstacles, but Avram does not lose sight of his ultimate goals. When faced with a potentially destructive schism with his nephew, Lot, Avram chooses an amicable separation over internal divisiveness. When warring kings capture Lot, Avram and his host of shepherds go to war to rescue him. In his success, Avram refuses the spoils of war, instead giving a tithe of everything to Melchizedek, King of Salem, who blesses Avram in the name of the God Most High, Creator of Heaven and Earth. It seems to me that Avram was meant to meet the only other person we know of on Earth at this time who knew Adonai. God does this sometimes. He puts people and events in our path to help us on our way and to help shape us for the future. It’s thought by some sages, that Melchizedek is actually Shem, Noah’s now very old son, and that Salem is the city that will eventually become Jerusalem. The priestly king, Melchizedek, is the model which David later follows and can also be seen as a foreshadow of our own Kohen Gadol, our own High Priest, Yeshua HaMashiach, the King of the Jews.
Back on Avram’s journey, we know he has many further tests and adventures and despite God’s assurances to the contrary, he despairs of not yet having a son. He’s heard God’s promise repeatedly but has his doubts, just as we all do from time to time about ourselves and about what we think of as our mission. You see, Avram understands that enduring change cannot be achieved in one lifetime and he fears that the movement he’s started may die with him. The advancement of his mission hinges not only upon the promise of an heir, but also on the development of an entire nation to continue his mission, an Am Olam, an everlasting people forever charged with improving the world and restoring humanity’s relationship with the one-true God. And yet despite his doubts, Avram’s faith is unshaken and he continues to pursue this mission as Avraham.
In the lives of many of us, that Avram-like, revelatory, idol-smashing moment was when we came to faith in Yeshua. Inspired by our personal experience we are galvanized to work towards radically transforming the world, immediately. And yet, as we learn from Avraham, true change requires patience, dedication and perseverance. Ultimately, Avraham could not build a religion out of the rubble of his father’s broken idols. Enacting substantive reform required that he listen to God and leave the comforts of his home and endeavor to construct a community of like-minded souls intent on restoration with the one-true God.
Approximately 2000 years later, Yeshua’s Talmidim, would similarly listen to God and leave their homes to join with Yeshua in His mission of restoring humanity’s relationship with the one-true God.
And today, approximately 2000 more years later, as we face the contemporary challenge of building an enduring Messianic Judaism, we can look to the dedication of Avraham and Sarah in Parshat Lech Lecha for strength and reassurance. Many of us, like them and the Talmidim, had to leave home to join this movement; our families and friends not always understanding what it means to be a Messianic Jew. And we, like Avraham and the Talmidim, can only truly reshape this world by committing ourselves for the long haul—even when the journey is bumpy and the —uncertain. We, like them, have had and will have set backs. But we will also have joy and blessing in the journey.
When God directs Avram to “Lech Lecha,” to go forth, He simultaneously offers Avram the promise of an opaque reward. In Genesis 12:1 God tells Avram that he will “be a blessing.” As Rashi explains, “to be a blessing” is to be entrusted with a power once reserved for the Divine: the ability to bestow blessings upon others. In other words, our reward for heeding God’s call and following in the footsteps of Avraham and the Talmidim, is the knowledge that we are links in an unending chain of restoration to God Most High and that we are bringing blessing to others.
So may the God of our ancestors, bless us as we continue their work.
May we never lose hope and our faith never wain.
May each of our journeys have more joys than bumps and more blessings than tsuris.
And though I know it’s a long journey and there are tremendous challenges ahead, may humanity’s full restoration, through Messiah Yeshua to the one-true God, come quickly and in our day.
B’shem Yeshua HaMashiach.
In his name I pray.