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75 AND COUNTING

by Rabbi Yossi Lew    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

The storied origin of our great forefather Abraham is known to many. The Talmud and the Midrash provide us with a wealth of details and information regarding Abraham's recognition of a Divine power that controls the world; about Abraham's incessant and tireless efforts to spread this information; about the difficult tests and challenges faced by Abraham in defending this monotheistic belief.

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The storied origin of our great forefather Abraham is known to many. The Talmud and the Midrash provide us with a wealth of details and information regarding Abraham's recognition of a Divine power that controls the world; about Abraham's incessant and tireless efforts to spread this information; about the difficult tests and challenges faced by Abraham in defending this monotheistic belief. This information provides us with an important glimpse into the heroism and courage displayed by the father of our religion, Avraham Avinu, our father Abraham.

The written Torah also relates many of the central stories and episodes of Abraham's life. However, all of the information about Abraham in the written Torah begins after his seventy-fifth birthday! The Torah does not mention any of the gallantry exhibited by Abraham, sometimes at great personal expense and risk, over all the many years prior to age seventy-five. Even Noah receives an "honorable mention" when the Torah begins to relate his story. Isn't Abraham deserving of at least a brief mention of his accomplishments from the first part of his life? We must say that the relevant lesson from Abraham's life begins specifically from this time period.

The explanation is as follows: Abraham was a remarkable individual who had arrived at a deep and profound knowledge of Hashem and was prepared to sacrifice his life for this belief. However, all this was on his own terms. It was something which was pioneered by Abraham and continued by him the way he saw fit. After turning seventy-five years old, Hashem was about to initiate a connection with Abraham that would transform him into a new entity. Abraham was about to become a "Jew" and a father to all future Jews. This new relationship was one which Hashem initiated, and which Hashem was to dictate and inform Abraham how to maintain and nurture.

This was the distinctive connection Hashem wished to have with Abraham and the future Jewish people. The details of how a person should form this connection and what it takes to maintain this relationship, were to be instructed by Hashem. This is very different from what Abraham had experienced hereto, and which still prevails with the members of the other nations of the world: Their connection with Hashem is a responsive relationship. The more deep a perception and understanding one has, the stronger the connection. It's all up to the person to choose. The more effort made, the greater the relationship. Even the seven Noahide laws given to the nations of the world are basic, moral tools for people to refine themselves and their surrounding environment. The people are given the freedom and choice to determine to what extent they will implement these directives. As is seen with Noah, he was a "righteous person in his generation" (Genesis 6:9), and, as a result, Hashem had a special relationship with him.

This is not the case with a Jew. As the "children" of Hashem, He decides and determines how the relationship should be maintained. This is seen with our performance of mitzvot: The mitzvot encompass every facet and fiber of our lives, since their observance is with the intention of connecting to Hashem (the word "mitzvah" also translates as "connection"). Indeed, by performing a mitzvah, the Jew is elevated from the limitations of this world and is connected with the infinite Commander of the mitzvah.

This is the meaning of the opening words of this week's portion: "Hashem said to Abram, 'Go for yourself from your land (artzecha), from your birthplace (moladtecha), and from your father's house (beit avicha), to the land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1). Abraham had been living with his family and was now commanded to make an abrupt and momentous change in his life. He is now about to become a "Jew". This is signified by each of the terms used to describe the location from which he was to leave: "Artzecha" (or "your land") refers to "your desires", as "artzecha" is etymologically tied to "ratzon-desire"; "moladtecha" (or "your birthplace") refers to inborn and ingrained habits; finally "beit avicha" (or "your father's house") refers to things acquired through intellect and understanding, with "father" being a reference to the brain, the "head" of the person.

Abraham had to abandon his previous connection to Hashem, achieved through his own methods, and become embraced and attached to the infinitude and limitlessness of Hashem, by following His commandment. This is the fundamental concept we are being taught here. Our connection to Hashem as Jews is not based on our accomplishments or laurels; it is not based on how deep and profound our G-dly knowledge is. Rather, from the time Abraham was commanded to "go for yourself," our connection has been based on how well we can follow the commandments, the mitzvot, so we can be attached and connected to the essence of Hashem.

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Rabbi Yossi Lew is a rabbi at Congregation Beth Tefillah and a teacher at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy middle school.

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