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November 5, 2022: Parashat Lech Lecha – The True Substance of FAITH

This week's Torah portion is found in Genesis 12:1—17:27. Join David as he studies the life of Abraham to understand what the true substance of faith is.


Watch the VIDEO TEACHING by clicking on the video below:


Or follow along in the AUDIO PODCAST, by clicking on the play button if you prefer:


There is a very good reason why the Torah glazes over the first 2,000 years of human history in the first two parashot of the Torah. Plain and simple, the Torah is not a history book. Sure, it recounts history, but only the essentials that are necessary to teach us what we need to know, not what we want to know. Rather, the Torah’s primary purpose is that of drawing us into the knowledge of the One and Only God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, how He reveals Himself to mankind, and how man learns to foster relationship with Him.

Thus, we open Parashat Lech Lecha and are introduced to the first man to foster an intimate relationship with His Creator – Abraham – the lonely wanderer, stranger in a foreign land, fervent teacher, stalwart of faith, and father and founder of the Jewish nation. For the purpose of this teaching, we need to better understand what it is about Abraham that set him apart.


And so we open up the parashah to these words in Genesis 12:1-2:


וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃ וְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ לְג֣וֹי גָּד֔וֹל וַאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ וַאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה שְׁמֶ֑ךָ וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה׃


Hashem said to Abram [later named Abraham], “Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you, and I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.


This is a very unique opening for a parashah, especially in introducing us to a new person of whom we know little to nothing about. All we know thus far of Abraham is his genealogy (found in Chapter 11). The first thought that may come to mind is that Hashem chose a random man – that Abraham was minding his own business, living his life the way he wanted, when Hashem appeared to him out of the blue. This doesn’t make sense for atleast two reasons: 1) Upon reading of all the travails of Abraham’s life, you will come to the conclusion that Abraham was an outstanding and unique man who did things that most men wouldn’t dare do; and 2) that is not how Hashem works.

What I mean by the latter point is that Hashem doesn’t chase after us in fostering relationship, but rather, it is the opposite way. We are the ones that must foster the relationship with Hashem. Hashem conceals Himself in Creation – not completely, but just enough so that if we are even a touch cognizant of our surroundings, asking just the right questions, seeking just the right answers, and searching beyond what is tangible in this world, we will find Him, or in other words, He will reveal Himself to us.


This is the central message throughout all of Scriptures. Many people go through life completely oblivious and blind to their Creator because they are so focused on the things and ways of this material world, that it can become very easy to enter into and remain in a state of godlessness for an entire lifetime.


There is an abundance of information on Abraham’s early life available in Jewish literature. As fascinating as it is, we will not dwell on it in this teaching. Rather, we need to understand why the written Torah did not include his early life. The short answer is that just like in the first two Torah portions, where we were not given all the historical details we are eager to know, here it doesn’t matter to know Abraham’s early years. Why? Because, again, this is not a history book, and we are only given the relevant details for just the right purpose.


What is that purpose? To come into the knowledge of Hashem. All we need to know is that when Hashem finally appeared to Abraham and gave Him a command, Abraham obeyed. Did Abraham act on blind trust? Absolutely not! What man in his right mind would make a decision to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s house to travel into an unknown land of strangers, potential dangers and the unknown on a whim? Rather, Abraham must have already uncovered and formed the bonds of relationship with his Creator. In other words, Abraham must have already been searching intensely for Hashem.

Another interesting quality in the opening words of the parashah is the choice of these first words: “לֶךְ־לְךָ” (“Lech lecha”) meaning “Go for yourself”. Hashem could have easily just given the command as “לֶךְ” (“Lech”) or “Go!” Why add “Lecha”? What is meant by “Go for yourself”?


Hashem was saying to Abraham, “You have been searching for answers… for truth… all these years. You have found Me, and here I am. Now, to truly appreciate what you have uncovered, you must ‘go for yourself’.” In other words, Abraham had to prove for himself the truth of Hashem that he had uncovered. He had to go deeper. Abraham had a deep and burning yearning within his heart for Hashem. It is clear that he was not content with his lot in life, with living a status quo life in the midst of others who did not share his views and discovery of the One and Only God of the Universe. As such, he left his ties to the familiar land in which he dwelt, his familiar place of birth, and the familiarity of his father’s house. This is why Abraham is called “the Ivri” (“the Hebrew”) in Genesis 14:13, meaning “the one who crossed over” the River (Euphrates), abandoning his birthplace and entering into an unknown land.


Perhaps that is precisely the reason we are not told explicitly of Abraham’s early life in Scriptures – because it is up to us to seek out Hashem in our lives in very much the same way that Abraham did.

Why did Hashem need such a man? Could He not have chosen any man for this task? No! It is precisely because of Abraham’s pursuit of Hashem that He was chosen. We are not told how long Abraham sought the truth of his Creator. All we see is Abraham at the ripe age of 75, upon hearing from Hashem, spring into action taking his wife, his nephew, all their possessions and everyone in their household with him to the land of Canaan. Here, Abraham saw no immediate reward, just a future promise, yet he still acted without delay. All throughout, we must not lose sight that Abraham was a mere, mortal man – he had all the same human qualities, capabilities and potential that we all have. Yet, he was not interested in immediate or tangible gratification or reward, but rather his focus was fixed on something more real to him than the things of this world, i.e., his pursuit of worldly understanding, rather of knowing the Master of the Universe and His ways. Abraham did not sit on his hands waiting for Hashem to pour out His blessings on a silver platter for him. No, he acted, and he did so with fervor. Not just once, but every single time that Hashem challenged him throughout his life.


Hashem needed such a man like Abraham who acted with absolute obedience to birth forth a nation for the purpose of spreading the Name of Hashem to the ends of the earth. Not just any another nation, but a righteous and holy nation, consecrated to Hashem, to set a living example to the rest of the world for the ultimate purpose of rectifying all of Creation – the same Creation that man (Adam) had damaged in the Garden through his sin.

What rings forth throughout is the importance of the human element. Hashem is Almighty and Sovereign – can’t He just speak the word and rectify all of Creation in one utterance? Of course He can! Yet, He doesn’t. Why? Because it goes against the purpose of free will. Man does not have control over when he is born into this world or when he leaves this world, but he certainly has control over his actions all throughout his life. He can choose to do good or to do evil, to make or to destroy, to seek after Hashem or to turn his back on his Creator. Hashem looks to us to make the right decisions throughout our lives, to recognize His hand in Creation and His Presence in our midst. It is from our fragile human states that Hashem desires us to excel beyond our preconceived limitations, to aim higher and to find our Source, our Creator. It was Abraham who was the first man to do so. Before him, we read scantly of any one man that fostered an intimate relationship with Hashem. As we mentioned last week, Noah was a righteous man, relative to his generations. Yet, had he lived at the time of Abraham, he would have held a mere “candle” next to Abraham’s “bonfire”.


This brings us to the critical element that served as a foundation for Abraham’s relationship with Hashem – that of the concept of faith. In Genesis 15, Hashem promised Abraham that He would be his shield, and that Abraham’s reward would be very great. Abraham responded saying that he had no offspring, so what value was the reward in the future?


We read on in Genesis 15:5-7: “And [Hashem] took [Abraham] outside, and said: ‘Gaze, now, toward the Heavens, and count the stars if you are able to count them!’ And [Hashem] said to [Abraham]: ‘So shall your offspring be!’ And [Abraham] trusted in Hashem, and [Hashem] reckoned it to [Abraham] as righteousness.

Abraham “trusted” in Hashem. The word in Hebrew is “הֶאֱמִן” (“he’emin”), meaning “he trusted” (the verb form is in the intensely active form). This is the first time we find this word in Scriptures – a very unique word with a very important meaning. The root letters of the word (“אמן”) are also shared by the word “אֱמוּנָה” (“emunah”), meaning “faith”. Faith is not just about simply believing – anyone can believe in anything they want in this world – fairies, pixie dust and unicorns, but that doesn’t make them real. Faith, on the other hand, is complete and absolute trust, it is a state of knowing because one explicitly trusts the Source. This is a concept that doesn’t work between one person and another, for man is imperfect. Rather, faith only works if there is absolutely no possibility of breakdown in trust, and as such, faith can only work with Hashem. One with faith must let go of the physical attachment by closing his or her eyes to the things of this world, to the standard logic of thought. Faith is like becoming a child once again – an innocent child that trusts so completely in his or her mother and father.


In Luke 18:17-18, Yeshua said to his disciples: “Permit the children come to me and do not withhold them, because theirs is the kingdom of God. Amen, I say to you, all who do not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.


This is the type of trust that Abraham practiced – that of absolute trust and surrender in Hashem, knowing that Hashem would provide. All throughout his life, he was willing to step into unknown territory, putting all of his trust into Hashem. He never delayed in his response – he acted with impetus, obeying every command from Hashem and following Hashem’s instructions through to the end – whether it was leaving his homeland, going down to Egypt, rescuing his nephew Lot from the hands of four mighty kings, circumcising himself and his household, or being willing to sacrifice his one and only son of promise. It was this level of faith that Hashem rewarded to Abraham as righteousness. Abraham trusted Hashem in Hashem’s promises, and through his faith, he attained righteousness.


Paul, in Romans 4:4-5, wrote: “Now the account of someone who is working is credited not on the ground of grace but on the ground of what is owed him. However, in the case of one who is not working but rather is trusting in Him Who makes ungodly people righteous, his trust is credited to him as righteousness.


Again, in Verse 13, Paul wrote: “For the promise to Abraham and his seed that he would inherit the world did not come through legalism but through the righteousness that trust produces.


And in Verses 20-22: “He [Abraham] did not by lack of trust decide against Hashem’s promises. On the contrary, by trust he was given power as he gave glory to Hashem, for he was fully convinced that what Hashem had promised he could also accomplish. This is why it was credited to his account as righteousness.

Abraham came into the knowledge of Hashem – he found Hashem in the midst of the godlessness rampant in his society. Hashem revealed Himself to Abraham because of Abraham’s pursuit of Him, and as a result, Hashem promised to bless Abraham and his seed. And Abraham trusted that Hashem would fulfill all of His promises to him. Yet, there is one more element that is missing here – that of obedience. Abraham obeyed Hashem’s every command to him. As I mentioned just now, every trial that Hashem threw Abraham’s way, Abraham proved each time Who was his Rock… Who he trusted in. Obedience was and is critical. What good is faith without action? How is our faith tested other than through our obedience?


As James wrote in James 2:14, 17: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but has no actions to prove it? Is such ‘faith’ able to save him? … faith by itself, unaccompanied by actions, is dead.” Meaning, we need to act on our faith! If we truly have faith in Hashem, if we trust that Hashem is providing for all our needs, we will obey Him.


How does Hashem provide for us? In Genesis 17:1, Hashem appeared to Abraham and said to him:


אֲנִי־אֵ֣ל שַׁדַּ֔י הִתְהַלֵּ֥ךְ לְפָנַ֖י וֶהְיֵ֥ה תָמִֽים׃


I am El Shaddai; walk before Me and be perfect.

Here, Hashem revealed another title of His revelation in Creation – “אֵל שַׁדַּי” (“El Shaddai”), meaning “All-Sufficient One” [“אֵל” (“El”) means “Power”, and Rashi explains that “שַׁדַּי” (“Shaddai”) is a variation of the word “שֶׁדַּי” (“shaddai”) which is a contraction of the words “שֶׁיֵּשׁ דַּי” (“sheyesh dai”) meaning “that there is enough”]. Here, Hashem was telling Abraham that He is all that Abraham needs – Hashem is All-Sufficient.


Going further with this title in conjunction with the topic of faith, is that it is through this title that through our faith in Hashem, anything is possible; through this title, we are capable of overcoming our feeble and seemingly fixed natural states in this world. Abraham was able to conquer four mighty kings to rescue his nephew Lot, and in his and Sarah’s aged and barren states, they were able to overcome the impossibility of child-bearing in their old age, and they miraculously brought forth a son, Isaac.


Hashem went on to say: “walk before Me and be perfect”. Hashem was saying: “I am All-Sufficient for all your needs, Abraham, and those of your offspring. All you need to do is cleave to Me with your entirety, in completeness, and trust Me to bring you through every trial and hurdle in your life.”


This is the legacy that is left by Abraham for his offspring. Not only his offspring, but also for all of those that are grafted into the nation of Israel. We are grafted in because we have been brought into the knowledge of Hashem through our Master Yeshua, and through the same faith exercised by Abraham, we attain righteousness through our obedience to Hashem.


As Paul wrote in Romans 4:23-25: “But the words: ‘Hashem reckoned it to Abraham [Genesis 15:7],’ were not written for [Abraham] only. They were written also for us, who will certainly have our account credited too, because we have trusted in Him who raised Yeshua our Lord from the dead – Yeshua, who was delivered over to death because of our offenses and raised to life in order to make us righteous.


Sure, we may never have an experience like Abraham where Hashem reveals Himself in such a profound way to us, but we must understand that Abraham was the first of his kind. He set the precedent and planted the first seeds of faith, and it is through his example and ultimately through the entirety of Scriptures and his progeny that reveal the nature of our Heavenly Father and how we can draw closer to Hashem. It is through Abraham that we inherit Abraham’s strength and ability to persevere. As the pioneer of faith, he shows us that we are capable of so much more in our lives. If Abraham did it, so can we. It is just a question of overcoming our human frailties and negative human traits.


Through faith in Hashem, Abraham overcame his natural limitations and became worthy of the privilege of bringing forth the Jewish nation, and heralding into the world the knowledge of Hashem. For all of us that connect to Abraham either directly or indirectly, just think of how different this world would be if we all lived up to his lofty example.

Mind you, one seed in particular of Abraham arrived on the scene 2,000 years later to re-awaken the nation of Israel back to the remembrance of their forefather Abraham – that of our Master Yeshua. In John 8:56, in debating with fellow Jews, Yeshua said: “Abraham rejoiced to see my day. He saw it and was glad.” Hashem certainly revealed the seed of the Messiah to Abraham – a future descendant truly worth hoping for and placing his trust in Hashem for – that of the ultimate salvation and rectification of the entire world.

While Abraham placed his trust in Hashem that the impossible could be made possible through bringing forth a seed for him and his wife Sarah, when Hashem said to Abraham “Gaze, now, toward the Heavens, and count the stars if you are able to count them!”, he was witnessing a powerful revelation that the entire world would be full of the knowledge of Hashem.

It is through Yeshua that this bridge of salvation for the entire world was formed so that non-Jews could be grafted into Israel through the same substance of faith that was borne by Abraham, thereby making Jews and non-Jews alike, offspring of Abraham. And this thought alone by Abraham must have intensely satisfied him – to be able to see that his pursuit of Hashem would have such a lasting impact on bringing the entire world into knowledge of the One and Only God, the Creator of the Universe.


May we recognize through the life and trials of Abraham what it truly means to exercise faith and be obedient. May we stand steadily in the midst of our generation, just as Abraham did in his, with renewed faith and obedience in Hashem as the All-Sufficient One to provide for all of our needs. Moreover, may we embolden our trust in Hashem “who raised Yeshua our Lord from the dead – Yeshua, who was delivered to death because of our offenses and raised to life in order to make us righteous.


Amen.


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