TORAH TUESDAYS: PARSHAT LECH LECHA
BY HENNIE BLACK
Avraham was challenged with ten tests during his journey to discover G-d. While we are taught that Avraham passed all of them, there are differing opinions amongst the commentaries as to what these ten tests were. All of the commentaries, however, agree that one of the tests was G-d’s command to Avraham to “lech lecha,” to leave his father’s home and birthplace and embark on a journey to a land of the unknown that G-d “would show him.”
While this test is elaborated on in great detail in the Torah, the midrash informs us that there was another test that may have occurred first: a test that occurred when Avraham was thrown into a fiery furnace.
This astounding story occurred in Avraham’s birthplace of Ur Kasdim, amongst a people that were deeply rooted in idolatry. Avraham decided to renounce these idolatrous beliefs and had the temerity to break all his father’s idols in his father Terach’s store.
As a result, Terach brought his son Avraham before King Nimrod to figure out what to do with his son. Nimrod ordered Avraham to renounce his monotheistic beliefs and to go back to the worship of idols, but Avraham refused. The midrash recounts that Nimrod threw him into a fiery furnace, but Avraham was miraculously saved. Following this episode, we are told that Avraham began to teach the world about monotheism.
Why would the Torah tell us about the test of “lech lecha” in such detail, but when it comes to the test of being thrown into a fire, there is no mention of it? Perhaps it is because of the nature of these challenges themselves; one being a “major” challenge and the other a “day-to-day” challenge.
When we are faced with a major challenge, we become armed with determination, adrenalin, and typically receive guidance and support from others to help us persevere and overcome the challenge. We find ourselves going beyond our normal capabilities and often ask ourselves afterward, “Where did that internal strength come from?”
The fiery furnace was just such a challenge. This “major” challenge was a defining moment for Avraham. Would he remain true to his faith? This defining moment not only had import for Avraham, but for the entire world. Would monotheism be spread in the world or not?
In contrast, when we deal with day-to-day challenges, we often push them aside or ignore them, hoping they will go away. These type of challenges are defined as “lech lecha” challenges. These are the everyday challenges that plague each and every one of us: Should I share some gossip I just heard, or should I hold back? Should I give someone a word of encouragement or an extra compliment when they are down, or should I say, “I’m also having a hard day?” Should I let someone go ahead of me in line at the supermarket or should I say that I also have stuff to do? Should I spend more time with my child at dinner or should I scroll through my social media instead?
These challenges aren’t what we would consider defining moments of our lives. They are the annoyances that make up our lives and challenge our patience. But it is precisely these challenges, when met with the right response, which allow us to become the best version of ourselves.
The Torah doesn’t choose to tell us about the fiery furnace because that was a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, one that was unique to Avraham. The challenge of having to leave one’s family, while traumatic in its own right, is something we can relate to and therefore learn from.
The test of “lech-lecha” is perhaps a more daunting challenge than the fiery furnace because it required Avraham to accept G-d’s sovereignty each and every day of his life. Lech Lecha is the present and continuous challenge of every Jew- one that involves maintaining our faith and devotion to G-d as we navigate the everyday banality of our lives. That is why the command of “lech lecha” is recorded in detail. This command did not require the sacrifice of giving up one’s physical life, but it did require Avraham’s consistent devotion to G-d over many years and decades. And this may be the greatest test of all.
We should all ask ourselves: What is our own personal “lech lecha challenge? What is one thing that I’d like to work on and improve? Like Avraham, who has paved the way for us, we all have the ability to overcome these challenges and mold ourselves to reach our full potential.