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One would expect the Torah to introduce Avraham Avinu in a more auspicious manner. The Torah should have mentioned the background of the first person who Hashem chose to be the progenitor of His people; the individual who on his own discovered the existence of Hashem; the man who rebelled against a world filled with pagans. Who was he? From where did he originate? What did he do in his youth and middle age? Our introduction to Avraham Avinu is Hashem's command to him, "Lech Lecha!"
The various commentators address this question, each offering his own response. Perhaps the most direct answer is that nothing which occurred until this point in time was inherently Jewish. His background did not specifically pertain to Avraham as a Jew. Avraham acknowledged the existence of a Supreme Creator and Ruler very early in his life. He believed in Hashem and became a proponent of this belief. He exemplified spirituality, while he reached out to help and sustain the world both physically and spiritually. It was not, however, until Hashem told him, "Lech Lecha," that he received his mission in life. This mission is not Avraham's alone. To perfect the spiritual nature of all mankind is the "raison d'etre" of the entire Jewish people. The positive influence of our spiritual and moral life is to bring blessing to humanity - by bringing the world closer to Hashem. The Jew is to be the spiritual source of refinement and knowledge that illuminates a world of darkness.
Until this juncture in time, Avraham had lived as a single, virtuous man who believed in one G-d. He was nonetheless a human being. A new phase - a rebirth - in Avraham's life began with Hashem's calling. He now had a mandate, a mission to be carried out and transmitted to his descendants. The plan for creation of a world of equality, with everyone sharing equally in the Divine mandate, ended after two thousand years of failure. Now this mission was transferred to one person who would father a nation that was to be Hashem's Chosen People. In truth, the beginning of Avraham's life - as a Jew - began at this point in time. Everything else is just history.
Logic dictates that upon leaving his environment, an individual begins by contemplating that which is closest to him, his father's home. He then proceeds to separate himself from his birthplace, and, lastly, from his land. Why does the pasuk list a sequence that seems unnatural? First, Hashem tells Avraham to leave the land, then his birthplace, and finally his father's home.
A number of commentators respond to this question. The Maor Vashemesh cites the Rambam in Hilchos De'os who posits that a person's character is influenced by his surroundings. Obviously, the closer and more intense one's relationship is to his surroundings, the greater and more dominating is the influence. Consequently, one's parents exert the greatest influence. The impressions one holds of his childhood, growing up in his parent's home, leave a lasting effect upon his personality. The filial bond a child develops with his parents makes him susceptible to their influence. The second level of influence is one's immediate surroundings, his family, friends, neighbors and those acquaintances with whom he comes in contact on a daily basis. True, they are not as close as one's parents, but they do play an integral role in shaping one's personality and perspective. Last, is the environment and culture one lives in. The people in one's country, their spiritual/moral outlook, their character traits, and the entire communal atmosphere create a predisposition towards a certain way of life.
Bearing the above in mind, the sequence of the pesukim is understandable. They indicate the ascending power of the various negative influences from which Avraham Avinu had to divorce himself. What does one do if he is surrounded by family and friends, an entire community whose way of life is antithetical to Torah dictate? The response is to break away slowly, first to remove oneself from those influences from which it is easiest to separate. It is much easier to ignore one's community than it is to isolate oneself from his family and close friends. Furthermore, one's inner circle of friends and family do not exert as imposing an influence as one's parents. Only through a systematic, step-by-step weaning of one's relationship from negative influences will one emerge successful.
One question regarding Avraham Avinu's behavior should be addressed. If the environment was so evil, if idolatry was so rampant, why did Avraham permit himself to remain there? Why was it necessary for Hashem to command him to leave? He should have realized on his own that in order to maintain his beliefs he must abandon his home. We may suggest that Avraham, as devoted as he was to his fellow man, was concerned for the spiritual welfare of his community. He felt that he must do everything possible to reach out to them. Hashem told him that there is a time and place for everything. Being all alone in a decadent society was detrimental to his own spiritual growth. We are regrettably not always aware that while we are trying to save the world, we might be damaging ourselves in the process.
Rashicomments that these "souls" refers to the people who Avraham and Sarah converted to faith in Hashem. Avraham would teach and later convert the men, while Sarah would do the same with the women. Rabbeinu Yona posits that Avraham reached out to the pagans as a purely altruistic gesture. Avraham loved people, his heart overflowed with a desire to help as many as he could. Regardless of their origin, Avraham loved them and attempted to reach out to them even when they were not receptive to his overtures. Rabbeinu Yona teaches us a novel idea. Avraham Avinu reached out to the world because of his deep love for people. Is this true? One would think that Avraham's attitude was motivated by his overwhelming love of the Almighty who gave the Torah and its way of life. Because of this great love, Avraham reached out to the pagan masses, so that they could also share in this wonderful way of life. His inspiration, however, originated from his relationship with Hashem.
Rabbeinu Yona seems to be the only one who attributes Avraham's endeavor to his love for people. Everyone else posits that Avraham was devoted to his students as a result of his love for Hashem. Horav A.H. Leibowitz, Shlita, illuminates Rabbeinu Yona's words by distinguishing between mitzvos. He posits that one cannot compare the mitzvah of harbotzas Torah, dissemination of Torah, to that of any other mitzvah. The mitzvah of Tefillin or Lulav does not demand that one love the actual Tefillin or Lulav. It is sufficient that one perform the mitzvah with the correct intentions. At the same time, he must love Hashem who has done so much for him.
The mitzvah of harbotzas Torah, however, is different. In order to succeed in being mekarev, bringing the unaffiliated closer, one must possess a genuine love for them. If it is apparent that no love is lost between the rebbe and his talmid, he is probably wasting his time; his success will be either short-lived or defective. The Torah that flows from teacher to student must be unimpeded. There must be a bond of love and mutual respect between the two. This harmony is achieved only when each one respects the other and is appreciative of the invaluable Torah which he is receiving. A student, especially a young child, senses when a teacher has no real interest in his teaching. This is especially true if the teacher is antagonistic, regardless of the reason. Avraham Avinu's love for Hashem was unparalleled. In order to succeed in his quest to teach monotheism to the masses, it was essential for him to demonstrate a deep love for humanity, a desire to impart his knowledge to those who were not as fortunate as he. Indeed, the ingredient for achieving success as an educator is the ability to teach because one cares and wishes to transmit his knowledge to students. Without this sensitivity, the chances are that success will be elusive.
The commentators interpret Avraham's invocation of Hashem's Name to mean that he was proclaiming Hashem's Name to the world by teaching monotheism. His goal reached fruition, numbering converts in the thousands. The Ramban questions the fact that only Avraham and Yitzchak have been cited as "invoking Hashem's Name." Why is this mission not mentioned in regard to Yaakov? He explains that Yaakov's "outreach" to the world was accomplished via his "Adas Yisrael," twelve sons. They were each great tzaddikim, the forebears of an entire congregation submissive to Hashem. Through the establishment of this kehillah, congregation, Hashem's Name spread throughout the world.
Horav Simcha Zissel Broide, Shlita, observes that although Avraham reached out to thousands of people, his mission was shortlived. On the other hand, through his small kehillah, Yaakov Avinu was able to build a belief in the Almighty that has endured until this day. We derive from here that the most successful method for lasting outreach is to establish a solid core of students. This milieu will develop into an effective instrument for reaching out to others. Such a Torah community encompasses every aspect of existence as it governs our daily life's endeavor. Above all, the student-rebbe relationship remains as a stable vehicle for promulgating the Torah ethic. Indeed, if we were to take a survey of every Jewish community in the country which has survived as a viable and vibrant Torah center, we would discover that all have one thing in common: the establishment of either a strong Jewish Day School or a Yeshivah Gedolah. Without a strong focus for teaching Torah, the community will not endure. Yaakov Avinu did more than teach Torah; he established a Torah community whose nucleus was the Yeshivah constituting his twelve sons.
Rashi cites a number of definitions for the word Damesek. Targum Onkelos notes that Eliezer came from Damasus. Hence the name Damesek is a reference to the city from which he originated. In the second interpretation cited by Rashi, Damesek is the city to which the kings were chased prior to their defeat. In the last interpretation, Damesek is an acronym for two words, referring to Eliezer's attitude towards studying Torah transmitted to him by his great rebbe, Avraham. He would be "doleh," draw the Torah out as one draw's water from a wellspring; and he would be "mashke," give others to drink.
It seems surprising that of all the noble character traits that Eliezer demonstrated, specifically these two terms, "doleh u'mashke," stand prominent. Eliezer probably never left Avraham's side for fear that he would miss something. Yet, his great attribute is "doleh u'mashke." Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, explains this distinction in the following manner: Eliezer was driven to study as much as possible from his rebbe, Avraham. He was unlike the average student who listens and absorbs everything he hears from his rebbe. Eliezer did not simply wait to hear: He was doleh; he drew out everything he was capable of studying. It was as if he was constructed of a pail with a long rope that was submerged into Avraham's heart and mind, his wellspring of Torah. Thus, he drew out whatever Torah he could. That was not sufficient, however! As soon as he filled his receptacle with Torah he would pull up the rope and immediately give those who were thirsty for Torah knowledge the opportunity to drink. He did not wait for them to come over and draw the water as he did. He gave them to drink. For himself, he drew the Torah; to others, he poured Torah. Is there a greater tribute to a student of Torah? Is there a more noble personification of Torah study? Eliezer wanted to amass as much Torah knowledge as there was -- because he wanted to teach it to others!
The scene in which Hashem "introduced" Himself to Avraham is anthologized in the Midrash. It is compared to a man who was traveling from place to place and suddenly came upon an illuminated castle. Upon seeing this sight he asked, "Is it possible that this castle does not have a master?" Suddenly, the master peeked out and said, "I am the master of this castle." So, too, Avraham was awestruck by the magnificence of this world. This prompted him to ask, "Is it possible that such a grandiose world has no master?" Hashem responded, "I am its Master."
If we think about it, there really is a distinction between the analogy and the reality of Avraham's interaction with the Almighty. When the owner of the castle introduced himself ,the person who had made inquires at least now had a clearer perspective of the castle's owner. In our case, what did Avraham see that heightened his awareness of the Master of the World?
Horav A.L. Steinman, Shlita, offers a profound interpretation of this Midrash. When one passes a castle that is ablaze with light, although he understands that there is an owner to this castle, he does not yet know who is this owner until the owner comes forth to reveal himself. Likewise, unless Hashem reveals Himself to a person, that individual will not, regardless of his acumen, understand who Hashem is. Furthermore, commensurate with one's propensity to seek out the truth, one's searching for Hashem will be on the level of his personal revelation. Hashem reveals Himself to those who seek this relationship. Avraham Avinu's every moment was spent in developing a more profound understanding of Hashem. He thirsted for the truth as he strove for perfection. Indeed, he achieved the level of prophesy when Hashem came forward and said, "I am Hashem."
The lesson to be derived from Chazal is compelling. The man could have stood in front of the castle for days and weeks -- even years -- without finding out who the owner was. No amount of logic would have helped. It was necessary for the owner to come forth and make his presence known. Likewise, man alone cannot fathom the complexities involved in understanding who Hashem is and how He directs the world, without reinforcement from Above. This Divine assistance is granted only to those who seek and yearn for it.
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