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G-d said to Abram: 'Go for yourself… to the land that I shall show you'. (12:1)
That is G-d's first recorded communication with Abraham. Abraham, the text states, had already left Ur, his home city, Ur. He and his family were living at Haran (11:31), on the route between Ur, the Land of Canaan, and Egypt.
Rashi comments that G-d's command to Abraham was for Abraham's own benefit. Based on his interpretation of the text (to 12:2), G-d implied to Abraham that unless he moved, he would neither 'merit' children, nor would his teachings have an impact on society.
Why would Abraham be worthy of children in the Land of Canaan only? And why should Abraham's success in spreading his message depend on the geographical location? At that time, 'the Canaanites were in the Land' (12:6) - the descendants of Canaan who were cursed by Noah and condemned to be 'a slave's slave to his brothers' (11:25). On the face of it, the land at that time was no holier than anywhere else. Surely Abraham would have had a better chance of spreading his teaching if he would have returned to Ur itself. That city (shown by the thorough excavations of Leonard Woolley in the 1920s) was one of the most advanced settlements of its time - technologically, and legally: for example, it had the famous Code of Hamnurabi, which would fairly certainly have been known to Abraham. Abraham would have stood a better chance in a place he knew well, and had an organized society with which he could work.
However, by way of response, there are many examples in history of movements that flourished in the country and then spread to the city. The Zealots and the Dead Sea sects of the end of the Second Temple period, and the Zionist colonization of the post-1880 period are examples that readily come to mind. Even in the Yeshiva world, the leading institutions of the pre-War era were generally in obscure settlements, rather than in the capital cities of Warsaw and Budapest. All these movements influenced city events, but were born and nurtured outside their boundaries.
[My observations also point to a disproportionate number of Jewish religious leaders today with impact and influence that came from numerically small communities… and not from the main socio-educational streams…]
The same applies to Abraham. The deepening of his relationship with G-d described in the narrative, spread to his disciples - 'the souls made in Haran' (12:5, and Rashi ad loc) took place far away from his home environment, far away from advanced civilization. That was necessary, not only to give him an opportunity to become associated with what was to be the Holy Land, but to make the Land itself holy by his teachings, albeit spread to a very limited circle. Nature is such that new movements flourish in comparative vacuums, and need to be established before those in settlements fixed in their ways will take notice…
Now we can understand the reason of why Abraham needed to leave home to merit children. He needed to break with the pagan nature (Josh. 24:2) of his advanced society for his children to follow his way of life, rather than be strongly tempted to follow the idolatrous masses and the consequences of their actions…
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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