With the opening of this week’s parsha, Lech Lecha, the Torah begins to tell the story of one man and his family, rather than humanity in general. We are introduced to Avram and his wife Sarai, and their journey, at Divine command, from someplace in ancient Mesopotamia to the Land of Israel. This is more than just a physical relocation. It is a spiritual pilgrimage. Indeed, Pirkei Avot teaches that Avram underwent 10 tests, and both Rashi and the Rambam present a list of the tests. Even though there is some discrepancy, they agree that the last test is the binding of Yitzchak upon an altar, which we will read about next week.
Avram passes all 10 tests, and this is evident when HaShem gives him a new name. “No longer shall you be called Avram, but your name shall be Avraham, for I made you the father of a multitude of nations, “ he is told. The new name is indicative of Avraham’s spiritual ascendency. He is a different person. The Torah and Rabbinic literature are replete with examples of Avraham’s character. We are familiar with the midrash of him smashing the idols in his father’s store, in recognition of the One true G-d. Next week we will witness him standing up to HaShem on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gemorah. To a certain extent one may say that Avraham is the first maverick among humankind, swimming against the current of his time. In fact, he known, according to the midrash, as Avraham HaIvri. Ivri is Hebrew for “Hebrew,” but the word Ivri also indicates “other,” meaning that while the world was on one side, Avraham stood on the other, charting a different course for his family and ultimately his people.
Jewish tradition teaches that there are three crowns, the crown of Torah, the crown of the Kohanim and the crown of kingship, however, a fourth crown, that of a good name, is superior to them all. We are known by our name. Unlike Avraham we are not changing our names, therefore for each of us our name is our character, our reputation. Avraham, known as the man of chesed, of kind deeds, a hallmark of Judaism, is the exemplar of a good name, a good character. In the end, we will be remembered not for our grades and our degrees, but rather our character, how we touch, and make better, the lives of those around us.
We live in an uncertain and often times frightening world. We need heroes to whom we can turn for strength, guidance and inspiration. Sadly, sports figures, rock stars and politicians are fleeting at best as many do not embody the values we want for ourselves or for our children to emulate. While he is not perfect, Avraham is the role model we seek. He is devoted to HaShem, to his family; to treating people the right way (again, we will see this next week as Avraham welcomes the three strangers into his tent despite the pain following his brit milah). He stands up for injustices.
This is the time for heroes – let Avraham, the man with the good name, be ours.
Shabbat Shalom, one and all.
Rabbi Yaakov Traiger | Assistant Principal