This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
**NOTE: This will be the final Haftarah of this regular Haftarah Series which we’ve begun last Parshas Vayeira. Barcuh She’hecheyanu! Moving forward, regardless of the project, Divrei Torah will continue, BS”D!**
ֺהַפְטָרָה שֶל פַּרָֺשַת לֶךְ לְךָ
“Avraham Who Loved Me”
Choosing a Haftarah for Parshas Lech Lecha could not be an easy task. Being that Lech Lecha’s main character Avraham Avinu is not only the forefather and foundation of Am Yisrael, but forefather and foundation of their relationship with Hashem, Avraham is reasonably mentioned many times in Tanach after his passing, certainly in Navi.
Perhaps a great passage to read for Lech Lecha’s Haftarah would be the one from Sefer Yehoshua where Avraham’s origin is actually elaborated on [Yehoshua 24], how Hashem led him from the home of Terach at the other side of the Euphrates River to the Land of Cana’an (a more elaborate version of the beginning of Lech Lecha).
Maybe, we could go with the interesting passage from Yirmiyah [Yirmiyah 34] which describes a covenant in which pieces of a calf were cut down the middle so that the people would walk in between them, a covenant which very clearly resembling the Bris Bein HaBisarim which Hashem and Avraham forge together in our Sidrah. Now, as it happens, this passage is a part of the Haftarah for Parshas Mishpatim, but that Haftarah is so rarely read (it is read only on certain leap years when Rosh Chodesh Adar doesn’t fall out on or directly after that Shabbos), so it certainly wouldn’t be overkill to read it here.
But, in fact, the Haftarah ultimately comes from perhaps the most frequented book of Haftaros, Sefer Yishaiyah [40:27-41:16]. And without doubt, as Haftarah, the central verse for Lech Lecha’s purposes, is “V’Atah Yisrael Avdi Yaakov Asher Becharticha Zera Avraham Ohavi”-“And you, Yisrael, My servant, Yaakov whom I have chosen, the seed of Avraham My beloved” [41:8]. Yup, that’s the line. Hashem address the B’nei Yisrael with a couple of appellations, the final one being that they are, indeed, the seed of Avraham. There is your Haftarah. It works. Great! … Not satisfied?
Okay, so there has obviously got to be more. Yes, the Haftarah clearly references “Avraham Ohavi,” but it seems to be a passing reference. The fact that we are the seed of Avraham is obviously no small one. We understand how important that fact is and spoke about it in the beginning of this conversation. But, what does this single reference point in this Haftarah give to that fact? What is the Haftarah trying to tell us about this fact, that we are Avraham’s progeny? What does it tell us about Lech Lecha, about Avraham Avinu?
Since we’re on the very central topic of Avraham Avinu, there is another larger question that begs itself to be asked, and that is, “Why Avraham?” In other words, why was Avraham chosen to be the forbearer of Am Yisrael?
As we’ve explained, Avraham is the forefather and foundation of it all, but the Torah never tells us really why that is. The Torah provides between little and no introduction for Avraham. We hear a little bit about his family life at the end of Parshas Noach. Compare that to Noach whom the Torah ceremoniously introduces to us as the “wholly righteous one of his generation” [Bereishis 6:9]. There are Midrashim which provide backstories for Avraham’s discovering of Hashem and His self-sacrifice for Hashem, the most famous one of which is about how was thrown into a fiery furnace for his belief in Hashem [Bereishis Rabbah 58:13]. None of these powerful introductions make their way to the text. The fateful story of Hashem’s nation oddly just begins with “Vayomer Hashem El Avram Lech Lecha MeiArtzecha…”-“And Hashem said to Avram, ‘Go for you from your land…” [Bereishis 12:1].
Bear in mind, Avraham was not the first righteous monotheist. Before him, there was obviously Adam HaRishon who spoke with G-d. And even Noach had righteous monotheist progeny in his Sheim and great grandson Eiver, both of whom, Chazal teach us, owned a “Yeshivah” together. So, what made Avraham different?
Perhaps, we can suggest, that our Haftarah provides an answer to that question. Although Avraham’s name only makes one appearance, if we give the Haftarah a closer look, it has more to do with Avraham than we thought.
The Navi begins by addressing an apparent challenge to G-d, posed by the B’nei Yisrael, suggesting that G-d does not see the happenings of man [Yishaiyah 40:27].
In response, the Navi argues that even without being taught that there is a Hashem Who created the universe and is the constant provider of all human vitality [40:28-29]; “HaLo Yadata Im Lo Sham’ata Elokei Olam Hashem Borei Ketzos HaAretz…Nosein LaYa’eif Koach U’L’Ein Onim Atzmah Yarbeh?”-“Should you not have known even if you had not heard, G-d of the world, Hashem Who Created the edges of the earth… Who gives strength to the weary, and to those with whom there is no vitality, He will multiply?!”
So, again, the challenge: “G-d doesn’t see/care what is happening.”
The response: “Even if you had not been told, you should have still figured out that there is a G-d Who is concerned and constantly involved with every aspect of creation.”
And that is the end of the dialogue. From there the Navi continues his speech.
But, what or whom does this dialogue remind us of? At first glance, this could be referencing any religious monotheist, right? But, who was the forerunner of religious monotheism if not Avraham? And yes, we argued that there were other religious individuals out there like Sheim and Eiver. Moreover, Avraham was not the first educator of monotheism as, apparently, Sheim and Eiver had a Yeshivah. But, notice the argument made by the Navi. He doesn’t just retort that “of course, G-d is watching,” but that “YOU should have figured it out!” “Without ever having been taught—without a tradition, you should realize G-d’s involvement in the world!” THAT is what made Avraham Avinu into Avraham Avinu!
The Midrash [Bereishis Rabbah 39:1] likens Avraham to a traveler who came across a palace with the lights on who reasoned that it is just not possible for there not to be someone home. If there is a lit Bayis (house), there must be a Ba’al HaBayis (owner of the house). Upon reaching that conclusion, the owner peeks out from the window and says, “Indeed, I am the owner!”
There was a Yeshivah available, but Avraham was apparently nowhere near that Yeshivah when, on his own, he figured out that there must be a G-d. How does one do that? The Navi says we could all have done it!
It is for this reason that R’ Elchanan Wasserman says that even if one was isolated from society from his youth and was taught nothing, he should still be able to conclude that there is a G-d and would still be accountable for his obligation to believe in Hashem!
But, what if the surrounding society denies the existence of such a G-d and espouses paganism? What if the pervading tradition is one that fundamentally does war on the concept of such a G-d as was the case during the Dor HaFlagah (Generation of the Dispersion)?
Avraham realized that the existence of a functioning world could not only mean the existence of G-d, but it would have to also mean the existence of a higher moral code, a Will of that G-d. Avraham did not merely conform with the crowd, but thought outside himself to consider what his existential responsibilities are. That is evident in the fact that Avraham did not only discover G-d, but he equally understood that he had to actively reach out to others to do Chessed (kindness) and share G-d’s existence with the world.
With this backdrop in mind, we can approach the Haftarah. The parallels to Avraham only continue. In the aforementioned dialogue [40:29], the Navi said that “…U’L’Ein Onim Atzmah Yarbeh?”-“…and to those with whom there is no vitality, He will multiply.” Indeed, the word “Onim,” vitality, is used often in reference to progeny [See Rashi to Bereishis 49:3 citing Bereishis Rabbah 98:4 and Yevamos 76A]. And indeed, Hashem He gave Avraham and Sarah the vigor to bear seed in their old age and “multiplied” them!
Then, the Navi addresses the islands, of all things, and asks [41:2] “Mi Hei’ir MiMizrach Tzedek Yikra’eihu L’Raglo Yitein Lefanav Goyim U’Melachim Yard Yitein KeAfar Charbo K’Kash Nidaf Kashto?”-“Who aroused the one from the east, who would proclaim righteousness in his footstep? Let Him place nations before him, and he will strike down kings, He will make each one’s sword like dust and his bow shredded like straw.”
Indeed, these verses sound like a description of Avraham who came from the east and battled kings in our Sidrah. Beyond that, this description is the source for the Midrash’s teaching about how during this battle, the weapons of the kings targeted at Avraham miraculously turned to dust and how Avraham’s dust turned to arrows [Tanchuma Lech Lecha 15].
And yet, despite the apparent obviousness of Hashem’s existence, the response to life’s stresses, by many, is astonishing. The Navi describes how people would merely encourage each other to manufacture better idols [Yishaiyah 41:6-7], perhaps further basis for the Midrash about Avraham destroying the idols in his father’s idol-shop [Bereishis Rabbah 58:13].
Now, we return to the verse of the hour that makes this Haftarah [41:8], “V’Atah Yisrael Avdi Yaakov Asher Bicharticha Zera Avraham Ohavi”-“And you, Yisrael, My servant, Yaakov, seed of Avraham My beloved.” The Navi turns to the people—the “People of the Book” who have the tradition from Yaakov, and says, “Don’t you get it?! You are the seed of Avraham! Even if you hadn’t been informed, this much, you should have figured out—that G-d Created the world for a purpose and therefore cares about Creation and everything that happens in it!”
Why was Avraham different from everyone that came before him? Unlike everyone that came before him—Adam, Noach, Sheim, and Eiver—Avraham had no such tradition from his family (And of course, Adam was addressed by G-d directly; Adam had no parents). Now, don’t be mistaken. Tradition is certainly foundational and indispensable. But, there has to be a part of us that innately understands what Avraham did. We have to find within ourselves a part that tradition and doctrine alone will not necessarily impart to us.
Avraham was not the first righteous, religious monotheist. But he is the first “Oheiv Hashem,” true lover of Hashem. Only Avraham was called “Ohavi,” which does not just mean “My beloved,” but “One who loves Me”! Avraham was the first one to find and thereby grow to love G-d! That is why, without introduction, the Torah can merely say “Vayomer Hashem El Avram”-“And Hashem said to Avram” without any prior introduction or “appearance.” Hashem did not come out of the blue to Avraham. The Torah does not tell us “Vayeira”-“And he appeared” in the opening of Lech Lecha! On the contrary, Avraham found Him, at which point, the casual, subsequent conversation with Hashem was only natural! Indeed, Avraham was the forerunner of the natural aspect of theology which allows us to discover Hashem from our own essence.
And when Hashem ultimately speaks to Avraham, He tells Him “Lech Lecha,” He apparently affirms Avraham’s own findings. Hashem essentially encourages Avraham to continue abandoning any foreign ideologies he might have learned back at home, in his land and birthplace. He encourages him “Lech Lecha”—“Go to you”—to your essential self, in other words, the part of the self that does not merely conform, but the individual part of the self that can finds G-d where everyone else may deny Him, the part which can come to truly love Hashem, the part that made him “Avraham Ohavi”-“Avraham who loved Me.”
May we all be Zocheh to, yes, hold very tightly to our Mesorah, but to also access the part of ourselves that could naturally discover Hashem, and we should truly grow to love Hashem, and Hashem should continue to show His love to us, revealing Himself to us, the Zera Avraham Ohavo, with the coming of the Geulah in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂