People often wonder: Why did God choose Avraham? Unlike Noah, we don’t hear that he is a great tzaddik, “a righteous person,” before God speaks to him. So why did God choose him?
God didn’t choose Avraham. Avraham chose God, is the Sefat Emet’s answer. Notice that God does not call Avraham by name in that first call: lekh lekha. “Go forth,” He says simply. (Later, when their relationship develops – in the story of the binding of Isaac – God will call him by name, but here the call is more universal.) This lekh lekha call of God’s is present at all times and to all people, says the Sefat Emet. It is just a question of whether you choose to hear it and respond. Avraham was the first one who did.
This call is still relevant, in fact, essential. The Torah has been around for thousands of years now. We have a strong tradition we pass down from parent to child. And yet there is something that cannot be passed down. Each person, as an individual, needs to choose to heed the call. We should feel that we are each, like Avraham, discoverers of God.
Avraham was asked to leave his homeland, his birthplace and his parental home. We who are brought up in the tradition have no need to do this in order to find God. Or do we? Every person must make an Avraham-like journey. Tradition can be passed on, but faith in God, a religious feeling, cannot. It must be discovered anew inside each person.
And it can only be discovered by leaving something behind, says the Sefat Emet, by leaving behind the entrapments of our normal, everyday life. There is something about routine that makes one unthinking and unseeing. We need to somehow shed the impediments of the norm in order to allow ourselves to become a bri’ah hadashah, “a new being.”
This was Avraham’s strength, his ability to take a journey, to grow and change. He is not like Noah, a ready-made tzaddik, but he becomes greater than Noah over time, because of his ability to transform. By the the end of this week’s parsha, he is truly “a new being;” he has transformed his body – through the brit milah – and his name – from Avram to Avraham.
Avraham’s journey is a long one. He does not simply arrive in the land and it is over. The parsha details his many stops along the way. And the midrash names 10 different trials he had to overcome over the course of his lifetime. This command of lekh lekha, of walking or going forth, was an ever-present command of continued transformation, of never staying in the same spiritual spot.
Are we such travelers? Do we have the strength to shed the bonds that hold us in place, that keep us in the past? Do we hear and heed the call to go forth, to keep changing, ever becoming new beings, ever learning to see the world and God afresh, like our first ancestor? As the Sefat Emet says, the call is there. It’s just a matter of learning to hear it.