[I wish to begin this week’s column by acknowledging the source of the title, taken from the lyrics of the song ‘Avraham’ by ‘The Eighth Day; from their album ‘Chasing Prophecy.’ Beautiful song. I am afraid that I digress (although I am not sure if one can digress if one has not started yet).]
Parshas Lech Lecha tells the story of Avraham Avinu’s first entry into Eretz Yisrael and his travels throughout the Land. The passuk (Bereishis 12:6-8) states:
“And Avraham passed through the land as far as Shechem, until Elon Moreh. The Canaani were then (still) in the Land. And Hashem appeared to Avraham and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this Land.’ And Avraham built an altar there to Hashem Who appeared to him. From there, he relocated to the mountain east of Beis El, and he pitched his tent, with Beis El on the west and Ai on the east; and he built an altar there to Hashem and he called out in the name of Hashem”
We learn that Avraham built two altars, one upon reaching Shechem, when Hashem appeared to him and a second one ‘east of Beis El where he ‘called out in the name of Hashem.’ Ramban explains that the first altar served as a place where Avraham brought thanksgiving offerings as a result of that prophecy, since Avraham had not experienced such a vision from Hashem until then (see Ramban ibid 12:7, that the Lech Lecha commandment was relayed either in a nighttime dream or was a divine inspiration, not a revelation). Thus, korbanos were brought there, but Avraham did not yet ‘call out in the name of Hashem.’ That came at the second Altar.
What does it mean ‘to call out in the Name of Hashem?’Ramban explains (ibid 8):
“The correct explanation is that Avraham would call out in the Name of Hashem in a loud voice in front of the altar, imparting knowledge of the existence of Hashem and His Divinity. In Ur Kasdim, he had tried to teach people but they would not listen, but now when he arrived in the land about which he was promised ‘and I will bless those who bless you,’ he taught Hashem’s divinity without hindrance. Yitzchak his son did the same, as it says (ibid 26:25) ‘and he called out in the name of Hashem,’ and this also means that Yitzchak proclaimed Hashem’s divinity to all. For Yitzchak was in a new place, where people had not yet heard of Hashem, and so he declared Hashem’s glory among those nations. Nothing similar is said of Yaakov, for he bore many children, all of them servants of Hashem<… and thus belief in Hashem was publicized through them and known to all…”
Avraham Avinu’s role was to make people aware of Hashem and to publicize His greatness. Similarly, Yitzchak and Yaakov accomplished this mission, albeit in slightly different ways. However, what remains unexplained is why Avraham did not commence doing so immediately upon entering Eretz Yisrael, at Shechem? Why did he wait until arriving ‘east of Beis El?’
Perhaps the matter can be understood as follows. The Ramban in the beginning of this week’s parshah (ibid 12:2) asks why the Torah makes no mention of just why Avraham Avinu was so favored by Hashem, to the extent that he received such unlimited berachos, Eretz Yisrael, the promise of well-being of those who blessed him, and the opposite for those who opposed him. One would have expected that the Torah would first state that Avraham was a righteous person who served Hashem. It seems a bit illogical that Hashem would promise Avraham all that He did just because Avraham dutifully left the land of his birth as per His command. The Ramban explains that Hashem told Avraham to travel on to Eretz Yisrael so that his service to Him and his calling out in the Name of Hashem be in that chosen land, and that there his name would become great and his opponents diminished, thus enabling Avraham to carry out his mission (for in Ur Kasdim that had become impossible). In essence, the Ramban is saying that the Land and the blessings at this point were not given to Avraham as a reward; as indeed, we do not find any explanation of why Avraham would necessarily deserve such a reward. Rather, he was now given the tools with which to carry out his mission.
This mission was not solely that of Avraham Avinu, in fact, it is also the mission of Klal Yisrael! As the Ramban explains at length in parshas Ha’azinu (Devarim 32:26), the purpose of all of creation is that humankind acknowledge and recognize Hashem, and thus thank and praise Him. Klal Yisrael are the ones charged with the task of bringing the world to this recognition, and the miracles and wonders that Bnei Yisrael experienced were wrought for the express purpose of enabling them to complete this task.
And so, once again we have a prime illustration of the principle of Ma’aseh Avos Siman Labanim, that the acts of the patriarchs are a symbol and a microcosm of the unfolding history of their progeny, namely, the mission of publicizing Hashem’s reality to the world at large.
Ramban (Bereishis 12:6) explains another manifestation of this principle, “And that is why Hashem had Avraham take possession of the Land (as a harbinger of his descendants acquisition of it), and why He performed symbolic acts for him corresponding to all the future events that would occur to his children. And when Avraham entered Shechem, he symbolically took possession of that place (Shechem) first, even before Hashem gave him any other land (that is, before Hashem promised to give him the Land in passuk 7). This was an allusion to the fact that Avraham’s children would conquer Shechem first (in the days of Yaakov Avinu, with the story of Dinah’s kidnapping by Shechem) before actually acquiring the Land of Israel, and before the nations there completely deserved to be expelled. That is why it says ‘and the Canaani was then in the Land.’ And after Hashem ‘gave’ Avraham the Land through his promise, he then traveled from there and set up his tent between Beis El and Ai, which was indeed the first place that Yehoshua conquered.”
Thus, Avraham’s traveling to Shechem was the template for Bnei Yisrael’s would conquest of Shechem (in the days of Yaakov), which occurred before they would acquire any other part of the Land. And this was before Klal Yisrael was charged with proclaiming Hashem’s Name throughout the world. They had not yet descended, let alone experienced the Exodus from, Mitzrayim, and they had not yet become the Am Hashem. Thus, in perfect keeping with the principle of Ma’aseh Avos Siman Labanim, Avraham does not yet ‘call out in the name of Hashem.’ Only when he arrived ‘between Beis El and Ai,’ symbolizing Bnei Yisrael’s conquest of the Land in the days of Yehoshua, could Avraham, and his descendants in turn, call out and proclaim Hashem’s existence and omnipotence before the nations of the world.