Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Parshat Lech Lecha

The opening pesukim of our haftarah are verses that immediately follow the haftarah of parshat Va’etchanan, the haftarah known as “Nachamu.” And although these pesukim focus primarily on the great distance that separates God and mortal man, they are meant to encourage the people to repent and draw closer to the All-Powerful, Who will renew and reinvigorate those who trust in Him. They form, therefore, a logical conclusion to the theme of return and consolation found in the earlier section of the perek.

However, these concluding pesukim are also the introductory remarks of our haftarah and seem to have little to do with the rest of the reading, and little to do with our patriarch, Avraham, who is the focus of this week’s parsha. Following these opening verses, the navi Yishayahu turns to the nations at large, the oppressors of Israel, and warns them to prepare for the soon-to-be redemption of Israel, seemingly having no connection to our parsha. However, upon deeper analysis, we can begin to sense in Yishyahu’s words the connection that Chazal saw to our patriarch. When calling for the nations to prepare for Israel’s redemption, the prophet is actually telling them to prepare neither for war nor for punishment but for Hashem’s judgment, “yachdav lamishpat nikrava.” And once we hear of God meting out justice, our minds should immediately turn to Avraham Avinu.

It was Avraham, after all, who, when arguing against Hashem’s decree to destroy Sedom and the other four cities (in next week’s parsha) demanded that, as the Supreme Judge, He must act justly. It was he who powerfully, yet respectfully, questioned God’s decree to destroy the innocent with the guilty; he who attempted to “bargain” with the Almighty by suggesting that there might be 50 or 45 or 40 or 30 or 20 or 10 righteous people left in the cities that should be enough for God to spare the undeserving sinners from destruction. It is no wonder, therefore, that immediately following the call to the nations to prepare for judgment, that the navi makes a direct reference to Avraham: “Mi he’ir mimizrach, tzedek yikra’ehu l’raglo?—Who inspired the one from the east [Avraham] at whose every footstep was accompanied by justice?”

Additionally, the Radak adds, these words were meant to convey the fact that Avraham, a lone figure in the world of idolaters, courageously spoke of a just and fair Supreme Being, not a jealous or vengeful “god” worshipped by the ancients. Yishayahu even adds that this God-inspired individual “subdued kings” with Hashem’s help, a clear reference to the victory of Avraham over the four kings, which is recorded in this week’s parsha.

Too often we are satisfied with the haftarah’s mention of “Avraham, who loved Me” as the sole connection of this haftarah to the Torah reading. But we must always ask: “What else might be the reason for this reading?” When we do that, worlds of understanding may open up for us, as do worlds of appreciation for the brilliance and sensitivity of our chachamim whose light continues to illuminate our paths today.

Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.