This is the week that started it all. Avraham Avinu is chosen by Hashem to become the father of the Jewish nation. He will be the first Jew, the one who will teach the world about monotheism and the one who will change the world forever. So… what was the first thing that Hashem said to him?? Keep Shabbos!! No… Put on Tefillin every day!! No… Don’t talk Lashon Hara!!! No…
The first words that Hashem ever spoke to Avraham were far different from what anyone would have guessed; “Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you great. You shall become a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and he who curses you, I will curse. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” (Bereisheit 12:1-3 / Translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan ztz”l)
That was it. Nothing about keeping kosher, wearing tzitzit or learning Torah. Yes, these are all very important and we must never underestimate their value but the foundation of Judaism was something else: Avraham was told to live in Israel. This is where it would all begin. The 613 mitzvot would come later… only after Avraham left his birthplace and moved to Israel, or in modern terms, made Aliyah.
I want you to read those 3 p’sukim (verses) again and see the order of what would happen. First, Avraham was told to leave his land and move “to the land that I will show you” – which was Israel. Only after that was done would the following things happen; “I will make you into a great nation. You shall become a blessing etc..” The question I always had was; why? Why did Avraham need to leave his home in order for this to happen? Why couldn’t he become a great nation and a blessing from New York, London or Charan? (Note: According to Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, the “Charan” mentioned in the Torah, where Avraham lived, is today’s Mesopotamia, located approximately 400 miles northeast of Israel)
This is not just a simple question. This is the essence of our entire nation and religion. Hashem didn’t tell these things to Avraham as a mere suggestion or good advice. There was a powerful message in these words and we must not lose sight of what it was.
Yes, it’s true. Avraham – and Sarah – were chosen by Hashem to be the first father and mother of our nation. Everything would start with them and all Jews would follow in their footsteps. Hashem was very careful in choosing His words because major concepts would be extracted from those words for thousands of years to come. Trust me that a major 500 page thesis could be written on these words but allow me to summarize it all into three concepts.
Number one: The Jewish nation can only live in Israel. Individual Jews may find themselves in Canada, Argentina or Hong Kong but the nation – the Jewish nation – is only in Israel. This is exactly why Avraham was told to leave Charan and make Aliyah because he was about to build a nation and that job – fathering the Jewish nation – can only be done in Israel. (Note: see a fascinating Ramban – Vayikra 18:25 – where he states, very clearly, that the Torah was given to be kept in Eretz Yisrael and what we keep of the mitzvot outside the land is in order not to forget how to keep them when we return to Eretz Yisrael!!)
Number two: Separation is a very important concept for the Jewish nation. In “Havdalah” we talk about separating holy from the profane, light from darkness, Shabbat from the weekdays and Israel from the nations of the world. When Avraham and Sarah were chosen, they had to immediately separate themselves from the people around them. They could no longer live in Charan, Teaneck or Johannesburg. Yes, Israel deals with the world in business, science and hundreds of other ways but the Jewish nation can only do that from their own place, separate from the rest of the world. That place – chosen by Hashem Himself – will be the source of their strength. It will be a place of holiness by the fact that a Jewish culture has been established there. Holidays such as Christmas and Halloween will mean nothing and leaving work early on Friday will be problem free. 90% of businesses will be closed on Chol Hamoed, Purim and Tisha B’av and every Ikea will have a shul – with a beautiful Aron Kodesh! Yes, certain things like this can happen in Lakewood and Monsey but that’s because religious Jews live there. When building a nation, one must think of all Jews, especially those who aren’t where they should be. That can only be done when the Jews have separated from the world and gone to their own place.
Number three: This may sound arrogant but I believe it to the bottom of my soul, because Hashem said it: The world is indeed blessed because of us. As stated above; “I will bless those who bless you and he who curses you, I will curse. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” I realize that around the halls of the UN these words sound very far-fetched but that is only because most Jews don’t believe them. The day we start believing these words – and start acting accordingly – is the day that they will start becoming reality.
Therefore, in my own words, this is what Hashem told Avraham. Leave your land and come to Israel because only there can we build the Jewish nation. You and your descendants will live there, separated from the world and will build a society and culture of holiness. When that happens, the entire world – yes, the entire world will be blessed because of the Jewish nation.
This was told to Avraham almost 3,800 years ago but it still applies today to each and every Jew around the world. Come home and let’s build the Jewish nation together. Let’s live as Jews in our own land with our laws, customs, holidays and culture. And finally, let’s bless the world – all 7 billion people – with the blessing that Hashem is waiting to give them. It’s up to us – but it all starts with “Lech Lecha”…