In Parashat Lech Lecha, the opening sentence is God telling Avram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s household to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you.” Avram follows God’s word and goes to Canaan with his wife, Sarai and his brother’s son, Lot. Suddenly there is a major drought in Canaan so Avram and Sarai flee to Egypt.
“When they were about to enter Egypt, Avram said to his wife Sarai, ‘Look, you are a beautiful woman and it will come to pass in Egypt that they will kill me because you are my wife. Therefore, please say that you are my sister so they will keep me alive.’ It came to pass that when the Egyptians saw the beautiful woman Sarai, she was praised to the Pharaoh. Sarai was then taken into the Pharaoh’s house. The Pharaoh showed kindness to Avram for the beautiful woman’s sake and gave him animals and servants. Then God struck Pharaoh with great plagues because of Sarai, Avram’s wife. And the Pharaoh sent for Avram and said, “What have you done to me? Why did you say that she was your sister, even when I took her as my wife? Take your wife and go.” (My Jewish Learning)
Avram left with Sarai and all their possessions out of Egypt. Avram was now very rich. When they returned, Avram decides that he and Lot will separate with Lot choosing the East (Sodom) and Avram choosing the West (Canaan). War among the Kings led to the capture of the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah and its people, including Lot, Avram’s nephew. Avram goes to battle to rescue Lot and is victorious, taking back everything, including Sodom and Gomorrah. When Avram is offered a reward from one of the kings, he rejects it. God once again promises Avram that his offspring will be as numerous as the dust of the Earth and as the stars of the sky and that his offspring will be enslaved for 400 years and God will free them. In the middle of all this, Ishmael was born from Hagar and Avram. God then continues the covenant by explaining that Avram will be the father of many nations and changes his name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. Also, God tells Abraham that Sarah will have a son and will be named Itzhak. At the end of the parasha, God finishes the promise by commanding every Jewish male to be circumcised at 8 days old.
This parasha is mainly about Avram himself who is slowly turning into the leader of the Jewish people. But why did God choose Avram to be the founder of the Jewish nation? What are the qualities God looks for in a leader? There are many answers to this frequently asked question among many students who study Torah. One answer comes from Avram’s rejection of idolatry or the worship of idols. In a Midrash I read by Micha Joseph Ben Gorion, he tells a story about Avram rejection idolatry.
“When Avram came to his father’s home, he saw his father’s Gods, twelve in number. He hurried from the room into his father’s outer courtyard, where he found his father seated with all his servants; and he came and sat down before his father and asked him: ‘Father, tell me, where is the God who created the heavens and the earth and created all human beings on earth?’ And Terah answered Avram is son, saying: ‘Why those who created all these are with us in the house!’ So Avram took dishes and brought them into the chamber before his father’s Gods and saw that not one of them was stretching out a hand to eat. So he took hammers and smashed all the Gods of his father. When Terah saw this, he grew very angry, ‘What have you done to all my Gods?’ And Avram answered, ‘I only brought fine dishes to them to eat, all of them put out their hands to begin before the biggest of them all had started eating. When the big one saw what they did without waiting for his, he grew very angry and smashed them all.’ When Terah heard this, he grew exceedingly angry, ‘You are speaking falsehood to me! Have these Gods any spirit or soul or strength to do all you have told me? Why, they are wood and stone, and I made them! How can you tell me such lies?’ Then Avram answered, ‘Then how can you worship these idols, who don’t have the strength to do anything? Are these idols in whom you trust going to deliver you? Can they really hear your prayers when you cry unto them?’”
Avram is trying to have his father realize that worshiping idols is irrational. Based on his Midrash, we learn that Avram is smart. Avram is the first human being who realizes that idols cannot do any actions and for that reason, they cannot help themselves or human beings.
Being smart is one of Avram’s many qualities that are seen throughout this parasha. At the beginning of the parasha, Avram is loyal to God. He doesn’t question God about leaving his homeland and going to an unknown land. When Avram was in Egypt with Sarai, he lied to the Pharaoh so that he wouldn’t get killed, but he thought wrong of the Pharaoh. We can conclude that Avram is not a perfect man and that everyone, even leaders, makes mistakes. When they return to Canaan, Avram is fair when he let’s his brother’s son, Lot choose where he wants to settle first. Later in the parasha, Avram shows care for others by rescuing Lot from the war against the kings of Sodom and Gamorah, taking a risk by going to war and being courageous.
One of the most important qualities Avram possesses is that he is a peacekeeper and very patient with God and other people. When God says that he will have as much offspring like the stars in the sky, Avram is worried that he will die childless and have no offspring even though God kept promising him that he will have children. With all of this, he never loses his trust in God. However, Avram is patient and doesn’t give up on God even when he and Hagar have Ishmael. Avram is also a listener. When Sarai tells Avram to consort with Hagar, Avram heeds Sarai’s request. He doesn’t question Sarai and doesn’t disagree with her. Avram wants to keep the peace between everyone and will make sure that everyone will be happy.
After analyzing the qualities of Avram, let us now reflect on the first question that I asked you: Do you consider yourself a leader? What makes you a leader?
Soon we are going to graduate and go to different high schools. I hope that each of us can reflect on how these qualities apply to us and how we can use these qualities to be better leaders in our communities. I hope that this will give us the opportunity to be our best selves as we continue along towards adulthood.