Parashat Lech Lecha
“The Lord said to Avram: Leave your land, your birthplace, your father’s house.” What can this be compared to? To a man who travels from one place to another and sees a palace on fire. He wonders: “Is it possible that this palace has no owner?” The owner of the palace looks and said, “I am the owner of the palace.” Thus, Avraham our father said: “Is it possible that this world has no one to rule over it?” The Holy One, Blessed be He, looked at him and said: “I am the Ruler, the Sovereign of the universe.”
This Midrash tries to give one explanation to the inexplicable. Why was Avram chosen? Knowing the end or even the course of the history of Avraham, we can infer that from his qualities that he wielded throughout his life, the Lord chose him to be the Patriarch of the Patriarchs and give rise to three different religions and diverse peoples.
But let’s compare other choices the Lord made regarding our leaders: The Torah is explicit in the case of Noach, that he was righteous in his generation and that he walked by the side of the Lord. Thus is said at the beginning of his epic. Sounds like a reason to the election.
We are told about Moshe that he was raised in the bosom of the royal house of Egypt, and yet he was fair to those who suffered as slaves even without knowing that they were from his own people. There is a kind of justification about his choice.
The Torah usually clarifies these choices to us.
But why Avraham? What had he done until God called him to leave his father’s house and migrate to the land that he was going to point out to him?
The Midrash I shared tells us that the world was rotting in the flames of idolatry. Let us remember that a few generations before, the Lord promised Noach and all his descendants not to destroy humanity again after the flood. There had to be another solution.
The solution came from the hand of someone who was going to rebel against the existing idolatry. Someone who, according to another Midrash, was going to understand that idols did not have the power that the surrounding society said they had. Above all, someone who would take care not only to save himself and his family, but, in the cultural and spiritual change that represented the belief in one God, would rather see himself as a father of a multitude of peoples.
And a new question arises. Why does the Lord need someone to put out those flames or put this world back on track?
It has to do with free will. Surely God can put everything on track, take you on the right track. But that doesn’t seem to be the goal of Creation.
If we see each of the missteps of humanity, and of our patriarchs and our people, in no case is God the one who intervenes and corrects alone. There is always a “partner” who exercises his freedom of choice and twists destiny, as Abraham did.
Does the Lord need us for this task? Maybe not. But it is not His will that we be simple robots that obey laws or orders. We must assume our right and ability to discern and choose—and to be partners in putting out the different fires that may be happening at this very moment in diverse parts of the world.
The answer is that evil exists because God gave humans the gift of freedom. Without free will, we could not disobey God’s laws. At the same time, though, we would be nothing more than machines, programmed to do what the Creator wants of us. Freedom and its misuse are the theme of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and the generation of the Flood: Why didn’t God intervene? Why didn’t he prevent early humans from eating the forbidden fruit or prevent Cain from murdering Abel? Why didn’t the owner of the palace put out the fire?
Because by giving us free will, He avoided being forced to interfere in the situation of humans. If He acted to prevent every wrong thing we were about to do, we would have no freedom; then, we would never mature, we would never learn from our mistakes, we would never become the image of God. We exist as free agents only because of the tzimtzum, God’s self-contraction, His self-limitation. That is why, within the terms in which He created humanity, He does not quench the flames of human wickedness—not because He can’t do it, but because he decided not to do it so we can do it.
That is surely one of the reasons why He chose Avraham. He was the first person in recorded history to protest injustice in the world in God’s name, rather than accept it in God’s name. He was the man who said: “Will the Judge of all the Earth be He who does not act justly?” when Sodom and Gomorrah were going to be destroyed by the election towards evil. While Noach had welcomed the fate of destruction and saved himself and his family, Avraham did not. He is the man of whom God said: “I have chosen him to lead his children and his family in the path of the Lord doing what is right and just.” Avraham was the father of a nation, of a faith, of a civilization.
The model is clear. We can’t all be patriarchs. But we can all assume our responsibility in a world that we must reform.
May the Lord help us open our eyes, precisely in the face of such important moments as the elections of this country’s authorities, so that we all are able to assume the conduction of a change from a place where we can do it. To achieve a better society and a better world.
Rabbi Gustavo Geier