‘”Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”‘ This is the beginning of Abraham’s story as we are told it. It is said that, before he set out, he smashed his father’s idols. Abraham and Sarah are so familiar to us that it is easy to overlook a detail of their story which comes right at the end of the momentous preceding parsha of Noah. This is that Abram’s father, Terach, himself leaves his land:
Terach took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (Haran’s son), and his
daughter-in-law Sarai (Abam’s wife). With them, he left Ur Casdim,
heading towards Canaan. The came as far as Charan and settled there.
Why does Terach leave Ur Casdim? Did he wish to escape from his father’s idols? Whatever the answer, he starts a journey continued by his son and great grandson, his great, great grandchildren and, much later, by a huge group of escaped slaves. The journey has a mysterious symmetry. Abraham’s journey will take him to the promised land. He will leave it and return. Jacob and his children will also leave, after which there will be no return for hundreds of years, hundreds plus forty extra ones because of our lack of faith. Given Abraham’s own goodness and faith, why did God not simply simply send him to the promised land and go from there, with gentle guidance for a few generations while the people multiplied and populated the land? Isaac and Rebecca would add contemplative insights and kindness. Jacob, Leah and Rachel would add shrewdness, bright intelligence, a deep sense of family and ever greater insight into the nature of the divine. Was this not enough to make a holy nation? Well, no, because wisdom is gained only by the slow accretion of experience, knowledge, insight and self-awareness. It cannot be learnt in a day, any more than can advanced Mathematics. Every step of the journey from when Terach led his son, grandson and daughter-in-law out of Ur Casdim to when Joshua led the people over the the river Jordan needed to be taken, taken and understood, taken and remembered. We are still journeying, still remembering, teaching and learning.
Now, what have I forgotten? Oh yes, do come along this Saturday at 10:30 am. Adam Feldman will be leading us on Abraham and Sarah’s way.