"Get thee out…."
When Nahor had lived twenty-nine years, he became the father of Terah;
And Nahor lived after the birth of Terah a hundred and nineteen years, and had other sons and daughters.
When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot.
In this genealogical sequence, Adam begat Noah, who begat Shem and Eber (and thus the Hebrews); then Eber begat Nahor, the grandfather of Abram. Nahor's son Terah begat Abram, Nahor and Haran. Lot is therefore Abram's nephew.
And it was said:
Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chalde'ans.
And Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram's wife was Sar'ai, and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah.
Now Sar'ai was barren; she had no child.
Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sar'ai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chalde'ans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. (11, 28-32)
Haran, Abram's brother and Lot's father dies, according to the text, in the Chaldean city of Ur. Abram and his brother Nahor take wives: Nahor marries Milka, Avram Sarai, women whose names are similar in sense, that of royalty, queens or princesses. We then learn that Milka is the daughter of Haran, that is, in the wake of Haran's death, Nahor has taken on the care of his brother's children. Yet, Abram adopts Haran's son Lot while Nahor marries his niece, Haran's daughter, an act that isn't considered incestuous.
But who is Iscah? Her identity is vague. Perhaps she is Sarai, as Rashi implies, meaning there is no infringement of law. But the matter becomes problematic later when, after hearing so many accounts of procreation, we are told that Sarai, Abram's bride, is barren. The line of descent, the dynastic chain, is broken.
God intervenes at this point, as the sacred drama now driven by the break in the lineage. God is connected here, in this drama, to kinship and birth just as He is in the book's remainder. He is, perhaps, the father principle, signifying on-going procreation, not a womb but what opens and closes the womb. Yet, we are a bit premature here; it is still too early to discuss this issue for God has yet to enter the scene.
Returning to the drama, immediately after being reminded that Sarai is barren, we are told that the family is leaving Ur on its way to Canaan. There are no traces of divine intervention here. The family's mission is connected to Sarai's childlessness; perhaps it hopes that a change in place will change their luck. But the family makes a stop, in Haran. There, in Haran, Terah, the grandfather, dies. The drama, although it appears to have been cut short, immediately resumes with God's words, spoken at the beginning of the following chapter, 12:
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves." (12, 1-3)
These verses are often interpreted in a shallow, pedestrian manner. By adhering too closely to the phrase lech lecha ("Go from your country") we become blind to its message; we forget the preceding verses.
For Abram and his progeny, their faith in God has no philosophical meaning. To this family, the question makes sense only in terms of how to abide by God's path. But what is His path? This path, which humans have already discerned, is beyond reach; it is the path of familial continuity. After all, by the time that God told Abram lech lecha and go to the Land of Canaan, Abram's family should already have arrived at its destination, most likely in search of a solution to the fertility problem.But it did not; its journey was disrupted.
God does not command Abram to fulfill his family's mission but he does suggest that he do so by finding an opportunity to seduce Abram to His call. This helps us understand that the family's mission was firmly linked to Sarai's barrenness because God does not simply send Abram to Canaan; He does so with the intention that Abram father a great nation despite his wife's barrenness. That is, God is a guiding light for Abram the Jew – or, more correctly, Abram the Hebrew – a prototype for the ordinary Jew living an ordinary life, who comprehends God not in any categorical theological sense but in relation to his family's continuity.
* TOSEFTA - I'd like to give an example of suchguidance from my own life. Joseph, my father, talks to God in these terms, requesting that He endow us with good income and good health. He never questions if God exists; he holds no in-depth discussions on the subject. Joseph is an innocent; he dramatically intones the birkat ha'mazon, the blessing said after the Sabbath meal, in order to attract everyone's attention, but especially mine, the eldest, sitting uprightby the table, while my brothers are left to comfortably sit back in their chairs. My father's manner is meant to reinforce our determination to abide by God'scommandments because the "the Merciful One has granted us an honorable livelihood, by consent rather than command, with pleasure rather than with pain. The Merciful One will bring peace to our houses. They wish us good fortune and success in all our efforts."
My father recites the Sephardic version of the birkat ha'mazon (which follows our obedient murmuring of the prayer "Blessed is God whose food we have eaten and through whose goodness we live"). After the blessing, he collects our skullcaps(ki'pot); we then return the tattered sidur, the prayerbook, to its place in the bookcase where it would wait until the following Sabbath. Joseph does so with aslight laugh at his other son's mischievousness, who has somehow avoided keeping his skullcap on throughout the ritual.
The phrase lech lecha is, therefore, more than the order of the day; it is a model, a guide to how that person should live his life directed at a particular someone. This phrase provides one of the keys to understanding the essence of the Biblical God. Another is "I AM THAT I AM" (eh'iyeh asher eh'iyeh), from Exodus, the phrase God proclaims upon Moses' encounter with the Burning Bush:
He said, "But I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain."
Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, `What is his name?' what shall I say to them?"
God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, `I AM has sent me to you.'" (3, 12-14).
We should stay close to the literal meaning of this text so as to reach further into its depths, an approach preferable to initially seeking some deep metaphysical implications, a step that will distract us from its substance. That is, we should let the written text speak to us directly, as is, without any imaginary interpretation. If we were to paraphrase the text in contemporary Hebrew, God would be saying: It's going to be OK, what will be will be, I allow you to do your own thing.
For theBiblical like the modern member of the Hebrew tribe, God is the guide of hope for the future, everlastingly, for the present does not exist beyond the fraction of a second separating before and after, and the past is already dead. God's voice prophesies the future, it promises achievement of everything needed to maintain the family, its wealth and its health; the family'ssuccess and survival, not more, but not less.
I would like to illustrate this point with the story of Job. In that story, God disturbs the family order. Job is desolate, bereft of hope. If God is hope for the future, then the evil ascribed to God is nothing other than the death of hope, accompanied by a descent into the abyss of this present evil world (Galatians 1:4).
I do notmean toimplythatthe traditional Jew, the father who leads his family, is necessarily pious, obsessive and resolute; quite the opposite – he lives through God; God does not live through him. God does not command, he only offers guidelines for living our lives, for merging with life's flow; lechu lechem, to life, to persistence, to letting life's current continue.
I am also not proposing that the Christian faith is equivalent to the path taken by the ordinary Jew. I mean just to opposite: That same Jew need not be observant or pious, he will simply live and act from within the ties that bind him to God's actions but from an awareness that he need not respond to God unceasingly, or follow rabbinical commands always, or immediately. This Jew lives his God through daily habits that show respect for Halacha while knowing when to be flexible. He recognizes God's imperfections, too, as well as the often humorous relationship between God and Man. He realizes that his is a witty god, mischievous to the point of pain.
"Get thee out…."