Parashat Lech-Lecha: The Uniqueness of the Avot
Parashat Lech Lecha begins as God commands Avram to leave his home and to go to Erets Yisrael. The Commentators ask why the Torah uses the dual-phrase "Lech Lecha," and not just "lech"?
The Ba’al HaTurim, in his commentary to the Torah, offers two answers.
First, he notes that the numerical equivalent (gematria) of lech lecha is one hundred. God hinted to Avram that he would not see the blessings he was promised until he reaches the age of one hundred. Second, God hinted to Avram that he would die in one hundred years, at the age of one hundred and seventy-five.
The rabbis teach us that leaving his birthplace and traveling to an unknown destination was one of the ten tests (asara niseyonot) which God tested Avraham. However, we might ask why this is considered to be a test, as God promised him that he would receive children, money, and fame. If so, this doesn’t seem to be a very difficult test!?
Among the other tests, the Midrash relates that Avraham threw himself into a fiery furnace rather than worship Nimrod. One the one hand, this appears to be the greatest test, as Avraham was willing to sacrifice his life for God. However, it appears leaving his home was greater than the other tests. The Jewish people, throughout history, succeed in momentary tests, similar to Avraham’s test of faith. However, an open-ended test, day after day, is much harder.
God commands Avraham to move to Erets Yisrael, where there is a famine, and he must leave to Egypt, where his wife is taken captive. Avraham experiences one problem after the other. This test spanned years; it is harder to "live" a sacrifice, than to "die" in sacrifice.
The Mesilat Yesharim explains that every day we are tested. These are the day to day tests which we confront, and they are difficult. Great people don’t only pass their momentary tests, but they excel day after day.
The Ramban explains that our forefathers were unique in that their actions created templates for the rest of Jewish history. This is known as "maaseh avot siman lebanim." For example, he explains that just as Avraham went in to the land of Israel and settled at Hai, years later Yehoshua’s first stop when he brings the people into Israel in Hai. Similarly, the Ramban explains that just as Avraham went to Egypt because of a famine, and God punishes Pharaoh for taking Sarah, and then Avraham is released and sent away with gifts, years later the sons of Yaakov go to Egypt due to a famine, and after being enslaved by Pharaoh they are set free with great wealth. Avraham created the templates for Jewish history. For this reason, it is important to carefully study the lives of the avot, who created these templates for their descendants.