Once upon a time, in an idolatrous town called Charan, there lived a rather inquisitive little boy named Avraham (Abraham). Actually, ‘inquisitive’ is an understatement. He questioned everything. Where the sun got its power from, who made the birds sing, why it snowed in the winter. That didn’t make him very popular in a city of idol worshippers. As he got older, his family grew more and more frustrated with their rebellious son. There were heated arguments with Avraham, with Terach desperately trying to convince Avraham to keep on the straight and narrow. One day, Terach entered his Idol shop, that he took such pride in, to find all the idols in smithereens. One idol was left intact, holding a stick in his hand. He looked at Avraham furiously. “Don’t look at me” Avraham shrugged, “that idol had a fit this morning and smashed all the others.” “You expect me to believe that?!” Terach bellowed. “yup” Avraham replied, “the same way you expect me to believe that he created me and can be worshipped!”*
In short, Avraham was not afraid to go against the grain. and that is why G-D decided to test him by telling him to leave town. Hashem commanded him very specifically. In the Torah, Hashem is quoted as saying not just “lech-go”, but “ lech lecha– go for yourself”. Moreover, He then elaborates, “from your birthplace, from your father’s house”.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that the word ‘lech’ is related to ‘chelek’ which has 2 meanings:
a) Portions, or halves, separate from each other
b) Smooth, unable to be connected to other things.
G-D was commanding Avraham to cut himself off completely from the culture and home he was raised in. This was a tough order even for Avraham. Despite everything, he still had an appreciation for his surroundings and his family. G-D was giving him his first major test. To separate himself from everything familiar to him and make his own way in life.
We all need community and family. We are advised by Chazal “not to separate from the community”. Avraham himself made a point of interacting with others around him, via acts of kindness. However, that does not mean being a sheep and following the flock. When the general crowd takes a laisse faire attitude to certain areas, a courageous and principled person will swim against the tide to do what’s right.
The stories of fathers are a sign for the children. Avraham Avinu (Abraham our father) modelled courage, the strength to stand apart from the world around us. And in doing so, he showed an example to the whole world of what G-D is about.
That is our responsibility today.
*based on Midrashic sources