VaYera: Family Ties

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

“Take your son, your only son, the one you love, v'lech lecha, and go for yourself to the land of Moriah” (Breisheet 22:2). So begins the command of G-d demanding the sacrifice of Yitzchak. After waiting so long to have a child with Sarah, Avraham was commanded to take his child and return him to G-d. In the face of such a command Avraham was silent—or shall we say speechless?—unable to comprehend the Divine will even as he arose early to carry it out.

Lech lecha, go for yourself, and apparently you alone. While Avraham was physically accompanied by his two unnamed servants, in truth he was walking alone to an unknown future. Sarah was absent and Yitzchak, not comprehending what was happening, was bewildered as he innocently queried, "Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" (Breisheet 22:7). Avraham had three long days to think about his relationship with G-d, three long days of silence.

Tellingly, when we first meet Avraham, he is also told “lech lecha”, go for yourself, “from your country, your place of birth and your family” (Breisheet 12:1). Here too Avraham was to go alone, to become Avraham haIvri, the one who stands alone on the other side of the river; willing, if need be, to go against the societal currents. As on his long walk to sacrifice Isaac, when he was alone even if others were with him, so too Avraham was spiritually, if not physically, alone when he left Charan on his journey to Israel.

It was Avraham, not Avraham and Sarah, who was commanded to leave for the land of Israel. Sarah and Lot are "taken" by Avraham to this new land. When famine strikes soon after their arrival, it is “Abram who goes down to Egypt”, passing off Sarai as his sister in order to prevent her from being taken captive. The promise to give the land of Israel to the Jewish people is made to Avraham alone, explaining why Avraham (quite reasonably) thought that it would be Yishmael who would be his heir. And even after G-d's later promise that he and Sarah would have a child was fulfilled, Avraham could not bring himself to throw Yishmael out of the house, despite his negative influences upon Yitzchak. He only did so because G-d commanded him to do so, thus allowing Yitzchak to grow up alone.

While Avraham and ultimately, Sarah laid the foundations of this great nation, Avraham had to sever all ties with his parents and siblings. In order to be the founder of a new, special nation Avraham needed complete separation from his family. Only this divide could enable him to develop the traits that would become the hallmarks of this new nation, "mercy, compassion and a sense of shame". This break with the past is, unfortunately, often the price that must be paid by those who change the course of history. Moshe Rabbeinu had to completely separate from his family, a decision that led to some degree of friction with his siblings. This also left him unable to care for his own biological children, children who left little positive mark on Jewish history. And in more recent times, those who helped to build the new world and the State of Israel often left family behind, never to see them again.

Yet isolation and separation, even from an idolatrous past, can never be the goal for the righteous. "Perhaps there are fifty righteous in the midst of the city (Sedom)" (18:24). Righteousness is only meaningful and influential if it is demonstrated in the rough and tumble of the "inner city", when wheeling and dealing in the business world.

"After these things (the akeidah) it was told to Avraham saying, behold, Milcha also had children from your brother Nachor" (Breisheet 22:20). The recording of the names of the twelve children of Nachor would seem to be an anticlimactic sequel, and unrelated to the momentous akeidah story. However, the Netziv notes that the recording of the births of the nieces and nephews of Avraham does form an integral part of the akeidah story. Avraham would have been unable to lay the foundation for the Jewish people in the midst of his hometown, surrounded by family members who worshipped idols. Avraham needed to separate from his idolatrous family. Yet such a separation should not be permanent. After the akeidah, Avraham and Yitzchak reached spiritual heights that guaranteed their utter fidelity to G-d; there was no longer any danger for Avraham in interacting with his extended idolatrous family: thus, the recording of the family news.

The eternal bond between G-d and the Jewish people can never be broken. We must ensure that our spiritual growth has, as its ultimate value, the bringing together of families, so that one day all will come to recognize G-d.