Torah Thoughts: Parashat Lech Lecha 5779
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
The Blessings Abraham Received
This week we begin to read the stories about our patriarch Abraham. God tested Abraham many times but also blessed him many times throughout his life. God also promised Abraham he and his descendants would be blessed in different ways.
For example, in this week’s parasha God tells Abraham,
And I will make your seed like the dust of the earth, so that if a man will be able to count the dust of the earth, so will your seed be counted (Genesis 13:16).
It is clear that in this verse God is promising Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth. As Rashi explained in his commentary to this verse, “Just as it is impossible for the dust to be counted, so will your seed not be counted.”
Although this was an incredibly generous promise, especially for a man like Abraham who had no children at that moment, many commentators were surprised by the comparison of the people Israel with the dust of the earth. After all, everybody walks on the dust! Some midrashim try to explain that this is a realistic promise; meaning that although some nations will step on the people Israel, the Jewish people will survive and be numerous and prosperous and their enemies will disappear from the face of the earth.
The Jerusalem Talmud (Shekalim 1:5) chose to give a creative explanation of our verse. It not only compares Israel to the dust of the earth, but also to the stars in the sky. As it is written in the Torah,
And He took him outside, and He said, “Please look heavenward and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So will be your seed” (Genesis 15:5).
What do we learn from these two comparisons? According to the Jerusalem Talmud, we should learn that the people of Israel are able to rise to the stars when they follow the right path, but they can fall to the ground when they are wrong!
I think this is not only a wonderful specific lesson about our people but also about God’s blessings in general. We should never take God’s blessings for granted, as they are promises that depend upon our behavior. Yes, we can reach the heavens with God’s good blessings but only if we deserve it, only if we follow the right path, only if we follow Abraham’s example. Blessings should encourage us to improve ourselves, as individuals and as a people. They are not only gifts, but also incentives to live righteously.
The Jewish people has learned this lesson very well throughout history. We were blessed, but we do not brag about it. We were blessed, but we do not rely on those blessings. We hope, we pray, we wish, and we try to choose the best way to fulfill our destiny as Abraham’s descendants. Perhaps that is the true blessing we received!