This is one of my favourite parshiot, Lech-Lecha. This week's parsha begins with G-d's commands to Avraham (known at this time as Avram) Lech-Lecha: 'Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.' (Genesis 12:1-3)
Without even knowing the destination, only 'the land that I will show thee', Avraham left his birthplace of Haran at Hashem's command to live in Canaan. Avraham, at the age of 3 had recognized Hashem's presence in this word and begun to tell people that the son, the moon nor any other object was divine and that G-d alone was to be worshipped.
Avraham’s father, Terach, owned an idol workshop. Terach, traveling on business, left Avraham in charge of his factory. Avraham, fuming with disgust at the idols that his father worshipped, took a hammer and smashed all of them except for the biggest one. He placed the hammer in its hand and an offering before it. When Terach returned, he asked Avraham in a rage what had happened to his gods. Avraham calmly answered that he had placed an offering before the idols and the biggest one had destroyed all of the smaller ones in order to get it. Terach pounded his fist angrily on the desk and exclaimed, “You are lying! Idols cannot move or eat!” Then Avraham said, “How could you be so senseless as to worship and idol which cannot even save himself? How could he hear your prayers? How have you forgotten G-d who created you?”
Terach rushed to Nimrod’s palace to tell him that Avraham had revolted against the state religion. Nimrod gathered all of the princes and governors of the neighbouring lands and tried Avraham before them. He ordered that Avraham be thrown into a furnace and burned alive for his blasphemy. Three days later, when Nimrod’s servants opened the furnace to take out the criminal’s charred body, they saw that Avraham was still alive. He explained, “The G-d of heaven and earth, in whom I trust and who owns everything, rescued me from the fire”.
After G-d promises Avraham the entire land of Canaan eternally for his descendants, Avraham asked G-d, "0 Lord God, what will You give me, since I am going childless, and the steward of my household is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "Behold, You have given me no seed, and behold, one of my household will inherit me." And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "This one will not inherit you, but the one who will spring from your innards-he will inherit you." 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 15:2-5)
G-d says to Avraham habeit, look towards the heavens. Habeit in Hebrew denotes looking downward. Rashi explains on this verse "And He took him outside" according to its midrashic interpretation, He said to him,“Go out of your astrology,” for you have seen in the signs of the zodiac that you are not destined to have a son. Indeed, Abram will have no son, but Abraham will have a son. Similarly, Sarai will not give birth, but Sarah will give birth. I will give you another name, and your destiny will change (Ned. 32a, Gen. Rabbah 44:10). Another explanation: He took him out of the terrestrial sphere and lifted him above the stars. This explains the expression of הַבָּטָה, looking down from above (Gen. Rabbah 44:12). This is Jewish history in a nutshell- we are outside of the Zodiac. G-d lifts the Jewish people out of reality, out of logic, of realism. Logically, the Jewish people should have died out like any other ancient people. Martk Twain wrote of the Jews, "The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then . . . passed away. The Greek and the Roman followed. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts. … All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?" The secret of our immortality is that Israel is not confined to the terrestrial sphere but that we surpass and overcome it. Neither exile, pogrom, expulsion, Crusade, Inquisition, Holocaust or jihad can destroy us.
Finally, after all of the events that transpire after Avraham's departure from Haran, G-d said to him "I am the Lord, Who brought you forth from Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it." And he said, "0 Lord God, how will I know that I will inherit it?" And He said to him, "Take for Me three heifers and three goats and three rams, and a turtle dove and a young bird." And he took for Him all these, and he divided them in the middle, and he placed each part opposite its mate, but he did not divide the birds. And the birds of prey descended upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. Now the sun was ready to set, and a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and behold, a fright, a great darkness was falling upon him. And He said to Abram, "You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them, for four hundred years. And also the nation that they will serve will I judge, and afterwards they will go forth with great possessions. But you will come to your forefathers in peace; you will be buried in a good old age. And the fourth generation will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites will not be complete until then." Now it came to pass that the sun had set, and it was dark, and behold, a smoking furnace and a fire brand, which passed between these parts. On that day, the Lord formed a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your seed I have given this land, from the river of Egypt until the great river, the Euphrates river. The Kenites, the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, And the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Rephaim, And the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Girgashites and the Jebusites." (Genesis 15:8-20)
Rashi comments on the verse "but he did not divide the birds" Since the idol-worshipping nations are likened to bulls, rams, and goats, as it is said (Ps. 22:13): “Many bulls surrounded me, etc.,” and Scripture states (Dan. 8:20): “The ram that you saw, the one with horns, represents the kings of Media and Persia,” and Scripture states (ibid. verse 21): “And the he-goat is the king of Greece.” And the Israelites are likened to young doves, as it is said (Song of Songs 2:14): “My dove, in the clefts of the rock.” Therefore, he divided the animals, as an allusion that the nations will gradually perish. “But he did not divide the bird,” as an allusion that Israel will exist forever. [from Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer , ch. 28; Targum. Ps. 22: 13] The birds of prey sought to descend upon the carcasses, upon Israel and to devour it but Avraham drove them away. In the same way that the birds of prey were driven away, so will the wicked nations that try to destroy the Eternal Nation. G-d's people have His promise of protection and that they will inherit the land. Despite all of the troubles in the world today, rest assured that all of Nasrallahs, Ahmadinejads, all of the EUs, UNs, Condies and Bushes cannot overule G-d's promise to Avraham. We will overcome our enemies and inherit the land of Israel. The nations that hate Israel will perish but Israel will exist forever.
But My people did not heed My voice; Israel did not want [to listen to] Me. So I sent them away for the willfulness of their heart, for following their [evil] design. If only My people would listen to Me, if Israel would only walk in My ways, then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their oppressors. Those who hate the Lord would shrivel before Him, and the time [of their retribution] shall be forever. I would feed him [Israel] with the finest of wheat, and sate you with honey from the rock. (Psalm 81:12-17) Speedily in our days, Hashem, speedily in our days.
Cross-posted to Goat's Barnyard