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Why was leaving his hometown a test? Avraham was not exactly the most popular character back home; in fact the opposite seems true. He was vilified, persecuted, attacked and almost killed – until he was miraculously saved from a fiery furnace. Why would leaving such a place be considered a “test”? When we continue our reading of the next two verses, the “test” seems mitigated by a bounty of blessings:
(2) "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
This certainly doesn’t sound like a challenge; in fact, it sounds as if Avraham has “hit the jackpot”! The promises are of incredible proportions. Where is the test?
A more careful reading of these verses reveals an almost untenable tension, which may be the key to understanding the angst which Avraham experiences in fulfilling the Divine imperative. Verse 2 is a blessing which introduces a new entity, a new concept which from this point on becomes the focus of the biblical narrative: the nation, specifically “the Nation of Israel”.
The joyous, nearly incredible news that a nation will emerge from the loins of Avraham, is tempered by the knowledge that a certain tension will always surround this nation. As this nation emerges, we learn that others will never be indifferent. The nation of Avraham’s children will never be “pareve” in the eyes of the world. They will always elicit some sort of reaction from others, always will serve as a source of blessing or a curse for others.
Furthermore, this blessing may be limiting: it is particular in nature, it is directed exclusively to the people who will become known as the Jewish People. In Avraham’s eyes, universal dreams may be challenged by particular nationalistic aspirations. Whereas Avraham has seen himself as a citizen of the world on a mission to help elevate all of mankind, his mission now becomes linked exclusively with this new entity, “the Children of Avraham.”
At this juncture, what are Avraham’s aspirations? Is his dream to start his own nation, or does he wish to impact the people of his hometown? Has his initial failure dissuaded him from continuing his original mission, or does he still dream of local success?
Let your imagination flow freely for a moment. Imagine you were born in a small town down south. Your parents are devout Catholics, as are all the people in your town. You attend a good Catholic school which teaches you all about the Catholic religion. Every Sunday your parents take you to church to pray. Never in your life have you heard about Hashem or the Jewish religion. What chances are there that you would suddenly wise up and realize that all that your parents are teaching you, and all that your priests in school teach you is totally false? It’s completely meaningless. Would you ever think of questioning what people far older than you say is the true religion? Would you dispute what all the wise men and professors’ say is the real thing? Probably not! After all, you would probably do what everybody else does, whether you understand the reason or not. Why be different? If that’s what everybody believes in then it must be true. Why even bother questioning it?
Beside, being different is certainly very difficult. It would mean fighting your parents, friends, and everybody else. Who’s looking for trouble? Just do what everybody does. It makes life a lot easier! So what if it doesn’t make sense? Big deal. Who cares? You can’t fight the establishment. Besides, would it really make a difference to you what or whom you worship? Would you care if it made sense or not? You never studied philosophy. How are you supposed to figure out that what everybody is doing is wrong. These are people much older than you. These are people much wiser than you. You’re busy watching television or playing baseball. You’re certainly not too concerned or too interested to find out who the real G-d is! So, if things don’t make too much sense, who cares? Even if you’re convinced that all you’re being taught is foolish nonsense, why tip the apple cart? It’s not going to make any difference, is it? Why fight and argue with everybody and make lots of enemies over nothing.
Just imagine what would happen if you told your parents that you refuse to go to church with them, or you refuse to go to Catholic school anymore because you believe that everything you are being taught is just a big bunch of nonsense. You’d be asking for real trouble! You’d be called a real weird and sent to a psychologist for some counseling to set you straight. Or perhaps a few slaps across your face and a good hard spanking will set you straight. After all, you can’t fight the entire establishment. How can a young kid like you dare refute what everybody else says is the truth? Who do you think you are?