In Lech Lecha, this weeks portion, our nations journey begins with God instructing Avram (soon to become Avraham) to leave his birthplace and set out to start a new people in a new land. What a novel concept? A people collected by common belief as opposed to an accident of birth place. But if we were paying attention to the end of last week’s portion we would have seen that the destination for Avram’s travel was not new at all. Terach, Avram’s father, had set out with his family toward the land of Canaan, but never got there. While it seems that Avram was more successful than his father in terms of getting to the land of Canaan, he was as unsuccessful as his father in terms of staying there. We read in this week’s portion a that Avram left the land of his divine quest almost as soon as he got there. How are we to compare the life journey of Avram and Terach?
In the Gemara in Kidushin 31a (in a totally different context) we learn that, “Greater is the one who is commanded and does then the one who is not commanded and does”. This sentiment can be explained with a basic understanding of the human need to combat authority. It is more meritorious to overcome our need to rebuff authority and comply than to just do something for its own cause. It is interesting to ponder the opposite of this adage. How would you compare the one who is commanded and does not comply to the one who is not commanded and does not comply? The first one is testing the limits of authority, but still might be in a relationship with the authority. The later is just not doing anything at all.
Surely Terach’s intentions were good, but we do not know them. Avram might have failed in complying with the will of God in going to and staying in the land of Canaan, but we know where he aspired to go. We are still the beneficiaries of that relationship. We all fail, but with clear expectations it possible for us to try again and succeed. And for that I love Mitzvot.