I loved many things about “Forever”, the relatively new – and excellent – Amazon show, although it took me a little while to figure out and get used to. There are many ideas to discuss, best is the unexpected ending, like walking out of Gan Eden, a form of Lech Lecha – holding hands and walking into the unknown, creating an opportunity for something we couldn’t have imagined at all…
The midrash fills-in “famous” stories about Abraham’s childhood, about him going out into the field, watching the sun and moon, discovering G-d’s presence in the world; about him “helping” his father in the idols’ workshop, “proving” to his immediate family that there is only one G-d… Just the fact that the midrash works so hard to tell us so much, gives us an idea how little we actually know and how much is missing.
The Torah tells us that Abraham was one of three brothers; that one brother died while still in Ur Casdim (Ur of the Chaldeans, about where Iraq is today); that the two remaining brothers were busy rebuilding the reminder of the Hebrew family, after losing 1/3 of them; and that this must have been a tragic time, personally and nationally. The Jewish year was around 1948, and just like in the last century, people didn’t talk much about their tragedies; instead they did what they had to do in order survive and ultimately thrive. That’s when Terach, Abraham’s father opted to take the family out of the “fiery furnace” (where the midrash tells us the ancient Jews were thrown into ovens –) and start on the journey to the Land of Israel, to build a new “state”, a new “state of mind”. As is the case with many journeys, his was driven by the desire to escape from a place that had harmed him. But when he chanced upon a lovely, modern, progressive, pluralistic city along the way, he chose to stay there.
Perhaps that’s where he then got a job as an idol workshop owner. Yes, maybe that position just opened. Or maybe something else.
Here is what our sages tell us in the Tractate of Ktubot (isn’t it interesting that matters of aliya are in the same tractate as marriage issues and challenges?):
ת”ר לעולם ידור אדם בא”י אפי’ בעיר שרובה עובדי כוכבים ואל ידור בחו”ל ואפילו בעיר שרובה ישראל שכל הדר בארץ ישראל דומה כמי שיש לו אלוה וכל הדר בחוצה לארץ דומה כמי שאין לו אלוה שנא’ (ויקרא כה, לח) לתת לכם את ארץ כנען להיות לכם לאלהים
In relation to the basic point raised by the mishna concerning living in Eretz Yisrael, the Sages taught: A person should always reside in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city that is mostly populated by gentiles, and he should not reside outside of Eretz Yisrael, even in a city that is mostly populated by Jews. The reason is that anyone who resides in Eretz Yisrael is considered as one who has a God, and anyone who resides outside of Eretz Yisrael is considered as one who does not have a God. As it is stated: “To give to you the land of Canaan, to be your God” (Leviticus 25:38) [sefaria’s translation]
A bit harsh? Nevertheless, the sages of the Babylonian Talmud, who sometimes clean things up just a little, in favor of their (lovely, modern, progressive, pluralistic) diaspora, here cling to a verse, teaching that living outside of the Land of Israel is tantamount to not having a G-d. What can we make of it, outside of Israel?
In order to make sense of that, we’ll invite another voice, from many centuries later, that of Rabbi Nachman who said: לכל מקום שאני הולך, אני הולך לארץ ישראל… “Everywhere I go, I am going to the Land of Israel”.
Wait, then what’s the problem with Abraham’s father? True, he parked for a while but still, if “everywhere” I go is part of the journey, then isn’t Charan (where he stayed, around Syria of today) also part of “everywhere”?
Indeed, in recent decades we focused in this phrase mostly on the Land of Israel, trying to deal with a new reality of the physical space, its politics, borders, management and much more. But perhaps, the saying also emphasizes “going”. If so it would mean that as long as we keep on going and keep growing, we’re going to a land that G-d shows us, the Land of Yashar-El, of being straight with G-d as well as struggling with G-d. The journey is often twisted and winding; we’re not always sure where “The” Land is; then again, Abraham wasn’t sure either. G-d said, to go to the “Land that I will show you”. Abraham thought he saw it, but then had another idea in mind, and thought that maybe Egypt will be “it”; he went down, then went up again. G-d was not always specific; he didn’t tell him everything, and the journey was not “perfect”, but ultimately, the “imperfection was also how it was supposed to be. Had G-d wanted the human beings to be obedient puppets, He could have made us so. But instead he made us as we are, somewhat flawed, somewhat great, including the opportunity to create our own journeys. At the end of the day, the Torah portion introducing Abraham and Sarah, our patriarch and matriarch, is not a full biography of their life, nor is it a foundation of our faith or obedience or peace on earth or a list of mitzvot or so many things, but it is about never giving up on walking, on “going on”, deeper and closer, and through that, being a blessing to ourselves and those around us too.