Journey into the Unknown

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s parsha, Lech Lecha, begins with Hashem’s instructions to Avraham to “go forth from your land, your birthplace and father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” Avraham had discovered G-d by his observations and rational study of the cosmos. His inquiries began when he was a precocious 3-year-old and concluded when he was40, absolutely convinced of the existence of a Creator Who ruled the world and Whom man was obliged to recognize and serve.

Avraham’s enchantment with G-d impelled him to communicate his knowledge to his contemporaries. He was able to repudiate their idolatrous beliefs and convince them of the truth of Hashem via the cogency of his arguments. According to Rambam, Avraham was not, as is commonly assumed, a “knight of faith,” rather a unique religious personality. It is quite obvious that he did not go through a sudden emotional transformation, which is often referred to as being “born again.” Such a process does not require 37 years of constant effort. Avraham was a great thinker who was wholly engaged in the search for truth. He might be regarded as the first person who was a rational believer.

Does this mean that he was not a man of faith? At first glance, it seems tempting to make this assertion. After all, one who is rationally convinced of the existence of atoms, or any other thing we cannot perceive with our senses, does not need faith. One who has proof of a person’s innocence does not have to resort to how he “feels” about the matter. As one’s knowledge increases, the arena of belief recedes. If Avraham had an absolute intellectual conviction about G-d’s existence, what role could faith play in his religious approach?

Our parsha provides the answer. It is the first installment in the story of the “adventures of Avraham Avinu.” He embarked upon a journey that would remove him from the security of his home and family to the place where Hashem would lead him. How did he know what would happen to him in his wanderings? What dangers would he encounter? And what effect would this move have on his life?

He did not even know what land he was headed for, and thus had no inkling of the challenges he would have to deal with. Yet, he accepted the Divine charge without any hesitation. Why would a rational person, who needed to be absolutely convinced of G-d’s existence before committing to Him, seemingly abandon all reason and embark on a life-changing adventure about whose details he knew nothing?

The answer is that Avraham had absolute faith, not that G-d existed, but that He could be trusted without reservations. Hashem does not reveal too much about His plans for mankind. He requires that we develop confidence in Him. In every area of human endeavor, trust is necessary. We are always placing our faith in spouses, friends, relatives, and institutions. As we go through life, we are inevitably surprised and disappointed by those on whom we rely. Especially great is our sorrow when we are mistreated by those to whom we provided great benefit. “Why did you repay goodness with evil?” is a constant refrain in the annals of human experience.

The greatest mistake we make is to invest our faith in people. The Torah teaches that we are to rely only on Hashem. The prayers declare, “Do not put your trust in princes or the son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” The life of Avraham is a lesson in true emunah (faith). It demonstrates how G-d’s protection was always with Avraham, to extricate him from the most difficult situations.

Avraham was capable of his pure faith because it was rooted in his absolute and unwavering conviction of the existence and supreme goodness of the Creator. May we merit to achieve this exalted level of trust in Hashem.

Shabbat shalom.