Go! Go for yourself. These are the famous words that open this week's parsha. A story of a journey, of Avram making his own way through life and leaving his old life behind him. Or is it?
This week we will focus on how context shapes the way in which we understand the text and how arbitrary breaks in the text may affect our perception of this story.
The parsha opens:
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃
The LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
Classically, we understand Avram to be a pioneer, leaving behind the shackles of his old world and embracing God. This is the logical reading for where this parsha start. But if we include a little more of last week's parsha Noach and use this to inform our understanding of the text then we get a radically different view.
וַיִּקַּ֨ח תֶּ֜רַח אֶת־אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֗וֹ וְאֶת־ל֤וֹט בֶּן־הָרָן֙ בֶּן־בְּנ֔וֹ וְאֵת֙ שָׂרַ֣י כַּלָּת֔וֹ אֵ֖שֶׁת אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֑וֹ וַיֵּצְא֨וּ אִתָּ֜ם מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֗ים לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ עַד־חָרָ֖ן וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם׃ וַיִּהְי֣וּ יְמֵי־תֶ֔רַח חָמֵ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים וּמָאתַ֣יִם שָׁנָ֑ה וַיָּ֥מָת תֶּ֖רַח בְּחָרָֽן׃וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃
Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.The days of Terah came to 205 years; and Terah died in Haran. The LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
Now the story is clear. It is not Avram who was the pioneer, rather, his father. Terach begins the journey to Cnaan only to die along the way. Avram is merely continuing the legacy of his father. He is no longer a pioneer and no longer forging his own way. Avram merely continues the journey.
There are numerous way to understand how this informs one view of Avram, but the crucial point is to understand how the context of the story shapes our understanding. Not only in biblical text but in the media and in everyday life.
May we all be blessed with seeing eyes and hearts that can fully understand the context of any situation.