Lech Lecha – The Burning Palace

God said to Abraham, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Bereishit 12:1).

Abraham journeyed
through the breath-taking landscape,
awed by the radiant sky at sunrise;
struck by the starlit heavens at night.

But the beauty was tarnished:
evil rose up towards heaven.
Abraham wondered, “How can it be
that the world lacks a ruler?”

God reached out and said,
“I am the Ruler, the Sovereign of the universe.”

A man wanders
by a magnificent palace
awed by the splendour
of its glorious design.

But the palace is ablaze:
flames rise towards heaven.
The man wonders, “How can it be
that this palace has no owner?”

The Owner of the palace looks out and says,
“I am the Owner, The Master of the palace.”

So he wonders,
“Why does the Owner countenance
the sacking of His palace?”
And he asks,
“Where are You – why do You not act?”
And the Owner says softly,
“Where are you? I need your help
to douse the flames and restore My palace.”


The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 39:1) relating to Abram setting forth on his journey, tells the parable of a man on his travels, who comes across a magnificent palace which is going up in flames, and he wonders where the owner of the palace is. The owner looks out and acknowledges that he is the owner.
Abram sees a beautiful world which is filled with godlessness, and wonders whether God has abandoned the world, or why He allows man to destroy it.
In his book Radical Then, Radical Now Rabbi Jonathan Sacks interprets the parable as the mission statement of Judaism. He points out that the Owner of the palace does not make an effort to extinguish the flames but merely states that He is the Owner of the palace that is going up in smoke. It seems as if the Owner is calling for help: God made the palace, man set it on fire, and only man can put out the flames. Abram asks God, “Where are you?” God replies, “I am here, where are you?” Man asks God, “Why did You abandon the world?” God asks man, “Why did you abandon Me?” Rabbi Sacks says that humanity’s task is to extinguish the flames of immorality and bloodshed and restore the world to the harmonious and sacred palace it was intended to be.

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