Noah: The Digression

And Terach took Abram his son, and Lot the son of his son Haran, and Sarai his daughter-in-law the wife of Abram his son and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldees to go to the land of Canaan but they came to Haran and they settled there. (Bereishit 11:31).

Scanning the skyline
the trail disappears, yet
something awakens:
an urge to weigh anchor, and
trade ease for the unknown.

Setting forth eagerly
in the cool early morn,
the pathway is welcoming,
spirits are high, feet sail
lightly over ground.

Yet somewhere en route
the magnetic pull weakens,
the cargo feels weightier,
we seek a safe harbour
and settle for less than we dreamed.

Rabbi Moshe ben Amram Greenwald*, author of Arugat HaBosem**, taught on this verse, that not infrequently we experience an awakening and intend to reach a higher level but on the way we get side-tracked and progress no further. Terach, he says, did just that: he had pure intentions – to reach the land of Canaan – but veered off half-way. Abram, however, did not give up and pursued the goal.
In a blogpost on Lech Lecha from 2010,, Dr Rachel Anisfeld addresses this, pointing out that although the family left its birthplace in Ur of the Chaldees on the way to Canaan, it ended up settling in Haran. She wonders why subsequently (as described in next week’s parasha, Lech Lecha), God tells Abram to fulfil his father’s intention and journey to Canaan. She says, “All of our parents have already started our journeys for us. They brought us into the world and set us on a road, usually the road they themselves had been travelling.” Dr Anisfeld interprets God’s command to Abram, “Lech lecha” as “Make the trip your own.” She says, “Yes, it is the same path your father intended to walk, but make it yours, take ownership of it,” adding, “Terah went of his own accord, but Avram does so at God’s command. This is a journey originally conceived by man, but now sanctified by God’s command. As such, the journey, though physically the same, becomes entirely new and holy. The act is the same, but the intention, the kavanah, is different. Like a blessing before the performance of a mitzvah, God’s command transforms an ordinary action, the taking of a journey, into a special, holy one…”
Dr Anisfeld concludes, “Avram’s journey is the task of every child. From the child’s perspective, every parent’s path is like Terah’s, just a physical road they have been asked to follow. Every child has the obligation and the opportunity to heed God’s call to Avram – to make the trip her own, to give it meaning and sanctification, a sense of novelty and a future.”
In a subsequent blogpost from 2011 on Lech Lecha,, Dr Anisfeld expands on this theme, suggesting that we all have to make a journey like Abraham did, to discover our own relationship with God. She cites the Sefat Emet, who teaches that we can only forge this relationship “by leaving behind the entrapments of our normal, everyday life. There is something about routine that makes one unthinking and unseeing. We need to somehow shed the impediments of the norm in order to allow ourselves to become a bri’ah hadashah, “a new being.””
She notes that Abraham’s ability to set forth and stay on his path, to grow and to change, was his strength. He embarked at the command of “lech lecha” – of walking or going forth, accepting the ongoing challenge of not stagnating in the same spiritual spot. Dr Anisfeld concludes, “Are we such travelers? Do we have the strength to shed the bonds that hold us in place, that keep us in the past? Do we hear and heed the call to go forth, to keep changing, ever becoming new beings, ever learning to see the world and God afresh, like our first ancestor? As the Sefat Emet says, the call is there. It’s just a matter of learning to hear it.”

*Rabbi Moshe Greenwald (1853–1911), was the Rav of Huszt, Hungary and progenitor of the Puppa Hasidic dynasty through his five sons. He authored Arugat Habosem, a book of responsa covering a wide breadth of halachic issues.
He was one of a group of students of the Ktav Sofer who took on Hasidic customs, and was also a disciple of the second Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach.
Rabbi Greenwald began his rabbinic career as the Rabbi and Av Beit Din in Homonna in Hungary, where he established a yeshiva. From there he accepted the rabbinate of Kisvárda and in 1887 he moved to Huszt where he also headed a yeshiva. He eschewed pilpul (a method of studying the Talmud through intense textual analysis in attempts to either explain conceptual differences between various halachic rulings or to reconcile any apparent contradictions presented from various readings of different texts) but advised his students to acquire breadth and depth in the study of Torah and Gemara.

**Not to be confused with another book of the same title, Arugat Habosem, which is a commentary on piyyutim by Rabbi Avraham ben Azriel, circa 1230.


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