Navigating Life’s Crossroads
by Rabbi Hershel Rader
On the verse: ‘Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’(Genesis 12:1), Rashi, the great Bible commentator, poses an obvious question:
The Torah has already told us (Genesis 11:31) that Avram left Ur Kasdim and settled in Charan. What, then, is the meaning of this commandment?
He answers that the Almighty was exhorting Avram to distance himself even further from his origins. Avram had been born in Ur Kasdim and moved with his father and family to Charan.
G-d was instructing him remove himself to a greater distance. Other commentators adopt different views: Ibn Ezra is of the opinion that Hashem’s command to Avram preceded his leaving for Charan. It was in Ur Kasdim, his birthplace, that Avram received G-d’s call.
The Almighty knew that Terach, Avram’s father, would settle in Charan and from the outset told Avram to journey further. Ramban disagrees with this, arguing that when Avram left his birthplace we are told ‘Terach took his son Avram’(Genesis 11:31), indicating that Avram’s leaving was not a result of G-d’s command but at his father’s instigation.
Ramban’s answer to Rashi’s question is that Avram’s birthplace was, in fact, not Ur Kasdim but Charan. It makes sense therefore, that Avram received G-d’s command to leave his ‘land, birthplace and father’s house’ whilst in Charan for that was indeed the land of his birth where he lived with his father. Even if we follow Ramban’s view, that Ur Kasdim was not Avram’s birthplace, it is clear that it was a place of tremendous importance regarding Avram’s spiritual development and hence in the origins of our people.
Rashi, on Genesis11:28, cites two etymological interpretations of the name Ur Kasdim. Menechem ben Saruk translates the word Ur to mean a valley and the phrase Ur Kasdim, a valley of Chaldea. Ur Kasdim is indicative merely of a geographical location. In contrast, the Midrash interprets Ur to mean fire, referring specifically to the fiery furnace into which Nimrod, the area’s ruler, cast Avram because he refused to worship fire.
Terach had denounced his first born son to Nimrod as a ‘heretic’ who refused to worship idols or the elements, proclaiming belief in an unknown, invisible Creator. Under threat of death, Avram adhered to his beliefs and was miraculously saved by G-d. Ur Kasdim, a fire of Chaldea, has significance as the crucible in which Avram’s faith was tested and endured.
There is a parable of the man who set out on a journey. At each crossroads he carefully read the signpost, ensuring that he was heading the right way. Arriving at one crossroads he was dismayed because the signpost had fallen down. He had a choice of three directions; which was the right one?
He could read his destination clearly on one of the arrows on the sign but had no idea in which direction it should point. Suddenly, the simple solution to his predicament dawned on him. He knew the place he had travelled from. All he had to do was raise the signpost with that arrow pointing to where he had come from and he immediately knew the path to his final destination.
Whether in Charan or Ur Kasdim, G-d’s call to Avram to go forth came after he had proved his faith. This was the foundation of all his subsequent growth. As descendants of Avram, we must constantly be aware of the roots