Yom Shabbat, 15 AdarI 5781
Shushan Purim Saturday, 27 February 2021
Parashat Lech L'cha 2013

Parashat Lech L'cha
Rabbi Yuval Keren

9 October 2013

“וַיֵּרָא יְהוָה אֶל־אַבְרָם וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי־אֵל שַׁדַּי הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִים׃”
“The Eternal appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am·El Shaddai. Walk before me and be ‘tamim’.” (Gen 17:1)
The word·‘tamim’ is hard to translate. It could mean complete, whole, with integrity, perfect, naïve, innocent, gullible and more. Although in modern Hebrew ‘tamim’ is often used for ‘gullible’ (and at times is used to describe the opposite,) in the Bible, it indicates a state of perfectness and blamelessness. The Book of Proverbs (11:20) expresses a beautiful contrast between ‘those with a crooked mind who are an abomination to the Eternal’ and ‘those whose way is blameless (tmimei darech) and who please God’.
Last week we were introduced to another righteous man – Noah.
“נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדֹרֹתָיו אֶת־הָאֱלֹהִים הִתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹחַ׃”
“Noah was a righteous man; he was ‘tamim’ in his age; Noah walked with God. (Gen 6:9)
There is an interesting connection between Noah and Abraham in these two passages. The word ‘tamim’ appears in both verses and both describe the process of walking with God. What is more interesting is the contrast between the passages. Noah is described as a perfect man and he is described as walking·with God. Abraham is requested to walk·before God and strive for perfection. When we take the scroll out and process around the synagogue with it, the Torah scroll always travels first and the rest of the party follows. This is because the Torah, which is sometimes described as ‘light’, is metaphorically showing us the way during the procession. Abraham is not yet a perfect person and still, amazingly, he receives the great honour of showing God the way rather than walking with or being led behind God.
The Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 30:10) gives a parable of two friends of a King (God). The King sees that His good friend (Noah) is in trouble and rescues him by offering a hand – ‘walk with Me’. Later, the King walks in dark alleys and sees a source of light through one of the windows. He invites the holder of the shining light (Abraham) to illumine the rest of the way before Him – ‘walk before Me’.
In his book ‘The Hidden Dialogue’ Martin Buber recounts a Chassidic story relating to the righteousness of Noah and Abraham.
A person comes into a room where other people are sitting. The room is cold. He goes out and comes in wearing his fur coat. He is warm in the room while the others are still shivering.
Another person comes into a room. He goes out and comes in with a box of matches and some wood. He lights the fireplace in the room. He, and everyone else in the room are warm.
Noah was a ‘perfect’ righteous man who had a perfect fur-coat. The world around him was in spiritual trouble and his righteousness served as a fur-coat to save him from destruction.
Abraham was less than perfect. Yet, the world around him was in trouble and he did something about it – he showed people in his time, and in our time, the way of connecting with our inner spiritual source – with God. Abraham lit the fireplace for the rest of us.
What can we learn from the righteousness of Noah and Abraham? We should of course strive to do the right things, and strive to do them right. We should try and keep the ritual and (especially) the ethical commandments, and make our contribution to the world. Some of us might even strive to reach a complete degree of wholeness and perfection! Yet, in the process of becoming this perfect·tzaddik (righteous one) you might only look inward and forget about the rest of the world. You will be at risk of wrapping yourself in your spiritual fur-coat until you will no longer be able to see and sense the rest of the world.
It is therefore better to take example from Abraham and try and light the fireplace for the rest of those who are physically or spiritually shivering in the room. In the process of lighting the fire you will get your hands dirty, and might even get scorched by the fire. Still, the benefits outweigh the risks. Other people will be warm on your account and you will not find yourself alone in the world.