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I Just Can't Figure It Out

By Tzvi Fishman
10/10/2010, 12:00 AM

We are back to the Torah portion “Lech Lecha,” and once again I am totally baffled and stumped. We read the Torah over and over again, year after year, to internalize its messages. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.

Now what’s the very first thing G-d says to Avraham, the father of the Jews?

“Get thee forth to the Land of Israel!”

G-d doesn’t even bother to say, “Hello, I’m G-d. Nice to meet you.”

He doesn’t tell him to observe Shabbat, or keep kosher, or put on tefillin. He doesn’t tell him to eat gefilta fish, or bagels and lox. He doesn’t even tell him to be a doctor or a lawyer. Right off the bat, G-d tells him to go to Israel!

Obviously, we are to learn from this that G-d wants the Jews to live in Israel. Avraham is the father of the Jewish People. What’s true for the father is true for the son. Not only that. G-d could easily have arranged things so that Avraham was born in the Land of Israel and not in Ur Kasdin. After all, Adam and Eve were here, and Cain and Abel fought over who would inherit the Land, and Noah came here after he got off the boat. Avraham could easily have been born here. But G-d chose to set him first in the Diaspora to teach us that wherever a Jew might be born, G-d wants him to immigrate to Israel, just like with Avraham.

At least this is clear to me. I don’t see any other way you can read it. But then I thought that maybe my great love for Israel makes me prejudice, so to test things out, I asked my teenage daughter:

“Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham is to go to the Land of Israel?” I asked her.

“So all Jews will know that G-d wants us to live in Israel,” she answered.

Maybe, I thought, she heard me say that to guests from America during some Shabbat meal. So I decided to ask my ten year old boy.

“Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham is to go to the Land of Israel?” I asked him.

“So all Jews will know that G-d wants us to live in Israel,” he answered without even pausing to think.

“Hmmm,” I thought. Maybe he heard me tell someone too. So I went next door to the neighbor and asked their eight-year old kid.

“Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham is to go to the Land of Israel?” I asked him.

“So all Jews will know that G-d wants us to live in Israel,” he answered just as fast as my son had.

Just to be sure, I hung out on the street to ask some random passerby. We live near the Institute for the Blind, and pretty soon a blind person came by, feeling his way with a cane.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham is to go to the Land of Israel?” I asked him.

“So all Jews will know that G-d wants us to live in Israel,” he answered without batting an eye.

Maybe it’s only Israelis who think that way, I thought. So to make the test as fair and scientific as I could, I walked over to the nearby Renaissance Hotel to ask a tourist. The first person I met was a tall African man dressed in a colorful tribal garment who had come to Israel as part of “Pastor Wayne’s Kenyan Jerusalem Mission.”

Kenya-Jerusalem Mission

"Excuse me,” I said. “Do you speak English?”

“Quite well,” he answered with a friendly smile that lit up his face.

“Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham in the Bible is to go to the Land of Israel?” I asked him.

“To teach the Jewish People that G-d wants them to live in the Promised Land,” he replied in a deep, resonant voice that echoed through the lobby like a jungle drum.

Well, that pretty much proved that the reason was obvious not only to me, and that I haven’t been exaggerating or making things up in my blogs.

Seeing another guest wearing a baseball cap and speaking very basic Hebrew in a distinctly American accent, I decided to ask him as well.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham is to go to the Land of Israel?” I asked.

“Beats me,” he answered with a blank look on his face. Then turning away, he called to his wife, “Sheila! Go back to the room and bring the suntan cream. The sun here is murder!”

That’s interesting, I thought. But just for the benefit of the doubt, I decided to ask another vacationer.

“Hi, shalom, where are you from?” I asked him.

“New York,” he answered.

“Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham is to go to the Land of Israel?” I asked him.

“It's a great place for a vacation, but it’s expensive as hell. I could have seen all of Italy at half the price.”

Despondent, I walked over to the bar and ordered a double scotch. I just couldn’t make any sense of it. I mean, children understand it. A blind person understands it. Gentiles understand it.

“What’s the matter?” the bartender asked. “You look like your wife kicked you out of the house.”

He was an Arab.

“Let me ask you something,” I said. “Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham is to go to the Land of Israel?”

“To teach the Jews that he wants them to live in Israel,” he answered.

Even he knew the answer!

Was I ever crestfallen I still am. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to tell you. I just can’t figure it out.