Moshe Kempinski
Moshe KempinskiCourtesy

The Torah portion of Lech Lecha contains a verse that declares the following: "And he [Avraham] believed in Hashem; and He counted it to him for righteousness." (Breishit - Genesis15:6)

What does that mean? Is simple belief all that is necessary for righteousness? Does it mean that all that needs to happen is that we have the right thoughts and then we can sit back and rest on the blessing of righteousness?

The answer to that those questions will be vital instruction for the descendants of Avraham and in fact for all those in the world that yearn for divine purpose and direction.

The concept of Zechut Avot (the merit of the forefathers) in Jewish thinking refers to the concept that,when all else fails, the Jewish people can at times depend on the merits of their forefathers, Abraham Isaac and Jacob”.

The simple understanding of that concept might lead one to assume that one’s direction and determination in life would be decided based upon the greatness and sanctity of others. That simple understanding would be inconsistent with Jewish understanding . We each stand before our Creator armed with the decisions we make, the character of our souls and the yearnings of our hearts.

What, then, is Zechut Avot?

The Ramban describes that "the deeds of our fathers are a signpost for the children." And that this is a cardinal rule of Jewish history.In his commentary on Parshat Lech Lecha he writes;

" I will tell you a rule to be applied throughout the parshiot of Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov. The Rabbis stated this rule as 'everything that happened to the fathers is a sign for the children.' The Torah tells stories, at length, about journeying or well digging might think that these are meaningless detail but in reality they reflect something of the future."

The trials and events in the lives of our forefathers give us the directions and wisdom to continue on our own individual paths.

So let us return to the declaration regarding Avraham.

"And he [Avraham] believed ( He-Emeen) in Hashem; and He counted it to him for righteousness." (Breishit - Genesis15:6)

What exactly did Avraham do? What were the events that brought about this very short, but dramatic, declaration? The impossible test with Isaac at Mount Moriah had not yet occurred. He had not yet been told to send off his son Yishmael, born to Hagar, into the wilderness. Avraham had not even been commanded to enact the ritual of circumcision at the age of ninety-nine. Yet, we are told that Avraham he'emeen (believed) in Hashem.

Avraham, at the age of seventy-five, was told to go forth into a land that he did not know. More importantly, he was told to go forth "unto the land that I will show thee." He did not even know where in fact he was to go. That event would transform and fashion the very nature of his soul and the souls of all his descendants. The strength of the people who would descend from Avraham would focus in their willingness to go forth into the unknown future simply because that was their Divine destiny. It was that walking forward under Divine direction that would repeatedly change their history and advance the history of the world.

More importantly, in the previous verse (Breishit 15:5) Avraham is told, "And He brought him forth abroad, and said: 'Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if you are able to count them,' and He said unto him: 'So shall thy seed be.'"

Hashem is telling Avraham to do a task that He Himself says is an impossible task. What does Avraham do? He goes out to count them one by one. At that point, G-d declares, "'So shall thy seed be."

Avraham's descendants will go into the unknown and attempt the impossible, because that is the essence of their faith. By so doing, they will impact the world.

The word for faith in Hebrew does not really mean belief. It is better understood when exploring its root “Neeman/ faithfulness.

Avraham was faithful to G-d and G-d accounted it to him for righteousness. The Jewish people, or at least a determined remnant of them, have since been faithful in their voyage. They do so even though at times the voyage seems to lose direction and the goals seem unattainable.

Those who have lost that anchor of faithfulness in their soul may bring about danger and destruction to the Jewish people, but in the context of Jewish history, they will simply become an unpleasant and nasty memory. Ultimately, Jewish history is fashioned and determined by those individuals who are motivated by passion and directed by faithfulness.

Here was a man that received more blessings than any other individual in Tanach. Yet here was a man that did not see the fruition of those blessings for decades, Yet he never stopped going forward. He remained faithful.

That is one of the many blessings Avraham left to his physical and spiritual descendants.

Faithfulness despite and in the face of the unknown

Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved veKol Hacholim

Rabbi Moshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem, www,