We have journeyed exaltingly through Parshat Beshalach, and we are out of Mitzrayim. The sea has split and we have seen the Yad Hashem! We have experienced miracles and sung Shira to Hashem.
Parshat Yitro follows immediately, a parsha dedicated in name to the father-in-law of Moshe Rabbeinu. And a time when we stand together to receive the Aseret HaDibrot.
Moshe, the leader of the Jewish people, goes out to greet Yitro ויצא משה לקראת חתנו.
Moshe Rabbeinu, who has spoken face to face with HaKadosh Boruch Hu, does not wait for Yitro to come towards him, but instead as a humble servant he approaches him. This is most unusual, indeed the halacha states that a Melech may not do something that is ‘beneath his dignity’. Instead Moshe, leader of Bnei Yisrael, prophet of G-d, goes out as a son-in-law. Yet it is more. Moshe acts out of HaKarat HaTov to Yitro. His overriding sense of gratitude to the man who took him in as a refugee, took precedence. Such is the power of HaKarat HaTov.
In Parshat Yitro we open our arms and hearts to receiving the Aseret HaDibrot. As we approach Shabbat, let us think about this gift that we have been given by the Creator of the World. We acknowledge זכר ליציאת מצרים in Kiddush, that Hashem, Our G-d, took us out of Mitzrayim.
How do we go towards G-d to greet Him, and to greet the holy Shabbat, in an exalted act of HaKarat HaTov for all He has done for us and continues to do minute by minute, second by second. Moshe the Melech went towards Yitro the man, out of HaKarat HaTov for welcoming him as a refugee. How much more should we, as humble people, servants of Hashem, approach Him, the Ultimate Melech, with HaKarat HaTov. And while we praise Him every day, let us look to this Shabbat as a way to truly thank Him. In Nishmat Kol Chai, which we have the privilege to sing out in praise each Shabbat, we submit הטובות על אחת מאלף אלף אלפי אלפים ורבי רבבות פעמים our thanks would not be sufficient for “even one of the thousand thousand, thousands of thousands and myriad myriads of favors” He has performed for our redemption. As Yitro expressed ברוך ה'.
Let us start with trying in our small way to praise His unlimited ways. And as we sang Shira this uplifting past Shabbat Shira at the time of the Geulah, let us lift up and sing deepfelt Shira of HaKarat HaTov in our continued praise to Hashem. And to our parents, to all parents, who join with HaKadosh Baruch Hu to give us the gift of life so we can be singing Shira - Let us remember to express HaKarat HaTov to them for the myriad acts they have done and do for us continually.
May we move into Shabbat, with immense gratitude to Hashem, singing His praises.
טוב להודות לה' ולזמר לשמך עליון And may we be blessed to experience His infinite miracles and wonders in our personal and collective lives now and always, as we stand united in gratitude and song-filled praise.
This week's parsha is Shmot. We are introduced to the era of slavery and to our future saviour, Moshe. In this parsha we learn of his birth, coming of age, and his encounter with the burning bush. At that time, Moshe challenged G-d's decision to send him in the task of freeing the people. Among his contentions he indicated that he would not be believed by the very people he was coming to save. For that reason, G-d gives him 3 signs to perform: turning his staff into a snake; acquiring and recovering from tzaraat, a spiritual skin affliction; and turning water into blood. The midrash in Shmot Rabbah explains that these three signs contained a veiled criticism of Moshe's disbelief: the snake is reminiscent of the snake in Eden which spoke slanderously; tzaraat is an affliction commonly associated with lashon harah, evil speech; and the water turning to blood showed life (water) being turned into death, which metaphorically occurs when one speaks slander. We see that even the great Moshe Rabbeinu is not above the mistake of Lashon Harah.
This past weekend I had the honour and the privilege of spending Shabbat with the girls in my hometown of Ramat Gan. The theme of the Shabbat was Ahavat Yisrael, and we spoke at length about current tensions in Israel between Jews of different backgrounds. One thing that came up over and over again was the need to respect one another. One way to show that respect is to refrain from speaking Lashon Harah about a fellow Jew. This is not an easy task; even Moshe Rabbeinu did not always succeed,as we saw, but it is nonetheless an important one and one of G-d's expectations.
He proceeds to recall to Yosef where Rachel died and where he buried her. The commentators on the chumash explain that Yaakov is now dependent on Yosef to bury him in Maarat haMachpela in Eretz Yisrael. He is concerned that Yosef will not want to bury him there out of disappointment that his mother was not buried there. Therefore, Yaakov, before his death, feels the need to explain to Yosef why he did not bury Yosef's mother, Rachel, in Maarat haMachpela.
What reason did Yaakov give to Yosef as to why Rachel was not buried in Maarat haMachpela?
According to the simple understanding of the pasuk, Yaakov told Yosef that since he was on "the road" with his entire family and all of his belongings, taking Rachel to Maarat haMachpela would have been a long and difficult journey which would have delayed her burial.
Rashi brings Chazal who offer a different reason as to why Yaakov buried her on the road.
רש"י בראשית פרק מח פסוק ז
ואקברה שם - ולא הולכתיה אפילו לבית לחם להכניסה לארץ, וידעתי שיש בלבך עלי [תרעומת], אבל דע לך שעל פי הדבור קברתיה שם שתהא לעזרה לבניה כשיגלה אותם נבוזראדן, והיו עוברים דרך שם, יצאת רחל על קברה ובוכה ומבקשת עליהם רחמים, שנאמר (ירמיה לא יד) קול ברמה נשמע רחל מבכה על בניה וגו', והקב"ה משיבה (ירמיה לא טו) יש שכר לפעולתך נאם ה' ושבו בנים לגבולם.
Yaakov buried Rachel on the road in which, in the future, Bnei Yisrael would eventually leave into bavel, the first exile. Rachel would serve as a defendant in the heavenly court on behalf of her children as she cries for their wellbeing. Hashem responds to Rachel that her efforts will yield fruit and her children will return.
Ramban brings yet another reason why Yaakov didn’t bury Rachel in Maarat haMachpela. It is forbidden by Torah law to marry two sisters. Yaakov would have been embarrassed in front of Avraham and Yitzchak, who are also buried in Maarat haMachpela, to be buried next to his two wives, Rachel and Leah, who were sisters. Therefore, Yaakov buried Leah, his first wife, in Maarat haMachpela and Rachel, his second wife, on the road.
There is a glaring question that emerges from this explanation. If it is forbidden by the Torah to marry to sisters, why then did Yaakov do so?
It is true that the Torah was not yet given, however Chazal teach us that the Avot kept the Torah voluntarily. Why then did he marry two sisters?
Ramban explains that it is true that the Avot kept the Torah voluntarily, but they only did so in the land of Israel, as the land of Israel is the main place for performance of the mitzvoth. Yaakov, therefore, permitted himself under the circumstances that he found himself in (with the deception of Lavan) to marry both Rachel and Leah. Ramban explains further that Yaakov, in returning from Charan to the land of Israel, no longer lived together with Rachel. And in fact, this is why Rachel dies shortly after their return to the land.
Today, after the giving the Torah, we are required to keep the laws no matter where we live. Nonetheless, performance of the mitzvoth in Israel is clearly superior. That is why the Avot volunteered to keep the Torah only in the land of Israel where performance of Mitzvoth is most relevant.
May we all merit to keep the Torah and all the mitzvoth in the land of Israel.
"Everyone needs to take care of themselves” someone turned to me this week and said “that's the way it is in life. We don't need to worry about others”. I left his room and thought to myself – is that true?
Of course, a person needs to take responsibility over his physical life
Of course, a person needs to take responsibility over his emotional and psychological life
Of course, a person needs to take responsibility over his spiritual learning and growth
but is that it? Are we only our own sixty, seventy kilos, is there nothing more to us than that? What does it mean to be part of Um Yisrael?
In our parasha, Vayigash, Yehuda, teaches us an important lesson.
Yosef, the governor of Eygpt is in charge of all the provisions for Eygpt and all the surrounding countries, during the difficult years of famine.
The sons of Yaakov, our fathers, the fathers of the twelve tribes descend to Eygpt to find sustenance for them and their families. Meanwhile, Shimon is imprisoned, now Benjamin...
Yehuda, The strength of Sovereignty in Um Yisrael, has promised Yaakov to be “Arev”, to take responsibility over Benjamin “אנכי אערבנו" – now he stands up in front of Yosef to fulfill this “Arevut”, responsibility.
Um Yisrael, is like a living tree. It has roots,a trunk, branches, leaves and juicy fruits. Everything that the roots suck from the ground they pass on to the other parts of the tree, all the way to the fruits. Who are our roots? Who do we suck our life from?
Our Rabbi's teach us, that our forefathers – Avraham,Yitzchak and Yaakov and our foremothers – Sarah,Rebecca,Rachel and Leah are our roots. They inherited to us a Neshama inheritance. An inheritance of good midot, of good characteristics. We are the fruits. Everything that exsists in the roots is passed on to us, the fruits. When we learn about are fore fathers and mothers in the Torah, we are really learning who we are. What are the strengths that exsist inside us. Through them we learn our Neshama. Even though we are smaller, we are their continuation.
The love of Hashem revealed by Avraham Avinu, reveals our natural love and yearning to Hashem.
The Mesirut Nefesh of Yitzchak Avinu, reveals our and evey soldier who is fighting for our country, mesirut nefesh.
The ability of Yaakov Avinu to stand strong and to stand up to the complications and the challenges of his life, built in us the ability to stand up to our complications and challenges in our life as people and as a nation.
The Tzniut of Sarah Imenu, the Tefilla of all our foremothers etc. all reveal to us the strengths and the good characteristics that exsist inside us.
From Yaakov and his sons, the twelve tribes develop and from them a nation – Um Yisrael. His sons are our “forefathers number 2”.One of the important strengths flowing in our nation is “Arevut”.
When Yehuda approaches Yosef to return Benjamin, he reveals in himself and in us his descendants the strength of Arevut,as it says in Breshit 44,32:”כי עבדך ערוב את הנער מעם אבי" “...for your servant is responsible for the boy from my father”. We are one nation. There is an organic connection between us. Every one and there unique light in building the nation, yet we are one organism. Arevut – caring about the other limbs in the body. Taking responsibility for the goodness of all the body and from that caring and feeling a responsibility over each and every limb.
When that person turned to me and said that life is about taking care of yourself, I thought to myself that that is not the life of Um Yisrael, not the life of the sons and daughters of Yehuda – our life is a life of Arevut. In Um Yisrael we care about each other, we feel responsible when someone is in trouble or needs help. English Jewry fought for the Soviet Jews. Israeli Jews fought to bring out the Jews from Syria, from Ethiopia, fought to save Jews captured on a plane in Uganda. In Um Yisrael,our soldiers fight for their brothers and sisters and are ready to give their dearest treasure – their life, for an even dearer treasure – the life of Um Yisrael.
"כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה" “All of Israel are responsible for each other” - we care about each other, we feel responsibility for other's goodness.
When each of us will reveal our small, unique light, then we will be able to reveal the nation's big, strong and perpetual light, as the chanuka song says
”כל אחד הוא אור קטן וכולנו אור איתן", then we will be a nation who knows who we are, acknowledges our strengths and good characteristics, acknowledges our fore fathers and mothers. From those, we will suck our strength from our roots to fulfill our mission in this world – to enlight the world with light, with morality, with true justice, with true goodness – to enlight the world with the light of Hashem.
The Parsha tells us of the two dreams of Yosef. We find a slight difference between the dreams. In the first dream Yosef tells his brothers “We were binding sheaves in the middle of the field, when, behold! My sheaf arose and also remained standing; than behold! Your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” In the second dream however Yosef says “Look, I dreamt another dream: Behold! The sun, moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
The Moshav Z’kainim L’balai HaTosfos points out that in the first dream the sheafs of the brothers were bowing down merely to the sheaf of Yosef, yet in the second dream everyone bowed down to Yosef himself. The Moshav Z’kainim explains that in the first dream it was clear that the sheaf belonged to Yosef, he had just gathered it himself. In the second dream there was no way of knowing whose star belonged to whom, therefore they bowed down to Yosef himself.
There is another possible explanation, which also answers another question. It would seem that both dreams carried the same message; Yosef was destined for greatness, to be a king and have his brothers bow down to him. However there is the famous question of the Balai Hatosfos. When Yosef was interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams to him, he explained that Pharaoh's having the same dream twice was in indication that its fulfillment was imminent. And indeed the seven years of plenty began right away. Yet Yosef also had his dream repeated however it would be many years before he would sit on the throne and have his brothers bow before him.
The Rashbam in Parshas Mikaitz says that the only time there is an indication that a dream will come true quickly is if both dreams were dreamed the same night, as was with Pharaoh. Yosef however dreamt on two separate occasions so there was no reason to expect the dreams to become reality any time soon.
However the Ramban offers another explanation. Yosef dreams were two separate dreams with two interpretations. The first dream involved only the brothers bowing down to Yosef; only in the second dream does Yaakov enter the picture.
This also answers the question of the Moshav Z’kainim. In the first dream only the brothers bowed down to sheaf of Yosef. This was an indication that when they bowed down they would not know to whom they were bowing. But when Yaakov came down along with the brothers and bowed before Yosef they knew who he was. Therefore in the dream the sun, moon and stars bowed before Yosef himself. For this reason Yosef did not tell the brothers who he was in order to fulfill the dream of them bowing down without knowing in front of whom they were bowing. So we see the dreams contained two different prophecies, so naturally the details would be different.
In addition we can say in the first dream they bowed to the sheaf as an indication that would bow down to Yosef simply because he was the one providing sustenance. In the second dream they bowed before him because he was Yosef. This was reflected in the dream by the stars bowing down to Yosef himself. We find this as well in Rashi in parshas Vayechi. The posuk says “and Yisroel prostrated himself towards the head of the bed.” Rashi quotes the proverb “when the fox has his hour, bow to him”, even though it’s inappropriate for a father to bow to his son, considering that Yosef represented the house of Pharaoh, out of respect for the King, Yaakov bowed.
"ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה"
It is interesting that in last week’s parsha, Rivka instructs Yaakov to flee to Charan, וקום ברח לך אל לבן אחי חרנה, while here the Torah describes Yaakov’s journey as simply וילך, he went to Charan. Furthermore, this week’s Haftarah also refers to Yaakov’s journey as one of fleeing. What is the basis for this discrepancy?
The Sfas Emes (year 5661) and Rav Matityahu Salamon (Sefer Matnas Chaim) both suggest (without mentioning the pasuk in the Haftarah) that perhaps Yaakov’s mentality was that of someone who was going, without the pressure of feeling chased and fleeing from an enemy. True, Esav indeed wanted to kill Yaakov, and Rivka accurately describes the reality of Yaakov’s journey as one of running away from Esav. Nevertheless, Yaakov himself had a tremendous level of Bitachon in Hashem, and felt that this was where Hashem wanted him to be; Esav was only the messenger to point him in the right direction. This trait, says the Sfas Emes, is why Yaakov was called “Ish Tam,” meaning that he accepted everything that happened to him with “Temimut,” wholeheartedness, as being part of Hashem’s plan for him. He didn’t let Esav’s murderous intentions faze him, but rather practiced the trait of Hishtavus, responding equally to compliments and antagonism from others, as described in Chovos HaLevavos. Therefore, Yaakov himself didn’t perceive his journey as fleeing from Esav, but rather of a Divine beckoning towards an unknown future.
The Sfas Emes suggests that this is the meaning of the Medrash (Bereshis Rabbah, opening piece to our parsha) that the pasuk in Mishlei of אז תלך לבטח דרכך , then you will go in security on your way, refers to Yaakov, because it says ויצא יעקב. On the surface it is difficult to understand how this pasuk supports the contention that Yaakov went with security and faith. However, in light of the above explanation, it is perfectly clear how this shows Yaakov’s faith: the fact that he was not fleeing, but rather simply going where he was supposed to go. This, in turn, allowed Yaakov to avoid feeling the pressure and fear normally associated with someone running for his life.
We can learn a tremendous lesson from the Sfas Emes’ description of Yaakov Avinu. A person who undergoes trials and tribulations often may ask why G-d is doing this to him. However, the proper response is that of Yaakov, who understood that it was part of the Divine plan and that this was his job in life at this particular stage, even if he didn’t understand why. Furthermore, this feeling of pure faith can help us, as it did Yaakov, to retain composure in the face of adversity and not let our fears control us. We should all merit to develop the trust in Hashem of Yaakov Avinu and in that merit be saved from all of our enemies.
"When Yitzchak was born all were happy; the heavens and the earth, the sun, the noon and the stars' and why is it? Since all knew the word's existence is depended on Yitzchak as the Pasuk in Yirmiyahu says "if not for my brit = covenant, the heavens and the earth I will not establish" and 'brit' refers to Yitzchak".
In what merit did Yitzchak become the reason for the world's existence? I believe the reason is since he is the first one to embody Jewish continuity.
The whole entire existence of our world is for the sake of Jewish continuity. That is Yitzchak's legacy and our task.
According to Kabbalah, when a person is asleep, his soul leaves his body to a certain degree. From the perspective of the body this is a mini-death experience. However, from the perspective of the soul, sleep (as well as death) brings the opportunity to experience a "higher" more refined aspect of itself not capable of being contained in the "lower" physical body.
This "higher" dimension of the soul is referred to as the soul's root.
Similar to the manner in which a tree has its source in its root, the soul has its source in its Soul Root. That is, the human soul is rooted "above" and it is only the "lowest" aspects of one's soul that have an affiliation with the body.
For this reason, some Kabbalistic sources refer to the body as the "shoe" of the soul. Just as the body enclothes the "lowest" part of the soul and serves as the vehicle by which the soul moves through, and is involved with, this physical realm, the shoe enclothes the lowest part of the body and serves as the vehicle by which the body moves through, and is involved with, the world.
Perhaps this explains why Jews take their shoes off in situations of intense holiness—such as in the Temple in Jerusalem and on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement); as well as in situations of intense mourning, such as sitting shiva(the seven days of mourning for a relative) and on Tisha Ba'av (the Day of Mourning for the loss of both Temples in addition to other calamities that befell the Jews). Both intense holiness and intense mourning imply a separation of soul from body.
Thus, when the soul partially leaves the body during sleep, it experiences itself incorporated into its Soul Root to a certain degree, yet still maintains its affiliation with the body.
For this reason, if a person dreams while asleep, the dream can be coming from "above" due to the soul's affiliation with its Soul Root, or it can be coming from "below" due to its affiliation with the body. One way we can begin to determine what side of the person brought on the dream—the body or the Soul Root—is by deciphering whether or not the dream was connected to something the dreamer thought about during the day. If the dream was in fact something thought about during the day, it can be assumed to have been brought on by the soul's affiliation with the body and its experiences, and thus, the dream can be assumed to not have any significance.
However, if after reviewing the dream vis-à-vis one's day, thoughts, and life, the dreamer comes to the conclusion that there was nothing from his bodily existence here in the physical realm that brought on his dream, he can begin to consider the possibility that his dream was brought on by his soul's affiliation with its Soul Root and that it may in fact have significance in terms of a future event or his purpose in the world.
Interpret for the Good
Concerning such dreams, the Sages encourage us to interpret the dream for the good. That is, even if a person's dream was difficult for him to experience, he is to find goodness hidden within it since, after all, everything (including a difficult dream) is from the Infinite God and for the best. Therefore, it could even be that the person's anguish over the dream is itself the goodness hidden within it if that anguish serves as a catalyst for him to make a positive change in his life or come closer to God.
It comes out that all dreams are qualitatively good but it is up to us to see them that way. To the extent we approach them with this mindset and perspective of inherent goodness and joy, the dreams will indeed be a sign of goodness and joyous occasions to come.
Day in Review
Just as one is to align himself with the clarity of God and the inherent good of everything in the world when it comes to his dreams, one is to do the same with his entire being as a whole before he goes to sleep. That is, before a person goes to sleep, he is advised to review his thoughts, speech, and actions of that day, and recognize and confess that which he did which contradicted his true self as a soul and resulted in his disconnecting from God.
As we've spelled out in previous articles, by involving oneself in things that conflict with his true soul-self, a person builds an artificial association of self with that contra-Godly activity. This then serves as a "barrier" between his soul and the Soul of all souls (God) and between his true soul-self and the expression of his true soul-self. However, when a person confesses what he has done with sincere and deep regret, he disassociates his soul-self from such contra-Godly activity and his soul is "free" to "realign," and be incorporated within, its Soul Root.
Ramban explains that the reason Hashem tested Avraham with the akeidah is the same reason why Hashem at times subjects mankind to tests. He writes that when Hashem knows that a righteous person will fulfill His will, and He wants to grant him merit, He commands him a test. Testing mankind brings an individual’s righteousness from potential into practice. The Ramban concludes that all tests mentioned in the Torah are to benefit the tested individual.
Rabbi Aron Soloveitchick questions the Ramban’s explanation. He attempts to understand why Avraham had to convert his ability to succeed into fruition. If Hashem knew that Avraham has the potential to fulfill His will, why must this potential be practiced? He reconciles this by providing his own elucidation of the akeidah. Rabbi Soloveithick’s thesis is that the akeidah was to convince Avraham of his ability to perform life’s small sacrifices. By transforming his potential into practice, he would come to appreciate that “the sky has no limits.” This is to say, that if he could perform an act as lofty and daunting as achieving the willingness to sacrifice his son, from here on in he would surely recognize his capability of making the small, more mundane, day to day sacrifices.
In line with this theory, Rabbi Soloveitchick interprets a perplexing dialogue found in Masechet Tamid. Alexander of Macedonia asked the sages “What should a person do in order to live?” To which the sages responded, “He should kill himself.” According to Rabbi Soloveitchick, “Alexander was asking ‘How can one mold his character so that he will be able to live, rather than die, in sanctification of G-d’s name?’ The sages were answering ‘Let him become aware of his latent potential to bring the supreme sacrifice, and then he will be able to translate that potential into actuality in facing all the vicissitudes of life. He will realize that, if he is able to make the supreme sacrifice, he is certainly capable of making small, daily sacrifices.’” Rabbi Soloveitchick understands that G-d relayed this very message with the commandment of the akeidah.
Rabbi Soloveitchik enforces his theory by zeroing in on an incongruity found in the verses recounting the akeidah. Throughout the narrative, the Torah mentions how Avraham and Yitzchak were walking together towards their destination, a mountain in the “Land of Moriah.” Conversely, after the episode of the akeidah, only Avraham is mentioned as leaving the scene. Where was Yitzchak? Rabbi Soloveitchick records a midrash that tells how immediately after the akeidah, Avraham sent Yitzchak to the yeshivah of Shem and Eiver. At the time, Yitzchak was 37 years old and only then did Avraham send his son to yeshivah. In sync with his thesis for the akeidah, Rabbi Soloveitchick reconciles why Yitzchak was not sent earlier. He opines that prior to the akeidah, Avraham did not want to make the “small sacrifice” of being separated from his beloved son. Albeit, post-akeidah, Avraham realized that he was capable of making this sacrifice. Rabbi Soloveitchick remarks how this midrash also resolves why Yitzchak does not leave the scene of the akeidah with his father, for he had immediately departed to the yeshivah.
May we all merit being willing and ready to constantly sacrifice for Hashem.
From our Beit Midrash
Parashat Lech Lecha / Debbie Zimmerman
For the past two weeks as we read the weekly Torah portion we have learned of the creation of the world and of the stories that shaped humanity. Every story told and every family tree recounted informs us to the universal history of mankind. But then the Torah changes direction. It ceases to describe the history of humanity, and focuses on one individual, Avraham. If I were reading the Torah for the first time, beginning with “In the beginning,” I would wonder why this is. What happened to the rest of humanity? And who is this man Avraham?
Let’s begin with my first question: What happened to the rest of humanity? It’s not too hard to answer. Throughout the portions of Bereishit and Noach we see humanity commit one sin after another, every transgression leaving an indelible scar on the creation God once proclaimed to be “very good.” To answer the question, humanity failed. That’s what happened. So God needed a plan to get humanity back on track, a way to educate the world in the ways of God, the ways of righteousness and justice (based on Bereishit 18, 18). So He chooses Avraham as the father of a nation that will be an Ohr Lagoyim, a light unto the nations.
Which brings us to my second question: Who is this man Avraham? Out of the multitudes of people on the planet, Avraham was chosen. Why? The Torah itself does not tell us much about Avraham before his first communiqué with God, when he is told to leave his homeland for an as-yet-undisclosed location. The midrash does a wonderful job filling in the blanks in Avraham’s past, but the question remains. What is the Torah trying to teach us by apparently omitting any insight into the past character of Avraham that would explain why he is chosen?
There are those that claim we are not told anything about Avraham before he was chosen because his past was unimportant. Avraham was not chosen by God because he was special, rather he is special because God chose him. They extrapolate from this that the status of the Jewish people as the “chosen nation” is not dependent on our actions, but rather on God’s will. God designated Avraham and his decedents as special, and there is nothing in the world that can change that.
Others see things differently. They believe the Torah gave us all the information we need to understand why Avraham was chosen, we just have to look in the right place. Avraham was not chosen because of his past, but it was also not God’s command to Avraham that made him special; what set Avraham apart was his response to the command. Who really knows how many times God called, asking someone to follow Him blindly? It is possible that God called out to many different people, that lech lecha was a divine challenge issued from the heavens, inviting any who wished to take up the gauntlet, but there was only one person who did. When Avraham answered the call, upending his life and uprooting his family, it was not just God choosing Avraham, it was also Avraham choosing God. Avraham chose to live his life a certain way, he volunteered. God did not make him special, Avraham made himself special. This understanding sees the description of a “Chosen Nation” as a responsibility, not a right. If God speaks to us and we do not listen, how can we be special? Avraham took action, he took responsibility. He chose to be chosen.
In the coming weeks, as we read through the weekly Torah portion, we will see Avraham and his descendants strive to be the best people they can possibly be, to be worthy of God’s attention, and worthy to be designated as the forefathers of a chosen nation. As their children we are tasked with continuing that struggle. We must continue to strive as they did, to strive to be special, and to live up to our God-given responsibility to serve as an Ohr Lagoyim, a shining example of righteousness and justice that will be a source of light unto all of the nations, bearing the torch and lighting the way for all of humanity.