15/16 Oct: Lech Lecha : Shabbat comes in 5:53 pm, ends 6:52 pm
Parashat Lech Lecha
We learnt last week that Noaḥ was a man who ‘walked with God’ (Genesis 6:9). This week, we see very similar language employed when the Holy One charges Avram with his fate: ‘Walk before Me,’ says God to Avram (Genesis 17:1). The word for ‘walk’ is the same in both instances – hit-haleikh (התהלך) – but the way in which that word is employed differs. Noah walks with God; Avram is told by God to ‘hit-haleikh l’fanai’, הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי: ‘Walk before Me.’
Perhaps walking with God and walking before God are the same action. However, were that to be the case, we would need to read Noaḥ as being a superior character to Avram: while Noaḥ was able to walk with the Eternal without external prompting, Avram required the charge. While this makes sense of ‘hit-haleikh’, it does not track well with what we know of their characters. Avram was chosen to be the father of the Jewish people, and not Noaḥ; Avram is given the promise of the Holy Land, and not Noaḥ; we see Avram act righteously in aid of his fellow human beings even when it required arguing with God, whereas Noaḥ’s goodness is only described in terms of comparison with those around him (Gen. 6:9).
Our rabbis of blessed memory read the difference in their walking as a resounding endorsement for the morality of Avram, soon to be Avraham. Noaḥ walked with God, according to the medieval commentator Rashi, because Noaḥ required God’s support. Avram, on the other hand, had the ability to walk in his righteousness without aid. To their eyes, it is precisely Avram’s ability to be strong and righteous without God’s guiding hand that allows Avram to work as God’s partner, and thus to shape the destiny of human worship.