But this answer doesn’t really respond to the question. Why couldn’t Abraham have built his family in Haran, where he was living at the time? Why not give Abraham’s descendents a portion of northern Syria, where Haran was located? Why did God make Abraham go on a journey, when God’s promises could have been fulfilled right where Abraham was?
I think that God knew that if Abraham was to accomplish his mission — of starting a family that would cultivate a special relationship with God, and that would seek to spread justice and kindness in human society — then Abraham would need to be extremely resilient. He would have to endure challenges, doubts, and even attacks; he would have to stand up to injustice and in regions that would be indifferent to him at best and hostile at worst. Unless he possessed tremendous resilience, he would surely have failed.
And there is nothing like travel to develop resilience. Just the fact that we are away from home forces us to adapt and become more independent. Journeys are unpredictable; that is their power. We can grow at home, no doubt, but often the biggest strides in personal growth come when we are on a journey.
Our children are living in a challenging time, and it is our responsibility to help them become as resilient as we can. Sometimes, we can do so with journeys — family road trips, etc. — and sometimes, the journey is more symbolic. We need to let them face challenges on their own. We need to let them fail sometimes — because that too leads to growth. We need to show them, as God showed Abraham, that they are tougher than they might realize.
What does our society need now more than Abraham’s mission of justice and kindness, rooted in a belief that all human beings are created in God’s image? May we raise children resilient enough to continue that sacred mission.
Rabbi Jonathan Berger
Associate Head of School for Judaic Studies and Programs
Questions for the Shabbat table:
- Abraham had to sacrifice the comforts of home, and of living in a familiar place — to carry out God’s instructions. He went from life in a city to life in tents. Do you think that was an important part of his growth, or not? Why?
- When in your life have you gone on a journey, or traveled to a truly unfamiliar place? What impact did that have on you?