Dvar Torah: Parshat Lech Lecha
In this week’s parsha, parshat Lech Lecha, G-d reveals himself to Avraham, saying, “And G‑d said to Abraham: 'Go from your land, your birthplace, and your father's house...'" As Midrash Rabbah points out, “To what may this be compared? To a man who was traveling from place to place when he saw a palace in flames. He wondered: "Is it possible that the palace has no owner?" The owner of the palace looked out and said, "I am the owner of the palace." So Abraham our father said, "Is it possible that the world lacks a ruler?" G‑d looked out and said to him, "I am the ruler, the Sovereign of the universe." Now, while this parable sounds great, comparing the world to a palace and G-d to its owner, there is still a question begging to be asked. What about the fire in the palace? What about the bloodshed, injustice, and evil that exist in our world? What about the killers, robbers, and terrorists that demolish our “palace”? Why doesn’t G-d make it all go away. In other words, why doesn’t the owner extinguish the flame?
The answer, or at least one answer to this question, lies in God’s response at the end of the parable- “I am the owner of the palace.” What are we supposed to make of that response?
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains something beautiful. Note that the owner of the palace never makes an attempt to get out of the burning building or to extinguish the flames. He merely states that he is the owner of the palace that is going up in smoke. It is as if, instead of racing out, the owner is calling for help. G‑d built the palace, man set it on fire, and only man can put out the flames. When Avraham asks G-d “Where are you?,” G-d replies “I’m here, and I’ve been here the entire time, but where are you?” God is asking Avraham “What are you doing to extinguish the fire that you started?”
That is the mission statement of Judaism: the venture to extinguish the flames of evil and immorality in our world and restore it to the sacred place it was intended to be. Over the years, our palace has gotten worn out, but it is our job to renovate it. Each and every one of us, no matter how big or small, has a part to play in that renovation.