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Shabbat Parashat Lech Lecha 5776

Parashat Hashavua: The Souls They Made in Charan

Harav Yosef Carmel

Avram left Ur Kasdim and later Charan accompanied by a large camp of converts to his movement of belief in one invisible G-d, Who looks after His creations and rewards those who follow His path (including acts of kindness and other mitzvot toward other people). This throng of followers is also hinted at in the end of Parashat Noach. It says that Terach took Avram and his family and “they went with them from Ur Kasdim to go toward the Land of Canaan” (Bereishit 11:31). Rishonim struggled with this phrase of they going with them, and we can suggest that it is talking about the converts who joined the family.

In the beginning of Lech Lecha, this group is referred to more explicitly as “the souls that they made in Charan” (ibid. 12:5). Chazal are explicit here that these are converts, with Avram converting the men and Sarah converting the women (Avot D’rabbi Natan II,26; Rashi, ad loc.). They also picked up on the word “made” and point out that while people cannot so much as make a fly, due to Avram’s influence on them, he is considered as if he created them (ibid. I:12). Midrash Rabba (Lech Lecha 39) likewise says: “It teaches us that whoever draws in an idol worshipper and converts him is as if he created him.”

The Midrash (Shir Hashirim Rabba 1) also tells us how Avram and Sarah ran their “operation,” and these are ideas to remember for all generations: “Avraham Avinu would bring them into his house, feed them, give them to drink, cause them to feel love, bring them close, convert them, and bring them under the wings of the Divine Presence.”

The midrash continues that Bnei Yisrael argue to Hashem that geula (redemption) brings light, and light brings many people to convert. Our generation has been blessed with a great light. The establishment of the State of Israel has hastened the great miracle of the ingathering of the exiles. Millions of Jews have “marched” by land, sea, and air to the same Land to which Avraham and Sarah came as “olim so long ago. Along with these olim came a few hundred thousand potential converts, most of whom have family connections and strong feelings toward the Jewish people, but are not halachic Jews until they convert. They come from proud full Jews, most of whom were forced into assimilation and the resulting intermarriage.

Considering the sources we saw about the importance of bringing in people with no Jewish connection, imagine how much stronger it is for those who come from “the seed of Israel.” Israeli society and especially its Torah leadership have to soul search: Do we treat this large group as befits the students of Avraham and Sarah? Did we open our homes and our hearts to bring them closer to Hashem? Did we allocate the necessary resources and time for these national projects? Or did we set aside money for a formal conversion process and agree to show love and warmth only after they complete that process? Have we not wasted precious strength on internal struggles and schisms, even within the observant community, including processes that are related to political maneuvering, which just turn people off from interest in conversion?

It is still not too late. We call on rabbis, politicians, leaders of all sorts, and every individual Jew to follow the path paved for us by Avraham and Sarah.
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