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Shabbat Parashat Lech Lecha 5777

Parashat Hashavua: Not a Place to Worry about Time

Harav Yosef Carmel

Our parasha opens with a description of Avraham’s “aliya” – “… and Avram was 75 years-old when he left Charan” (Bereishit 12:4). Despite this pasuk, Chazal had no problem in positing that the Brit Bein Habetarim, which appears in the Torah three perakim later, took place when Avraham was 70 years-old (i.e., five years earlier). One cannot even explain that that brit took place when Avraham was in Charan or Ur Kasdim because the p’sukim hint three times that it was done in the Land that would be given to Avraham and his descendants as an inheritance (see Bereishit 15: 7,16,18). 

 The Brit Bein Habetarim itself contains historical information, as Hashem declared to Avraham that his descendants would be in a foreign land and would be enslaved for 400 years (ibid. 13). This is one of the several instances in which Seder OIam Rabba questions whether this historical presentation can be taken literally and concludes that it cannot. (The listing of the generations who went down and those that came out make it clear that they could not have been slaves in Egypt for 400 years.)

Thus, we must conclude that as a fundamental, clear rule, the Torah is willing to write dates that require deeper consideration as to their significance because they cannot be accepted according to the simple reading. We will now try to explain the idea behind this phenomenon.

Many try to learn history from Tanach, which was given to us as a divine present, whether it be the history of the universe or of mankind. They believe that its simple reading can be used to date matters according to the order and numbers that are found in it. However, this is based on a misconception. The “dominion of time” relates only to the physical world, which exists according to the laws of physics. Where there is no matter (or energy), there is no time. The realm of Torah is the world of prophecy, which leads a person on a spiritual quest, relating to the unseen and imperceptible soul. Prophecy does not tell a person how to care for his body, but how to elevate himself spiritually and live a significant life with spiritual content. Such a life should be built on fear of Heaven and cause one to act based on the principles of kindness, justice, and ethics. It is therefore not surprising that “there is no early and late in the Torah,” as we find in event after event in the Torah (the Ramban says that usually there is, but Rashi argues). That is the reason that so many introductory addresses throughout Tanach are obviously not meant to be taken literally.

This lack of chronological reliability teaches a lesson. Tanach is focused on the spiritual and not on the timing of the physical. Let us internalize this rule and look together for a better life on the basis of truth and peace. We will find spiritual significance even for physical things. We will then live above time and sanctify life, and time, to which it is so closely dependent.   
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