This week's Parasha begins the story of the travels, trials and tribulations of our forefather Avram (later Avraham). One of the most remarkable things about Avram is his attitude toward the Divine promises conveyed to him. Hashem tells him that he will be blessed and will achieve fame and fortune. Yet, when he departs from his homeland, we read:
And Abram took his wife Sarai, and his nephew Lot, and all of the wealth they had amassed, and all of the servants they had acquired in Haran; and they set out to go to the land of Canaan, and they arrived at the land of Canaan.
Ralbag, in his commentary to this verse, makes an interesting observation about Avram's conduct. Despite the promises he received from God, Avram is careful to bring all of his possessions with him. He does not leave home empty handed. Ralbag indicates that this is one of the key lessons we derive from this story. We must wonder - why is this so important?
We should note that this is not the only evidence of Avram's practicality. When a famine takes hold in the Land of Canaan, rather than wait for miraculous sustenance from Hashem - who, after all, told him to go to the Land in the first place - he immediately travels to Egypt to procure food.
When he approaches Egypt, Avram again demonstrates strategic thinking. Although Hashem has promised him manifold blessings, he is concerned about the possibility that the Egyptians might murder him and take his wife. So he asks Sarai to pose as his sister to avoid any such calamity. Apparently, Hashem's assurances did not cause Avram to develop a fantasy of invincibility. He still felt the need to protect himself at all costs.
All of these aspects of Avram's behavior revolve around the principle that the Ralbag highlighted; namely, Avram's pragmatism. Upon reflection, we can see why this characteristic is so important. Religious visionaries tend to be idealistic crackpots who believe God is with them no matter what and who pay little attention to the practical details of life. Because they feel they have been appointed by God for a special purpose, they exempt themselves from having to be concerned about their welfare and simply trust in Providence.
Avram stands in stark contrast to this image of the religious personality. He certainly responds to the call of God and leaves his birthplace. However, throughout his journey, Avram assumes as a matter of course that God expects him to behave in the most prudent way possible. Avram's God is a God of wisdom. He demands that His worshipers exercise their reasoning and intelligence to the fullest extent possible in all that they do; then, and only then, does Hashem intervene to assist them.
Of course, some of the factors that were crucial to Avram's success lay outside of the sphere of human influence. He had to depend upon God to arrange these matters in a way that would be favorable to him and his cause. However, Avram understood that the effects of Divine Providence are always contigent on the actions of its (potential) recipients. If those actions are not guided by wisdom and forethought, then the impact of Providence may never be felt.
Consider the following application: If Hashem promises us one million dollars and we already have 500K in the bank, we should not liquidate our account and wait for a million dollar check to arrive in the mail. God may be expecting us to use our minds to identify and pursue an investment opportunity with the 500K - and this may be how He plans on fulfilling His commitment. If we squander our resources in foolish anticipation of a miracle, we will lose out on the chance to benefit from God's blessing.
In the same way, regardless of his conviction in the promises of the Almighty, Avram displayed a consistently reasonable, cautious and strategic approach to handling the exigencies of life. His wise decisions to descend to Egypt and misrepresent his relationship with Sarai wound up gaining him the attention of the Pharaoh and his court. When he finally left Egypt, he did so as a wealthy celebrity - he was now acknowledged 'internationally' as a very special individual. Achieving this measure of fame and fortune enabled Avram to more effectively spread knowledge of God in the world.
When Avram made his choices, he had no idea that this would be the outcome. In retrospect, though, we see the effects his behavior had on his eventual success. Had he not opted to pursue the most prudent course of action to begin with, he would not have been in the right place at the right time for Providence to bless him.
We see from all of this that Avram was by no means a religious fanatic. He was a man of impeccable wisdom and foresight. And as the first Patriarch of the Jewish people, Avram serves as the ultimate example of a true man of God. He embodies the Torah's standard of human perfection.
It is worth mentioning one way in which this story has tremendous relevance for today. Many Jews anxiously await the arrival of the Mashiah and the fulfillment of Hashem's promise to redeem us from exile. In reality, though, the keys to the final redemption lie in our hands, not His. Hashem has assured us that, once we prepare the way for salvation, He will take care of all of the loose ends. But the process is one that it is our responsibility to initiate.