Lech Lecha – An Endless Task
Just before the Covenant between the Parts God communicated with Abraham. Following his successful campaign against the powerful alliance of the four kings Abraham was concerned that he has used up his credit.The capital for achieving such a victory had to come from somewhere and Abraham thought he had now depleted his resources. God assured Abraham that his credit was indeed great and that he need not fear. God then continued to encourage Abraham, assuring him that he would have descendants who would inherit him and continue his legacy.
“And He took him outside and said, ‘look now at the heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them!” and He said to him ‘so shall be your offspring.'” Genesis 15:5)
On the surface God was promising that Abraham’s offspring would be countless, as many as the stars of the heavens. Some commentaries, noting that the descendants of Abraham have never been numerous, suggest that the blessing was in quality of Abraham’s descendants. Rabbi Meir Shapira points out the strange expression in the verse – count the stars if you are able to. Was this a challenge? Was Abraham to literally count the stars? The latter half of the phrase implies that it was rhetorical. Count them “if you can,” but no one can put a number on the stars of the heaven.
Nevertheless God had asked Abraham to count the stars, and although he had no idea how or whether he could achieve this task Abraham began to count. When God saw Abraham’s simple faith playing out before Him, when He saw that Abraham was willing to begin this daunting task without knowing how he would complete it, God blessed him “so shall be your offspring.” Abraham’s descendants shall inherit this quality of resilience, making an effort although results are not guaranteed. The Torah recognizes effort rather than results. God wants to see us try our best.
The Mishnah in Avot (2:16) states that “the task is not upon you to complete, but you are not at liberty to abstain from making every effort regarding it.” The determination to start something without knowing how we will complete it is a special quality we have been blessed with. This is thanks to Abraham’s attempt to count the stars when God gave that directive despite having no plan how he could complete this. God blessed Abraham “so shall your offspring be,” they will also have this quality. We have the capacity to begin a Mitzvah although we have no knowledge how we will follow through.