Changing The Future

Parashat Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27)

At the beginning of our parashah we learn about the calling of a man named Abram. The LORD would eventually change his name to Abraham, but while he was still called Abram, the Creator of the Universe summoned him out from among his people and into His service. He immediately left a city named Haran and headed toward Canaan, the land God would eventually give to him and his descendants. When he reach Canaan, however, the Torah details Abram’s encampments, naming them individually beginning with Shechem, as it says, “Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh” (Genesis 12:6). Ramban (Nachmanides) takes note of this and asks why the Torah records these encampments. He answers his own question by saying the Torah is teaching us a valuable lesson. It is a principle of the Torah which states, ma’asei avot siman l’banim, “The deeds of the fathers are portents / signs for the children.”

Abraham—the father of the Israelite nation and the father of faith to all who believe—set the pattern for those who would come after him. His actions set in motion this spiritual principle. Everything he did became a blueprint for both his natural children and his spiritual children. We can see this principle being played out in the lives of Abraham’s children and grandchildren. Both Isaac and Jacob often retrace the steps of Abraham and imitate his actions. For instance, when Abraham settles in the land of the Philistines, he tells Abimelech that Sarah is his sister and the king takes her for himself. When Isaac journeys to the same area he repeats this same ruse with Rebecca with the same results.

We can also see this on a national scale. Abraham fled to Egypt to escape a famine and his wife was taken captive, finally to be released because God’s judgment came upon Pharaoh in the form of a plague. Later, Israel went down into Egypt to avoid a famine and was enslaved, only to be released when God brought judgment upon Pharaoh in the form of plagues. Ramban mentions the pattern found in our Torah portion: Just as Abraham first came to Canaan by way of Shechem and then encamped between Bethel and Ai, when Joshua lead the Children of Israel into the Promise Land they first conquered Shechem and then conquered Ai (Joshua 7–8).

There are many more examples that could be noted, but we can clearly see this pattern revealing itself throughout the Torah, and not only in the life of Abraham, but all of the Patriarchs. And if we are honest, we can also see this pattern established in our own lives. Both our choices and our actions have generational repercussions. If children look closely at themselves they will see similar patterns as their parents’ being played out in their lives. These even extend to events that happened in the lives of parents long before children.

Knowing this simple principle is empowering. But at the same time, knowing this can be frightening. What patterns have we unknowingly established for future generations? They are probably a combination of good patterns and bad ones. Once we have this knowledge, however, we should immediately become more intentional in our actions and begin working to establish better patterns that will produce the fruits of righteousness in subsequent generations. We must be ever mindful of the fruit of our actions, whether we see it in our lifetime or not. Our actions have ramifications. If we all understood this principle and made life choices with this in mind, then each generation would be drawing nearer to God rather than becoming more distant from Him. 

We have the power to change the future. But it has to begin with ourselves. We can’t teach one thing and practice another. This was the issue Yeshua took up against the leading Pharisees of his day: “They preach, but do not practice … They do all their deeds to be seen by others” (Matthew 23:3, 5). We will reap all that we have sown in the generations to come. The deeds of the fathers are indeed signs for the children, and our deeds will set the course for them. What seeds are we planting for the next generation through our actions? Are they seeds of righteousness or seeds of hypocrisy? The choice is ours.