You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Lech Lecha.
The world is on fire — but it is also full of light
RABBI AVI KILLIP
Abraham saw a world that was burning. A vivid midrash on this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1 – 17:27) recounts the story of how the Jewish patriarch first encountered God. Abraham saw the world as a bira doleket, a flaming tower, and demanded indignantly, “Is there no one in charge?!” At this, God shows his face and admits, “I am the one in charge.” Thus begins Abraham’s relationship with the divine.
Like Abraham before us, we too gaze out at a burning world. Our eyes have taken in so much devastation and horror. In the last few weeks we have all been witness to many burning buildings. We too cry out that no one is in charge. We too long for God to show up and take some ownership of the situation.
This midrash paints a picture of divine relationship that emerges from a place of shock and indignation. God shows up in the world because Abraham demands it. The world without God’s presence is untenable, it will burn itself out. Abraham won’t let that happen. He holds God accountable, reminding God that the ruler of the universe needs to act like it.
Abraham understands that the world needs God, and so he devotes the rest of his life to being an agent of God’s blessing. Rather than blame God for the fire, or step aside and let God put it out, Abraham works on God’s behalf. The medieval sage Rashi allows us to listen in, edxplaining that God is essentially telling Abraham: “Blessings are entrusted to you … from now on you shall bless whomever you wish.” Abraham becomes the bestower of divine blessing. He spreads these blessings throughout the world.
In response to the pain and suffering of the past few weeks, we all long to be blessed. We long to be safe, to be at peace, to feel joy. And maybe even more so, we long for the ability to bless others. We desperately want to care for each other, to keep those around us safe. And we wish, like Abraham, that we could bestow blessings throughout the world. There is so much pain, so many fires in need of divine attention. With Abraham as our model, we must each strive to be bestowers of divine blessing.
There is another common, but opposite way to read this midrash about Abrahm’s encounter with the burning building. The Hebrew word doleket can be translated not only as “aflame,” but also as “aglow.” It is possible that this midrash is teaching us to find God not by looking directly at the parts of our world that burn, but by focusing our attention on the parts luminescent with beauty and wonder. In this reading, Abraham is the master of mindfulness. He is the first to notice divine blessing manifest in the world and offer God credit.
In his writings, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches this midrash both ways — sometimes giving voice to our pain and outrage, and at others to our wonder and beauty. To get through this moment in Jewish history, we are going to need both. The fires raging right now may be too overwhelming to expect to find God in them. But while we cannot ignore the pain and fear, we will be overwhelmed if we only look at the burning buildings. We need to balance our moral outrage with looking for the beauty of God’s world. Whether through prayer and mitzvot, through art and song, through family and community, or wherever you find beauty, remember — this world that is on fire is also aglow with light.
Rabbi David Kasher
From Linda Hirschhorn
Parshat Lech Lecha – 10 Cheshvan 5783
By Rabbi Min Kantrowitz, ’04
Lech Lecha is a foundational story about the transformation of our people. In this action packed parsha, our ancestors change their physical location, their names and their expectations for the future. God commands that Abram leave his ancestral home and travel to an unknown destination…and he obeys without question. Pharaoh attempts to add Sarai to his harem, but Abram passes Sarai off as his sister. After returning to Canaan, Abram defeats armies who have taken his nephew Lot captive. God promises the land to Abram’s descendants. When Sarai remains childless, Abram marries Hagar, who gives birth to Ishmael. Hagar and Ishmael are banished to the desert where an angel miraculously saves them. Abram’s name is changed to Abraham; Sarai’s name becomes Sara. If there wasn’t already enough drama, God then commands that Abraham circumcise himself, which he apparently does without protest! Blind obedience, deception, family quarrels, wars, rescues, domestic violence, Divine promises and inheritance conflicts all appear. In this, just the third parsha in our annual Torah reading cycle, we are transformed: from an obscure desert family to a people with a promise and a destiny.
What are the components of this metamorphosis might be applicable to our lives today? The kind of profound shifts we encounter in Lech Lecha require broad understanding and acceptance of a complex situation, deeply attentive listening and careful discernment, followed by commitment to appropriate and thoughtful action. This process seemed familiar…and I realized that it is similar to the tripartite approach to change described by the Baal Shem Tov. Originally introduced to me many years ago by Rabbi Burt Jacobson, these steps are relevant today as we adjust to challenges and upheavals in our own lives and communities.
The Baal Shem Tov described a three step process: hachna’ah (yielding, submitting, accepting reality), havdalah (discerning, separating, clarifying) and hamtakah (sweetening, finding joy in the current reality). Abram submitted when got ‘the call’; he didn’t argue with God, saying “What? Where? Who me?” He recognized the necessity to yield to that overwhelming Reality. This is hachna’ah. Any time we change in response to some difficult situation, acceptance is the necessary first step. When faced with tragedy or adversity, we are sometimes paralyzed by circumstances and our own reactions… until we yield, realizing that we cannot change what IS. Only then can we move on.
The second step, havdalah, refers to the process of differentiation, clarification, of examining the implications of a situation, discerning alternatives, choosing and sorting among them. Abram was faced with multiple opportunities to make choices: what should he do about Pharoah’s interest in Sarai, about his nephew Lot, about his desire for an heir? How should he deal with famine, hostile armies, the rich spoils of war? Each choice required examining alternatives, distinguishing among often unclear or ambiguous choices. When faced with difficult times or challenging situations, we too have many opportunities to explore alternatives and their implications. Just as the ceremony of Havdalah signals the conclusion of Shabbat by ritually marking the change in the status of time…from the renewing rest of the Sabbath day to the familiar rhythms of everyday life, our choices bring new perspectives and new possibilities.
The third step, hamtakah, sweetening, can be interpreted as seeing an opportunity for positive growth, or recognizing a ‘silver lining’. Abram became our patriarch after a series of very demanding experiences, from hearing a direct command from God, to journeying into the unknown, to problematic family dynamics to self-circumcision. The result was a new identity, hope for new generations, and an Eternal promise. In our daily lives, even challenging times are interspersed with delicious moments of unexpected delight and simple satisfaction. These are the sweet openings to our own personal transformation.
Each of us can recognize calls to change in our own lives…challenging ideas, boredom, excitement, frustration and insight are all personal calls to action…our own Lech Lecha moments, if only we recognize them, accept them, discern their relevance and savor them.
From Rabbi Yael Levy
This week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, opens with a call to each of us, to all of us:
Leave the habits and imperatives that have become constricting,
Leave the stories and expectations
That have defined who you are
And who you are meant to become.
Take with you all that inspires strength and love.
The way forward is unclear,
But as you take your steps the path will appear.
And the goal of this journey?
The reason to leap,
To struggle, to let go, to risk?
The reason to rise and fall
And rise again and again?
Is to be a blessing.
To discover a new the good that we are.
To discover anew
The shape of our offerings
And the ways the Divine can come through us into the world.
Lech Lecha calls:
Because the ways we live matters,
Not just for us
But for all those who will call us ancestor.
The path awaits our willingness.
The world awaits our blessings.
May we go with strength and love.
From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Journey of the Generations
Mark Twain said it most pithily:
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.
Whether Freud was right or wrong about the Oedipus complex, there is surely this much truth to it, that the power and pain of adolescence is that we seek to define ourselves as different, individuated, someone other than our parents. When we were young they were the sustaining presence in our lives, our security, our stability, the source that grounds us in this world.
The first and deepest terror we have as very young children is separation anxiety: the absence of parents, especially of the mother. Young children will play happily so long as their mother or care-giver is within sight. Absent that, and there is panic. We are too young to venture into the world on our own. It is precisely the stable, predictable presence of parents in our early years that gives us a basic sense of trust in life.
But then comes the time, as we approach adulthood, when we have to learn to make our own way in the world. Those are the years of searching and in some cases, rebellion. They are what make adolescence so fraught. The Hebrew word for youth – the root is n-a-r – has these connotations of ‘awakening’ and ‘shaking’. We begin to define ourselves by reference to our friends, our peer-group, rather than our family. Often there is tension between the generations.
The literary theorist Harold Bloom wrote two fascinating books, The Anxiety of Influence and Maps of Misreading, in which, in Freudian style, he argued that strong poets make space for themselves by deliberately misinterpreting or misunderstanding their predecessors. Otherwise – if you were really in awe of the great poets that came before you – you would be stymied by a sense that everything that could be said has been said, and better than you could possibly do. Creating the space we need to be ourselves often involves an adversarial relationship to those who came before us, and that includes our parents.
One of the great discoveries that tends to come with age is that, having spent what seems like a lifetime of running away from our parents, we have become very much like them – and the further away we ran, the closer we became. Hence the truth in Mark Twain’s insight. It needs time and distance to see their wisdom, to see how much we owe our parents, and to acknowledge how much of them lives on in us.
The way the Torah does this in relation to Abraham (or Abram as he was then called) is remarkable in its subtlety. Lech Lecha, and indeed Jewish history, begins with the words, “God said to Abraham, ‘Go from your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house to a land I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). This is the boldest beginning of any account of a life in the Hebrew Bible. It seems to come from nowhere. The Torah gives us no portrait of Abraham’s childhood, his youth, his relationship with the other members of his family, how he came to marry Sarah, or the qualities of character that made God single him out to become the initiator of what ultimately turned out to be the greatest revolution in the religious history of humankind, what is called nowadays Abrahamic monotheism.
It was this biblical silence that led to the midrashic tradition almost all of us learned as children, that Abraham broke the idols in his father’s house. This is Abraham the Revolutionary, the iconoclast, the man of new beginnings who overturned everything his father stood for. This is, if you like, Freud’s Abraham.
Perhaps it is only as we grow older that we are able to go back and read the story again, and realise the significance of the passage at the end of the previous parsha. It says this:
Terach took his son Avram, and his grandson Lot, son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Avram’s wife, and together they set out from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan. But when they arrived at Harran, they settled there.
It turns out, in other words, that Abraham left his father’s house long after he had left his land and his birthplace. His birthplace was in Ur, in what is today southern Iraq, but he only separated from his father in Harran, in what is now northern Syria. Terach, Abraham’s father, accompanied him for the first half of his journey. He went with his son, at least part of the way.
What actually happened? There are two possibilities. The first is that Abraham received his call in Ur. His father Terach then agreed to go with him, intending to accompany him to the land of Canaan, though he did not complete the journey, perhaps because of age. The second is that the call came to Abraham in Harran, in which case his father had already begun the journey on his own initiative by leaving Ur. Either way, the break between Abraham and his father was far less dramatic than we first thought.
I have argued elsewhere that biblical narrative is far more subtle than we usually take it to be. It is deliberately written to be understood at different levels at different stages in our moral growth. There is a surface narrative. But there is also, often, a deeper story that we only come to notice and understand when we have reached a certain level of maturity (I call this the concealed counter-narrative). Genesis 11-12 is a classic example.
When we are young we hear the enchanting – indeed empowering – story of Abraham breaking his father’s idols, with its message that a child can sometimes be right and a parent wrong, especially when it comes to spirituality and faith. Only much later in life do we hear the far deeper truth – hidden in the guise of a simple genealogy at the end of the previous parsha – that Abraham was actually completing a journey his father began.
There is a line in the book of Joshua – we read it as part of the Haggadah on Seder night – that says:
In the past your ancestors lived beyond the Euphrates River, including Terach the father of Avraham and Nahor. They worshiped other gods.
So there was idolatry in Abraham’s family background. But Genesis 11 says that it was Terach who took Abraham from Ur – not Abraham who took Terach – to go to the land of Canaan. There was no immediate and radical break between father and son.
Indeed it is hard to imagine how it could have been otherwise. Avram – Abraham’s original name – means “mighty father”. Abraham himself was chosen “so that he may direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just…” (Gen. 18:19) – that is, he was chosen to be a model parent. How could a child who rejected the way of his father become a father of children who would not reject his way in turn? It makes more sense to say that Terach already had doubts about idolatry and it was he who inspired Abraham to go further, spiritually and physically. Abraham continued a journey his father had begun, thereby helping Isaac and Jacob, his son and grandson, to chart their own ways of serving God – the same God but encountered in different ways.
Which brings us back to Mark Twain. Often we begin by thinking how different we are from our parents. It takes time for us to appreciate how much they helped us become the people we are. Even when we thought we were running away, we were in fact continuing their journey. Much of what we are is because of what they were.
 Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973); A Map of Misreading (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975).
 Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence (New York: Schocken Books, 2017).
 Rashi (to Gen. 11:31) says it was to conceal the break between son and father that the Torah records the death of Terach before God’s call to Abraham. However, see Ramban ad loc.
Rabbi Mel Gottlieb
Noah was a virtuous soul in many ways. His care for the animals, his naming them through his relationship with them creates the awakening of love that emerges when we connect to one another. This promotes the strength and courage to actively awaken the power of working together to elevate our world. The model of knowing the other which creates intimacy and empathy is so essential to the salvation of our planet and the elixir (key) to peacemaking. We are all interconnected and each of us can now fulfill our task of returning to a humane, moral way of being on our earth.
We move on from the righteous independent Tzadik Noach, whose virtue in committed, consistent, caring for a plethora of hungry animals, getting to know each of them individually through his tireless giving and caring, to Avraham Avinu, Noach taught us the importance of relationship, EMPATHY,( ‘Rachamim’) how to truly know one another through giving, whether animals or human beings, and Avraham teaches us the character trait of abundant KINDNESS (‘Chesed’) through sacrificing his riches and opening his doors to all whom he encountered.
Avraham left the prosperous, powerful capital city of Ur, to follow a ‘calling’-‘Lech Lecha’, moving from this center of a highly developed civilization to create a new model of civilization in the land of Israel. He moved from this affluence to a tent in Beersheba or Chevron. It meant a major adjustment abandoning the unlimited cultural opportunities of life in the big city, but he had an inner calling to leave his father’s house to follow his father in heaven which could be reached only in the Holy Land. There are times in our life where we risk the unknown, our place of security and habit, to journey to ‘a place which will be shown to us’ for something in our soul draws us there (Bereishit, 12:1).Abraham and Sarah became zealous teachers of a new path that emerged from their souls and connection to the Infinite, people who continually welcomed guests into their home and shared their awakening. In effect, they were operating a hotel with very great expenses, but they chose to use their wealth to attract humankind to monotheistic ideals.
The Lord calls to Avraham, “lech lecha,” and our commentators give us several antithetical interpretations of what these two words mean. The Divrei Elimelech says it means ‘Get yourself out,’ distance yourself from being centered on yourself. Get the ‘you’ out of your work. Do not focus your whole work on the improvement of your own, solitary self which is a ‘spiritual hedonism’, a misguided quest for your own private salvation. This misidentification diminishes the truer interconnected unified perspective that unites us all in the work of uplifting our world.
The Ishbitzer, on the other hand, says it means ‘Go into your own self.’ You cannot find life in the external things of this world. They are not life giving. The basic quality of life giving can only be found within your own self. Go therein! Follow your bliss, your inner voice that informs what you are drawn to; discover the unique gifts that Hashem has bestowed upon you. Have the courage to let go of allegiance to values and habits from your homes (‘Bet Avicha’) and communities ‘(‘Artzecha’) and cultures (‘Moladitecha’) that may not be resonant with your ‘calling'(12:1).
The Sfat Emet teaches that it means that a person should always ‘Be a walker, and keep moving,’ Be a ‘Mehalech’ always marching from one rung to another. He suggests that this is also a soul travelling, referring to the intellectual and spiritual movement of his soul from level to level as one continually searches for G-d. For habit and routine makes things seem natural and this ‘nature’ hides the inner light. This is true even of Torah and commandments when we do them out of habit. > They become our nature and we forget their inner meaning. Therefore, we always need to seek out some new meaning, risk the new and die to the old, (transformation and rebirth).Thus, the verse says, ‘Get thee out of the land,’ a person should always keep walking ‘To that which I shall show thee.’ A new discovery will always emerge if we continue to move forward and ‘risk the new.’ Tha is why a person is called a ‘walker’, rather than a person of habit who remains with the same pattern every day. Whoever stands still is not renewed, for nature holds him/her fast, so a person must keep walking.
And ‘Go to a land which I will show you’ (12:1). This takes faith to risk the unknown, to trust the inner calling, even when the revealed, tangible evidence is not yet visible. Follow the guidance of your soul, and the promised land will appear. “Which I will show you’ refers to that which a person cannot see on his/her own, but if you take the first step, the Lord will reveal the blessing that was meant for you. ‘Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.” (Psalm 115).
When you follow your inner soul calling, your bliss, ‘You will BE a blessing’ (12:2). The light will shine forth from you, you will be enlightened even without saying or doing anything, the transmission of blessing from you will be instantaneous; anyone who even comes close to you will become blessed. You will have become a blessing! G-d’s Presence will emanate from you. Those who have all been blessed to encounter a soul whose ‘Light shines forth’ like this recognize that unique moment. It is electrifying and unforgettable.
At the end of the parsha we read of the law of circumcision (17:12). Circumcision marked a certain segregation of Jewry from the rest of humankind. However, Avram’s name was changed to Avraham at the time connoting his role as ‘Av Hamon Goyim’-A Father of a Multitude of Nations (17:4). This implies here a unique view of universalism. The obligation and purpose of Brit Milah will only be fulfilled if Jews uphold their part of the contract namely to couple their suffering of the procedure with a commitment to uplift the whole world through the covenant of Abraham. The Jew must be dedicated to the amelioration of both the physical and spiritual elevation of the world. So, the concept of a Jew’s ‘Chosenness’ was based on a goal, a task, and a burden rather than privileges, and it is this idea which distinguishes the Jewish dimension of particularism from other forms of independence and separation from the masses (‘a people apart, a chosen people’). We are a people whose particularism leads to a universalism; a mandate that is enhanced by our particular commandments whose goal is the elevation of all humankind.
It is for this reason that after Abraham underwent the ‘Brit Milah’ (circumcision), the Torah elaborates on his kindness and dedication to all humankind. For what did Abraham do on the third day after the Brit when his pain was most acute? He sat outside in the tent in the scalding heat of the midday sun, even though he knew it would aggravate his pain. By so doing he would be able to show generosity and hospitality to total strangers. And to whom was Avraham eventually generous and hospitable? To those whom he thought were pagan Arabs who were passing on the road (he didn’t know they were angels), and he ran toward the people whom he thought worshipped the dust of the earth and pleaded with them to enter his house and partake of a meal that Sarah prepared.He excused himself from G-d so that he may devote himself to show kindness to strangers. So the segregation which comes as a result of Brit Milah is accompanied by the most sublime ideals of universalism (A ‘Brit Av hamon Goyim’).
May our going out on our way (Lech Lecha) bring us to a place of enlightenment and caring for the whole world, so we will ‘be a blessing’! Have a most wonderful Shabbat, one filled with kindness and revelation. One filled with recognizing your inner calling and making a commitment to follow it! Lech Lecha!
From My Jewish Learning
The First Jewish Environmentalist
Abram models interpersonal and environmental harmony.
BY TUVIA ARONSON
Commentary on Parashat Lech-Lecha, Genesis 12:1 – 17:27
In this week’s Torah portion, Abram and Lot’s inability to coexist on one piece of land leaps out at us: “And the land was unable to bear them to live together, because their possessions were great and they could not sit together” (Genesis 13:6). In our era, when environmental issues such as population, food, and land distribution are major concerns, we can look to this text for guidance.
The great commentator Rashi interprets the verse to mean that the land was simply unable to provide sufficient pasture for all the cattle and sheep involved. It is as if there is missing information intended to be inserted in the verse: “And the [pasture of the] land could not bear them.”
An alternative approach is that of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany 1808-1888) and the “Netziv” (Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, Russia 1817-1893):
It was not because they had too many herds or because there was not sufficient pastureland for both of them. If it all had been combined into one herd, one household, the land would have been sufficient…if two people cannot agree…separate tents are needed–boxes, crates, everything separate for each of the two parties…Had their personalities been compatible, there would have been no need for separate pastures…the only thing that counted in Lot’s enterprise was profits, while in Abraham’s household attention was given to interests of a higher level.
According to this approach, Abram and Lot’s attitudes were incompatible, therefore they could not cooperate. This is why the verse stresses “together” — yahdav. Interestingly, Targum Onkelos (the Onkelos translation) translates yahdav using the wording “as one,” connoting the need for a deep interconnection that ultimately enables living in harmony with the Land. The Abrahamic tradition demands that we make our personal and societal decisions based on both environmental considerations (the approach quoted by Rashi) and social considerations (the approach quoted by Rabbi Hirsch).
Abram and Lot
Lot followed Abram, but was not committed to the moral path. There is a textual nuance that proves this point. When Abram receives the command to immigrate to Canaan, the verse notes (12:4), “Lot went [et] him.” Similarly, the Torah (13:5) states that “Lot was going et [with] Abram.” Rabbi Meir Leibush (Malbim) explains that to go ‘et‘ merely implies a shared travel itinerary, while to go ‘im‘ (with) connotes a shared sense of purpose and mission.
Viewing this story in its larger context can further illuminate this issue. Abraham bequeathed to the Jewish people the concepts of Tzedek U-mishpat–justice and righteousness. If the essence of societal flaws during the flood era were based upon moral corruption and selfish behavior, then the tikkun (fixing) initiated by Abraham had to focus at its core on interpersonal relationships.
The sages explain the seemingly extra words in the verse “and the Canaanites dwelled in the land” as referring to an ethical debate about allowing flocks to eat from the fields of the locals. Abraham’s commitment to justice was so strong that he could not stand living with Lot who could rationalize this form of theft, even from the most immoral of pagans.
Abraham’s mission was to elevate the material world and create a dwelling space for the Divine. This could only be done when we act with deep care and concern for the other. This is in fact a classic case of Hilkhot Yishuv HaAretz, the laws of settling the land of Israel: one is not to tend flocks in a way that damages the property of others.
Abraham was decisive and resolute. He could not make a treaty with Lot–he could not share the Land of Israel with someone who condoned theft and did not focus on the importance of other people.
Unbalanced greed would later be a cause of the destruction of the Second Temple and the subsequent exile from the land. The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was to be a space devoted to the confluence of Bein Adam Lamakom (human-God) and Bein adam lehaveiro (interpersonal) values. Abraham earned the right to the land of Israel through his ethical treatment of others in light of his monotheistic beliefs. He could not jeopardize that bond by allying with Lot.
Judaism & Environmentalism
In recent years we have seen an explosive trend in the growth of Jewish environmental groups and programs. Many of these programs see the coupling together of human cooperation with the environment as essential to their tasks. They teach that the way we treat each other is going to affect our ability to live in an ecologically sustainable way.
Jewish environmental education programs stress ahdut–togetherness. Jewish community gardens are flourishing, and consumer assisted farming projects are enhancing Jewish life in ways that promote both communal unity and harmony with nature. Intentional Jewish ecological communities are gaining momentum. Concern for the environment crosses denominational and philosophical divides.
Globally, environmental and human rights concerns have been increasingly linked in recent years. The international community is gaining awareness of the issues relating to how we treat each other and the world we live in. In May of 1994, a United Nations group of experts on human rights gathered in Geneva and drafted the first-ever declaration of principles on human rights and the environment and proposed: “Human rights, an ecologically sound environment, sustainable development, and peace are interdependent and indivisible.”
Despite this, the environmental situation, particularly in the land of Israel, desperately needs to progress faster. While efforts toward recycling and cleaning up the waters are making some progress, we have a great deal of work ahead of us and we must unite in the effort. Jews worldwide need to be at the forefront of environmental and human rights concerns, if we are truly to be a “Light unto the Nations.”
In our generation, the Torah seems to be calling to the Jewish people: “Return to your roots and show the world a model that would make Abraham proud.” The Haftarah for our portion from Isaiah reflects the themes of “yahdav” (togetherness) and “tzedek” (justice) that we have discussed. It speaks of how we must not be hopeless in the face of impending degradation. A more ideal way is expressed to give us hope: “Every human will help their friend, to their brothers (and sisters) they will call out, ‘be strong’” (41:6).
Working as one to take care of our precious resources is incredibly powerful. This is at the very core of our Jewish and environmental understanding. We must move towards living more harmoniously with the Earth by living more in unity with each other. Ultimately this will help us grow even closer to Hashem.
This is the legacy of Abraham.
Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.
From Reform Judaism.org
Lech L’cha, Genesis 12:1−17:27
D’VAR TORAH BY: RABBI KARYN D. KEDAR
Where might I go to find You,
Exalted, Hidden One?
Yet where would I not go to find You,
Everpresent, Eternal One?
My heart cries out to You:
Please draw near to me.
The moment I reach out to You,
I find you reaching in for me.
– Yehuda Halevi
And Adonai said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-2).
There is a place about a 30-minute drive from Jerusalem. You travel south and then stray from the asphalt to a dirt road. You climb and climb the mountains of the Judea Wilderness. And just above Wadi Kelt there is an overlook with views of vast, rugged beauty. The utter silence of this place slows my breath every time.
I like to take visitors to Israel here. We sit on the mountain’s edge several feet above the flight line of the birds. I tell the story of Abram and Sarai leaving Mesopotamia to travel to the Negev, a desert even more vast than these hills. I asked them to sit a while, quietly. Occasionally we hear the sound of a Bedouin’s dog herding sheep. Sometimes we hear the sound of a lone car from afar. I tell them. “Hear the noise and then try to listen to the quiet beyond the noise. We sit a while. And sometimes, if we are really still, our breath settles, our heartbeats slow, and we hear the quiet beyond the quiet.
I wonder what Abram heard. We know what God said, lech l’cha, you go. But what did he hear? Did he hear words, phrases, fragments of words like the whisper that sometimes comes to you when you are quiet enough to pay attention. Or perhaps it was like a tug in your heart, a sensation, an invitation to take a step, one step away. Or maybe he had a dream that was so real that he woke with a start and knew what he had to do. There was no hesitation, no conversation, no wavering. Abram said nothing, asked nothing. With clarity and faith, he was compelled into motion.
Abram was called — called upon to leave all that he knew, to discover a new way of being in the world, to evolve into a leader, a visionary a man who hears the will of God and aligns himself with the Creator. The 19th-century Chassidic master and biblical commentator Sfat Emet imagines that God’s call to Abram was a call toward greater and consequential purpose: Now surely [each] person was created for a particular purpose. There must be something we are set to right. We are all called to live in alignment with our life’s purpose. This is at once comforting and confounding. We want what Abram was promised, a life that is abundant with blessing. We are all called into being. There is a myriad of possibilities to self-actualize, to discover our purpose, to have a meaningful life, to impact our world, making it safer and more compassionate.
The rabbis understand lech l’cha as command to manifest the good and power within. They quote Psalm 45:12: O my daughter; look and give ear…The King desires your beauty. (Rashi quoting Bereshit Rabba). Step into the light of who you are, the psalmist says. Lech l’cha, embark on a journey of self-awareness and manifest your life’s purpose. You need only listen to discover that purpose. Within your spirit is great beauty. The Sovereign desires your beauty.
But listening is hard. It takes discernment, many moments of listening to the quiet behind the quiet. Listening is an act of courage. We must be brave to hear that we are essentially beautiful and that we are called to great things. It takes an open heart and a strong will to hear lech l’cha, journey forth to a place the I will show you.
We struggle with clarity, as the path towards self-actualization is often undecipherable. Fear and negativity distract us from hearing the quiet beyond the quiet. Go forth… to the land that I will show you. Abram journeyed by stages toward the Negeb (12:9). Stage by stage we build a life. Every moment, stage by stage, is opportunity for growth and spiritual deepening. Lech l’cha is a call to courageous living. Discernment is the practice of sorting out words and assumptions, tendencies and habits, people and surroundings.
In my book Omer: A Counting (CCAR Press), I write: “like the farmer separates wheat from stalk and grain from chaff, a discerning heart examines, scrutinizes, searches, sorts, and sifts. Living well is a process; it takes refinement and practice. That which is life-draining must fall away. And all that is life affirming is the foundation of a life well lived.”
There is a beautiful Buddhist teaching;:the word nowhere has within in it now here. This is the human dilemma. We are now either here –, present for the miracle of daily living — or we are nowhere — distracted, anxious, bored, paying little attention to the beauty of the present moment. Lech l’cha commands us to be present.
The poet Erica Jong writes,
You are there.
You have always been
Even when you thought
you were climbing
you had already arrived.
– The Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poetry, (Grayson Books, 2017)
The spiritual journey is not a destination but rather it is a manifestation of our life’s purpose. It is now and here that we can listen to the quiet beyond the quiet. Every day is an invitation to align ourselves with the blessings of life, to find the beauty and live in the truth of it. To heed what our hearts know to be true, that life is at once a struggle and magnificent. And beyond the noise of everyday living, beyond the fear and anxiety, we can hear the quiet beyond the quiet. And then we can know that we are called to be our true and beautiful selves.
Lament of a Barren Woman
Sarai is just one example of the biblical stigma of not being able to conceive.
BY AVIVA PRESSER AIDEN
Commentary on Parashat Lech-Lecha,Genesis 12:1 – 17:27
In Parashat Lech-Lecha we encounter the first of what will become a common refrain in the Book of Genesis, the lament of the barren woman. The opening verse of Chapter 16 informs us that “Sarai, the wife of Abram, had borne him no child.” This theme of infertility is repeated with each matriarchal generation–Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel.
The Importance of Children in the Bible
It is telling that in this part of the Bible, the primary female voices are anguished cries about the inability to conceive. The Matriarchs repeatedly lament that without offspring, they lack stature and worth in their families. Sarai, after years of barrenness, is so desperate for a child that she offers her maidservant to her husband, effectively introducing a competitor for Abraham’s affection, in order that “perhaps I [Sarai] can build a family through her.” Rachel equates the value of motherhood to life itself, begging her husband to “give me children, or I am dead.”
Even Leah, the only one among the four Matriarchs who does not appear to struggle with infertility, expresses her belief that her status in the family and the love of her husband is dependent upon her bearing children. She names two of her first three sons using words that express the hope that with each birth, her husband will surely come to love her.
The biblical text poignantly demonstrates the importance of children to the women of that time and the emotional and social distress caused by infertility. In developing countries today, the anguish is compounded by social stigma and economic repercussions. Lacking universal health care, adequate social services and financial insurance like Social Security, many African women depend on children to sustain them in their old age. Barren women frequently see their husbands leave them for other wives. They are often cut out of family inheritances, become social outcasts and, in extreme cases, may even be driven to suicide.
Infertility in Developing Nations
To make matters worse, infertility rates in many developing nations, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, are higher than they are in the West. While the infertility rates in the United States among women ages 20 to 44 hovers at approximately 10 percent, in the Central African Republic, it is almost 30 percent; in Lesotho, 27 percent; and in Cameroon, 25 percent. These are troubling numbers: nearly a third of women in some countries are unable to bear children. Yet despite the severity of this epidemic, women experiencing infertility in many parts of the Global South lack access to the costly and complex treatments that have become, if not commonplace, then at least accessible to many in the United States.
Ironically, countries that suffer from high infertility rates also tend to be in poor regions where there is significant effort being made to lower the birth rate. While smaller families might be beneficial to the development of many countries, this should not take precedence over each woman’s right to have a child if she chooses, or mitigate the pain, stigma, ostracism and financial insecurity that individual women face when they cannot conceive.
Reasons for Hope
There is, however, room for optimism. In Sarah’s case, her infertility was addressed by the arrival of a Heavenly delegation announcing the imminent birth of a son. Today, numerous instances of infertility in developing nations can be prevented altogether by timely and effective treatments. Over 70 percent of affected women in the Global South suffer from secondary infertility, frequently caused by common complications of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. Unlike primary infertility, caused by hormonal imbalances or physiological abnormalities, secondary infertility is often preventable. By raising awareness about STIs, teaching safe sex methods and treating infections, health care workers can significantly reduce the number of infertile women in developing nations.
Ensuring that people have access to basic health care can be a daunting challenge in the Global South. Partners in Health, a Boston-based colleague of AJWS that works with people in developing countries to access better health care, has taken on this challenge worldwide. In Lesotho, a country of two million people with only 90 doctors, it has helped local people create four clinics in areas so remote they might be an eight hour pony ride from the nearest road. There, doctors, nurses and numerous local health workers now treat thousands of people in regions where previously there had been no access to any medical care. Through some relatively simple interventions that we can support in clinics like these, infertility can be dramatically decreased in developing countries.
Isaiah, describing the joy embodied in the future glory of Zion, likens this exultation to the song of the formerly barren woman, reveling in her children. Our support of local efforts to improve women’s health in the Global South can help create hope for thousands of women, curing a condition that has caused anguish since the time of Sarah.
Provided by American Jewish World Service, pursuing global justice through grassroots change.
From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan
MYSTICAL MORALS FOR ABRAHAM
Melchizedek, mystical priest of God most high, gives Abraham bread and wine. Melchizedek wears a crown andAbraham wears a battle helmet.
Melchizedek: the mystical stranger who shows up to bless Abraham. And then disappears. Is he even real—not historically, but in the story? Or is he just one of Abraham’s visions?
And why would we care? Because the answer tells us something about the nature of mystical experience. How it relates to emotion. And also to morality.
Abraham’s an emotional guy. Not a rational planner. For example, God says, “Get up and go to a new place.” So Abraham goes. Then Sarah says, “Send Hagar and her son away.” So Abraham sends them into the desert with a loaf of bread and a water bottle. You see the pattern.
When Melchizedek shows up, Abraham is super-charged with emotion. Because he has just done another impulsive thing. His troubled nephew Lot has settled in Sodom, of all places. But four local kings have attacked Sodom and taken Lot prisoner. So Abraham and his team go to war to free Lot.
Abraham joins an alliance of five kings. There’s Bera, whose name means “through evil.” And Birsha, “with wickedness.” Shinab, “father-hater.” Shemever, “destroyer of limbs.” Plus, an unnamed king.
Together, they fight against four kings. King Amraphel, “speaker of wonders.” Arioch, “striking lion.” Chedorlaomer, “measured boundary.” And Tidal, the one who “knows about.”
Pay attention to their names. Thus, you’ll see: Abraham fights on the side of evil. And against the good. Just to save a troubled family member. But he wins. So, after the victory, he likely has many feelings. Joy. Relief. Guilt. Tearing him in every direction.
And out of the mess, a numinous experience bursts forth. Someone appears suddenly. Melchizedek Melekh Shalem, priest of the highest God. His name means “King of Justice, King of Peace.” Melchizedek feeds Abraham and blesses him. And then disappears.
Thus something inside Abraham shifts. He refuses to profit from the war. “I swear to the highest God,” he says, “I don’t even want a shoelace.”
Maybe Melchizedek’s visit is a vision. It bursts into Abraham’s consciousness and then fades away. Sure, it’s symbolic. But its emotional message is clear. You know what justice and peace look like. How they bless you. So, make the ethical choice and be a blessing. Abraham reads the message and pays attention.
But I, Laura, don’t always read my feelings clearly. So, I have some questions for you, readers. How do you access your feelings? Do they guide you ethically? But, when they overwhelm you, how do you hold them? Are music, dreams, tears, laughter, and ritual gateways to your feelings? And, finally, do these gateways ever open onto mystical experience?
From the Hebrew College
Journeying towards the new world we are being shown
By Rabbi Adina Allen
Among the most quintessential stories in Jewish tradition is that of God’s call to Abraham: “Lech l’cha,” “go forth — from your land, from your birthplace, from your parent’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). With this call, Abraham is asked to leave behind the place where he is from, what he knows, and who he has been up until this point in his life and venture out into the unknown to discover who he will be and to bring blessings into the world. Over the course of his journey, he will face challenges big and small; his identity will shift and change; and he will come into a deeper relationship with himself and with God.
On one level, “lech lecha” can be understood as a call to an outward physical journey. Following this read of the text, God is summoning Abraham to leave Haran, the place where he lives and had come to call home, and travel to Canaan, a place unknown to him. In Canaan, Abraham will encounter people with customs, practices, and beliefs vastly different from his own. Perhaps it is this outward journey that allows Abraham to later become a fierce and compassionate advocate for justice when he argues on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah. According to this read, it is by daring to venture beyond our own ways of living and thinking to encounter those with a different experience and understanding of the world that we may become, as the text promises Abraham, a “blessing.”
On another level, “lech lecha” is a call to a journey within. The command “lech lecha” can be read literally as “go to yourself.” Through this lens, God is calling Avram on an inward spiritual journey to examine his own views, beliefs and ideas — both those conscious and those residing beneath the surface. In this view, Abraham is being summoned beyond the comfort of his current self-understanding, to go deeply into his own heart of hearts and encounter the mix of light and shadow that exists within him.
When looking at the Biblical story of Lech L’cha, we might ask, “Of all people, why Abraham?” We are given very little information about his character up until this point. As of yet, there does not seem to be anything particularly special about him. In fact, there is so little detail pointing to why he is chosen that the rabbis invented countless midrashim to help explain why he is called. Some commentators emphasize Abraham’s uniqueness, imagining stories about all the strong leadership qualities and brilliant mind he possessed. This, they say, is why he merited God’s call. Other commentators take a different approach. Rather than imagining Abraham to hold distinctive qualities, they say that, in fact, Abraham was just like all of us. He was unique and special in the way that all of us are unique and special. This call from God, they teach, is then not something reserved for the select few — but, rather, that each and every one of us, like Abraham, are called.
There is a voice that calls out constantly to each of us, the midrash teaches, beckoning us to leave behind the comfort of what we know to venture into the unknown in order to discover that which God will show us. Our task is to remain open enough to hear the call, and to be courageous enough to follow it when we do. Each and every one of us is meant to read ourselves into this story, and to know that Abraham is not called because he is special; rather, he is special because he answers the call.
Lech Lecha calls each one of us to the complex and challenging work of our lives. We are being called to embark on multiple journeys simultaneously; to travel both within and without in order to bring about a world of blessing. It is a call to break down the walls of insularity; to venture beyond the viewpoints and beliefs that we hold dear; to encounter people, places and understandings vastly different from our own. It is from the foundation of empathy that we can truly be — as our ancestor Abraham was — powerful advocates for righteousness and justice. The unique challenge of the journey outward is how to expand our understanding of and compassion for those most different from us while at the same time fighting fiercely for the safety and protection of those we hold dear.
Lech Lecha calls us to journey inward as well. The change we seek — in our world and in ourselves — will not come unless and until we, as individuals and communities, find a way to go deep within so that we may begin to see more clearly our own unexamined views and beliefs and endure the discomfort of sitting with what we find. Lech Lecha as a call to self-examination asks us to feel into this moment of grief, uncertainty, and possibility, to venture beyond the well-trodden ground we’ve been traveling and to move forward, like Abraham, towards a new, as-of-yet-unknown, Promised Land.
These are challenging, scary, chaotic times in which we are living — months into a global Pandemic, at a time of racial violence and a national reckoning around systemic racism, days before what may be the most consequential election in recent history. The old ways aren’t working, haven’t been working for far too many for far too long. To bring a new world into being will require all of us — each from our own unique vantage point and life experience — bringing forth something new into the world: new ways of structuring society, new ways of parenting, new ways of educating our children, new economies, new ways of relating to the natural world, new ways of connecting across difference. As a species we are being called forth into the unknown, to leave behind much of what has gotten us here and to open ourselves to hear the voice that is calling us into a new future.
The road ahead is uncharted. It is times like these when we most need our sacred stories to serve as a lamp, illuminating even the darkest places. This week, Parshat Lech Lecha summons us forth into the unknown future. May we answer the call with open hearts, courage, and an openness to deep learning, growth and change. In so doing, may we discover ha aretz asher arekah — the new land — the new world — that we are being shown.
From Rav DovBer Pinson
From his book, The Month of Cheshvan
This Torah reading begins with the words, “Lech Lecha… Go forth (to you) from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Bereishis, 12:1). The Medrash reads the word Lecha / to you, as meaning, “for your own benefit.” Avraham is invited to take a journey that is arduous, but also beneficial to him and his cause, allowing him to gather wealth and rise to a status of tremendous influence in the world. The Zohar teaches that Lecha is an invitation for Avraham, and for us, to self-actualize and discover the essence of his being; “Go to (become) yourself,” actively seek our who you really are. Additionally, Lecha can also mean “by yourself”. The journey of ‘awakening from below’ is difficult, lonely work. It requires focused Gevurah / inner power, and the ability to set boundaries and follow through on commitments in a disciplined and sensitive way.
From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Shabbat Lekh Lekha
By: Rabbi Cheryl Peretz
It’s All in the Name
Torah Reading: Genesis12:1 – 17:27
Haftarah Reading: Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16
In one verse, this week’s Torah portion reminds us of the great significance the Jewish tradition places on names: “And you shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham for I make you the father of many nations.” (Genesis 17:5)
With the addition of just one letter, at the age of ninety-nine, Abram becomes Abraham and his transformation to the father of many nations is confirmed. At the same time, Abraham is not the only biblical figure whose name is changed. Sarai becomes Sara; Jacob becomes Israel. Joseph, Joshua and Esther all experience name changes. From these models, a long-standing custom emerged to introduce a name change after a grave illness or other life-changing moment.
So important is choosing a name that rabbinic midrash teaches that when parents name a child, they experience a small piece of prophecy for from one’s name comes his/her destiny. We are born into a particular family with a particular history and with a particular set of parents who hold hopes and dreams for our future. As one is named, so too is his/her reputation. This is, what is meant in the Book of Samuel “Kshem ken hu – like his name so is he.” So, Ashkenazic Jews name children after those no longer living, while Sephardic Jews name children after the living – both hoping and praying that each child will be endowed with the positive traits and strong image as the one for whom she/he is named.
In the end, we create our own name by what we do in the world, the way we act, the people we touch, the values we manifest. It is up to each one of us to be worthy of the name we have been given – to create a good reputation, to live in kindness, compassion, and commitment, and to remember the lesson of the book Ecclesiastes: “A good name is better than fragrant oil.”
Ken yehi ratzon – so may it be.
From Reb Mimi Feigelson
This is a 2 minute video
What Does It Mean To Be A Blessing?
Blessings are not meant to flow into us, but rather to flow through us.
BY HANAN SCHLESINGER
Many of us know a thing or two about saying a blessing. We know for example, how to recite a blessing before lighting Shabbat candles and Hanukkah candles. Some of us recite tens of blessings every day. But what do we know about BEING a blessing?
Only in one instance in the whole Torah do we find an injunction to make a blessing – the commandment to bless God after enjoying a meal. But the idea of BEING a blessing appears over and over again in the Book of Genesis, the first time of which is in God’s words to Abraham in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Lekh Lekha:
I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing…
And all the families of the earth shall be blessed because of you.
Yes we must behave so that ‘all of the families of the earth shall be blessed’ through the agency of the Jewish People. We endeavor to be a light unto the nations. But that’s a big, macro level concept.
It appears a bit overwhelming, leaving us wondering how exactly do we go about it.
However, there is something here on the micro level as well: Just “be a blessing.” What does it mean to be a blessing? Well, God blesses us and we must pass the blessings along. We ought never to hoard His blessings for ourselves. God gives life, and light, and sustenance and hope, and so must we give these blessings to others as well.
Kabbalistic wisdom, while describing the mystical process that brought into existence both the tools for fashioning the world as well as the world itself, talks of two different types of vessels for God’s creative energy. Some were containers open at the top and closed at the bottom. They allowed the life force to flow in but did not let it flow out of the other end. The other type served as conduits for divinity; they were not stopped up at the bottom. The spirit flowed in on one side and out from the other side. Those that received but did not give ultimately self-destructed; they shattered from the abundance of good that they tried to contain within themselves. Only those that passed on what they received, that were part of an interconnective network on both ends, fulfilled their function and were able to serve God’s creative purpose.
This goes for us as well — we must take a cue from the vessels of creation. No true good can be enjoyed without passing it on. We too must be open-ended vessels. Blessings are not meant to flow into us, but rather to flow through us.
How do you be a blessing? With a smile, or with a hug. By always thinking of giving, of helping, of lending a hand. By offering an invitation instead of waiting to receive one. By opening up to a stranger, by making someone feel at home. By teaching, and helping others to learn. By offering insight and inspiration. By encouragement or a kind word. It is not hard to find ways to be a blessing – you just have to constantly be aware of it.
One should always ask himself: Is the world a bit of a better place today because of me? Is it good for the world that I am here? Has my existence added anything to the sum total of blessing in the world? We compute our carbon imprint, and our ecological footprint gives us pause, and that is as it should be. But those concerns are only a matter of doing as little harm as possible. We must go beyond that and strive not only to refrain from damaging but to repair as well.
Let us ponder our blessing input, and then strive, always strive, to be a living blessing.
From Rabbi David Kasher
DESTINED TO DOUBT – Parshat Lech Lecha
There once was a man who carved grooves in time.
Everything he did imprinted itself onto existence, and the traces of those imprints would reappear in every generation. Everywhere he went, a path was created behind him, and those who came after him would find themselves walking that same path, falling into his footsteps, without even knowing what they were doing.
That man was born with the name Avram. But the Lord called him Abraham.
This week, in Parshat Lech-Lecha, we begin his story.
Now, there are some parshot in the Torah that one just should not read without the wisdom of a particular commentator. For Lech-Lecha, the 13th-century commentary of Nachmanides is the must-see. In particular, there is one piece of his that I think about every year – a piece that can change the way we read the whole narrative of the Torah.
Nachmanides points out something obvious to anyone who reads through Genesis and Exodus – that just as Abraham goes down to Egypt, so too will the Children of Israel one day go down to Egypt. But what he says about that repetition is startling:
I will tell you a principle that you must understand throughout all the upcoming stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a great concept that our rabbis articulated in brief language. They said (in Midrash Tanchuma 9:3):
‘Everything that happens to the parents is a sign for the children.’
So when the Torah goes on and on with the stories of the journeys they took, or the wells they dug, or the other events of their lives, one might think these are unnecessary details, which have no meaning. But all of them are meant to teach us about the future. For when something happens to one of the three forefathers, we can understand from it that something has been decreed upon his offspring.
אומר לך כלל תבין אותו בכל הפרשיות הבאות בענין אברהם יצחק ויעקב והוא ענין גדול הזכירוהו רבותינו בדרך קצרה ואמרו(תנחומא ט׳) כל מה שאירע לאבות סימן לבנים ולכן יאריכו הכתובים בספור המסעות וחפירת הבארות ושאר המקרים ויחשוב החושב בהם כאלו הם דברים מיותרים אין בהם תועלת וכולם באים ללמד על העתיד כי כאשר יבוא המקרה לנביא משלשת האבות יתבונן ממנו הדבר הנגזר לבא לזרעו
Nachmanides central asssertion here, borrowed from an earlier midrash, became so well-known that it formed a traditional saying: “Maaseh avot siman l’banim.” (מעשה אבות סימן לבנים): “The actions of the parents is a sign for the children.” But what does that mean, ‘a sign’? Is it just that we tend to replay the patterns set by our families? That much any psychologist will tell you is true.
Nachmanides seems to be saying more: that in the case of Abraham, those patterns are set not just behaviorally, culturally, or psychologically – but metaphysically. Whatever he did somehow shaped the very contours of reality, so that everyone who came after him was destined to retrace the arc of his journey.
Abraham carved grooves in time. And his descendants keep falling into those grooves, like a needle falls into the groove of a record that plays over and over, echoing throughout the universe, forever.
Whether or not you believe the metaphysical claim here, from a literary perspective, Nachmanides’ principle does a good job of accounting for the way that many of the narrative themes running through Exodus seem to be seeded in this week’s parsha.
Look at how much is “foretold,” for example, in just a few lines from Chapters 12 and 13:
Chapter 12, verse 10:
There was a famine in the land, and Avram went down to Egypt…
וַיְהִי רָעָב, בָּאָרֶץ; וַיֵּרֶד אַבְרָם מִצְרַיְמָה…
…just as another famine in the same region later compels Jacob’s sons to journey down to Egypt to find sustenance. (Gen. 42)
Verses 14 &15:
When Avram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw how very beautiful [Sarai] was…and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s palace.
וַיְהִי, כְּבוֹא אַבְרָם מִצְרָיְמָה; וַיִּרְאוּ הַמִּצְרִים אֶת-הָאִשָּׁה, כִּי-יָפָה הִוא מְאֹד… וַתֻּקַּח הָאִשָּׁה, בֵּית פַּרְעֹה.
…just as Joseph – whose sojourn in Egypt is the first step descent of the rest of the Children of Israel – becomes an object of sexual desire as soon as he arrives, and is imprisoned in the house of one of Pharaoh’s ministers. (Gen. 39)
But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his household with many plagues on account of Sarai, the wife of Avram…
וַיְנַגַּע ה אֶת-פַּרְעֹה נְגָעִים גְּדֹלִים, וְאֶת-בֵּיתוֹ, עַל-דְּבַר שָׂרַי, אֵשֶׁת אַבְרָם.
…just as God will famously bring the Ten Plagues upon Egypt to liberate the Israelites, concluding with one that afflicts Pharaoh’s own household. (Exod. 7-12)
And so they sent him off with his wife…
וַיְשַׁלְּחוּ אֹתוֹ וְאֶת-אִשְׁתּוֹ
…just as the Pharaoh in Exodus will eventually relent and send out all of the Israelites. (Exod. 14)
Chapter 13, verse 2:
Now Avram was weighed down by riches, in cattle, silver and gold…
וְאַבְרָם, כָּבֵד מְאֹד, בַּמִּקְנֶה, בַּכֶּסֶף וּבַזָּהָב
…just as the Israelites left Egypt with riches of silver and gold. (Exod. 11)
It is a remarkable amount of major foreshadowing, in just the course of 12 lines. “The actions of the parents,” indeed…
There is one thing in the midst of those 12 lines, however, that does not seem to have an obvious parallel in the events of the Exodus. Look at verses 11-13:
As [Avram] was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. If the Egyptians see you, they will kill me and let you live. Please say that you are my sister, so that things go well for me, and I remain alive because of you.
יא וַיְהִי, כַּאֲשֶׁר הִקְרִיב לָבוֹא מִצְרָיְמָה; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ, הִנֵּה-נָא יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי אִשָּׁה יְפַת-מַרְאֶה אָתְּ. יב וְהָיָה, כִּי-יִרְאוּ אֹתָךְ הַמִּצְרִים, וְאָמְרוּ, אִשְׁתּוֹ זֹאת; וְהָרְגוּ אֹתִי, וְאֹתָךְ יְחַיּוּ. יג אִמְרִי-נָא, אֲחֹתִי אָתְּ–לְמַעַן יִיטַב-לִי בַעֲבוּרֵךְ, וְחָיְתָה נַפְשִׁי בִּגְלָלֵךְ.
This episode has troubled the commentators greatly. Abraham is effectively asking his wife to lie and – even worse – he is putting her in danger in order save his own hide! What kind of role model is this? How could the great patriarch, the founder of our faith, behave in such a shifty, cowardly manner?
The commentators struggle to come up with answers: Maybe they were close enough relatives, that it was as if she was his sister, and he wasn’t really lying? Maybe it’s just acceptable to lie to save your life?
But none of these answers really addresses the real problem: that Abraham knowingly put his wife in danger!
To deal with that, we have to turn back again to Nachmanides, who gives a raw, no-holds-barred interpretation of Abraham’s actions. In fact, what he says is so severe that if the great Nachmanides hadn’t said it, I would be a little hesitant to say it myself:
Know that Abraham erred, and committed a great sin. For he brought his righteous wife into the threat of violation because he was afraid that they would kill him. He should have trusted that the Lord would save him and his wife and all he had, for God has the power to help and to save.
ודע כי אברהם אבינו חטא חטא גדול בשגגה שהביא אשתו הצדקת במכשול עון מפני פחדו פן יהרגוהו והיה לו לבטוח בשם שיציל אותו ואת אשתו ואת כל אשר לו כי יש באלקים כח לעזור ולהציל
You hear that? Abraham sinned! And he sinned because he was scared. He risked his wife’s honor and safety because he was afraid for his life. What a devastating condemnation of the great patriarch.
Well, all I can say is that I guess we’re lucky that this “action” was the one that wouldn’t be replayed throughout the generations!
But not so fast. It’s true, after one generation goes by, there seems to be no echo of this particular scene in the Exodus story – no shoving those we love into danger in order to save ourselves. But what about the other thing Nachmanides says? What about Abraham’s motivation?
He was afraid… He should have trusted the Lord.
In other words, Abraham, the father of our faith, struggled with doubt. And that struggle is indeed a scene that his children have been reenacting ever since.
From the moment Moses is called upon to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt, he worries, “they will not believe.” (Exod. 4:1) And again and again, through the long journey in the desert, that is exactly what happens. At every hint of danger, whenever food is scarce, they lose faith. Even after God has saved them from slavery, even after revelation on Mount Sinai, they lose faith so quickly it seems as if they never had it to begin with. And when the journey has ended, and Moses is reflecting back on everything they’ve been through, he says, as if realizing he was right to begin with:
The Lord your God goes before you, and will fight for you, just as God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes. And in the wilderness, where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his child, all the way that you have traveled until you came to this place.
Yet for all that, you have no faith in the Lord your God… (Deut. 1:30-32)
ל ה אֱלֹקיכֶם הַהֹלֵךְ לִפְנֵיכֶם, הוּא יִלָּחֵם לָכֶם: כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אִתְּכֶם, בְּמִצְרַיִם–לְעֵינֵיכֶם. לא וּבַמִּדְבָּר, אֲשֶׁר רָאִיתָ, אֲשֶׁר נְשָׂאֲךָ ה אֱלֹקיךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר יִשָּׂא-אִישׁ אֶת-בְּנוֹ–בְּכָל-הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר הֲלַכְתֶּם, עַד-בֹּאֲכֶם עַד-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה. לב וּבַדָּבָר, הַזֶּה–אֵינְכֶם, מַאֲמִינִם, בַּה, אֱלֹקיכֶם.
They struggled with faith. And thousands of years later, we still struggle with faith.
Because faith is hard. And fear creates doubt. Even for our Father Abraham.
So as long as we continue to walk in the footsteps of his faith, it seems we are also destined to doubt.
THEN AND THEN – Parshat Lech-Lecha
Here is a verse, said Spinoza, that shakes the very foundations of Jewish theology:
Abram passed through the land up to the place of Shechem, at Alon Moreh – and the Canaanites were then in the land. (Gen. 12:6)
וַיַּעֲבֹר אַבְרָם, בָּאָרֶץ, עַד מְקוֹם שְׁכֶם, עַד אֵלוֹן מוֹרֶה; וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי, אָז בָּאָרֶץ
Wait…was that it? Abraham’s travel itinerary – what’s the the big deal?
Yet this seemingly benign verse, detailing the first steps on the journey Abraham took after God’s famous charge to “Go forth!”, was one of the prime examples given by the great Dutch philosopher – and most illustrious of Jewish heretics – Baruch Spinoza, to prove that the Torah could not have been written by Moses through divine revelation. And that premise, that Moses received the Torah – every word of it – from God on Mount Sinai, is perhaps the faith principle upon which the whole of classical rabbinic theology rests.
So what exactly is the problem with the verse in question? It doesn’t even mention God – or miracles, or morality, or anything controversial. What could be wrong?
The great challenge, it seems, is to be found in the phrase, “and the Canaanites were then in the land,” and in particular, with the past tense. Because it sounds like the line is written by someone who lives at a time when the Canaanites are no longer in the land. They were there then, but they are not there anymore. But here’s the difficulty: Moses presumably wrote the Torah when the Canaanites were still very much in the land, since the story of Moses leading the Children of Israel through the desert culminates in their entering the land to conquer those very Canaanites.
And so, concludes Spinoza, Moses could not have written the Torah. At least not this verse. It must have been inserted later, by someone referring back to Moses’ time. And if this line was cut and pasted, who knows what else was edited in or out? More to the point, even if we were to accept that there was a divine revelation, who knows what counts as divine revelation and what is just human addition? The whole notion of a perfect, sacred text has been undermined.
And yet, this Baruch Spinoza wasn’t just some angry atheist on a rant. He was a nice, Jewish boy – and he knew his Torah. So he didn’t claim that he had come up with this critique on his own; he grounded it in the sources. In fact (in in a chapter of his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus entitled “On The Interpretation of Scripture” – or in other words, “parshanut”), he cites none other than Abraham Ibn Ezra, one of the greatest of the classical medieval commentators, as the person who first pointed out this same difficulty with our verse.
So here is Ibn Ezra, in his own words:
and the Canaanites were then in the land – It is possible that the Land of Canaan was captured by the Canaanites just after Abraham got there.
והכנעני אז בארץ. יתכן שארץ כנען תפשה כנען מיד אחר
Okay, that is his first answer. Maybe it means that, it just so happens, that at the very moment Abraham was crossing through into the land, just then, the Canaanites were conquering it. But Ibn Ezra doesn’t seem satisfied with that, and so he goes on:
And if that is not the case, then there is a secret here. But the one who understands it, should remain silent.
ואם איננו כן יש לו סוד והמשכיל ידום
Well. Now, that’s intriguing. A secret? Spinoza was right, there’s something going on here! But could it really be that pious Ibn Ezra, in the 12th century, was saying the same thing that Spinoza, the Enlightenment heretic, would later claim – that this verse was inserted, centuries later, by some post-Mosaic author?
Indeed, it seems so, for in his comments on another verse, in Deuteronomy (1:1), which also seems like it could have been written after Moses’ time, Ibn Ezra again refers to a “secret,” and says that if you understand it “then you will recognize the truth.” (תכיר האמת). Perhaps the only difference is that Ibn Ezra thought this ought to be kept “secret,” for the good of the faith, whereas Spinoza was finally willing to expose the Torah’s imperfections to the world.
So Spinoza takes Ibn Ezra to be the proto-Biblical critic, one of the earliest Jewish voices to really admit that the whole Torah was not the word of God. Now, to be fair, Ibn Ezra was only talking about a few verses, here and there, and not some massive editing project, pulling together scraps from various documents. Moreover, other comments of the Ibn Ezra’s clearly indicate that he was a believer in a Mosaic moment of divine revelation. Nevertheless, he does seem to allow for a historical analysis of the text that would chip away at that revelation. And once we allow people to start chipping at the divinity of the Torah, who knows if anything will be left when they are through. It’s no wonder Ibn Ezra wanted to keep things quiet.
Now there are many other interpretations of this verse, various attempts to read the grammar this way or that. But the one I am most interested in, for the purpose of contrast, is Rashi’s, not only because he is the other of the two greatest medieval commentators, but also because his interpretive approach is often the exact opposite of Ibn Ezra’s, in that it is distinctly ahistorical – even, in a way, anti-historical. That is, he does not read the Torah in the light of what we now know from history, but instead, reads the narrative of the Torah as having laws of its own, that can even transgress the laws of history.
What do I mean? Well, let’s take a look at Rashi’s comments on the verse. First, he is interested in why Abraham is journeying to precisely these places. Why mention Shechem? Why Alon Moreh?
Up to the place of Shechem – In order to pray for the Children of Jacob, when they would eventually go and do battle in Shechem.
עד מקום שכם – להתפלל על בני יעקב כשיבאו להלחם בשכם
Alon Moreh – Which is also in Shechem, and he was shown Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, where Israel accepted the Oath of the Torah.
אלון מורה – הוא שכם, הראהו הר גריזים והר עיבל ששם קבלו ישראל שבועת התורה
According to Rashi, Abraham is taking a tour forward in time, scanning the land not just for what is there now, but what will be there one day. For Shechem is, indeed, a city in which Jacob’s children will wage a bloody battle, later (in Genesis Ch. 34). And Alon Moreh is another place mentioned later, in the Book of Deuteronomy (Ch. 11), and said to be near where the Nation of Israel took an oath on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival. So before even thinking about how those later mentions might hearken back to Abraham’s journey, Rashi already sees Abraham gazing forward, into the future, to see how his descendants will fare in this same land. The connection between the place names gives Rashi license to imagine the two moments in time as connected – and a portal opens between them, through which one can move in either direction. The language of the Torah defines the logic of the universe.
Now what is interesting, given the rest of the verse, is that at the that Moses and the Children of Israel were taking oaths at Alon Moreh, the Canaanites were in the land. So reading the verse through Rashi’s suggestion that Abraham was looking into the future, from Abraham’s perspective the Canaanites were in the land during the scene he was witnessing.
“Now wait a minute,” you grammarians out there will shout. “That’s very nice metaphysical trick you’ve played. But remember – the verse is in the past tense! That was the whole point! ‘The Canaanites were then in the land.’ Abraham cannot be seeing something that will happen and reflecting on it as something that already has happened.”
And yet, there is a solution to this contradiction. For here is the truly dizzying thing about the verse: the word for ‘then’ in Hebrew – az (אז) – can refer to either the past or the future. I’m not making this up. The Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament – a standard-bearer for Biblical semantics – has these as the first two usage definitions for ‘az’:
az (אז) – then… an adverb, a. Of past time, or, b. Of future time.
…and then they give many examples of each usage.
And this is not so strange as it might first sound to the reader, for in English, too, the word then can point forward or backward: “We did it then.” “We will do it then.” So too, the phrase “And the Canaanite was then in the land,” could also be read “And the Canaanite will then be in the land.”
So, again following Rashi’s transhistorical reading of the journey, Abraham went to Shechem, saw his great-grandchildren fighting and prayed for them. And then he went to visit Alon Moreh, and there were his descendants, now a whole people, accepting the oath of the Torah as they prepared to enter the land. And then he saw, as he peered through this window into the future, that the Canaanites would then be in the land. And then he knew, already in the first moments after hearing God’s command, everything about how that command would echo through the generations. He could see the Torah straight through to the end.
Now, to be clear, that’s not how the Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon reads this verse. They place this usage of ‘az’ in the first category, referring to past time. As did the Ibn Ezra did, as did Spinoza. Even Rashi, even after his time-traveling interpretations, does not suggest that perhaps Abraham saw that “the Canaanite will be then in the land.”
But I, who sympathize with both the historian and the theologian, both the heretic and the mystic, have offered these possibilities here because the indeterminacy of it all appeals to me. I like that the very word with which some would prove the Torah wrong could also be the word which lends the Torah transcendent metaphysical power. I like that the language of Torah is vague enough, capacious enough, pregnant enough, as to offer us two readings which contradict each other in every conceivable way, and are nevertheless both technically correct. For what is this Torah supposed to be, if not infinite?
From Rabbi Rami Shapiro
If Judaism is what it says it is
If Judaism is what it says it is, namely the one true revelation of the one true and only God given to God’s Chosen for the benefit of all humanity, then Judaism matters, and matters supremely. If Judaism is merely an artifact marking the Jews’ romanticized history and cataloging their diverse expressions of literary, cultic, and spiritual creativity it still matters, but only to Jews. And fewer and fewer Jews at that.
Only a fraction of Jews believe Judaism is what it says it is. I am not one of them. And while the vast majority of Jews believe Judaism is an artifact of Jewish culture, most of them are indifferent to it. I am not one of them either.
I am in search of an alternative, one that admits Judaism isn’t true, and yet refuses to reduce Judaism to a tribal fetish and ancestor worship. For me Judaism isn’t a product but a process; it isn’t an inherited set of meanings and values, but a way of creating meaning and value rooted in iconoclasm, argument, and doubt.
Here is the process Judaism set forth in Genesis 12:1-3:
YHVH said to Avram, “Go forth (Lech lecha) from your country, your people, and your parents’ home to the land I will show you. I will make of you a great people, and I will bless you. I will spread your good reputation and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you. And all the families of the earth will be blessed because of you.”
The Hebrew lech lecha implies both an outer and an inner journey: lech/walk lecha/toward your self. Those who follow this command are called to free themselves both physically and psychologically from the constraints and conditioning of nationalism, culture, and parental bias. To these I would add all other isms and ideologies—race, creed, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Only when you are free from all these distortions can you see the land God wishes to show you; the land you see when your vision is cleansed from all conditioned thought and feelings. It is only then that you become great and live as a blessing to all the families of the earth.
Those who bless you are those fellow travellers who also seek to see without distortion. Those who curse you are those who cling to their blinders with a passion too often verging on and crossing over into the murderous.
Judaism, then, is neither the one true religion, nor a jumble of cultural artifacts. Judaism is a process of liberating oneself from all fixed ideas and fetishes so that we can be a blessing to all the families of the earth.
From Bob Jaffe
A little drash on Trees in the Torah
We begin the Bible story in a Garden of Trees, all kinds of trees, trees of the Earth; and we are of the Trees, joined with the Trees as if we were kin. There are two special trees in the Center; one is the Tree of Life and the other is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.This one is special and we are told not to eat its fruit lest we lose sight of the Forest; and then we would only see its individual trees, each one alone and separate; and we, alone and separated, no longer kin of the Forest.
We are destined to eat the fruit, of course; there is no turning back from desire.
Once we eat of the fruit, we awaken from the Dream of Unity and find ourselves bereft of the Garden. And so begins our Journey to find this lost Garden. We pass from the East and journey into Canaan. Almost by miracle there is a tree waiting for us as we cross over into Canaan; this is the Terebinth of Moreh and it is called the Tree of Learning. This is where Abraham will have his first encounter with God. No accident the Tree of Learning in our pathway; this is where we really begin the raw story… to learn from the Tree what it has to teach us, about Life, about this lost vision of ourselves as part of the Unity, trial and error, pain and suffering, no easy way out. In ancient times, before the Bible stories, trees were thought to be Teachers, prophets..perhaps an echo of this lost Garden, a yearning for this lost Vision; maybe that is why teachers and their students would sit under trees as they studied and learned.
There is much to learn from Trees; they are the source of the air we breathe, we are the source of the air they breathe. Quite a partnership, inescapable, one would say that we are part of the Unity, at one with them. Each tree teaches us this living reminder of the Lost Garden… of this precious experience and vision. We must protect the trees; they are the way Back.
Reb Miles Krassen
From The Maqam Project
Rabbi James Stone Goodman and the
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Becoming Avraham: on names and transformation in Lech-Lecha
Posted: 09 Oct 2013 07:51 AM PDT
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Walk in My ways and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will make you exceedingly numerous.”
Abram threw himself on his face; and God spoke to him further, “As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You shall be the father of a multitude of nations. And you shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I make you the father of a multitude of nations. (Genesis 17:1-5; parashat Lech Lecha.)
Many years ago, a dear friend set out to read the Bible because she felt — I think rightly — that it had had a tremendous influence on English-language literature. She chose the King James version, both because she felt it had had the most impact on English lit and because she doesn’t speak Hebrew. As she began to work her way through Genesis, and came to this passage, she asked me: what’s this name change about? What does it mean?
Most simply, the change from Avram to Avraham involves the addition of one letter: ה, the “h” sound. (We pronounce the name of this letter as heh or hei.) Sarai’s name is also changed this week, in a similar way: the י at the end of the name Sarai is changed to the ה at the end of Sarah.
The letter ה is one of our ways of denoting God. ה’ means HaShem, “The Name,” e.g. the Holy One of Blessing. Some sources in our tradition read the added ה as a symbol of God’s presence. Avram becomes Avraham; Sarai becomes Sarah; in both cases, the added letter signifies God. Other sources relate the letter ה to breath (certainly that is how the letter sounds when vocalized), and — remembering that God breathed the breath of life into the first human only a few weeks ago in our narrative — see the added ה as a sign of divine spirit.
A change in name can signal a change in destiny. Avraham and Sarah aren’t the only ones in Torah to receive new names from God; later in our story we’ll encounter Jacob, “the Heel” (his name comes from the word for heel, as he grabbed his twin brother’s heel in the womb to ensure that he himself would be born first — and sure enough, Jacob is kind of a heel as the English colloquial usage would have it!) who wrestles with an angel and becomes Yisrael, “Wrestles-With-God.”
An interesting note: the Torah tells us that God said to Avram “Your name shall be Avraham,” but of Sarai God says “her name is Sarah.” Not “shall be,” but already is. We read in Talmud:
Rabbi Huna said, quoting Rabbi Acha: The letter yud which was removed from Sarai’s name was divided into two letters; one hei was added to Abram and the other to Sarah.” (Talmud Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 2:6)
Remember that in Hebrew, numbers and letters are the same thing. The letter י equals the number 10; the letter ה equals the number 5. According to this reading, the 10 in Sarai’s name was removed and broken into two 5s, two הs; one ה was attached to each name. In this reading, it was Sarai’s deep spirituality which was divided and shared between the two of them — or perhaps her spirituality which made it possible for both of them to experience this added gift of spirit and awareness.
The Zohar offers a different interpretation. Zohar teaches that the ה — meaning 5 — represents the 5 books of Moses, e.g. the Torah. As a prooftext, the Zohar offers a creative re-reading of Genesis 2:4:
“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created [in Hebrew, “beheibaram”] in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” He made them with [the letter] hei /ה.
The Zohar deconstructs the word “beheibaram” (“when they were created”) into b’ (which means “with”) hei (“the letter ה”) baram (“they were created.”) The simple surface meaning of “when they were created” is re-interpreted into “The heavens and the earth were created with ה.” Remember that the letter ה, which can also mean 5, represents Torah — so this teaches us that (in the Zohar’s opinion) the whole of creation was created by means of the Torah. That’s what Avram and Sarai inherited at this moment of blessing and name change: they inherited Torah, which in a deep mystical sense is the blueprint for all of creation.
Jewish tradition places deep importance on names. There’s an old saying that when parents name our children, we experience a frisson of prophecy, since in giving a child a name we create some of that child’s destiny. And you’ve probably heard of (and perhaps even experienced) the old custom of changing someone’s name if they are very ill. The folk tradition says it’s to fool the Angel of Death, but I think it also has to do with a deep and inchoate sense that when someone’s name changes, new possibilities are opened up. (I have many friends in Jewish Renewal who have changed their names, or taken on second Hebrew names, at moments of great personal transformation in their lives for this reason.)
It’s worth noting that in the passage I quoted at the start of this d’var Torah, God introduces God’s-self as El Shaddai. (Remember that God has many names in Jewish tradition — even just in the Torah itself.) This name can be understood to be related to the Hebrew root which means breasts, so it can be read as a name of divine mothering and compassion. Can we imagine that in the ה which our ancestors received here was some of that motherly compassion and kindness?
At the start of this week’s portion, God commands Avram “Lech-lecha” — go you forth, or as many of us translate it, go forth into yourself. Maybe it’s only once Avram has gone forth into himself — once he has done the inner work of self-discovery and discernment — that he becomes ready to receive the changed name which implies a deeper awareness of God’s presence, a deeper connection to spirit and soul, a deeper connection to motherly kindness and compassion, a deeper connection to Torah… which he can then pass down to all of us. Kein yehi ratzon, may it be so!
From Rabbi Gershon Winkler
Buzzard: The Bird That Will Bring The Messiah
A Teaching from Gershon…
Listen. There is an eagle-like bird mentioned in the Torah among the birds we are forbidden to eat (Leviticus 11:18). It is a species of desert vulture known as רחםRoh’chom, which is Hebrew for compassion, because “when a Roh’chom flies overhead, it is an omen for heavenly compassion” (Talmud Bav’li, Chulin 63a). In later times, we called it a שרקרקSh’rak’rak because “rak rak” is the sound it makes when it sings. Moreover, taught the second-century Rabbi Bibi bar Abaye, “If ever a Roh’chom would chance to sit on the earth and sing, it is a sign that the Messiah has come אי יתיב אארעא ושריק אתא משיחא, as is written (in Zechariah 10:8), ‘Esh’rekah אשרקה[I shall shriek] for them and gather them, for I have redeemed them'” (Talmud Bav’li, Chulin 63a).
Pretty wild. Basically, when this bird will one day swoop down from the skies above and alight upon the earth and go “rak rak”, it means the Messiah has come and redemption from all of our struggles is at hand. All my life I thought that the birth of a perfectly Red Cow summoned the advent of the Messianic happening. And here come the ancients rabbis once again and throw my entire Gestalt out of wack! Or should I say Quack! Forget the Red Cow. It’s gonna be a buzzard landing on the ground and going “rak rak.” Done deal.
But a buzzard? Why not, say, a hummingbird, or a canary, or a colorful macaw, or any one of myriad species of nice, sweet gorgeous birds other than the one most notorious for feeding on dying animals?
The first mention of the buzzard in the Torah appears in the account around Abraham’s covenantal vision (Genesis 15:9-14) which takes place during a three-day vision quest. On the first day, he gathers a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtle-dove and a young dove. He splits in half the heifer, the goat, the ram, and the turtle-dove, but not the young dove, at which point a Spirit Fire wooshes through the middle, in between the animal halves. He is then visited by an עיטah’yeet, a species of buzzard. The buzzard gifts Abraham with the Breath of Life taken from the last breath of dying animals, with which Abraham then “restores” the parted animals back to life (11th-century Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki [Rashi]; 19th-century Rabbi Meir leibush in Mal’bim ahl HaTorah on Genesis 15:11).
On the second day, Abraham is enveloped in a spirit of darkness and goes into a deep trance in which God communicates to Abraham that his descendants are destined to become strangers in a foreign land for a period of four hundred cycles, after which they will be redeemed, and after which they will exit their struggles with great bounty and return to their homeland. On the third day, he awakens from the trance and sees the remnants of the Spirit Fire that had passed earlier between the carcasses. In other words, it had not been a dream but it had actually happened in real life, real-time.
Yes, I know. This version of the story is not the way you read it in the English translations. That is the flaw in available translations that I have been ranting about for decades.
It is interesting to note that during the course of Abraham’s three-day vision quest, all three dramatic experiences — the splitting and restoration of the animal parts, the prophecy about his descendants, and the real-time evidence of the Spirit Fire – occur at nightfall (Genesis 15:5, 12 and 17). What is even more fascinating is that nightfall in ancient Hebrew is described throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as בא השמשbo ha’shemesh “coming of the Sun” (for example, Genesis 28:11, Exodus 17:12 and 22:25, Leviticus 22:7, Psalms 50:1 and 113:3, Ecclesiastes 1:5, Malachi 1:11, etc., etc., etc.) when one would suppose it ought to be “going of the Sun.” I mean, how would it sound to you if I told you that I will see you later tonight when the Sun comes?
Obviously, as with so much else in the ancient language of our people, there is a deep deep lesson itching to emerge here. Simply put, the ancient Biblical Hebrew vocabulary has no such word as “Sunset” or “Sundown.” In later periods, we began to use the word שקיעהsh’key’ah – “sinking” – as in “sinking Sun”, but you will not find any such term employed throughout the more aboriginal vocabulary of our people. Because the Sun never goes down. It is always coming. You just have to wait out the night, but ultimately the Sun is coming, always coming, never going, never setting, never leaving. It is this mindset that has helped our people to last as long as we have. Regardless of how long and endless seemed the night, we always believed, always knew, that the Sun is coming. And this is why we are always directing ourselves toward the East. Not because Jerusalem is east of here. That’s too simplistic. No, we face East because we are always waiting for the Sun to come, for newness to break forth, for light to emerge from out of the darkness. And, as the prophet Isaiah told us some 2,700 years ago, the ah’yeet, that very same buzzard that visited Abraham during his vision quest and resurrected the halved animals, “is summoned from the East” (Isaiah 46:11), from the place of new beginnings, the place of shining, the place of hope. As a people, this has been our motto for two thousand years: “They can take away my sustenance (heifer), my power (ram), my tenacity (goat), even my old hope (turtle-dove), but they cannot take away my ever-renewing hope (young dove).”
This is why Abraham did not split in half the young dove, the bird that symbolizes hope, the bird that brought to Noah a twig from an olive branch to restore hope to a world gone under. Why particularly a young dove? Because old hope grows stale after a while. It becomes routine. Our people is still praying for the opportunity to return to our homeland when the homeland is still waiting for us to return. Our people is still praying for a little respite from oppression when we haven’t been oppressed in decades. Old hopes become stale when they put us to sleep and prevent us from recognizing the realization of those hopes. We need new hope, or at least renewed hope.
So, yeah, the Messianic happening being announced by a buzzard makes all the sense in the world. She carries the life breath of struggle. And when she will alight from the heavens and perch herself upon the earth to restore within us what has become fragmented, we will know that the Messiah is here. She will perform this restoration by singing her song with the very breath of struggle that we had sighed in each of those moments of challenge in our lives, of hardship. As Moses once prayed: “Gladden us commensurate with the days of our misfortunes, those many years during which we witnessed evil” (Psalms 90:15). For, when the Sun comes, all of our grief will be transformed into dance (Psalms 30:12), our weeping into song (Psalms 126:5), and every sigh you ever breathed will be breathed back into you, albeit as a breath of renewed life and joy.
Parshat Lech Lecha
“Call him Ishmael”
By Rabbi Janet Madden,
“As his name, so is he.” (1 Samuel 25:25)
In mathematics, transformation is the “mapping of one space onto another”; in linguistics, it is a rule that “systematically converts one form…into another.” But, no matter how we define it, transformation is a profound and multi-layered process that it is accomplished neither instantaneously nor easily.
The divinely-uttered opening words of Parshat Lech Lecha that launch the radical transformations of Avram and Sarai can be understood in distinctly different ways, and they resonate with every person who has ever experienced the call to know oneself more deeply. The Izhbitzer Rebbe considers lech lecha the direction to Avram to learn who he is meant to be. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch understands the word lecha as a call for isolation—Avram is to go by himself. And Avivah Zornberg believes that “the imperative of transformation” means that the leaving of one’s place is ultimately to “seek to become other.”
In the parsha preceding Lech Lecha, Parshat Noah, Avram and Sarai are brought by Avram’s father from Ur to settle in Haran. But Avram, the ivri—the one who crosses over–is destined to continue as his own person the journey that he began as his father’s son. At age 75, Avram receives the divine command– “lech lecha.” And in their response to this call, Avram and Sarai demonstrate that we are never too old to be moved by the prospect that our lives can have greater meaning and that the divine challenge to engage in the complex and painful process of self-transformation is not obviated by age.
Martin Buber proposes that “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” Thus, in spite of the divine promise that immediately follows the divine command, the essence of Parshat Lech Lecha is not the story of how easily the rewards for heeding G-d’s call come. Instead, Lech Lecha is a chronicle of unimagined internal and external struggles: in accepting the unknown risk inherent in going to and for oneself, Avram and Sarai encounter famine, wanderings, losses, estrangements, dangers and desperation. Twenty four years after embarking on their sojourn, G-d establishes a covenant with Avram and, in re-naming Sarah and Avraham, establishes that they have changed, that they have reached a milestone in their transformative process. But this is not the signal that their struggles have come to an end. Rather, this spiritual brit milah, which precedes the physical brit milah with which Lech Lecha closes, establishes a new beginning and presages not only the next stage of their journey but the journeys of Avraham’s two sons—the one who is to be the Other, Ishmael, and the one who is to be the inheritor of the brit, Isaac—and all of us who enter this world as their heirs.
In perhaps the most famous first line of American literature, Herman Melville opens Moby Dick, his great novel of a transformative journey, with “Call me Ishmael.” In conceptualizing his narrator, Melville does not merely create a modern allusion to the archetypal outsider, the disinherited elder son. Like his Biblical namesake, Melville’s Ishmael powerfully embodies the human condition of aloneness, the uncomfortable reality of divinely-endowed difference, and the role of the Other in causing us to confront our deepest selves.
Ishmael is the necessary reminder that inescapable pain lies at the heart of our urge to transformation. Pain, however, is tempered with hope. Ishmael, the “wild ass of a man,” is nonetheless divinely created, named and blessed. He, too, “will hear G-d.”
From James Stone Goodman
Lech Lecha – go, get thee out
At the end of his life
Abraham ascended to the top of the chariot of Ezekiel
it was covered with the dew of light.
Abraham dressed in hand-me-down celestial garments
saw the future —
a vision of reconciliation
from what was missing in his generation
he saw the implausible peace of his descendants.
Something partial missing broken
in Abraham’s generation
that only the future could repair — [Zohar]
the children of Abraham
Isaac and Ishmael
and all the Isaacs and Ishmaels
of the future.
We are the Isaacs and Ishmaels of the future.
Go forth and make a path for your children [Genesis Rabbah
From atop Ezekiel’s chariot
Abraham saw and understood everything.
Just as Abraham left his father’s house
so all children leave their birth houses —
Lech lecha [Genesis 12:1}
get thee out
out of your country
and away from your kindred
and away from your father’s house
in ascending order of difficulty.
All of us will have to leave our father’s house
to make peace
to step away from our comforts
and inherited prejudices —
because we can.
James Stone Goodman
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” The Zohar’s insights into Torah Reading of Lech Lecha. the back story of Abraham and his external and internal journey.”
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Parshat Lech Lecha
Torah Reading for Week of October 10 – October 16, 2010
“Blessing and Transformation”
by Tamar Frankiel, PhD
AJRCA Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Comparative Religion
“Go to the land that I will show you.” These famous lines of the Torah, telling Avram to leave everything behind and start anew guided only by G-d, have inspired the Jewish people throughout the ages.
The Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael Weiser, 1809-1879) interprets these words allegorically in his Shirei HaNefesh, a commentary on Shir HaShirim. The journey of Lech lecha is a saga of not merely historical import but also of the soul’s travel and travail. The soul is told to leave the heavens, “your birthplace, your Father’s house,” and go to a different land. According to Malbim, the blessings that Avram receives – I will bless you, I will make you a great nation, etc. – are like the seven blessings of a bride after which she makes a new life in a different world.
The parsha is full of blessings. Not only is Avram blessed again by G-d, being given a covenant, a new name, and the promise of the land for his descendants, but also he is blessed by Melchizedek; and Sarah is separately blessed to be the mother of Yitzchak who will become the conduit for all these blessings to future generations.
Melchizedek’s blessing is that of spiritual understanding, for he is a high priest. Sarah’s blessing is that of physical and emotional integration, for now their long union will bear its own fruit. The blessing that vouchsafes the land is an extension of Avram’s wealth, the ability to use the physical world to do G-d’s will.
These parallel the capacities of the soul mentioned in the Shema, when we say “You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, with all your life-force, and with all your resources.” The blessings of Avraham and Sarah resonate in this affirmation.
Yet, “there is a famine in the land.” The soul comes into a world that is starving for spiritual nourishment. The desperate straits of the world are mirrored in Egypt, for Mitzrayim means “narrow straits.” In our story, the Pharaoh of Egypt threatens to separate Avram from Sarai – to destroy the soul’s potential for integration and wholeness.
But G-d sends plagues on Pharaoh because of Sarah – literally, Rashi notes, “on a word of Sarai.” Standing strong in her devotion to the mission of the soul, her appeal to G-d overcomes the powers of separation.
If Sarah, in this allegory, represents the physical and emotional dimensions of our being, we see that she represents a fully transformed being: a nefesh or vital life-force that has completely integrated the intention of the soul. This, according to Malbim is our goal: each individual must alchemically transform the relation between soul and body. The soul, being a part of G-d, already has the qualities of love, creativity, and dedication that are needed. The body, however, is designed for survival and tends to be egocentric and mistrusting. It must be transformed into a loving, giving being in order to transform the world.
We have been given the blessings to accomplish this – not only from Avraham and Sarah, but from the long line of ancestors who have, as Malbim also points out, been stretched to the breaking-point many times, transformed themselves in the process, and changed the world. In their hearts, in their vitality, and with their resources they have remained true to our collective mission and passed that on to us.
May we continue to be blessed on our souls’ journey of self-transformation, so that we, like our ancestors, may “be a blessing” for the future.
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Written for Radical Torah in 2006.
Going Forth into Something New
“Go you forth,” “Go out of your land” (or maybe “Go to yourself”) — so begins this week’s parsha, Lekh Lekha. God calls Abraham forth to leave what’s familiar and comfortable to him — his origin, his roots, his old patterns of behavior and belief — and to venture forth into an unknown world, to journey toward the place where God will bring him. Through this journey, God promises, he will make of Abraham a blessing.
This took place, the text tells us, when Abraham was 75 years old. No spring chicken, Abraham. When God deemed him good and ready, then the call came. We may not hear so direct an exhortation in our own spiritual lives, but who could fail to be moved by the notion that when we have matured as far as we can on our own, God calls us forth to venture into a new phase of becoming? The whole human process of growing up is mirrored in Abraham’s leap from the familiar into the unknown.
Of course, that’s not the only way to read the beginning of the parsha. On the surface level, God instructs Abraham to leave his land, his birthplace, and his father’s house — to be a literal wanderer. God also instructs him, in at least in one Hasidic understanding, to leave his earthiness behind and to move into an entirely new state of consciousness.
The Meor Eynayim notes that Abraham, like Jacob and like Moses, is often called-to twice (think of that critical “Abraham, Abraham!” in the akedah narrative.) He argues that the two namings correspond to two aspects of the tzaddik, his earthly or embodied self and his elevated or “root” self. The use of a doubled name “is taken by the Meor Eynayim to reflect a deeper doubleness or duality: namely, his ability to be equally present, equally at home, in both the supernal, heavenly worlds and in this earthly, corporeal world,” as Rabbi Jonathan Chipman writes.
We are called to be like Abraham: to trust in our Source as we journey through the wilds of our contemporary lives. And we are also called to live up, as best we can, to Abraham’s apparent ability to transcend the dualism which suggests we are entirely separate from God. To hear, when our names are called, a doubled address that wakes us from complacency before offering a deep communication about who we really are.
Trying to hold on simultaneously to the notion that I am distant from God (which is borne out in my ordinary reality, in which self-consciousness depends on awareness of the boundaries that separate me from everything other-than-me) and to the notion that I am always already in a state of devekut with God’s unity… well. It makes my brain hurt. I get that separation from God is necessary because it’s the act of moving to overcome the separation that makes us who and what we are — in that sense all of creation is an engine for teshuvah. But how can we live in boundaried reality, where duality is a necessary part of being, and in constant awareness that duality is illusory and all is One?
Like most important tasks, I’m not sure the work of integrating those two perspectives can ever be said to be “finished.” Come to think of it, I’m not sure the kind of journey God invites Abraham (and, by extension, all of us) to take is ever “finished” either. Each one of us is always going forth from her land, the place of her birth, the house of her father. My land: the physical place where I feel at-home, the landscape I know intimately in every season, which in some sense I know best because I allow myself to leave and return. The place of my birth: my origin-point, physical and spiritual, the locus of my awakening. The house of my father: the interconnected web of my family, the community that shelters me and also allows me to reach beyond the limits of what’s familiar and known.
Always leaving, always coming home. Our challenge is to fully inhabit the journey, to trust that we are being led forth for a reason, and to honor where we come from even as we relinquish attachment to who we’ve been. (And while we’re at it, to be gracious and hospitable to strangers, to argue for the rights of the inhabitants of even our most squalid cities, and to cultivate the discernment that will allow us to hear God’s call clearly.) Abraham’s not an easy role model, but his story has a lot to teach us about how to make our own lives a blessing. To sanctify the experience, and the process, of always going forth into something new.
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman 2007
O holy Shabbes Inpsiration Lech Lecha
When Abraham was born
a star rose in the east
swallowed the four stars of the four winds of heaven –
to the east
to the north
to the west
to the south
a star of the east
swallowed the four directions.
God said to Avram
lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are
north and south and east and west
for all the land which you see I shall give it to you
and to your seed
forever [Genesis 13:14]
When the King Nimrod went riding
he looked up into heaven
saw a holy light over the Juderia
the Jewish quarter
signifying the birth of Abraham our father
light of Israel. [Cuando El Rey Nimrod]
God in a specially created voice, unlike other voices
spoke to him from behind the curtain of heaven:
Avram, lech lecha
go, get thee out,
out of your country
and away from your kindred
and away from your father’s house
to a land that I will show you. [Genesis 12:1]
Get free first of your country
then your kindred
lastly your father’s house
How I miss you
buried now in a cemetery in Detroit
on Shabbes lech lecha
I am coming home
I walk into your kitchen
I never left
I am coming home
I am wondering what Avram
owes his father Terach
Terach brought them out of Ur
took them as far as Haran [Genesis 11:31]
Avram left Haran
lech lecha Terach heard
away from your father’s house
lech lecha Avram heard
away from your father’s house
we are all leaving our father’s house
all the time.
Father took me as far as Haran
Harry – I am leaving Haran
Lecha lecha — go get thee out
leave your past your shame your violence your wars
your inherited enmity
go to a land
a new land
that I will show you.
And Abraham went
as God spoke with him.
At the end of his life
Abraham ascended to the top of the chariot of Ezekiel
it was covered with the dew of light
From atop Ezekiel’s chariot
Avraham dressed in hand-me-down celestial garments
saw the future
a vision of reconciliation
from what was missing in his generation
he saw the perfect peace of his descendants
There was something partial
in Abraham’s generation
that only the future could repair [Zohar]
the children of Abraham
Isaac and Ishmael
and all the Isaacs and Ishmaels
long into the future
Abraham — go forth and make a path for your children
for everything that happened to you
will happen to your children [Bereshit Rabbah 40:6]
We say to you today in a loud and clear voice
enough of blood and tears. Enough. [Rabin]
From atop Ezekiel’s chariot
Avraham saw and understood everything
Just as Avraham left his father’s house
so his children left his house –
lech lecha they heard
get thee out
out of your country
and away from your kindred
and away from your father’s house
to a land that I will show you
And from atop Ezekiel’s chariot
And G-d spoke to Abram: “Go you from your land…” (12:1)
From the time that G-d said to our father Abraham, “Go from your land…” and “Abraham went on, journeying southward”, began the process of birurim — of extracting the sparks of holiness that are scattered throughout the universe and buried within the material existence.
By the decree of Divine providence, a person wanders about in his travels to those places where the sparks that are to be extracted by him await their redemption. The Cause of All Causes brings about the many circumstances and pretexts that bring a person to those places where his personal mission in life is to be acted out.
(Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch)
Go you from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you (12:1)
“From your land” — from your will (eretz, the Hebrew word for land, is etymologically related to the word ratzon–will). “From your birthplace” — from your emotional and behavioral self (which is the product of a person’s environment). “From your father’s house” — from your intellect (In the terminology of Kabbalah, the intellect is referred to as the father within man, since it is the progenitor of and authority over his feelings and behavior patterns).
(The Chassidic Masters)
Not a thread nor a shoe-strap, nor I shall take anything that is yours (14:23)
In reward for Abraham’s saying, “Not a thread nor a shoe-strap,” his children merited two mitzvot: the thread of blue [in the tzitzit] and the strap of the tefillin.
(Talmud, Sotah 17a)
And an angel of G-d found her. And he said; And an angel of G-d said to her; And an angel of G-d said to her; And an angel of G-d said to her (16:7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
How many angels did she meet? Rabbi Yossi bar Chananiah said: Five; each time that it says “and he said” it was another angel. The other sages say: Four; each time it says “an angel,” it was another angel.
Said Rabbi Chiya: See the difference between the earlier and later generations! Manoach said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen an angel” (Judges 13:22); but Hagar the maid of Sarah sees five angels one after the other and is not afraid of them” Said Rabbi Yitzchak: “The members of Abraham’s household were all prophets–she was used to seeing them.”
No longer shall your name be called Abram. Your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you a father of a multitude of nations (17:5)
Abraham’s name change, in conjunction with his circumcision and his entry into a covenant with G-d, marked a profound turning point in his life. Up until this point, the thrust of Abraham’s life was his spiritual relationship with G-d; from this point on it was to be his role as a leader of the masses, a teacher of the Divine truth to the “multitudes”. Thus the Hebrew letter Heh was added to his name. Abram (Avram, in the Hebrew) is an acronym of av ram, which means exalted father; Abraham stands for av hamon goyim–a father of multitudes of nations.
But according to this, his name should have been changed to Abham. Why was the letter Reish, which stood for the ram (exalted) in his name, left in? There is no Reish in the phrase a father of multitudes of nations.
Often, there is a tendency for teachers and leaders to water down their message to their constituents. For myself, they say, I must set the highest standards and strive to understand the most sublime truths. But it is foolish to expect the same of everyone else. If I speak of such matters and make such demands, I will only be perceived as out of touch with reality. Indeed, the rarefied insight and pious behavior I have attained will only be coarsened and debased by its communication to the masses.
Therein lies the lesson of the “irremovable Reish” in Abraham’s name. G-d added a Heh, anointing him as a leader for the hamon (multitudes), but left the Reish of exalted in. For the true mark of a teacher is one who can convey the most sublime truths to the most ordinary of minds, and the true mark of a leader is one who can inspire the loftiest aspirations in the most mundane of hearts. Such a teacher and leader was Abraham, and such is the quality of leadership he bequeathed to his heirs in their role as a light unto the nations.
(From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Week’s Energy for Parshas Lech Lecha
Rav DovBer Pinson
Flexibility & Movement
This weeks Torah portion begins with the instruction to Avraham/Abraham “…Lech L’cha/ Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” (12:1)
Thus begins the journey of Avraham, beginning with the leaving of his “home land” and the place of his comfort zone, and journeying to the place of his destiny.
Avraham is invited to take this incredible journey of becoming a great and influential man (Midrash), an invitation to self actualize and deeply discovering the essence of his being (Zohar.) To do so, he must leave Three things – his ‘land,’ ‘birthplace,’ and ‘father’s house.’
These three represent the things that we use as an excuse to stay inflexible and unmoving.
‘Your land’ refers to our space which is our physical location.
‘Birthplace’ infers our particular time, the era in which we live.
‘Father’s house’ references our unique genetics.
It is common that we make excuses for ourselves that allow us to stay in one place and not live our life to its fullest. We rationalize why we stay stuck in our circumstances. We may tell ourselves, ‘its not the right time’, ‘maybe later on in life’, ‘I’m not in the right place’, or ‘I don’t have it in me’, ie; its not within my genetics.
This week’s energy provides us with the strength and ability to be flexible. We challenge ourselves by coming out of our comfort zone and entering the unknown, in order to grow and discover our deepest self.
The Energy of the Week:
Flexibility & Movement
This week’s energy is to overcome stubbornness and inflexibility. Don’t say, its not the right space, not the right time, or i don’t have the strength. Stop making excuses.
This is a good week to begin a journey… or make a move that you have been holding off on. If an opportunity to do something or go somewhere new arises – take advantage of the added strength of flexibility and make the move.
From Rabbi Miles Krassen
Lekh Lekha The Land that I AM will Reveal to You
Like many other wisdom traditions, the Torah teaches that the path to true greatness is fraught with many challenges. Sometimes a person, despite the challenges, does succeed in attaining an extraordinary degree of holiness during her life. The person may even reveal so strong an emanation of one of the divine attributes that others continue to derive energy and guidance from that exemplary life, long after the person has passed from this world. We call such a person a tzaddik. Accordingly, in our tradition, we say: “the memory of a tzaddik is a blessing.”
However, in drawing to ourselves the blessings of tzaddikim, we should resist the temptation to sugarcoat the experience of becoming a tzaddik. The path of the tzaddik-in-training is often a painful transformation, during which it is necessary to constantly cultivate and harmonize all parts of the self, so that a holy soul can increasingly manifest within us. No matter how lofty the source of our souls may be, few of us, if any, are born in an already perfected form. Awakening necessitates facing many tests.
In the case of Avraham, who succeeded in becoming an archetype of the divine attribute of Hesed (unconditional love), the Torah hints at his transformation by making clear that he was born Avram (Genesis 11:26) and only later became “Avraham.” (Genesis 17:5). Avram’s path from ordinary person to tzaddik is framed by the Hebrew words “lekh lekha. (“Get yourself going”). Few would dispute that Avraham’s greatest test occurred later in the Torah, when he was commanded to sacrifice his son. There it is written, Lekh lekha to the Land of Moriyah (Divine Awe). (Genesis 22:2). This was Avraham’s greatest test because it required him to overcome his own natural tendency to express Hesed (unconditional love). Yet, in the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 39:9), Rabbi Levi, noting that the same words, lekh lekha, appear in our parashah, wonders whether Avram’s initial test may not, in its own way, be as great as the later one. (See Netivot Shalom, Lekh—Lekha).
Avram perceived Be-ing softly vibrating within him as the words lekh lekha. (Genesis 12:1). What was the great challenge implicit in this perception? Most Hasidic commentators read the Hebrew hyper-literally as “go to yourself.” Although what “yourself” may mean is interpreted in various ways, there is general agreement that Avram is being aroused to a quest to discover and follow his unique self.
Before awakening, all of us are a composite of influences, from our culture, our nature, and our family. This is the great archetypal challenge that we all face: Avraham sensed Be-ing softly arousing him to seek his own unique self, apart from cultural influences, innate tendencies, and influences from his family… (Genesis 12:1).
To enter the path of a tzaddik-in-training, we begin by noticing how we are limited by these unconscious formations. There is a growing sense that we are really something more than this composite personality, and dissatisfied with its limitations. This is Be-ing’s way of prompting us to become more conscious through seeking a more authentic self.
In our culture, many people are encouraged to be unique individuals and yet few become tzaddikim like Avraham. The reason is that for most of us, development doesn’t reach beyond a lekh lekha that simply means “go get it for yourself.” What made Avram capable of entering the path of the tzaddik is that he heard a deeper message in Be-ing’s admonition lekh lekha. The tzaddik-in-training is not satisfied with pursuing narcissistic gratification through individualistic achievements. What motivated Avram was a desire to consciously seek and connect with the deepest part of the soul, called heleq ‘eloha mima’al (a portion of Divinity). (Job 31:2). What he heard Be-ing whispering was Seek the source of your soul in the Land that I AM will reveal to you. (Genesis 12:1).
Our challenge is to discover within ourselves not just a self that is unique, but one that is also holy. One of the great miracles of a divine creation is that every individual element expresses a facet of divinity in a unique way. But the beauty of each unique being is only revealed when we are conscious of our divine source. As Reb Natan of Nemirov teaches in the name of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, wherever we find ourselves, we should always seek the inner point of the source of our soul. Whenever we are centered in our soul’s source, we can become, like Avraham, a channel of Hesed (Divine Love). Then our motivation in life is to make ourselves and others better expressions of the divine purpose in creation.
The Rebbe Elimelekh makes clear that seeking the source of our soul is not meant to radically detach ourselves from this world. Rather, we are to seek a connection to our soul within all of the various components of our experience: Find your real self within your earthiness, feeling states, and thought forms. (Genesis 12:1).
Although the path of the tzaddik-in-training promises a most meaningful and rewarding life, we should always remember that it is not an easy path. Avram was already seventy five years old when he mastered his anger and even then his shadow (Lot) still accompanied him. (Genesis 12:4).
What then enabled Avram to transcend less spiritual modes of achievement? He was willing to follow guidance that came from beyond the personal self. Avram realized that his success in life depended on attunement with a Higher Source and he was willing to follow Be-ing, even when he did not know where It was leading him.
Seek your real self… in a Land that I AM will reveal to you. Then I AM will make you great; I AM will bless you; I AM will expand your vessel’s capacity to contain holiness; and you yourself will have the power of blessing others. (Genesis12:1-2).
Avram’s first great test was to accept Be-ing’s command to put aside personal self-interest and to seek a more authentic self in a way that would only later be revealed to him. Through his willingness to constantly seek the source of his soul, Avram became a devotee of Be-ing and entered the path of the tzaddik.
May we all be stirred by the call of Be-ing
And enter the path of the Tzaddik-in-training.
May we constantly seek the Source of our soul
And become channels of Divine Love,
Through the blessing of the tzaddik Avraham.
Rabbi Moshe Aharon Ladizhyner
From Reb Zalman
How to Develop Your God-Connections
The following text by Reb Zalman is for this week’s Torah portion, Shabbos Lech Lecha. [Notes by Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor]:
“Go out … to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
And, indeed, there is, at times, some influence that will make some faint impression upon us.
[Note: An impression, or an inspiration. We are being asked to relate this text to those experiences we have had as interactions with the divine, or God-connections. Gabbai Seth]
Just as when someone snaps a picture, and until the film is developed, the picture can’t be seen, and not even if the camera is opened to the light at which time the faint impression is destroyed.
For this reason, Hashem Yisborach said to him: “Leave your land,” and this is like the developer, “your birthplace” – stop bath, “your father’s house” – fixer, “to the land that I will show you,” and later (ibid 18:1) “and Havaye appeared to him in Elone Mamre,” i.e., Hashem became visible.
[Note: For photos, the developer converts the latent image to metallic silver, the stop bath is a solution to set the proper contrast and the fixer makes the image permanent.
In order to take hold of the inspiration, to get it clear, to internalize it, we must sort through our root metaphors so that our connection to the source of all being will become clear and strong. Like Abraham, the root metaphors which we have when we enter adulthood come from influences of country (artzecha), an indigenous culture (moladiticha) or religion (beis avicha).]
Now each person has hir individual attribute (Sefirah) according to the root of hir soul “[You made wraps for the Ten S’firot] from whence blossom forth souls for the sons of men.” (cf, discourse Patach Eliyahu / “Elijah began”, Tikunei Zohar 17. ) And so Hashem Yitbarach said to Abraham our father (may he rest in peace) (Genesis 15:1) “I am thy shield.” [Do not fear for] you will also get to see Him again when you will lose your attribute at the end of malchut sheb’chesed,
[NOTE: Chesed is associated with Avraham Avinu as per his preoccupation with Gemilut Chassadim / acts of generosity. When we count Sefirot from Chesed to Malchut the last stop in the week of Chesed is Malchut Sheb’Chesed. After that, we are in the week of Gevurah, the attribute of Yitzchak. Gabbai Seth]
as seasons will shift and times will change; do not be afraid for I, as implied [in my unity], am thy Shield, that although, for you, there may be only a part,
[NOTE: It is difficult to see beyond the parts to the whole in which they are rooted, i.e. we will experience Chesed/Gevurah as either/or.]
for Me, nothing is lost: I am also the Anochi of Chesed Sheb’Gevurah. For the quality of the Anochi is beyond the individual attributes, and when all is said and done, (Isaiah 51:12) “I am S/He Who comforts you.”
“But the men of Sodom were evil and sinful — before Hashem exceedingly” (Genesis 13:13).
Once on the holiday of Purim, when papa (z’l) went to gather donations on behalf of the decent poor and to free those imprisoned, there was one miserly man who skirted us by pretending he was praying the Amidah; and quietly to him, papa (z’l) whispered the phrase, “‘the men of Sodom were evil and sinful,’ but they looked like they were in devekut — ‘before Hashem exceedingly.’”
The first prayer in tanach was that of Abraham Avinu on behalf of Sodom (ibid 18:23). And why didn’t S/He affirmatively comply regarding that which they requested? The answer to this question is that the situation shows that prayer by itself does not influence if it is not aligned with God’s will and there’s no other significance to this than “Our eyes [look toward and] depend upon You, etc.” (Rosh Hashanah Mussaf prayer).
[NOTE: I.e. We don’t pray to get God to do something, like a cosmic bellhop. We pray because we are in a relationship and we love to let God know what is in our hearts (and we are respectful of the power of that place).]
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
from Yishmiru Daat (2009 revision),
“Parashat Lech Lecha,” p. 30
Originally posted by Wendy
Rabbi Shefa Gold
~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~
(Go to Yourself)
Genesis 12:1 – 17:27
Abram is called to leave his home and go on a journey. When he reaches the Land that God shows him, Abram has to leave it because there is a famine. He goes down to Egypt and back again, encounters many challenges, receives the blessing of Malchitzedek and is given a Divine promise. He has visions and makes a convenant with God.
WE ARE BLESSED THIS WEEK WITH A MAP for the spiritual journey: the soul’s path to awakening. I call it the “Covenantal Journey,” because it describes the maturation of the soul as it rises to stand in covenant with God. We begin this journey from wherever we are now. The invitation to embark is heard at the soul’s crossroad, calling to all that would hear.
It is Rumi’s invitation:
“Come, come whoever you are! Wanderer, worshipper,
lover of leaving, come. This is not a caravan of despair.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve broken your vows a thousand times,
still, come, and yet again Come!”1
Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger sees this as a journey of self-realization.
“Go to the Land that I will show you – where I will make
you VISIBLE – where your potential being will be realized
in multiform and unpredictable ways.”2
THE JOURNEY IS MAPPED IN SEVEN STAGES, mirroring events in the life of Abram/Abraham:
LEAVING – Abram leaves his home, family and everything familiar to set off for the unknown in order to “become a blessing.”
We sever the fixed identification with body, small self, social identity, and begin to re-integrate our lost essence, reclaiming parts of ourselves that got lost during the socialization process.
DISAPPOINTMENT – As soon as Abram arrives in The Land, there is a famine, which necessitates the journey down into Egypt and back again.
We discover that defeat can be a teacher as we learn to unmask even disaster as a blessing in disguise. The difficulties in our lives send us to our own depths where we find the core of our passion, vision, mission and love.
DEVELOPMENT – Abram becomes a warrior in order to redeem his captive nephew, Lot.
Becoming a spiritual warrior requires cultivating and honing the skills and courage that are required on the path. We nurture those qualities that will help us to redeem and maintain our own family ties.
INITIATION – Abram receives the blessing of Malchitzedek who invokes “El Elyon” (the God Most High).
There are moments of epiphany on the spiritual journey when we receive an initiation, enter upon a wider perspective and enjoy access to a greater flow of blessing. Our identification with that which is “The Highest” – El Elyon – lifts us up to a new level.
EXPANSION – Abram looks to the stars (where before he looked to the dust) and receives a vision and promise of descendents and a place in the world.
We expand our sense of reality and know that we are connected even to the farthest star. This vision sustains us through times of contraction (when we lose our conviction of that deep and wide connection.
PROPHECY- Abram performs a powerful ritual and receives a startling vision, which reaches far into the future, through slavery and redemption.
All of the hard work of spiritual practice brings us to a place of Prophecy, where the structures of Time and Space dissolve, and we can see the whole of our journey in this expanded moment.
COVENANT – Abram is called into covenant and receives a piece of God’s name (the letter hey) incorporated into his own. As Abraham, he is given the mitzvah of circumcision as a physical sign of that covenant.
We receive the blessing of God’s essence (Name) at the very core of our identity. Our calling is to reflect that core essence and allow it to shine through the prisms of our unique inclinations, experience and personality.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
HAVING A MAP and knowing that we are on a journey awakens us to the realization of the wondrous path we’ve traveled thus far, and to the road beneath our feet, which is fraught with dangers and strewn with treasures. We can use maps to orient ourselves, recognize landmarks on our way, discern when we’ve hit a dead end, and inspire us to new adventures.
EACH BLESSING ON THE JOURNEY OF ABRAHAM holds a challenge for the soul. Leaving the known world without knowing the destination, our challenge is to trust the journey itself and to risk being “no one.”
When we encounter disappointment or tragedy, we are challenged to surrender expectations and plant the seeds of compassion. Our lives become a journey of purification and as we are called into service, we are challenged to cultivate the qualities that are required for the work.
We are guided on the path just one step at a time as we seek out teachers, open to their wisdom, receive moments of initiation, and then spend years dedicated to integrating those moments.
Every initiation opens the way for an expansion of perspective and we are challenged to stay focused as we widen the view.
When those expansive states offer us moments of prophetic vision, the challenge is to allow those visions to transform our lives, moment-to-moment.
In accepting upon ourselves the covenant, the agreement to walk with God in simplicity and open-heartedness, we also take on the mitzvah of the circumcision of our hearts. Here the challenge is to continually cut through and release layers of distortion and defense that lay upon the heart, so that we can receive reality in its sparkling essence.
1 The Illuminated Rumi by Coleman Barks (Broadway Books, 1997). Rumi was 13th Century Sufi Mystic.
2 Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, Sefer Sefat Emet al ha-Torah u-Mo’adim, Lekh Lekha. I learned this text from Rabbi Art Green.
3 Spirit Buddies by Rabbi Shefa Gold. http://www.rabbishefagold.com/spiritbuddies.html.
For Guidelines for Practice please click link to website: http://www.rabbishefagold.com/lekh-lekha/
“Friction developed between the herdsmen of Abram’s flocks and those of Lot… Abram said to Lot, ‘Let’s not have friction between me and you … Seperate from me, if you [go to] the left, I will go to the right; if to the right, I will take the left” (Genesis 13:7-9)
BALANCING RIGHT AND THE LEFT, NEEDS COMPENSATION AND COMPROMISE
G-d, who is hidden behind the veils of the material world, created the world so that man, using his intelligence and the faculty of free choice can discover Him hiding within the creation. Since the physical world veils G-d, we must be involved in it so that we can reveal Him. To discover and experience G-d in this world, one must access energies that are derived from both the right and left sides of the spiritual spectrum which is the source of free-choice. The left side is responsible for mental and physical limitation and for the base urges of the body. The right side is associated with expansion of one’s mental and physical resources, allowing one to become strongly connected to G-d. How does one find G-d, concealed in the darkness and physicality of this world? If G-d wanted us to find Him, wouldn’t it be easier and make more sense for us, as many other religions profess, to search for the spiritual G-d in the spiritual realms, and not get involved with the physical, which is so far removed from Him? The Talmud teaches: “Rabbi Yaakov said: ‘[Involvement in the gross materialism of] This world is like a lobby [which one must encounter] before [meriting] the world to come; prepare yourself in the lobby [by adhering to G-d’s wishes] so that you may enter the banquet hall.'” (Talmud: Avoth 4:21) This alludes to adhering to G-d’s commandments while encountering the gross materialism of this world which sanctifies the material realm as well as the left side of the spiritual spectrum. When the material realm is sanctified, many of the material veils behind which G-d hides are stripped away, allowing better perception of and connection to G-d. According to Rav Noson, the veils that are peeled away are merged with a person’s soul, acting as filters of G-d’s great light, enabling each person to come very close to G-d in this world and, especially, in the hereafter. This is why the angels cannot come as close to G-d as man, for they lack the necessary material filters to protect them.
Rabbi Sholom Brodt
The Holy Zohar says that “Lech Lecha” is an instruction to “prepare yourself.” The Alexander Rebbe zt”l interpreted “Lech Lecha” as an instruction to do one’s best to improve oneself. One needs to consider at all times, where am I in this journey of my life, how much progress am I making?
The Alexander Rebbe taught in the name of the Psischer Rebbe zt”l that when learning Torah we are trying to get to the “the land which I will show you.” We want to see what Hashem wants us to see in His Holy Torah; we want the holy words of the Torah to shine unto us with Hashem’s light. To reach the level of learning where every letter is shining with holiness we need to first do tshuvah. Then “ar’ehkah”- I will show you.”
Vayomer Hashem el Avram: “Lech lecha mei’artzecha, mimoladetcha, u’meebeit avicha, el ha’aretz asher ar’ehkah.”- Hashem said to Avram: “Go for/unto yourself, from your country, from your birthplace, from the home of your father, unto the land which I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1)
Many Chassidic masters have commented on this verse. Chassidus sees every verse of the Torah as containing a personal lesson in serving Hashem. So when Hashem says to Avram, Lech Lecha… He is speaking to every Jewish soul, telling each one of us to leave our ‘eretz’- country, birthplace and father’s home and go to land that Hashem will show us. (You will find a number of these teachings further on among the teachings from previous years.) Today we will learn a new interpretation from the second last Rebbe of Lubavitch, Reb Yosef Yitzchak zt”l, known as the ‘frierdiger Rebbe’.
“Lech lecha” means ‘journey to yourself’ i.e. journey to and connect with your higher self. “Mei’artzecha, mimoladetcha, u’meebeit avicha,” describes how to make the journey.
Chassidus explains that only a part of your neshama- soul is actually present in your body; only some of the light of your neshama is present within you. The essence of your soul, however, remains above, connected in union with the Living G-d. And so, Hashem’s command, “lech lecha”, is a command to ascend and connect with the root of your soul, so that the root-source of your soul will shine and enlighten the glow of your soul that is present in your body.
And how is this to be accomplished? The first step is “Mei’artzecha”- to leave your ‘eretz’- your land. In Chassidic teachings we learn that the word “eretz” is also related to ‘ratzon’- will and desires. Thus ‘lech lecha mei’artzecha’ means to leave behind your material and earthly desires; instead, desire only Torah and mitzvot and matters of Godliness.
The next step is “mimoladetcha”- to leave your birthplace. This represents leaving your acquired habits that confuse and hinder you from progressing in your service of Hashem. You must liberate yourself from these.
The third step is “u’meebeit avicha”- from the house of your father. This represents your ‘natural’ ways of thinking, i.e. thinking defined by world and body. The world we live in makes demands on us, as does the body; they demand of the mind to think on their terms, to use its intelligence to fulfill their needs.
A mind that is enslaved to worldly and bodily concerns can easily lose its sense of priorities. I once heard this interesting social observation, which illustrates the workings of this trap. In olden times, not that long ago, our grandparents used to live in small two room homes, with as many as ten or twelve children. Yet there was always room for two poor people to join the family at their meals. Eventually we came to America where our homes got bigger and our families got smaller, and there was no longer any room for the poor to sit at our tables. And then our homes got to be even larger, as our families got smaller and it became the custom of the land that each child got to have his own room, and tragically many homes are no longer big enough for the families to stay together.
“El ha’aretz asher ar’ehkah”- to the land that I will show you. We do have to live in this world; we have to live in the land that Hashem will show us. We need to learn how to live and function in this world in accordance with the way Hashem sees it and shows it to us. The world still remains a physical world as Hashem desires it to be. But when we see it through Hashem’s eyes, there is much advantage to it. Thus Hashem is telling each one of us to exchange our worldly way of looking at the world, and see it in the way Hashem shows it to us.
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