Parashat Lekh lekha
November 11-12, 2016 – 11 Heshvan 5777
Annual (Genesis 12:1-17:27): Etz Hayim p. 69-93; Hertz p. 45-60
Triennial (Genesis 12:1-13:18): Etz Hayim p. 69-77; Hertz p. 45-50
Haftarah (Isaiah 40:27-41:16): Etz Hayim p. 94-98; Hertz p. 60-62
Not Exactly What I was Taught in Yeshiva
Rabbi Moshe Levin, Congregation Ner Tamid, San Francisco, in honor of his Bar Mitsva not so long ago (1954). This is excerpted from longer commentary to the Parashah which can be obtained from http://nertamidsf.org/ or from Rabbi Levin (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Lekh Lekha is considered the source of many of our fundamental beliefs about ourselves, our religion, and our land. It is regarded as the birth of monotheism; our connection to the land that became known as Eretz Yisra’el; a male’s identification through circumcision; and the election of the Jews as the Chosen People.
But a careful reading of the text demonstrates that such conclusions are not so simple. Avraham’s journey to Canaan was not begun by him but by his deceased father; there are those who claim that Avraham was still a polytheist who recognized other gods and worshipped at their holy places. The statements about a Chosen People were questioned even by Jewish scholars centuries ago, and many in our time find the concept of a divinely-ordained right to the Land at odds with a desire to live in peace with Israel’s neighbors.
By the same token, we should note with pride that Lekh Lekha portrays our patriarch as human, and the circumstances surrounding his career as true-to-life, versus mythological. Here Avraham is faced with a moral dilemma in offering his wife to a harem to save himself from death (Do you remember “Sophie’s Choice?”). The story of taking Hagar as a concubine to produce a son raises issues for us of mistreatment in the household, of surrogate motherhood, of offspring from mixed racial or ethnic parents, and of our treatment of those in lower classes. The traditional commentators have taken Avraham and Sarah to task for these actions. Nahmanides (Ramban, Spain 12th cent.) says “Avraham committed a grievous sin in offering his righteous wife lest he be killed.” And Maimonides says Sarah herself sinned in her abusive treatment of Hagar.
We are startled to see our “bearded, pious first Jew” enter a nine-nation war as a competent military leader who deals the enemy a decisive blow and returns not only his nephew but indeed all hostages to their freedom. And, in a display of regal character, he refuses to accept the spoils of victory so as not to allow anyone to claim that his material success comes from another.
Finally, we are introduced to circumcision as a covenantal ritual but we know that it is not necessarily original to the Jews. The Muslim practice of circumcision at puberty is often traced to Lekh Lekha since Ishmael, Hagar’s son, was circumcised at age 13. In fact, contemporary scholars trace it to pre-Abrahamic times. And indeed today there is a marginal but passionate element in the Jewish community that calls for its cessation, due to issues of infant rights and its similarity to female circumcision, a practice the civilized world has already prohibited.
So…Lekh Lekha gives us much to ponder. It enables us to realize that our most revered ancestors were human and therefore imperfect. Yet it is only from such real figures in our history that we can learn to face the challenges of real life. And how proud we can be that the characters of those who birthed our nation are recorded in our sacred texts somewhat unedited, not sanitized, so that the Torah shares with us their humanity and fallibility and thus their example.
A Vort for Parashat Lekh lekha
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
On his return from Egypt, Abraham “went on his journeys – va’yelech l’ma’asav“– from the Negev to Beth-El (where he had pitched his tent originally” (Gen 13:3). Rashi says that even though he left Egypt a wealthy man, en route home he stayed in the same inns (simple, inexpensive) as he had when he went down to Egypt in poverty. The Ketav Sofer says that this shows Abraham’s modesty; normally when people become rich they “upgrade” their homes and their life styles. The Mateh Aharon notes that Avraham’s goal was Beth El (house of God) – success did not uproot Abraham from the places of his past, either physical or spiritual.
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
In this Parasha we begin to focus on Avram (Abram). He journeys with his wife Sarai (Sarah) to an unknown land, is forced to leave it due to a famine, receives a promise from God that he will become a great nation, all while desperately longing for a child.
1) Avram is instructed by God to ‘go to the land that I will show you’ (12:1-3.) What will he receive from God? God says that Avram will ‘be a blessing.’ What do you think that means?
2) Avram is forced to seek food for his household in Egypt because of a famine in Canaan. He fears that the Egyptians will kill him in order to take his wife Sarah because of her beauty. How does he try to solve the problem (12:11-20)? What happens to Sarai and Avram? We don’t hear Sarai’s voice here at all. What do you think that she might have been saying? Why?
3) God makes a covenant with Avram (15:7-21) in which he is told that his offspring will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs, and they will be enslaved. In the end the nation that enslaved them will receive its judgment by God and the offspring of Avram will return to the land [of Israel]. What do you think Avram feels when he hears this? Why? Do you think that he shared this information with his children and grandchildren? What would you do?
4) Sarai, thinking that Avram might be able to conceive a child with a different woman, gives him her handmaid, Hagar, as a wife. Hagar seems to conceive easily. What happens to the relationship of Sarai and Hagar at this point (16:4-6)? This is not what Sarai had envisioned, so why do you think that it came to this?
5) God changes the names of Avram and Sarai to Avraham (17:4-8) and Sarah (17:15-16). What is the significance of a name change? How do you think the idea of having their names changed by God (and having a blessing attached to the name) influenced Abraham and Sarah? What was each one blessed with?