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October 30, 2020
12 Cheshvan 5781
Parashat Lech-Lecha
Genesis 12:1 - 17:27

Dear Friends,

Every week we recite the hashkiveinu prayer on Friday night and I regularly remind you that it is a prayer highlighting that which is liminal. It is a prayer that asks us to understand the complexity of time and the need, especially now, to acknowledge times of transition and massive change.

My thoughts turn to this prayer this week, as we head into Election Day amidst a massive rise in the incidence of COVID-19 around the country. 

This week, as we read the story of our ancestors Sarah and Abraham, my thoughts are all about transition and change and how we can manage it. How did they manage it, after they had already lived a full lifetime? They managed not so perfectly, with trial and error, much as we do. We are told that Avram was 75 years old when he was told “to get up and go to the place I will show you.” We are given no background on this relationship with the Divine (although rabbinic stories abound to fill in the gaps), and how he was motivated to leave all that was familiar and begin anew. Strength and courage are to be found in this willingness to take risks when no longer young.  Avram’s story is filled with risk taking, some of which we can justify and understand and some of which leaves us disappointed in him, affirming that he was a flawed human being.

There are a myriad of episodes in the week’s Torah portion, but two stand in strong contrast to one another.  The first is when, in order to save himself, he passes off Sarah as his sister to Pharaoh (12:13-19) -- not his noblest moment.  The second episode is when he organizes troops to recue his nephew Lot from captivity and returns the stolen wealth to a group of neighboring kings.  He is offered payment for his services and declines the gift of spoils (14:21-24).  His behavior in the second episode, unlike the first, is one of public service and family loyalty.

My thoughts began with prayer and jumped to the story of Avram. Where is the connection?  The process of prayer. The Hebrew root for prayer is hitpalel, a reflexive verb.  It indicates a process of going inward before going forth.

So the process was with Avram, and so it is with many of us.  There is a need to go inward before we can truly see what matters.  Avram began his journey thinking only to protect himself; he continued his journey thinking and caring for others.

The process of prayer, which can be a way of checking in with ourselves, can lead us to a place where our values combine with our needs, pushing our best selves forward. 

In these stressful times may we be able to come together next week with our Jewish values of caring for one another affirmed.  Caring for ourselves, our neighbors, the strangers among us.  May lovingkindness be made visible for all to see.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, April 13 2021 1 Iyyar 5781