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Parashat Lech-Lecha

October 15, 2021
9 Cheshvan 5782
Parashat Lech-Lecha
Genesis 12:1 - 17:27


Dear Friends,

Often in the past when I have commented on this Torah portion, I have focused on Abram’s age when he is told to go forth by an unseen Divinity and I have focused on the human side of this story. After all, the name of the Torah portion means “Go forth." Briefly stated, this dense Torah portion contain: God makes a covenant with Abram promising to make his descendants a great nation, along with a vison of travails to come; God changes Abram’s name to Abraham; Abraham has a child with Hagar and names him Ishmael; God promises Abraham’s barren wife, Sarah, whose name has also been changed from Sarai, that she will have a child. And that isn’t even everything that happens.

As is true for much of the first book of the Torah, there is a great deal of story to unpack. Our practice is to look at the details and see what they can offer us as we approach them year after year.

This year something different has become apparent to me with greater clarity. As I have mentioned to some of you, the first book of the Torah strikes me by the unity of the methodology, that of up-close storytelling, once we get past Noah. What do I mean by that? It is not a book of laws and it is not a book about a nation. Rather, it is a rather unflinching narrative about one family through multiple generations. Of course, we need to fill in some of the details as the Torah often paints a story in broad strokes. The narrative flow is apparent to me in an entirely new way. Instead of looking at the individual segments, I see them as more linked to one another than ever before.

It is the intimacy of the narrative and the relationship to God in the development and growth of this family that allows us to garner some important insights into ourselves and how we navigate our own lives.

Both Rabbi Shai Held and the writings of the late, Tivka Fymer-Kremsky point out an important element in this week’s Torah portion. Abram is promised that his offspring will both become a great nation and will suffer servitude. Blessing and curse are linked. One could focus on victimhood -- oye! have we suffered. But that too is problematic. Change is intrinsic to life and therefore the victim can become the victimizer.

We all know individuals who live their lives in the role of victim, thereby excusing all subsequent behavior. It becomes an excuse. These early stories are only the beginning but if we watch the tale unfold, we will witness how various members of this family deal with both adversity and plenty, providing life lessons to all of us.

Here, at the very beginning of our story, we are offered a number of important pieces of information. We are witness to the suffering of others, be it Sarai in Egypt or Hagar in Abraham’s household. There are moments of blessing for which those involved are grateful. As we go through this collection of stories, we are witness to the reality that these people go through a great deal. We may approve of some aspects of this reality and some may strike us as wrong. But at the end of this portion, we are left with the knowledge that there will be good times and difficult times and that we need to get through them while appreciating our blessings, Gratitude is key to surviving the dark times which will also be the times when we have the capacity to transform ourselves. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sun, December 4 2022 10 Kislev 5783