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Parashat Lech-Lecha

October 27, 2023
12 Cheshvan 5784
Genesis 6:9 - 11:32

Dear Friends,

In this time of uncertainty, our need to be grounded and to be with those we trust and love is tantamount. The true complexity of the world is visible and either/or simply will not do. We are living in a moment when binary solutions are simply not possible. This past week has been a week of learning and experiencing for me, going from one moment to the next, and concluding that trying to make sense of it all is beyond my capability. Yet there was enlightenment, growth, reflection, and in the midst of everything, hope.

It was a week where seeds planted both long ago and since coming to Tehillah showed themselves to be deeply rooted. Some of that was revealed in my work with both Jewish and Christian clergy and my friendship with Dr. Mehnaz Afridi. Dr. Afridi asked me to come to a program at Manhattan College and offer a prayer for peace. Then, she and other leaders were at the Riverdale Y for another program as we had conversations about who we were and what mattered to us as human beings. Later in the week, I attended a daylong seminar at CLAL with rabbis at different stages of their rabbinate as we delved into what our work was truly about and the importance of one another as we did our work with all of its joys and challenges. It was a week of contrasts. As the world remains broken, I had to ask, why does any of this matter?

The answer was there for me in this week’s Torah portion and in my work with the children of our Hebrew School. As we look at this week’s Torah portion Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27), Go Forth, we meet a man of 75 and his not much younger wife, childless yet willing to start fresh. A great deal happens to this couple over the course of this Torah portion, but I invite us to enter the story at the beginning. He began his life in Ur, went to Haran with his father and immediate family and now has journeyed to Canaan, where he has been promised a fresh start.

Of the many stories about Avram and Sarai, the first is about their sojourn in Egypt to escape the famine, where he asks that she tell the Egyptians that she is his sister, because she is so beautiful and having a beautiful wife will place him in danger. The famine appears to happen after they have just unpacked their bags ( 9 sentences into the parsha).

We see him at his most frightened in Egypt, grasping at straws, but our first introduction to him is of someone willing to go forward yet again. This less than perfect man is an exemplar of courage, an exemplar of moving forward, sometimes getting it right and often not, but he does not give up. The stories in this Torah portion are not simple, although it is true that possibly the first time we heard them they were made simple for us.

Once more my best teachers are my students. We discussed God this week and what they imagined this God that could not be seen was like. So they drew. What they drew were abstractions, each appropriate for their age. Yet, what each drawing shared was complexity. They knew , even at their young age, that the world is not a simple place nor is the Divine’s role in it. Their creations were beautiful, and they left me with the hope that if the children can begin to grasp the complex nature of the world and of the Divine, maybe the adults around them can too. Like Abram, we are on an uncharted journey doing the best we can. Once more, we are reminded that there is strength in community. Easy answers are hard to come by, and although Abram was promised a new beginning, it doesn't happen all at once.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Wed, May 22 2024 14 Iyyar 5784