The Torah portion this week is called Lech lecha, which, loosely translated, means get going! God commands Abram to leave his birthplace and go to a new land that God will show him. In the first three verses of this portion, (Genesis 12:1-3) the word bracha, meaning blessing, appears five times. Nechama Lebowitz a great Israeli Biblical scholar of the 20th century, reminds us in her commentary that this corresponds to the five appearances of the word Or, meaning light, in Genesis 1:1-5. Lebowitz comments that just as God uses light in creating the physical world, God uses blessing in the creation of the Jewish People. However, the blessing of Genesis 12 is conditional upon Abraham’s willingness to express his faith by going forward into the unknown. Moreover, the blessing is not exclusive. The text states that God will not only bless Abraham but that God will bless those who bless Abraham and that Abraham and his descendants will have the honor and responsibility of being a blessing to others.
My brother, Rabbi Mark Borovitz, in his book, FINDING Yourself and Recovery in Torah, suggests these opening verses denote God’s greatest gift to us. After the failure of both Adam and Noah to achieve the unachievable of perfection in the first 11 chapters of the Bible Abraham is told that he can become a blessing because he is going to live in the world as his essential, imperfect self. He is leaving the places of negativity that pull him down, and he is leaving his father’s house so as to be able to BE his own person and not have to live someone else’s script. There is no greater blessing from God that this.
The inclusion of the second half of Genesis 12 has always fascinated me. Why did our ancestors include this story where Abraham’s faith is tested as he descends into Mitzrayim, the Hebrew term for Egypt that has the etymological meaning of a narrow place? If video cameras or 24 hour news cycles had existed 3800 years ago, imagine the headlines! Why does our tradition recount the story? Traditional commentators have for millennium sought excuses for Abram’s behavior. I suggest that this folktale of moral descent that accompanied Abram’s lack of faith that God would “bless” him in the land to which God had sent him, is a case study that humans are imperfect.
In the Abram/ Lot encounter in Genesis 13 we are taught another lesson. Lot and Abram, nephew and uncle, both have achieved financial success but cannot live together. Does this sound familiar on both a communal level and a familial level to 21st century Jewry? Lot and Abram have a peaceful and loving separation because of Abram’s love, not Lot’s. Abraham tells Lot to choose where he wants to go and he, Abram, will go in the other direction. Lot lifts up his eyes and sees only the green of the Jordan Valley and chooses it. He sees only the green because he is unable to see the whole picture of life and living clearly enough to know that there is also great evil in the Jordan Valley, the evil of Sodom. Lot is a chameleon, he blends in wherever and with whoever he is with. Lot looks and only sees the gold and how he can get it. Abram lifts up his eyes and sees the whole of Israel, the whole land where his offspring will live. Abram is able to see the whole picture, good and bad. He is aware that his offspring will be enslaved and that God will always be with them. He is able to see that going on a journey is the only way to finding the correct place that one belongs. He sees that through trial and error, one finds one’s unique talents and only then can arrive at the destination that God needs one to fill.
The brit, the covenant that is established at the end of this week’s Torah portion binds not only Abraham and God, but also, We the People, who claim to be the descendants and heirs of Abraham. I hear in the call to “Lecha Lecha” to get going!! And in the tales of Abram in Egypt and his encounters with Lot and evil people of Sodom a call to remember that our covenant with God binds each of us to our fellow Jews and to all of our fellow human beings. The covenant of Torah that will unfold before us over the course of this year, is the basis for the Jewish belief, that our covenant with God is a corporate rather than a personal contract. What I mean by this statement is that neither you nor I were personally chosen by God for a special relationship. No one of us should be so arrogant as to think of ourselves as a Chosen One! Rather our covenant with God is based upon our choosing to be heirs of Abraham and Sarah. To see the imperfections in ourselves and the image of God in others. The promise of blessing is given to We, the People, not to you, nor to me.
Lecha Lecha was God’s way of telling Abraham that it was time for him to get moving and carve out a new path and create a new model for Jewish communal life. As we all study this Parsha again this year I pray that each of us and all of us as a World Jewish Union will “get moving” and find a path to improving the life of our community and the lives of every human being. May each of us find a way to “be a blessing” and then all of us will truly be blessed.
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