Lech Lecha — Genesis 12:1–17:27

How often have you taken advantage of a last minute travel deal?

Today, it may feel good not to know where you will travel until the very last minute; it allows you to discover some new, exotic destination at a great rate. In the ancient Near Eastern mind, however, that same sense of journeying without knowing the destination borders on the absurd. To journey in search of an undisclosed place, as later rabbinic commentators emphasize ad absurdum, positions such a seeker as a madman. After all, if you do not where you are going, the route is filled with endless obstacles and surprises. But in stressing just how outlandish a decision Abram makes, the rabbis are drawing our attention back to the remarkable text in Torah: God commands Abram to relocate and take leave — "Go forth form your land, your birthplace, and from your patrimony and go to the land which I will show you." (Genesis 12:1)

With a Promised Land in the offing, along with the promise that Abram and his life partner, Sarai, will become a great nation, they depart. Leaving everything behind, they journey to the land of Canaan along with their nephew Lot. As the narrative continues, take note of how the accepted Near Eastern context of polytheism (multiple divinities ruling the world) shifts toward henotheism (many divinities in a pantheon ruled by a supernal deity) and eventually embraces a full-fledged monotheism (a singular divinity ruling the world).

Facing a famine, Abram and Sarai detour to Egypt, where she is taken captive in Pharaoh’s palace. Her escape is only possible through deception; Abram and Sarai disguise themselves as brother and sister, which eventually leads to release and compensation. Once back in Canaan, Lot separates from Abram to settle in Sodom. He is captured by the armies of King Chedorlamomer, which forces Abram to set out to rescue his nephew. In defeating the four opposing regional rulers, Abram is eventually blessed by the King of Salem, Malki Zedek, in the powerful language of henotheism: "Blessed be Abram in the name of the most Supernal God [El Elyon], maker of heaven and earth." (Genesis 14:19) As one of many exemplary non-Jewish figures in the Hebrew Bible (including Jethro and Rahav), it is Malki Zedek who blesses this emerging Jewish leader and his mission of bringing divine awareness into daily life.

Upon completing the "covenant between the pieces" that envisions exile and redemption to the Holy Land, further transformations take place. Sometimes these transformations begin with taking that first step into the unknown.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is connected to Abram's moment of calling. "Go forth!" "Leave Chaldea!" James Kugel (Harvard and Bar Ilan Universities) describes Philo of Alexandria's interpretation of this episode: "Philo says something happens: 'opening [its] eye from the depth of sleep,' the soul suddenly becomes aware of God's presence. At that point God will say to the soul, as He Said to Abraham, 'Leave Chaldea!' – that is, leave your old way of thinking, in which the human senses are considered to be the only form of perception, and proceed on to a new way of thinking and, ultimately, to the Promised Land of knowing God." Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Lech Lecha — Genesis 12:1-17:27

facebook_coverdesign_lechlechaWe move from the displacement associated with the Tower of Babel at the end of last week’s reading to even deeper displacement this week as the Torah introduces us to the journey of Abram and Sarai.

Their leaving home can be thought of as the setting of a tripwire, a process of setting in motion dramatic change. The challenge of starting out on a new venture — which is not limited to physical relocation — is perennial. We are constantly setting the tripwire of change; nothing in life is permanent.

Little surprise then that the Hebrew Bible has no sense of place permanence – the ancestral house or furniture can not be assumed. Instead of such a legacy, God commands Abram to take leave — "Go forth from your land, your birthplace, and from your patrimony and go to the land which I will show you." (Genesis 12:1).

With a Promised Land in the offing, along with the promise that Abram and his life partner, Sarai, will become a great nation, they depart. Leaving everything behind, they journey to the land of Canaan along with their nephew Lot. As the narrative continues, take note of how the accepted Near Eastern context of polytheism (multiple divinities ruling the world) shifts toward henotheism (many divinities in a pantheon ruled by a supernal deity) and eventually embraces a full-fledged monotheism (a singular divinity ruling the world).

Facing a famine, Abram and Sarai detour to Egypt, where she is taken captive in Pharaoh’s palace. Her escape is only possible through deception; Abram and Sarai disguise themselves as brother and sister, which eventually leads to release and compensation. Once back in Canaan, Lot separates from Abram to settle in Sodom. He is captured by the armies of King Chedorlamomer, which forces Abram to set out to rescue his nephew. In defeating the four opposing regional rulers, Abram is eventually blessed by the King of Salem, Malki Zedek, in the powerful language of henotheism: "Blessed be Abram in the name of the most Supernal God [El Elyon], maker of heaven and earth." (Genesis 14:19) As one of many exemplary non-Jewish figures in the Hebrew Bible (including Jethro and Rahav), it is Malki Zedek who blesses this emerging Jewish leader and his mission of bringing divine awareness into daily life.

Upon completing the "covenant between the pieces" that envisions exile and redemption to the Holy Land, further transformations take place. The next covenant, this one of circumcision, is enacted by Abraham upon himself and his son, Isaac, while Hagar is banished with Ishmael. In leaving home and beginning this new venture that comes to be known as Judaism, Abram becomes Abraham ("father of multitudes") and Sarai becomes Sarah ("princess"). And so the journey continues...

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by the vision Abram had following his defeat of King Chedorlaomer. "After these incidents, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, 'Fear not, Abram; I am your Shield; your reward is exceedingly great.'" (Genesis 15:1) Here, we see a shield form on a yellow field. The shape of the shield and its markings – at once ocular and solar – are based on designs archaeologists associate with ancient Mesopotamia. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Noa Shenkar's Bat Mitzvah

facebook_noashenkarShalom! My name is Noa Shenkar, and I'm excited to step up to the bimah for the first time and lead the CBS community in prayer!

I've enjoyed the time I've studied with Rabbi Glazer and Rabbi Elisheva [Salamo]. It is fun to learn more about the Torah, and to discuss the messages in my Torah portion, Parashat Lech Lecha.

Lech Lecha brings up some difficult questions of truth. When Abraham faces a crisis, he must think very quickly, and decide whether or not it is permissible or not to tell a lie in order to get out of a complicated situation with the Pharaoh.

I look forward to seeing you on Saturday, November 12.

Lech Lecha -- Genesis 12:1–17:27

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_editedAgain this week, I turn to the renowned Czech-German writer Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924), who wrote in his Zürau Aphorisms:

The true path is along a rope, not a rope suspended way up in the air, but rather only just over the ground. It seems more like a tripwire than a tightrope.

Leaving home activates that tripwire, setting profound change in motion. The challenge of starting out on a new venture —- which is not limited to physical relocation —- is perennial. We are constantly setting off the tripwire of change. Nothing in life is permanent.

Little surprise then that the Hebrew Bible has no sense of permanence or place, be it with regard to an ancestral house or furniture. Rather, G-d commands Abram to relocate, to take leave:

Go forth from your land, your birthplace, and from your patrimony and go to the land which I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

With a Promised Land in the offing, along with the promise that Abram and his life partner, Sarai, will become a great nation, they depart, leaving everything behind, journeying to the land of Canaan with their nephew Lot. As the narrative unfolds, take note of how the accepted Near Eastern context of polytheism (multiple divinities ruling the world) shifts toward henotheism (many divinities in the pantheon, but ruled by a supernal deity) and eventually embraces a full-fledged monotheism (a singular divinity ruling the world).

Facing famine, they detour to Egypt, where Sarai is taken captive in Pharaoh’s palace. The escape is only possible because Abram and Sarai disguise themselves as brother and sister, which eventually leads to their release and compensation. Back in Canaan, Lot separates from Abram to settle in Sodom, but Lot is captured by the armies of Chedorlamomer. This unfortunate turn of events forces Abram to set out to rescue his nephew. In defeating the four opposing rulers, Abram is eventually blessed by MalkiZedek, the King of Salem, in powerful, henotheistic language:

Blessed be Abram in the name of the most Supernal God [El Elyon], maker of heaven and earth.” (14:19)

As one of many exemplary non-Jewish figures in the Hebrew Bible (including Jethro and Rahav), it is MalkiZedek who blesses this emerging Jewish leader and his mission of bringing divine awareness into daily living.

Upon completing the “covenant between the pieces” that envisions exile and redemption to the Holy Land, further transformations take place. The next covenant, this one of circumcision, is enacted by Abram upon himself and his son, Isaac, while Hagar is banished with Ishmael. In leaving home and beginning this new venture that comes to be known as Judaism, Abram becomes Abraham (“father of multitudes”) and Sarai becomes Sarah (“princess”). The journey continues…

- Rabbi Glazer

Image credit: "Abraham and Melchisedek," by Dieric Bouts, 1464-1467

Listen to the audio file of this d'var Torah below!
[audio mp3="http://bethsholomsf.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/TorahByte_ParshaLechLecha_5776.mp3"][/audio]