Lech Lecha

“Parsha and Purpose” – Lech Lecha 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Avraham and Sarah: The First Power Couple and Their Continued Impact Upon Us”

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Parshat Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27) 

“Avraham and Sarah: The First Power Couple and Their Continued Impact Upon Us”

The past two weeks, we have focused on the creation story from the perspective of humanity’s role to continue the process: the mandate of God to Adam and Chava in Parshat Bereshiet, to be God’s junior partner in the creation saga. (Genesis 1:28)

The mandate that is found in Parshat Noach’s Haftarah, that if we are going to ensure that there’s never the destruction of the world, of society, it is our responsibility to be involved in Tikkun Olam, the perfection of the world. (Isaiah 54:1 – 55:5)

And in Parshat Lech Lecha, we are introduced to the most important couple to organized religion, to Islam, Christianity and Judaism. And that is Avraham and Sarah. They are perhaps the most famous couple in human history.

What do we know about these two people before they ascend the world stage as leaders? The Torah tells us nothing about them, nothing.

Yes, Midrashic texts, rabbinical texts, and even pseudepigrapha try to fill in the gaps. So much has been proposed about their upbringing and their past, but the Torah tells us nothing.

We’re told that Avraham finds God through the cosmos, but the Torah tells us nothing. (Breishit Rabbah 39:1)

We’re told that Nimrod throws Avraham into a fiery furnace to perish because of Avraham’s rebellion against idol worship, but again, the Torah tells us nothing. (Breishit Rabbah 38:13)

The bottom line is that in the text of the Bible, in the text of the Torah, we learn nothing about Avraham and Sarah until they are 70, 75 years old, and become citizens of national importance.

Maybe the absence of a background is to communicate to all of us that what makes Avram, “Avraham”, and Sarai, “Sarah”, is not their pedigree, it’s not their wealth or their stature, but their willingness to “Lech Lecha”, to go and to make a difference in the world. (Genesis 12:1)

Despite their challenges of infertility, despite the issue of famine or kidnapping of family members, they are able to engage others: “And the souls they had acquired in Haran”. (Genesis 12:5)

Avraham faces his arch nemesis, Nimrod, in the battle of the four to five kings. It’s over the soul of society, and he is triumphant. He rescues his family. (Genesis 14:1-15)

He deals with kings with respect, yet with a commitment to ethics and allegiance to God: “The Most High God, Who possesses heaven and earth”. (Genesis 14:22-24)

His relationship to God is so meaningful that he can even question God: “What will You give me, since I am childless.” (Genesis 15:2)

You want to know why we don’t know anything about their past? Because what defines them, indeed, what defines us, is not our past, but our capacity to “Lech Lecha” to get up and make a difference.

And in the process of “Lech”, of going. we learn “Lecha”, so much about ourselves. The message of Sefer Bereshit continues: it moves from a universal paradigm to a more particular one.

But it reminds us that what makes Avraham and Sarah, our patriarch and our matriarch, is not their past, but what they’re willing to do to change the world, and in the process, change themselves.

Shabbat Shalom

RSR

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Now I know that you are a beautiful woman, when the Egyptians will see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife,’ and they will kill me, while they will keep you alive. Please say that you are my sister, so …

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Moriya Dayan

A Call for Constant Motion and Perpetual Progress Moriah Dayan is an attorney and rabbinical court advocate at OTS’s Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline for Agunot The Torah portion Lech Lecha opens with the famous call to Avraham – “Go for yourself, out of your land, away from your …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Lech Lecha 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“A Journey from Despair to Engagement”

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“A Journey from Despair to Engagement”

A quick look at the news can make even Pollyanna cynical.

Behaviors in the face of looming US elections, political mayhem in Israel, irresponsible actions of some communities in the face of the pandemic, refusing to take safety precautions or revering Jewish custom at the expense of Jewish law and values.

The easiest course of action is, of course, to give up on people instead of trying to engage them; to insulate ourselves and withdrawal while the world turns – and burns – around us.

The Torah provides us with two paradigms for approaching this issue in the different narratives of Noach and Avraham.

When Noach learns of the Divine plan for the destruction of humanity and the world at large, he dutifully follows the command of God and proceeds to construct the Ark.

Noach is unable or unwilling to convince even a single person to correct their ways and be saved from the flood.

He gives up.

This is one of the great tragedies of Noach. 

For this reason, the prophets call the flood מי נח – the flood of Noach. Isaiah 54:9 Because his unwillingness to improve society puts responsibility for the world’s destruction on his shoulders.

In stark contrast to Noach, this week we learn about Avraham, who argues passionately with God in order to save the people of Sodom and Gemorrah. Genesis 18:23-33

Two nation-states whose residents the Torah describes as “very wicked sinners against God”. And yet, Avraham protests on their behalf anyway! Genesis 13:13

And this is what makes Sarah and Avraham the leaders of a movement that ultimately introduces the entire world to monotheism. It is why God changes their names to include his own – from Avram to Avraham; Genesis 17:5 and Sarai to Sarah. Genesis 17:15

It is so easy to give up on people, especially in times of crisis. But we are the children of Avrahama and Sarah!

We do not give up on our people, or on humanity.

There is no shortage of inspirational examples.

The nursery school teachers, medical professionals and therapists who embrace the children in their care, even though they know by doing so – despite all the safety protocols – they are placing themselves at risk.

The madrichim and madrichot of our Darkaynu Programs for young adults with special needs who chose to enter quarantine so that their students arriving from abroad should not have to go through it alone.

Gerer Chasidim in the Israeli city of Arad who wished to protest a local issue – but did so while maintaining social distancing.

Soldiers in the midst of Corona who are still bringing refugees in the middle of the night to be treated in field hospitals.

These examples and so many more like them remind us that even with so much cynicism in the world, we must never give up on people.

The words “Lech Lecha” mean “Go to you”. Our parsha is about a journey. And for me, it is the journey to defy the infectious spread of cynicism.

A triumphant march from despair toward engagement; from a tendency to view others cynically, as Noach did, to a focus on never giving up on people, as modeled by Avraham.

When we work to help each other on our collective journey, we become a source of light to God, to ourselves and our families, and to the world around us.

The British philosopher William Blake wrote:  

“I sought my God and my God I couldn’t find;
I sought my soul and my soul eluded me;
I sought to serve my brother in his need, and I found all three; My God, my soul, and thee.”

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom: Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1 – 17:27) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel — “The Lord said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, and from your homeland, and from your father’s home, to the land that I will show you.’” (Gen. 12:1) Abraham’s father, Terah, is often perceived as a primitive symbol of …

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Shabbat Shalom: Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin    Efrat, Israel – “And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew: now he dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner; and these were confederate with Abram.” (Genesis 14:13) “Go away, for your …

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Rabbi Kenneth Brander

Parshat Lech Lecha: A Journey of Self-Discovery Rabbi Kenneth Brander  Lech Lecha sets into motion the ancient journey which lay the groundwork for Am Yisrael’s enduring connection with Eretz Yisrael. Yet the formulation of the text begs for elucidation.   While this parsha finds Avraham and Sara leading the charge, only a few verses earlier, in …

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