Highlights from jam-packed parashat Lech-Lecha:
The Spiritual Journey:
The Lord said to Abram, “Go to yourself from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation,
And I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
And you be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-2).
This to me is one of the most essential commandments we have: the commandment to journey. To leave behind our old ways and recreate a new life and identity for ourselves and our future generations. God sweetens the deal with promises and blessings in order to give Abram the courage to leave behind his homeland and the ways of his father’s house and to muster up the faith that God will reveal to him where his destination is.
What incentives do I need to begin the journey to my soul? Am I waiting for something to start?
And You Be a blessing:
Rabbi Ed Feinstein calls this the “mission statement of the Jewish people.” In the Hebrew it is in the imperative command form: “And You! Be a Blessing!” Whatever we are doing, wherever we go, our presence is a blessing and we bring blessings.
What blessings am I taking account of today? What blessings am I bestowing on myself and others?
She’s Not Your Sister!
As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “Whoa! I know what a beautiful woman you are. If the Egyptians see you, and think, ‘She is his wife,’ they will kill me and let you live. Please say that you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may remain alive thanks to you” (Genesis 12:11-13).
Sadly, these are the very first words on record that we hear our patriarch say. As Rabbi Mark points out, Abram pimps out his wife so that he can gain fortune and wealth. Too often over the course of human history, women have been victimized and delegitimized by our desire for wealth, power and resources.
When have I sacrificed another’s dignity for my own advantage and prosperity?
Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support them staying together; for their possessions were so great that they could not remain together. And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and those of Lot’s cattle. - The Canaanites and Perizzites were then dwelling in the land. - Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsmen and yours, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. if you go to the left, I will go to the right; and if you go right, I will go left’” (Genesis 13:5-9).
Sometimes the people closest to us are the ones we need the most space from. Lot, Abram’s nephew who accompanied him throughout his journey thus far, has also amassed wealth and possessions. But the strife between their workers became a rift that was not mendable by existing in the same space.
Abraham nonetheless tells Lot: There is abundance. We are not living in scarcity. Take your pick; the land is fertile. I have faith in whatever you choose, we can both be prosperous and live in harmony. But our enmeshment and possible co-dependence is no longer serving us. We must go separate ways. What is also noteworthy, is that later in this parashah, when Lot is captured by warring kings who conquer Sodom, Abram gathers his own crew to battle and to release Lot from his capture.
What boundaries must we have with our loved ones – friends, family, co-workers? Healthy boundaries doesn’t mean completely separate; how do we still stay accountable and supportive in a time of our loved ones’ distress?
“And you shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, [literally: “father of a multitude”] for I make you the father of a multitude of nations.” …And God said to Abraham, “As for your wife Sarai, you shall not call her Sarai, but her name shall be Sarah” [literally: “princess”] (Genesis 17:5 & 15).
According to Jewish tradition, your name can dictate your destiny, and if you change your name, you can change your fortune. Abram and Sarai were not blessed with children for over twenty-five years. However, Abraham and Sarah would give birth in their old ages of 100 and 90, respectively. Despite their willingness to leave their homeland and their fathers’ homes, they were unable to let go of certain parts of their identities and narratives until God unlocks and releases the burdens that prevent them (and us) from fulfilling our sacred missions.
What is the meaning of my name? How has the name I’ve been given dictate who I am? Must I go by a new name as I embark on the next chapter of my life?
Brit Milah: “Such shall be the covenant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you” (Genesis 17:10-11).
There are a number of covenants God has granted us: Shabbat during creation; the rainbow to guarantee there are no more floods to destroy the world. Now, God commands Abraham to circumcise the foreskin of every male. The covenant is literally cut into our bodies. No matter where we go or what we do, we are in relationship with the Almighty. We are connected to something greater than ourselves. And by doing it at 8 days old, the impression is made deep into a child’s unconsciousness. As adults on our journeys, our task is to make ourselves aware of that connection and manifest it into the world.
How do I remember God’s covenant with me? What daily practices must I engage in to nurture this relationship?
Post Script - Other Parashah Fun Facts and Trivia:
Did you know our ritual of raising our right hand when we are about to administer an oath comes from Abram promising not to take any booty from the King of Sodom?
But Abram said to the King of Sodom, “I swear” [literally: “I lift up my hand.”] to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth: I will not take so much as a thread or a sandal strap of what is yours; you shall not say, ‘It is I who made Abram rich’” (Gen. 14:22-23).
Why are Jews at times called “Hebrews?”
It comes from the description given to “Abram the Hebrew” (Genesis 14:13), which literally means “Abram the one who stands on the other side.” This can be rooted in Judaism’s value of being ethically and morally responsible individuals who stand up against injustice, even if the entire world stands on the other side.