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Dvar Torah delivered by Lenore Levin on 8th Cheshvan 5775, 1st November 2014
Many of Judaism’s most basic beliefs and traditions are found in the very beginning of Genesis. Today we read the third parasha of Genesis, Lech-Lecha, which is one of the longest and most important in the Torah. The world that God created was meant to be good. However, people had been given the ability to choose. God was very disappointed with all the evil they were doing and decided to bring a flood upon the earth. Only the family of Noah, who was righteous in his generation, and pairs of all the animals were saved. After a few generations, even the descendants of Noah began to do evil. In this parsha, God begins to build the foundation for a whole new community of people who would have a better chance of being good. God now knows that what is needed is a community with a sufficient number of good people so they can to reinforce each other. Then people would be more likely to do what God wants, which is to what is do what is right and good. The key people in this endeavor will be Avram, whose name God will latter change to Avraham, his wife Sarai, whose name will latter change to Sarah, and many generations of their descendants.
Lech-Lecha begins with God telling Avram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” What God asks of Avram is very difficult but the reward God promises him and his descendants will be very great. It takes great faith in an unseen God for Avram leave everything familiar and go to an unknown destination and also to believe God’s promise of descendants, especially when he is already seventy five years old, his wife is only ten years younger and they are still childless.
God’s promise to Avram is very important for the future of the Jewish people. God promises to make Avram’s descendants a great nation. God will bless Avram and make his name great, and Avram shall be a blessing to everyone. God will bless those that bless him, curse those that curse him, and because of Avram, all the families of the earth will be blessed.
Abram left his homeland. He took with him his wife Sarai, his brother’s son Lot, all the wealth they had amassed and “all the souls they had made.” Traditionally this has always been understood to mean the men and women Avram and Sarai had converted to a belief in the one God. This helps explain Torah references to Avram and Sarai’s large community.
To what extent has this ancient blessing been fulfilled? As a people and as individuals, we have received, and continue to receive and benefit from these blessings. Although, like most communities, not everyone is a blessing, generally we are among the most creative, educated and prosperous people in the world. We also have shared our blessings with others. For example: we have shared the moral and ethical values of our Torah with the world; we value helping others who need help, etc. Many nations have accepted our religious traditions such as a weekly day of rest and the importance of educating our children. The legal system described in Exodus forms the foundation of most legal systems in the Western hemisphere. We have contributed substantially to the advancement of medicine. We have created many inventions which improve our everyday lives, and much more. As for blessing those who bless us and cursing those who curse us, countries such as The U.S and Canada which have always been good to the Jews have been blessed, and they have thrived. Countries that have treated us badly in the past, like Spain or Germany, have suffered.
Avraham is often pictured as a weak old man with a long white beard. That certainly does not describe the Abram in this this chapter. Avram lived at Mamre, near Hebron, and was both wealthy and powerful. He and Lot both had large flocks and herds. When there no longer was enough pasture for both of their flocks and herds, Lot chose to move to the fertile plain of Sodom in the area of the Dead Sea.
Sometime later, a messenger came to Avram who was at Mamre, near Hebron, and told Avram that the king of Sodom and all the people and their allies had been attacked by a very powerful military force led by four kings, and they had lost the battle. The whole population, including Lot, and all their possessions had been captured and carried off far to the north.
When Avram heard that his kinsman Lot and his family had been taken captive, he mustered his personal army which numbered three hundred eighteen men, and went in hot pursuit as far as Dan, which is in the north, quite far away. That same night Avram’s army attacked the sleeping enemy, chased them to a place north of Damascus and defeated them. The next day Avram brought Lot and his family back home, including everyone’s possessions and all the rest of the people who had been kidnapped. Avram refused to take any reward for returning the people and their possessions.
Sometime later, God spoke to Avram in a vision. God told Abram not to be afraid because God will be a shield to him and his reward will be very great. Avram asks what God can give him since he is childless? God promises Abram and that he and Sarai and will have a son, and their descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. And Abram put his trust in God. Among the many things God revealed to Abram in this mystical vision was that his offspring will be strangers in a land not their own and they will be enslaved in Egypt 400 years and in the end they will leave Egypt with great wealth.
Later, Sarah who is childless, tries to help God’s plan by giving Avram her slave, Hagar, as a concubine. This causes many family problems. Hagar does have a son who is named Ishmael. However, God assures Avram that Ishmael will not be his heir. God tell Avram that his heir will be his child by Sarah. Later, Sarah does have a son.
Later, God commands Avram to circumcise all the males in his household as a sign of the covenant between God and Avram throughout all generations. God also changes Avram’s name to Avraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah.
This is only a small part of the highlights of this week’s Parashah. It is one of the most important and amazing in the Torah. I recommend that you read all of it and its commentaries.