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Bet Israel Masorti Synagogue

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Phone: 972-(0)9-862-4345

Parshat Lech Lecha

Dvar Torah delivered by Mike Garmise聽on Shabbat,聽11 Cheshvan 5776, 24 October 2015

Creation of the world 鈥 check. Destruction of the world 鈥 check.聽Dispersal of mankind ensuring maximum misunderstanding 鈥 check.

Now we can begin our own story with our own hero, Avram. What hasn’t聽been said about Avram and his devotion to one God 鈥 our God 鈥 even to聽the point of almost sacrificing his son who was born when he, Avram was聽100 years old. What a man!

But that’s kid’s stuff. There are all the midrashim about Avram’s early聽realization that there was a God above and beyond the idols that people聽(including his father Terach, according to the midrash) used to make. And聽his being thrown into the furnace. And all ten of his trials by God, some聽of them mentioned in the Torah, others fabricated for our delight by the聽rabbis.

But reading the text, not even closely, makes many of these midrashic聽embellishments unnecessary. They create a myth so unbelievable for聽those beyond a certain age (10 or 11) that maintaining belief in it is聽almost as great a feat as Avram’s trials and tribulations.

I don’t mean to detract from Avram’s status as a special person. He really聽was unique. Just consider what we had before. We had Adam and Eve聽who had no role models, no boxes to think in, no sense of good and bad,聽right and wrong or justice. What was 鈥 was what was.

Then we had Noah, a righteous man in his time, worthy enough to be聽saved, yet we know of no special steps he took to save anyone else. And聽when he finally got out of his claustrophobic menagerie of an ark, he took聽to the bottle. The flood wiped him out completely.

We had the people of Babel who wanted only to reach high, perhaps聽because the sky was there, and in general did not seem to be up to聽anything worthwhile.

So we have no one with a conscience, no one with a feeling for others, no聽one who will go out of his way to give you the time of day聽–聽and then聽along comes Avram and things change.

But before we marvel at Avram’s greatness, and we will, let’s reread the聽last paragraph of last week’s parsha, Noah. There we see that Terach set聽out from his homeland of Ur Kasdim with Avram and Nahor and Lot and聽Sarai, to go to Canaan, but when they reached Haran they stopped there.聽Why 鈥 we don’t know. Maybe Terach was tired. Maybe there were聽business opportunities he could not resist. But this means that Avram was聽commanded to leave the land he had come to with his father 鈥 if we do聽the math this may have been 65 years later, but still not his homeland.

And then the question of Lot. Why does Avram take Lot with him? Lot is聽not like Avram. He is very materialistic so his desire to go with Avram聽may be connected to Avram’s barrenness. And that may also explain聽Avram’s decision to take him. Avram and Sarai are childless and not聽likely to have children, so why not take Lot, his nephew, to be their聽surrogate son. After all, Lot’s father Haran (Avram’s youngest brother)聽died pretty early on. He needs a family, Avram wants a family 鈥 a win-win situation.

This also explains another story in the parsha. During the war between聽the four kings and the five kings, Lot is abducted. Avram gets his gang聽together and they go far north, almost to Damascus. That’s a long way to聽go without tanks and other machinery. (Imagine the headlines in the聽London Times 鈥 Hebrews massacre in Damascus). And why? Because聽Lot was family. A potential heir.

So we see that in our parsha Avram’s good actions are based on a sense of聽justice 鈥 but they are also rooted in pragmatics. Including fulfilling his聽father Terach’s original plan to go to Canaan.

But now we get to the special side of Avram’s behavior. He is in contact聽with God. Most cases of God-man relationships are one-sided. God聽doesn’t need anything. We need him for many reasons, (even if only to聽have someone to blame). Note that every time Avram deals with God,聽when some promise is made to shower him with riches and sire a nation聽and bring forth multiple progeny 鈥 there is always a price to pay.

You want to be MY representative on earth, leave your home. You want聽to sire my nation, go through circumcision. You want to have a child 鈥 go聽serve him up as a sacrifice. And each time, Avram says, YES LORD I聽AM READY, and he goes ahead and does what he is supposed to. At the聽same time he continues to stand up to God and even berate him: You’re聽making me a nation? You haven’t even given me one child! How dare聽you kill those murderous Sodomites without a trial …

This is a man of belief and of principles, and you can find a lot of such聽people around us today. They have strong beliefs and principles and will聽kill to uphold them. Disagree with them and they’ll kill you too.

What we don’t have enough of are people with beliefs and principles who聽also believe in the rights of others to live with their own principles. On聽both sides. The proportions of type 1 vs type 2 were obvious in the聽Beersheba bus station early this week when a mob shot and then聽pummeled a man to death because they thought he was a terrorist 鈥 and聽only one man tried (in vain) to stop them. Even if he had been a terrorist,聽there was no justification for this brutal behavior.

What we are seeing is the victory of our enemies over us. Not militarily.聽But ethically. Emotionally. We are on our way to becoming them in terms聽of behavior. It’s true we are under pressure. It’s true we feel frustrated by聽the occasional partial success of one attack or another. We want to release聽our frustrations, so we hit out. At others? More like at ourselves. At our聽roots. At our most basic tenets.

Lech lecha. It’s time for us to get going 鈥 toward the values of life and聽respect for others, even if some of the others have renounced them. We聽are Avram’s children. Let’s show that first to ourselves, and then to the聽world.

Shabbat Shalom