Lech Lecha 5782
Into history’s stage walks Avram with his wife Sarai and the members of their extended family and troupe. God calls to Avram, “Go forth … 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 shall be a blessing.” This is the beginning of the covenant, or brit, specific between God and our people. Prior to this, God had made a covenant with all humanity after Noah: no longer to destroy the world again. With humanity failing as greatly after Noah as it had with Adam, and another destruction of the table, God intends to establish a model society, through Avram and his people. They will go to a land dedicated to God’s purpose. This week’s parasha begins the story of Avram.
While given this incredible promise and challenge, Avram realises it does not come easily. First there is a famine in the land and he and Sarai must descend into Egypt, where their lives are at risk. Upon return, his shepherds and those of his nephew Lot’s quarrel and he must resolve the problem by dividing the land. Then Lot is kidnapped and Avram must go to war to rescue him. His place in the land tenuous, his age advancing, and he queries how will the promise of a new people in a new land be fulfilled. In a mysterious vision God confirms that the promise indeed will be fulfilled, the brit of land and people, but first this people will suffer hardship and servitude. Avram and Sarai, still being childless, resort to having a child, Ishmael, by Sarai’s handmaid, Hagar. Finally, God asks Avram to circumcise himself and the males of his household as a sign of the covenant. While renamed by God as part of the unfolding promise, Avraham and Sarah still are barren at the end of this week’s parasha.
Does God intervene in humanity’s affairs in this way? Some believe so fully. Others do not. For the latter, how can this story be understood? By handing down this story, one generation to the next, our ancestors handed us an important mission. Our ancestors perceived that ultimate perfection of creation was in our hands; that there was no re-set button like Noah’s flood. We took on a faith that commanded we would serve and preserve this earth, care for animals and fight for liberty and justice. With this task, the parasha teaches, comes challenge and struggle. It has never been – and it will never be – easy to be a faith people. Yet our first ancestors, Avraham and Sarah, set us on our path: to be covenanted to a higher purpose, which they called the service of God. In Judaism, we imagine God in Judaism as Creator, Revealer and Redeemer. We say we are in God’s image, and thus our human task: to preserve our creation, to search for deeper truth and meaning in life, and to bring justice to this world.
Rabbi Jeffrey B. Kamins