This is the D'var Torah I plan to give tomorrow in services, October 28, 2023 for Parashat Lech L'cha, the opening of the saga of Sarah and Avraham, three weeks after the Hamas attacks of October 7 and as the war continues in Gaza.
Who said the Torah had to be divided into 54 roughly equal sections? Why aren’t we able to stay with Bereshit and Noach for longer -- to talk not just about the Creation, the Garden of Eden and the Flood, but Cain and Abel, the giants, the rainbow, the Tower of Babel and subsequent spreading out over the globe. If it were up to me I would stretch those out for a few weeks. We could easily catch up later and read all of Leviticus in just three weeks.
This is what I think every year. But if you’ve been tracking my Divrei Torah since we started the Torah again, a week after October 7, you’ll know how much I haven’t wanted to have Avraham and Sarah in my face, just yet. Dreading them, really. Sarah and Avraham are about a burst of spiritual excellence into the world, they are a vanguard of new consciousness and beginning to build a community around that.
I have not this week wanted to be told to look hard for those things, or to tell you to. I don’t feel ready for excellence. And so I have said two weeks ago and last week.
And most of all, I just want in my words and my actions to help take care of us who are here -- here dealing with everything, in Israel and our own lives; here displaced from homes in Israel, here connected to what’s happening in any way.
But Torah is wise, and so too the rabbis who made this schedule and did not base it on any week’s events, so here we are.
Our Torah reading starts (Genesis 13:1) with a call to Avram, Lech L’cha, and an implicit call to Sarai, Lechi Lach. Go, you -- go as you, from where you are to a new place I will one day show you. You will be a great nation, blessed, a blessing for all the families of the earth. And those who bless you will be blessed. Now be a blessing.
It is good to hear that again right now. I think left to ourselves we might be saying this, that we are a blessing, and so many people are hollering the opposite at us. But -- You will be a great nation, a blessing, and those who bless you will be blessed.
Well this whole Torah reading, it could be ripped from the headlines. Avram and Sarai are called and arrive in the Land of Israel. But soon there’s a famine, and immediate exile. Sarai is taken into captivity in Egypt, and then she is rescued.
Avram and his nephew Lot, their shepherds quarrel, and they end up partitioning the land they have just come back to. Lot goes to live in the area of S'dom, and Avram stays in the central mountains.
There is a regional war, and Lot is taken captive, along with others and their property, and Avram launches a military operation to get them back.
One of the kings, the King of Shalem which may be Jerusalem, offers to reward Avram with riches in appreciation of liberating his captives, but Avram refuses to take any more than what he needs to pay his men and their expenses.
When God appears to Avram one night, God says: Don’t be afraid. I am protecting you. But Avram says: I am walking alone. How do I know this future will actually happen. (Genesis 15:2)
And God shows him the stars of the sky and repeats the promise, and God asks Avram to arrange a sacrifice, and puts Avram into a deep sleep, and tells him that his people will endure a long difficult oppression, 400 years, and then the promises will be fulfilled.
Sarai tries to speed up the process, by offering Hagar, her servant, to have a child for them. But the two women quarrel, and Hagar is banished, until an angel comes to her and tells her that her son will be great, though she Hagar will have to return to the home and suffer in the meantime.
God appears again to Avram and repeats the promises, about the land and their future people, gives him the covenant of circumcision, brit milah, announces the birth of child to Sarai, and changes their names, to Avraham and Sarah, bringing the soft sound of God’s own name into theirs.
Lech l’cha. Lechi lach. Go, you. Be blessed, others will be blessed by you. Those who bless you will be blessed. Now be a blessing.
Ani holech ariri. But I am walking alone. So says Avram to go, so many of us feel this week.
Lechi lach. Lech l’cha. Go, you; you are a blessing.
There are types of interpretations of the words Lech l’cha in our commentaries, and they are based on the ambiguity of a prefix, of the lamed in l’cha. One interpreation says: Go for you, and the other says: Go to you.
Rashi says go for yourself -- go because it’s good for you, and it will bring you benefit. A lot of the chasidic writers jump off and say further -- go toward what’s good for you. Go there because there is good for you. Go and become a blessing.
This is a hard one right now. Go toward this land of Israel which is good for you? it is, fundamentally, but so much is not good in living there just right now. It’s dangerous.
And go, us, and become more of a blessing? That is so hard right now, there and here.
And yet many people are doing it. In small acts of chesed, in remaking old connections, so people will not have to say ani holech ariri, I am walking alone. By picking up something to read or a podcast to listen to, to be better grounded. I am tremendously impressed with the response of Jewish leaders and alumni around some universities, where we are replying and standing up with strong and thoughtful statements and actions, not sinking to the level of the intimidations our students feel or the extreme and sloppy statements of opposing groups. Students feeling very alone are feeling a bit less ani holech ariri.
The second interpretaion is that Lech l’cha means go to yourself. Right now one of the most important things we can realize is that a lot of the things we need are in us already. It’s not that we know everything, that we’re all political scientists, and it’s not that any of us know the future and what the fighting will mean for Israel or for Jews.
But each of us knows something enough to say a comforting word to someone. Each of us can find a feeling that is authentic, a truth that is true in our core and generous to a person who needs us. Each of us knows something about we feel blessed to be Jewish at this time in our lives and our history. It doesn’t have to be the same for all of us; far from it. And from those things you know, none of us have to say ani holech ariri, I am walking alone.
Lechi lach, lech l’cha, go to yourself because that’s what you have. Sarai and Avram, when they first got the lech l’cha call they were already on the way, they knew something about why they were going even though they didn’t know the whole thing and God wasn’t telling it all to them.
And some of what it means collective lyto go to ourselves is to go to our Torah, which is the repository of all our souls and all our stories. I read out to you what’s in the whole week’s parasha because we already have been in some of these places already. We walk with our generations. We have their experiences, their wisdom about the things recorded in the parasha. We are blessed through them -- we are not alone.
I still hope to meet Sarah and Avraham as our avatars of spiritual excellence, maybe this week while their story is still before us in the weekly parasha and for sure sometime soon, as long as we meet in this House of Sarah and Avraham, this Beit Avraham v’Sarah.
But even this week, the call of L’chi lach, lech l’cha is emphatically for us. When we might say ani holech ariri, I am walking alone -- we are not. Go as you are now, from where you are to a new place I will one day show you. You will be a great nation, blessed, a blessing for all the families of the earth. You are a blessing. you are a blessing. And those who bless you will be blessed. It's good to hear those words again. Now be a blessing.