In these most difficult times, our parsha can provide comfort and strength. Lech Lecha opens with God’s instruction to Abraham to leave behind everything he has known and head into the unknown. The Torah tells us that he is 75 and as he heads towards the land we know he is challenged with famine, the abduction of his wife, family strife and a parting of ways with his nephew Lot, pleading with God about the destruction of Sodom and Lot’s survival, a horrific war between the four and five kings who take his nephew hostage, thus drawing Abraham into the fray as he goes to rescue his kin and end the fighting.
It is no wonder that after all these events, God appears to Abraham to reassure him: “Al tirah” (Genesis 15:1) (Don’t be afraid). Each of these events, horrific and scarring in their own way, make it easy for us to understand that Abraham looks to God wondering whether his luck is about to run out and afraid of what is to come next. In a world that runs according to natural law, he has only survived as a result of God’s miracles and that zechut (merit) is needed for this. After the war concluded, Abraham was particularly worried that supporters of the vanquished kings would come after him, but that his gemillat chesed (loving kindness) in rescuing his hostage nephew Lot created merit for him. The Talmud informs us that loving kindness has no shiyur (limit) for how much we engage in it and that its reward is both goodness in this world – perhaps through the creation of feelings of unity as a result of our actions – and recognition in the world to come, where we will truly see the impact of our deeds.
God goes a step further, promising Abraham a great reward: if he steps out of his tent and looks up, both literally and metaphorically, from outside the astrological determination that he will have no lasting progeny, then he will see that his children will be as numerous as the stars. Jewish people are not bound by astrology, so how could Abraham really have thought that he was destined to die without the legacy of children? The answer lies in a fundamental lesson about us as a Jewish people. As a group, we live, survive and thrive outside of normative understandings and the natural way of the world. But as individuals we can be dealt good and bad hands as anyone might. In this circumstance God regarded Abraham not as an individual but as someone He gave His name to for the purposes of prayer – Elokai Abraham – the God of Abraham, the forefather of a people and therefore someone to whom is given a legacy that supersedes everything the natural world would have determined. Abraham was judged as a people.
How presciently then does our parsha speak to everything we are experiencing now, in the 75th year of the State of Israel. After much strife between brothers, we have had the most unspeakable acts perpetrated against us. It has resulted in the greatest outpouring of gemillat chesed (loving kindness) from Jewish people all across the world. In times of greatest fear, there has been overwhelming support and we have heard of miraculous stories amidst the horror. It is clear from our parsha that uniting together is the key to coming through this. The power of our peoplehood is a most vital tool for strength during these times.
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