21st Century P’shat: 1-2 minute divrai Torah for each aliyah

Lech Lecha

  1. Lech Lecha starts like an old-fashioned long distance marriage. The bride leaves her land, the land of her birth and her father’s house and goes to a distance place she’ll be shown. The proposal is a good marriage in return. Avram accepts this marriage  just as Rivkah does later. He doesn’t know everything about the ‘groom.’ We think of Avram as a static character – but in fact this is just the first stage in a complex relationship.
  2. We progress from a man willing to fearlessly step into the void on G-d’s command. But then a famine hits, he goes to Egypt and he’s afraid of the Egyptians. How can he not think he’ll be protected? I think this sets up a great dichotomy in Avram – it is the baseline of a repeating pattern he must conquer.
  3. Here we truly set up the character of Lot and Avram. They are referred to as brothers. They aren’t fighting, their shepherds are. But Avram is so concerned about conflict that he’d rather push his ‘brother’ away than fight with him. Note that when it comes time to leave – it is Lot who takes the initiative. He travels Mikedem (which is best translated as ‘first.’ ‘From the East’ doesn’t make sense geographically.Avram has a relationship with another person that we’ve never seen before. We see a hint of it earlier – Avram works with his wife, another relationship first.
  4. When Lot is taken, Avram acts immediately and fearlessly – striking a very powerful force in the night with a tiny army. He is fearless where he takes the initiative. Particularly to protect those he loves. But there is something else that is interesting. Avram has a contractual alliance with two men – a brit. This seems to obligate them to come with him. This existence of this brit highlights the fact that he has no brit with Hashem.
  5. After the war, Avram doesn’t seem to believe Hashem’s promise – he wants more reassurance. Hashem promises him great reward and shows him the stars. And Avram believes. But more happens: he believes and it is counted for tzedek – righteousness. This line reminds me of the early Christians who wanted a society that didn’t need law. It could function on love alone. This seems to be Hashem’s goal – and it is the reason Avram’s belief is treated as tzedek.
  6. But it all changes so fast. Hashem recasts Avram’s leaving of Ur as an act of G-d. And somehow that undermines the belief. Avram demands reassurance. Why? If I look at myself, I am most comfortable with the choices I make. But when I feel like I have no control, I get fearful about what’s coming. Avram thought as Lech Lecha as he own act – but if Hashem did it, then he was actually out of control. It returns him to worry. The result is a very dark brit. A brit preceded by promises of slavery. And a brit that is not timeless. Avram never again asks for reassurance.
    1. Why are the iniquities of the Amorites iniquities critical to the bnei Avram returning? Because Avram’s contractual allies are Amorites. They have a brit with him and that protects their descendants. It is why their iniquity is not complete. But men can’t make timeless britot – only Hashem can. When it expires, their iniquities will be complete.
  7. After the birth of Ishmael we see the great brit – the timeless brit. Avram’s has internalized trust in Hashem with the actual birth of a son. Having children is our most G-dlike act – Shait (Seth) is described as being in Adam’s image using the exact same words as Adam is described as being in Hashem’s image. Avram recognizes that his greatest fear – not being able to emulate Hashem – won’t happen. With this recognition, he takes Hashem into himself – becoming Avraham. This trust, based on Avraham’s procreation, is sealed with the brit milah. We exist because Hashem kept his promise to Avram, but we are Jews because we learned that trust. We show our trust with the brit. But what is (up to this point) his greatest fear has been conquered.

In honor of Josh Black’s ufruf, I added the following comments at lunch:

The earliest action that sets Avraham apart is that he works with Sarah. There is no mention of love – just shared work and shared creation. From an intellectual (not biological) perspective, their marriage is the most important in human history. Avraham was the first man who worked with his wife and this changes everything. In their relationships, Yitzchak and Yaacov have explicit love, but their marriages have far greater troubles. I’m not telling you not to love. After all, this book of Torah never mentions Avraham’s love for Hashem or visa versa. But it is still there and it is mentioned Devarim as the source of our covenant with G-d.

My message is this; may you find shared purpose. A fundamental love with grow from it; an implicit love. The offspring of such a union will far exceed the merely physical and the world will be a better place.