January 27, 2020

Weekly Parsha: Lech Lecha

One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

“And I will bless those who bless you, [Abram], and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.” –Genesis 12:3

Rabbi Jason Rosner
Temple Beth Israel, Highland Park 

Rabbeinu Bachya, writing around 1300 C.E., suggests we should understand our verse as an explanation of Genesis 12:1: “leave your parents’ house.” He states that Abram felt cursed when he lived with his parents in Ur Casdim. The townspeople criticized his emerging belief system. In order to be his full self, he needed his own residence. Sarai and Abram grew into fully adult characters when they established their own home. The important developmental step of establishing a home can be difficult in today’s housing crisis. Despite leaving the spacious R1 homes of Ur Casdim, Abram and Sarai felt quite blessed to live in their own tents. 

The feeling of security associated with buying a home seems increasingly out of reach. In the Journal’s Oct. 18 edition, it was reported that only 16% of millennials and Generation Z-ers surveyed in Los Angeles County own their residences. Those without the means to buy struggle to afford high rents and can feel cursed by an inability to overcome their financial challenges. Property values are high and zoning regulations are strict. Sarai and Abram changed their concept of housing from metropolitan Ur Casdim to pastoralist’s tents; perhaps we can rethink housing, too. We could consider changing zoning regulations, exploring co-housing or encouraging tiny homes. How would the Torah have unfolded if Abram lived in fear of rent hikes or dwelt indefinitely with his parents in Ur Casdim? Let us work together toward every person feeling blessed with adequate and stable housing. I have always fancied living in a yurt.

Rabbi Tal Sessler
Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel 

Our verse states that God will bless those who bless us, and undermine those who wish us harm. A quick glance at our tumultuous history factually confirms the veracity of this dynamic. For example, when medieval Spain was hospitable to us, it flourished. After it became oppressive, the countdown for its hegemonic demise began. The same holds with regard to countless other global historical powers. 

Even to this day, the one country that genuinely affords its Jews true equality and dignity, the United States, is indeed blessed by God as a supreme hegemonic superpower. Why is humanity blessed through us? According to Catholic historian Paul Johnson, it’s because we remind humanity that “history has meaning, and that humanity has a destiny.” Because, according to the late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, we are “the most remarkable race” that ever walked the earth. Because, according to Thomas Jefferson, we “have done more to civilize mankind” than any other group in history. Because we are indefatigable agents of change for the betterment of the overall human landscape. Because Jewish teachers and scholars facilitated the emergence of our fellow monotheistic religions of Christianity and Islam. Because we engineered much of the ideational infrastructure of Western and human civilization as we know it, including socialism, capitalism, psychoanalysis, modern nuclear physics, postmodern thought and much more. Having survived genocide, we exemplify the human spirit’s capacity to achieve “the victory of possibility over probability,” with the State of Israel epitomizing the modern virtues of resilience, adaptability, ingenuity, innovation and proactivity. 

Miriam Yerushalmi
CEO SANE, counselor, author of “Reaching New Heights”

HaShem expands on His promise to Avraham in the preceding verse that he “will be a blessing.” How will Avraham be a blessing? Because he will lead others to be blessed, if they follow his example. Avraham realized that God, the Creator who controls everything, is entirely good; therefore, everything that comes from God is good. 

Avraham’s strong connection to God enabled him to always recognize his blessings, even when they were disguised as what others might see as a curse. When thrown into the fire by Nimrod, Avraham was unaffected by the flames, for to him they were the same as water. Those who appreciate this quality of living life as a blessing have further blessed Avraham for his demonstration of it, and they themselves have been blessed to be a part of “the families of the Earth [that] shall be blessed” in Avraham’s merit. 

Life’s blessings, hidden within seemingly harsh realities, challenge each of us to reach deep within ourselves to recognize them. Those who fail to see the blessings in every aspect of their lives, whether they are apparent or appear as the most difficult challenges — physical or emotional — will be inclined to grant those challenges an undeserved power over themselves. As children of Avraham, each of us has inherited his gift of seeing and being a blessing. Chassidus can guide us to the discovery and development of that gift. May each of us be blessed to access, apply and transmit to future generations that precious gift. 

Rabbi Aryeh Markman
Executive director, Aish LA

The Torah means what it says.

In the biblical year 1948 (there are no coincidences) Abraham, the original, prototypical Jew, was born. Seventy-five years later, he is self-actualized to the point that God deems him and his Jewish descendants to be the First Family of humanity.

The Jews will now forever be the vehicles upon which God’s blessings flow into this world. We are part of God’s distribution system. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, driven by jealousy, knows this to be true.

To the extent that Jews manifest Torah in the world, we are increasing God’s presence and hence His capacity to send His blessings to all of humankind. The rest of the world benefits from the overflow of what we are generating. Those who aid and abet the Jews will thrive and those who do the opposite will evidentially be destroyed. Biblical Math 101.

For example, you would rather help one of your beloved’s friends than one of his or her enemies, even if the enemies have just cause. So, too, is it with God. He would rather assist those who try to help the Jewish people rather than those who try to thwart us.

Which brings us to ourselves. Are we Jews blessing one another or the opposite? Maybe all this political and personal infighting is bringing troubles upon us. All it takes is a new attitude. The Torah means what it says.

Deborah Engel Kollin
Organizational consultant, LGBTQ+ advocate

I know if I were Avram, I’d be thinking: “How can all the families on Earth be blessed in me? How can I, a 70-year-old nobody from Ur, possibly be a source of blessing to everyone on Earth?” 

The answers to those hypothetical questions, it turns out, are revealed in the Torah. In the next pasuk we’re told, “Avram went forth,” following God’s command to do so. Avram took not only his wife, Sarai, and cousin Lot, but a caravan of people as well. He and his wife, Sarai, were subsequently blessed and God’s name was added to each of theirs. They became Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu — the Jewish nation’s father and mother, respectively. 

Just as they took a huge leap of faith, went forth, and trusted in God’s guidance, we, too, must go forth using the Torah as our spiritual guidebook and engaging in mitzvot. By showing loving kindness to all who we meet — just as Avraham and Sarah did — we not only end up being a blessing to all but also, hopefully, being blessed by all.