Let It Go – Parshat Lech Lecha 5780


There are different kinds of apologies. Some we make as a way to acknowledge that we’ve done something seriously wrong and to take ownership of our actions with intention to change our ways. Other apologies are much less formal and serious, like an apology for being late or for stepping on someone’s toes. Then there are the shallow apologies that don’t really mean anything, like a three-year-old who knows the only way to get dessert is to apologize for something, even if they don’t even know what they’re apologizing for. 

But what’s powerful about the ability to apologize is that it also puts the recipient of the apology in the position to forgive. This week we read Parshat Lech Lecha. Parshat Lech Lecha brings us finally into the narrative of Abraham and Sarah and the rest of our history as the Jewish people. The text begins with (then) Avram and Sarai leaving their land, the land that they knew and felt comfortable in, to go to Egypt and follow God’s command. The text continues with their ongoing problems in Egypt and ends with their name changes from Avram to Avraham (Abraham in English) and Sarai to Sarah.

One piece of this story has always intrigued me. God comes to Abraham and gives him the message that he should go and leave this land he’s known for the place that God will show him. Once on this journey, he finds himself under the rule of a foreign king, and the first thing Abraham does is ask Sarah to lie for him. He creates this lie out of fear that the foreign king will kill Sarah if he knows she is Abraham’s wife, but nonetheless, Abraham’s first act in the Torah is asking someone to lie for him.

How do we reconcile this with the image of Abraham our forefather, the one who we refer to first when listing Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Does this act befit the father of this great nation of people and the one whose children number more than the stars in the sky? Why do we forgive Abraham?

Perhaps it’s not because Abraham learns his lesson (although he does work toward living an honest, better life after that). Instead, maybe the lesson is for us. Abraham isn’t a perfect role model, and he certainly made mistakes along the way, but perhaps that’s to teach us forgiveness and humanity. Human beings make mistakes. We mess up, sometimes we try to cover it up, eventually we get found out (look to the example of Adam and Eve), then hopefully we make amends, accept the consequences, and move on. 

We live in a world in which the expectation of perfection is extremely high. We hold our leaders, teachers, and preachers to a standard of perfection that just isn’t attainable. Human beings make mistakes. Yes, some are unforgivable and irreparable. But some simply need an apology and the ability to move on and learn from the mistake.

In the end, forgiveness is what moves us forward – forgiveness of ourselves and others. Parshat Lech Lecha reminds us that if we never allowed Abraham to be flawed, the great nation he started might never have had a chance to exist at all. 


You Do You – Parshat Lech Lecha 5779


Every morning my daughter’s preschool class begins with free play. There are options to play blocks, or draw, build or explore. Nine times out of ten, though, Shiri is playing dress up. Sometimes the outfits are hilarious, with as many layers piled on as she can put on her body. Other times she’s a doctor, a waitress, a princess, or a mommy. Imaginative and creative play are staples in our preschool classrooms because they allow our children to try on different roles, explore what it means to be the leader or a follower, and discover what feels comfortable and what feels unique and different. It’s natural for there to be a lot of gender fluidity in early childhood development. That doesn’t mean that genders are changing, it just means children are experimenting with different roles. Play is without gender or stereotype at this age, and there is great strength and beauty when children explore their world to find their authentic selves.

As adults, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut being who we think we’re supposed to be instead of being our best selves. This challenge of human adult life has been around for a while, and in fact the same thing happened to Abraham. This week we read Parshat Lech Lecha. In Parshat Lech Lecha, we are finally introduced to Avram and Sarai – later Avraham and Sarah – who become the great patriarch and matriarch of the rest of our narrative. We learn that Avraham follows God with full intent, without questioning, and that Sarah goes with him. God tells him to leave his home, leave the only house he’s ever known, and go to a place he knows nothing about. He’s following God’s voice and taking a leap of faith.

The text begins, “The Lord said to Avram, ‘Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” A literal translation of lech l’cha is “go forth” or “betake yourself.” However, the Mei Hashiloach, a compilation of the teachings of Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, translates this in a midrash as, “Go forth to find your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be.” In other words, the text lists the various levels of “leaving” or “exploration” which a person must go through in order to identify who their true, authentic self is.

To add this concept to what we already know about Avraham, finding yourself isn’t simply deciding to be the true you; it’s physically seeking out that person. In order to be your best, most authentic self, there’s a journey to travel, and the hardest part of the journey is the possibility that some less authentic part might be shed in order to make a new discovery. But as we learn with Avraham, we must go forth and explore – only then can we be sure to bring our gifts into the world.

Self Preservation – Parshat Lech Lecha 5778


We all do things out of self-preservation. It’s the first law of nature, says Samuel Butler. Self-preservation as a parent means that sometimes you turn off the sound on toys or take out batteries so you don’t lose your mind over that one song that plays over and over again. Other acts of self-preservation for the sake of sanity might be avoiding Facebook during political high tide, or staying away from the mall around Christmas (or perhaps anytime after Labor Day, since that’s apparently the start of the season now). Been there, done those.

Granted, not all self-preservation is as benign and banal as these examples; sometimes it’s literal. We have to find ways to prevent ourselves from getting into dangerous situations, and that can be a matter of survival.

We see a prime example of the self-preservation mode in this week’s parshah, Lech Lecha. Parshat Lech Lecha brings us finally into the narrative of Abraham and Sarah and the beginning of the rest of our history as the Jewish people. The text begins with Avram and Sarai leaving their land, the land that they knew and felt comfortable in, to go to Egypt and follow God’s command. The text continues with their ongoing problems in Egypt and ends with their name changes from Avram to Avraham and Sarai to Sarah.

Upon their arrival in the new land, Abraham fears for their lives. He’s afraid his beautiful wife Sarah might be taken from him and that he might even be killed in the process. Like any of us might do, he shifts into self-preservation mode and tells Sarah to lie about her identity. She is to be his sister, not his wife. Unfortunately the plan ends up backfiring, but there is Abraham, our forefather and first leader of the monotheistic movement, and the first words he utters in the Torah are a lie for self-preservation.

We teach our children that lying is never OK, but there are situations that might force us to walk that line when it comes to the lives of loved ones. Of course taking the batteries out of a toy or hiding a book you’ve read a thousand times are certainly not actions taken in life and death situations. On the other hand, they do illustrate the occasional necessity of sacrificing a little emet bayit (truth in the home) for the sake of shalom bayit (peace in the home).

Winning the Lottery – Parshat Lech Lecha 5777

Winning the Lottery

In January of this year, TIME magazine published an article about the terrible things that happen to lottery winners. The article quotes a study that found that 70% of people who come into large sums of money lose it only a few years later. The author goes on to cite several examples of worst-case scenarios involving big ticket winners, including bankruptcy and even murder.

Monetary wealth comes at a price. Literally. Of course your chances of surviving the pitfalls of being rich are probably greater if the wealth is accumulated over time rather than all at once. However, in either case money (in all amounts) carries the burden of responsibility to use it wisely.

Perkei Avot teaches, “More money, more problems,” of course borrowing from Notorious B.I.G., who teaches “Mo Money Mo Problems.” The rabbis were trying to remind us that with the good comes the bad. As some Powerball winners discover, more money seems like a blessing until it creates more problems than you started with. This week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, also has an interesting take on that very idea.

Parshat Lech Lecha brings us finally into the narrative of Abraham and Sarah and the true beginning of our history as the Jewish people. The text begins with Avram and Sarai leaving their land, the land that they knew and felt comfortable in, to follow God’s command and go to Egypt. The text continues with their ongoing problems in Egypt and ends with the changing of their names from Avram/Abram to Avraham/Abraham and Sarai to Sarah.

Early in the parshah we learn that Abraham went from Egypt back to the Negev with all that he had, together with his nephew Lot. The Torah teaches in chapter 13, verse 2, “Now Abram was very rich in cattle, silver and gold.” That is to say, Abraham had a lot of possessions, and that meant that theoretically he also had a lot of power.

But the Hebrew word for “rich” the Torah uses here is not one that suggests the power of riches. Instead, the word kaved is used, which translates to mean heavy or burdened. Furthermore, wealth is relative and subjective. Abraham was rich with material items, but as we learn later, felt “poor” before he and Sarah were finally able to build a family together. The Torah leads us to believe that perhaps for a righteous person like Abraham, great wealth is accompanied by the great burden to use it responsibly. May this be our lesson as well.

[photo credit: apardavila PowerBall jackpot is a whopping $800 million via photopin (license)]

Enough Is Enough – Parshat Lech Lecha 5776

Enough is Enough

I remember when I learned that the Hebrew word for “enough” was “dy.” I was just a little kid in Hebrew class, and when you’re young, it’s a little jarring when your teacher says, “Die, die!” As I learned, she didn’t actually wish me ill, although if you knew me as a child, perhaps the sentiment was fairly close.

You might know this word from the Passover seder, when we sing “Dy-dyainu,” about what would have been enough for God to do for the Israelites. There is something somewhat poetic about a word that in English means the end of a life and in Hebrew means an adequate quantity of something. Of course we all want to feel at the end of our lives that we’ve lived enough, to look back on a full, complete life.

This week we read parshat Lech Lecha, which is often noted as the true beginning of the Israelite nation as we know it in the rest of the Torah. In this text we are introduced officially to Abraham and Sarah. We learn of their marriage and their problems trying to conceive. More than that, we see Abraham lead his family into new territory (religiously and physically) and struggle with what it means to be an outsider. At the very core of this section of text is the narrative of God and Abraham coming to an agreement and bonding with each other for the future. This is the moment that marks the establishment of ritual and tradition that has evolved to become the Judaism of today.

In chapter 17 of Genesis we read, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am El Shaddai. Walk in my ways and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will make you exceedingly numerous.’” This is God’s call to Abraham (then Abram) to step up and take on the leadership of an entire nation.

Unique to this single passage is the name God uses here; “El Shaddai” isn’t a clear name for God. A midrash teaches that this is the phrase “El sh’dai,” which can be translated as “the God who says enough.” One possible interpretation is that God has had enough of people acting without righteousness, without responsibility. God turns to Abraham and says, “Enough of this!” and demands righteous behavior of them. Abraham accepts this decree, affirming the covenant with his circumcision, and he steps up to teach humanity what a God-ordained life can mean.

The Torah reminds us this week that exclaiming “Dy!” (Enough!) isn’t just about ending a negative action or a frustrating situation. It also signals the start of a positive one. History is filled with “enough” moments, from Moshe to Rosa Parks, from Hannah Szenes to Harvey Milk. A call for “enough” can mean standing up for what needs to change or taking control of a situation to make that change happen. May we have the courage to be able to say “enough” and the awareness to be able to know when.