Thursday 3 November 2022

Shabbos Tzetl: Lech Lecha

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Genesis 12:1–17:27
G‑d speaks to Abram, commanding him, "Go from your land, from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you." There, G‑d says, he will be made into a great nation. Abram and his wife, Sarai, accompanied by his nephew Lot, journey to the land of Canaan, where Abram builds an altar and continues to spread the message of a one G‑d.

A famine forces the first Jew to depart for Egypt, where beautiful Sarai is taken to Pharaoh's palace; Abram escapes death because they present themselves as brother and sister. A plague prevents the Egyptian king from touching her, and convinces him to return her to Abram and to compensate the brother-revealed-as-husband with gold, silver and cattle.

Back in the land of Canaan, Lot separates from Abram and settles in the evil city of Sodom, where he falls captive when the mighty armies of Chedorlaomer and his three allies conquer the five cities of the Sodom Valley. Abram sets out with a small band to rescue his nephew, defeats the four kings, and is blessed by Malki-Zedek the king of Salem (Jerusalem).

G‑d seals the Covenant Between the Parts with Abram, in which the exile and persecution (galut) of the people of Israel is foretold, and the Holy Land is bequeathed to them as their eternal heritage.

Still childless ten years after their arrival in the Land, Sarai tells Abram to marry her maidservant Hagar. Hagar conceives, becomes insolent toward her mistress, and then flees when Sarai treats her harshly; an angel convinces her to return, and tells her that her son will father a populous nation. Ishmael is born in Abram's eighty-sixth year.

Thirteen years later, G‑d changes Abram's name to Abraham ("father of multitudes"), and Sarai's to Sarah ("princess"), and promises that a son will be born to them; from this child, whom they should call Isaac ("will laugh"), will stem the great nation with which G‑d will establish His special bond. Abraham is commanded to circumcise himself and his descendants as a "sign of the covenant between Me and you." Abraham immediately complies, circumcising himself and all the males of his household.

Isaiah 40:27-41:16.

The haftorah for this week discusses Abraham's journey to the land of Canaan at G‑d's behest, and touches upon Abraham's miraculous battle against the four kings, both of which are described in this week's Torah reading.

The prophet Isaiah addresses Israel's complaint: ""My way [of serving G‑d] has been ignored by the Lord, and from my G‑d, my judgment passes [unrewarded]."

Isaiah reminds Israel of the Creator's greatness. The time will come when "He will give the tired strength, and to him who has no strength, He will increase strength. Youths shall become tired and weary, and young men shall stumble, but those who put their hope in the Lord shall renew [their] vigor, they shall raise wings as eagles; they shall run and not weary, they shall walk and not tire." Nevertheless, "there is no comprehension of His wisdom," and as such, at times we cannot understand why He chooses to delay the reward of the righteous.

The haftorah then turns its attention to the idolatrous nations of the world. Isaiah reminds them of Abraham's greatness, how after arriving in Canaan he pursued and defeated four mighty kings. "The islands saw and feared; the ends of the earth quaked." Nevertheless, the nations who witnesses these miracles did not abandon their ways. "The [idol] craftsman strengthened the smith, the one who smoothes [the idol] with the hammer strengthened the one who wields the sledge hammer; the one who glues its coating says, "It is good," and he strengthened it with nails that it should not move..."

G‑d promises the Jewish nation to reward them for their loyalty to G‑d. "Do not fear for I am with you; be not discouraged for I am your G‑d. . . Behold all those incensed against you shall be ashamed and confounded; those who quarreled with you shall be as naught and be lost."


No longer shall your name be called Abram. Your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you a father of a multitude of nations (17:5)

Abraham's name change, in conjunction with his circumcision and his entry into a covenant with G‑d, marked a profound turning point in his life. Up until this point, the thrust of Abraham's life was his spiritual relationship with G‑d; from this point on it was to be his role as a leader of the masses, a teacher of the divine truth to the "multitudes." Thus the Hebrew letter hei was added to his name. Abram (Avram, in the Hebrew) is a compound of av ram, which means "exalted father"; Abraham stands for av hamon goyim—a father of multitudes of nations.

But according to this, his name should have been changed to Abham. Why was the letter reish, which stood for the ram (exalted) in his name, left in? There is no reish in the phrase "a father of multitudes of nations."

Often, there is a tendency for teachers and leaders to water down their message to their constituents. For myself, they say, I must set the highest standards and strive to understand the most sublime truths. But it is foolish to expect the same of everyone else. If I speak of such matters and make such demands, I will only be perceived as out of touch with reality. Indeed, the rarefied insight and pious behavior I have attained will only be coarsened and debased by its communication to the masses.

Therein lies the lesson of the "irremovable reish" in Abraham's name. G‑d added a hei, anointing him as a leader for the hamon (multitudes), but left the reish of "exalted" in. For the true mark of a teacher is one who can convey the most sublime truths to the most ordinary of minds, and the true mark of a leader is one who can inspire the loftiest aspirations in the most mundane of hearts. Such a teacher and leader was Abraham, and such is the quality of leadership he bequeathed to his heirs in their role as a light unto the nations.

(From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)

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