Parashat Lekh Lekha (5780 – 2019)
Genesis 12:1 – 17:27
Our Torah portion is accompanied by a prophetic reading – haftarah (- “concluding reading”), as is every Torah portion. Each haftarah was chosen long ago, selected from a vast prophetic literature. It devolved on later generations to try to ascertain why each specific reading was matched with the Torah portion. Often the connection is clear and far-reaching. But sometimes the connections are less obvious.
Our Etz Hayim edition is blessed with a commentary on the haftarot by the eminent scholar, Michael Fishbane, that always discusses the relation between the haftarah and its Torah reading. The relation between the two is not only one of development of the earlier text (Torah) by the later text (haftarah). Reading the haftarah can also awaken us to themes and issues in the Torah reading that we otherwise might have passed over. Thus, aside from the connections that Prof. Fishbane points out, I believe that a reading of our haftarah this week can alert us to an element in our parashah that we might have ignored.
The prophetic reading consists of Isaiah’s words of encouragement and inspiration to the people Israel, the descendants of “Abraham, My lover.” (Isaiah 41:8) Of course this phrase, alone, could justify the choice of this text for our Torah reading. But we should also notice how Isaiah speaks of God in his words of encouragement. God is “the One Who gives strength to the weary (- noten la-ya`ef ko`ah), increasing might to one who has no more power left.” (Isaiah 40:29) This phrase struck deep roots in our collective consciousness, forming the basis for one of our first morning blessings, praising and thanking God as the One “Who gives strength to the weary.” The prophet urges us, in God’s Name, never to give up, even after long frustration, even in times of exile and alienation.
How might this connect with the story of Abraham and Sarah? As we read our Torah portion we should notice that the years of our First Parents, after they have arrived in the Promised Land, are filled with trials and tribulations. Some of them are very dramatic scenes of battles, encounters with foreign monarchs, and internal family tensions. But a far less dramatic test is alluded to by our Torah reading.
We are told that “Abraham was eighty-six years old when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, for Abram.” (Gen. 16:16) The next verse informs us: “And Abram was ninety-nine years old, and the Eternal appeared to Abram, and said to him,”I am El Shaddai! Walk before Me and become wholehearted.” (Gen. 17:1) The trial I am thinking of can be found in the gap between these two verses – a gap of thirteen years. After momentous revelations and communications from God to Abram, there exists a stretch of thirteen years during which Abram hears nothing at all from God! The Torah does not emphasize this or dwell on it in any way. But God’s new revelation must be heard in that context. How did Abram feel during this period of spiritual drought? How did he spend his days and years? He lived in the midst of a tense and unhappy family constellation. What did he work on? Did he still have a sense of mission and destiny? The Torah records no special events during these many years, no victories or struggles or travels.
And then God appears and speaks to Abraham as God had not done for over a decade. This sudden Divine revelation, remarkable for its content, is also remarkable for its timing. Somehow Abraham has not given up. He may have come to the end of his strength, but God is the One Who gives strength to the weary. When God says to Abram, “Walk before Me and become wholehearted,” we may hear these words not only as a command, but also as a consolation and an affirmation. Perhaps we should read it as “Keep walking before Me, as you have been doing, even though I have not been manifestly present for you as I once was. These years of silence have not been in vain. Once I commanded you to be a blessing. Now I assure you that, more and more, you are becoming a person with the purist, most loving heart.. Keep going!” Centuries later Isaiah took this message and spoke it to all of us.
Rabbi David Greenstein
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