How can we be worthy of God’s promise?
Table for Five: Lech Lecha
In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
And the Lord appeared to Abram, and He said, “To your seed I will give this land,” and there he built an altar to the Lord, Who had appeared to him. – Gen. 12:7
Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz, Valley Beth Shalom
There is a strange subtext in the land belonging “to your seed.” Did God give the land to Abram as well? Rather, the Torah advocates for an aspirational outlook that parents should intend for our children to enjoy greater wisdom and security. This feels intuitive for us, but it is not a concept that we should take for granted. In antiquity, Egyptians were buried with their servants and their wealth because they wished to carry their legacy into the next world. As Jews, the legacy of our lives remains our effect on future generations. We share this value as Americans as well. In 1963, President Kennedy famously said, “Although children may be the victims of fate, they will not be the victims of our neglect.” We must construct the best collective future possible for our children. This applies to protecting the future of Israel for our seed, especially at this moment. As the war ensues, and we hear calls for restraint, we must not forget the images of the atrocities committed against our children. Hamas isn’t interested in coexistence or peace. They want to kill our children, rape our daughters, behead our babies. This verse has become more pressing now than ever before. We cannot permit a future for our children that includes Hamas. In the same way that God asks humanity to steward the Earth, Jews hold the responsibility to steward the Holy Land. We must ask ourselves, “How am I helping to protect Israel for our children today?”
Cantor Michelle Bider Stone, Temple Beth Am
We feel helpless. We are so far away. A call goes out for luggage to bring goods to soldiers for the El Al flight the next morning. We mobilize. Hundreds of suitcases appear on Holt Ave within an hour. The cars overwhelm the street. What else can we do? We are 7,500 miles away. We feel helpless. Yet, in our minds, it’s as if we could reach out our windows and touch the sand of the Nova festival. Our fingertips graze the grass of Kibbutz Kfar Aza. Our hearts are shattered, bleeding on the living room floor where someone’s savta was murdered. The lumps in our throats remain in the miklat, in the safe room, with our cousins seeking shelter from rockets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Our souls are praying with our friends whose children are on tanks heading for the Gaza border.
“To Your seed I will give this land.” We may be 7,500 miles away, but we are the seed and this is our land. In this verse, Abraham follows God’s words with one action, he builds an altar. In the following verse, Abraham continues with four more actions. God tells Abraham that this land will be for his progeny, and Abraham responds with five verbs, five actions. We are a people of action. We feel compelled to do, so we don’t feel helpless. This land, this country is our homeland, and despite being far away, we will always be called to action. Am Yisrael Chai.
Elan Javanfard, L.M.F.T., Professor & Author, Psycho-Spiritual Insights blog
This passuk provides us a powerful lesson in the attitude of gratitude. Gratitude is a positive emotional response characterized by acknowledging and appreciating the benefits, kindness, or positive experiences received from others or life circumstances. The Or HaChaim writes the Torah wishes to compliment Avraham on his great love for Hashem, since Hashem appeared to him and promised him not only children but that his descendants would inherit Eretz Yisrael. Avraham considered the mere fact that Hashem appeared to him as sufficient reason to build an altar! The feeling that Hashem had deemed him worthy to appear to him was so overpowering that Avraham considered the promise of children and of the land as secondary. This is why the Torah stresses that he built the altar “to the Hashem who appeared to him.”
We can learn a valuable lesson from our forefather. Author Brené Brown writes, “What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” Incorporating gratitude into your daily routine through practices like gratitude journaling, expressing thanks, or engaging in acts of kindness can cultivate a positive outlook, improve our relationship with Hashem, and enhance overall quality of life. Gratitude is the last truly free gift remaining on this planet. Providing your time or just your presence can sometimes mean the world to someone. This can be perfectly summarized by David Hamlech in Psalms 16:11, “In Your presence is perfect joy.” May we all cultivate more gratitude into our lives and experience the ripple effect of receiving its gifts.
Rabbi/Cantor Eva Robbins, Co-Rabbi, Nvay Shalom & Faculty AJRCA
Imagine at the ripe old age of 75 you hear Gd speaking to you? Gd tells you to leave everything behind, your home, your family, and your birthplace. You’re told to go to some far-off land where you are to settle and become a great nation, “All will know your name and you will be blessed.” Most importantly you will be a blessing to all that come to know you. Wow, a pretty spectacular moment. The reward for your long life is to begin anew, this time with remarkable outcomes.
When you finally reach your destination there are inhabitants already there. Now what? This time Gd doesn’t just speak to you but appears to you, not once but twice, promising this land will become your heirs and you don’t even have a child. Imagine your response – shock, apprehension, fear, awe, gratitude? Avraham’s immediate response – ‘build an altar.’ In this overwhelming revelation he understands he will have a child and the future will generate incredible goodness. In Gd’s presence at his twilight years he has hope and an overwhelming need to express gratitude. He hears, he sees, and feels attached to the Holy One.
We are reminded that even in old age miracles and blessings await us. Opening ourselves to possibility, we can attune ourselves to Gd’s voice and presence. We too can become a blessing and seed greatness for our heirs. There is potential in every moment. As Psalm 92 reminds us, “They shall bring forth fruit in old age.”
Rabbi David Seidenberg, Creator, neohasid.org; author, Kabbalah and Ecology
Avram/Avraham is promised the land four times in Lekh Lekha. The first time is our verse, then 13:15, 15:18, and 17:8. But inside this promise is another: do injustice, betray the poor, attack the stranger, mistreat the land, and God promises to expel you from the land. This is implicit in the dark revelation that comes between the second and third times God gifts Avram the land, when Avram is told: “Your seed will be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them…for the sin of the Emorites is not full” (15:13). This second promise becomes explicit in subsequent books of the Torah and Prophets.
This week seems like the wrong week to talk about this promise, when we are aching so deeply over the murders and hostages taken by Hamas, may they be uprooted. But what if we are just filling up our own “sin-quota” until we get served with another exile? Because if the covenant is real, no enemy can dislodge the Jewish people from the land, except if we force God’s hand by miscarrying justice. That includes telling Gaza civilians to flee without establishing a way for them to flee safely – a Torah command and not just part of the Geneva Conventions. A third promise follows the second: if we humble our hearts, even if we are in exile, God will re-establish us in the land. May Hashem grant us strength to make a pre-emptive strike by humbling our hearts now.
Image: Bethel, where Abraham built altar
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