Tag Archives: Bereshit

D’var Torah: Parashat Lech L’cha

10 Oct
English: Reading of the Torah, Aish Synagogue,...

English: Reading of the Torah, Aish Synagogue, Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Parashat Lech L’cha narrows further the focus of the book of Bereshit. We began with God’s creating of the world, and then focused on the specific creation of humans. We then zoom out to learn of the ten generations that stretch from Adam to Noah, before spending some time with Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives. From Noah to Avram we once again have a global perspective as the Torah informs us of the details of the ten generations in between them before finally settling on one family and then one couple, Avram and Sarai (I am deliberately excluding Lot). In reading the parasha, I found two small elements to be extremely personally significant, and I’d like to share those thoughts here.

Avram, as he is still called at the beginning of Lech L’cha, is 75 years old when he departs his home for the land that God will show him. Regardless of whether or not we think the ages in Bereshit are metaphorical or literal, the significance of his advanced age carries considerable personal relevance and resonance. In two short weeks I will be beginning my service in the IDF. Most soldiers, during their compulsory service, are between the ages of 18 and 22.  I am 27. I will be older than my fellow soldiers and older than the majority of my commanders. Yet I have (somewhat) chosen to uproot myself from my life as it is currently constructed, at an advanced (read: old for the army) age and join the fighting forces of the IDF. Clearly the differences between us are vast, but in my imagining of Avram’s experience, these weeks of anticipation have shed some light on what he might have been feeling. Overwhelmed with questions: is this decision correct? what is the cost? was there something better? what if it does not go as planned? what if I fail? what if I hate it? what if I like it? what will be? what is my role? Neither my questions nor Avram’s can possibly be answered for quite some time. Nonetheless, we are bound by a sense of mission and a drive to make a sacrifice of epic personal proportions for the sake of a goal that we hope is ultimately everlasting, the building and protecting of the Jewish people.

On a separate but related note, this week I had the distinct pleasure of attending a ceremony at the Kotel (Western Wall) where some very dear friends were being sworn into the Paratroopers Brigade. Every soldier, combat and non-combat swears his or her allegiance to the State of Israel and and The Army. The oath:

הנני נשבע(ת) ומתחייב(ת) בהן צדקי לשמור אמונים למדינת ישראל לחוקיה ולשלטונותיה המוסמכים, לקבל על עצמי ללא תנאי וללא סייג עול משמעתו של צבא הגנהנ לישראל, לציית לכל הפקודות וההוראות הניתנות על ידי המפקדים המוסמכים ולהקדיש את כל כוחותיי ואף להקריב את חיי להגנת המולדת ולחירות ישראל.

I swear and commit to maintain allegiance to the State of Israel, its laws, and its authorities, to accept upon myself unconditionally the discipline of the Israel Defense Forces, to obey all the orders and instructions given by authorized commanders, and to devote all my energies, and even sacrifice my life, for the protection of the homeland and the liberty of Israel.

Soldiers are issued their gun and a Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, soldiers of other religions can select the Koran, or Christian Bible, Athiests may swear on the weapon alone) on which they take the oath. With this combination, or even juxtaposition, of worldly weapon plus spiritual guide, the ceremony carries considerable significance, as the soldiers enter into a pact with the State of Israel. Similarly, Avram enters into a pact with God. Avram does God’s will, whilst God protects, blesses, and multiplies the offspring of Avram. For me, the centrality of any oath is the relationship that it creates, binding two parties together over common ground and collective interest. For the duration of any soldier’s service, and ideally for the remainder of their lives, they are permanently bound to each other and the State of Israel in a unique embrace, not unlike the intimate relationship that God and Avram share until Avram’s final days.

My bracha for all of us is that we are able to hear our call to duty, however it is manifested, no matter the stage in life, and that we are able to enter into deep, meaningful, and mutually beneficial relationships with each other, God, and The Land.

Shabbat shalom.

Belated D’var Torah: Parashat Noah

6 Oct
A Sefer Torah, the traditional form of the Heb...

A Sefer Torah, the traditional form of the Hebrew Bible, is a scroll of parchment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our parasha last week, Noah, contains the famous story of the flood. However, I would like to focus instead on two words that border the flood narrative. The words in question appear in a number of other places in the Torah. More often than not, the appearance of these words is immediately followed by a change in relationship between God and the character who is involved in the interaction. For example, when Abraham is prepared to sacrifice his son, going so far as to raise the knife in his hand, an angel calls out to him. Avraham responds,  הנני (Hineini/Here I am). In the book of Shemot, which we will read in a few months, God calls out to Moshe, and Moshe answers הנני. Although I am not going to discuss all of the examples, it should be clear that הנני is a demarcation of an altered relationship. Assuming that interpretation of the word, why in our parasha does God utter הנני twice, when the subsequent relationship does not fundamentally change vis a vis the person to whom God is speaking?

The first appearance (actually second, but the first is probably for emphasis), appears in chapter six:

יז  וַאֲנִי, הִנְנִי מֵבִיא אֶת-הַמַּבּוּל מַיִם עַל-הָאָרֶץ, לְשַׁחֵת כָּל-בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ רוּחַ חַיִּים, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם:  כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-בָּאָרֶץ, יִגְוָע. 17 And I, behold, I do bring the flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; every thing that is in the earth shall perish.

It would appear that the verse itself could function properly without the הנני. In other words, we might even be able to propose the possibility that the word is superfluous. Fortunately, Rashi, by way of the midrashic work Bereshit Rabbah, explains that God is affirming God’s role in the flood. Already God has instructed Noah to build the ark, down to the very dimensions, and will in coming verses instruct Noah on the numbers and types of animals that must accompany Noah and his family. Further, Rashi explains that God is acknowledging that what has been put in motion, and the rapid building of the ark is because God Himself is pushing the process forward. Noah and God’s relationship however, appears to be unchanged.

Following the flood, in chapter nine, God decides to create a covenant, promising to never again destroy the Earth by water:

ט  וַאֲנִי, הִנְנִי מֵקִים אֶת-בְּרִיתִי אִתְּכֶם, וְאֶת-זַרְעֲכֶם, אַחֲרֵיכֶם. 9 ‘As for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you, and with your seed after you

Turning once again to Rashi for assistance. Rashi sends us back to his comment on the earlier verse. Here he quotes Midrash Tanchuma which puts forth the idea that Noah was worried about fulfilling the commandment of being fruitful without some assurance from God that there would never again be a mass destruction of humanity. God is actually recognizing Noah’s apprehension and knows that it is necessary to provide an active promise, just as God had earlier vocalized His part in the flood, even as Noah had until that point done all of the heavy lifting (pardon the pun). Granted, God does not permit Noah additional dominion over the Earth, I maintain the the relationship is fundamentally unchanged. So while we may have solved, with Rashi’s help, the problem of the dual appearance of הנני, and its lack of a subsequent relationship change, I am not entirely satisfied.

There must be an additional or supplemental understanding.

On both days of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur the leader of the Mussaf service intones a long personal supplication entitled הנני.  That person has been accepted the awe inspiring job of representing the assembled as they stand before God in prayer on those magnificent days. The chazzan is effectively laying everything on the table in a stand-up fashion. God in our parasha stands alone in the moments of uttering הנני. God or the chazan could remove themselves from the circumstances at hand, leaving everybody else to deal with the situation as it arises. Deriving from those assumptions, I think that God in our Parsha is demonstrating responsible action in both creating and solving situations in which God is significantly involved, and the use of הנני serves as God’s emphasizing the lesson that God wishes to impart.

Shavua tov.