November 10, 2000 by Morris Seeskin
With the election of the new President sitting in uncharted waters last night I gave thought to rewriting my D'var Torah and talking about developments in Palm Beach County. I concluded that my comments tonight, as originally prepared, just might be applicable to post-election matters.
In today's parsha, Lech L'cha, Avram is in the House of his parents in Ur. Adonai Tells Avram to go to the place that Adonai will show him. Avram is to leave his nuclear family, leave the people and the ways he knows, and go. Go where? Avram doesn't know. For what purpose? Avram isn't told. How long will the trip take? Avram has no way to know. What is the path? Avram has no map. His is to be a trip into the unknown. This is the watershed moment in the whole Torah.
At this moment, when Adonai says "Lech L'cha - Go", Avram starts down the path that ultimately will lead to Egypt, to Sinai, to the creation of the Jewish people, and to the founding of three great religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is also the path that leads to Babylonia, to Masada, to the Spanish Inquisition, and to Auchwitz. It is the path that leads each of us to join together in this place and this time.
Later, in the Akeda, the binding of Isaac, Adonai again tells Avram, whose name has been changed to Abraham, "Lech L'cha", take your son Isaac and go to the place that I will show you. Where is that? Abraham will find out later. There Abraham is to sacrifice Isaac, the one who Adonai has promised will be Abraham's heir and the father of many nations. How will that happen if Abraham sacrifices Isaac? There is no answer for Abraham. The promise of Lech L'cha is only that he must go into the unknown to experience what is there. That is most disconcerting, but in truth that is the way life is. There are no guarantees ... ever.
Almost a hundred years ago my grandfather, Morris Schaps, then thirteen years old, and only recently having become Bar Mitzvah, heeded Adonai's words. He left his family in the Jewish Pale and the people and ways he knew there. He came to this country not really knowing where he was going, what he would do here, or how he would get along. He didn't believe that the streets literally were paved with gold and he didn't know what his new life held in store. For him, "Lech L'cha." Eventually he brought his twelve brothers and sisters and their parents to this country. Today I stand here only because my grandfather heeded the words, "Lech L'cha."
Eileen and I are soon to be empty nesters. We are alive, vital and looking ahead. When we stop to listen, we hear the message, "Lech L'cha." Go! How will it be for us? We don't know. There are no guarantees. Still, we must go. "Lech L'cha."
Tonight, our daughter Beth is in California seeking new opportunities in Silicon Valley. Our oldest son Aaron is back from doing research in Cairo and has returned to New York to complete his dissertation. Middle son Jonathan is at home in Minnesota. "Lech L'cha." Joel, our youngest, is a senior in high school. He is planning to leave our house for college next August. He really isn't sure what he will do with his life or where he will do it. He doesn't know how he will find out. That is the way of Adonai's world. "Lech L'cha."
Earlier this year our first grandchild, Elijah, was born. His parents aren't thinking about it yet and he is much too young to understand, but ever so quietly, Adonai is whispering to him, "Lech L'cha." The time will come to leave your parents and their house. Be prepared for the path I will show you. Go! Go where? When? How will Elijah know? How will he know the right place? Will the trail be marked? What lies along the way? No answers for Elijah, no expectation that he ever will be provided with answers. For him there is only the promise that this is what Adonai has in store for him. There is only the eventual understanding that Elijah is precious in Adonai's eyes and that Elijah will have to follow his own way. He is only seven months old. "Lech L'cha."
Listen! Tonight, Adonai is telling each of us the same thing first told to Abraham. Whatever our age. Whatever our station in life. "Lech L'cha." GO!
There are no promises about what lies ahead. No guarantees. No certainty. No way to know. No way to find out. No way to predict the future. There is only a journey into the unknowable tomorrow and the knowledge that this is the way of Adonai's world.
Put your trust in Adonai. "Lech L'cha." Go to the place that Adonai will show you, that Adonai will show each of us! Blessed is Adonai.
D'var Torah - Lech L'cha October 30, 1998 by Susan Weiss
In preparing to read and talk about this week's portion, Lech L'cha, I often felt as excited as if I were embarking on a journey along with Abraham and Sarah. I kept wondering, though, why Abraham? (And Sarah--because although this is not acknowledged overtly in Torah, I must think of them together). Why were these people singled out to break the pattern--to go to a strange land and found a great nation. Were they such extraordinary people? About Abraham, there are many legends--most pointing to his great strength and might: that he walked, talked and cared for himself at 20 days old, and that, in adulthood, he was as tall as 70 men put together. About Sarah, there are fewer legends, although there are stories about her beauty--so dazzling that it nearly blinded an angel who had come to tell her that she was to give birth to a son--at age 90! Midrash attempts to show the young Abraham's steadfast belief in one God in the face of great obstacles: Most of us have heard about Abraham's father, the idol maker, and Abraham's clever attempts to persuade customers not to buy the idols.
However, my point of reference is the Torah, and Torah presents quite a different picture; in the Torah, we do not even meet Abraham until he is 75 years old. Sarah is 65. We have little information about Abraham's early life and none about Sarah's. The few bits of information we have do not show any specialness: Abraham's father was Terah; there were at least two brothers, one of whom died, leaving a son Lot, who lives with the family and travels with Abraham and Sarah. We do not know that Terah made or worshiped idols or, for that matter, that Abraham didn't.
Were they chosen because of their great virtue? Although that is the claim of some, I doubt it. In the story of Noah, the Torah states "Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age. Noah walked with God." Such an attribution about Abraham and Sarah is conspicuous in its absence. Abraham and Sarah were certainly not evil people, but it would be a stretch to call either one a paragon of virtue. When a famine in the land forces them to move to Egypt, Abraham becomes worried that others might covet his wife because of her great beauty. He says to her, "If the Egyptians see you and think ‘She is his wife,' they will kill me and let you live. Please say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you and that I may remain alive thanks to you." Well, she is technically his sister (his half-sister) and he does thank her, but she's also his wife; Abraham surely knows that when Pharaoh wants her, it's not as a cribbage partner, and it's clear that he's doing this for his own gain and safety. This is hardly an altruistic act. Sarah herself is no model of sweet-tempered tolerance; when her maid, Hagar, who at Sarah's suggestion has become pregnant with Abraham's child, decides that her status should now change and she should no longer be treated as a slave, Sarah mistreats Hagar so badly that she runs away. Hagar returns at God's bidding, but later, after Isaac is born, Sarah sends Hagar and her son--who, of course is also Abraham's son-- into the wilderness to starve
There is also the theory that Abraham was chosen not because of any unique attributes, but because he was willing to go. God spoke--this story goes--and Abraham did not ask questions but simply said "Hineni," ("Here I am"). There is some support for this idea. After all, it is an undertaking so grueling that there probably weren't many other applicants. And Abraham and Sarah knew that God would be there to lend his help and unconditional support. But these two still seem to be unlikely volunteers. Think of where the journey takes them: They are ordered to leave their home and go to a new land; then, they must leave that land because of famine and move to Egypt, where fearsome dangers await them. They emerge with great riches and Sarah's honor unscathed, but only with a good deal of divine maneuvering. Then, in order to save Lot, Abraham must go to battle as an ally of the king of Sodom, whom he detests. No sooner does he finish with that, Abraham hears with dread the prophesy that his people will later be enslaved in Egypt. He and Sarah are childless, so Sarah urges Abraham to bed with Hagar and she has a son, Ishmael. Surely, Abraham must think that he's done his duty as far as founding a nation is concerned, and he hints at that but no! God delivers a triple whammy. He tells Abraham that he and all males must be circumcised; that he and Sarah must change their names from Abram and Sarai; and, mazel tov, he's to have another son. A brief intermission while Abraham once again tries to rescue Lot from the coming destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This time he must negotiate with God. Then the couple become parents of Isaac, and some time later Abraham is asked to sacrifice this beloved son. Although God intervenes in time once again, the experience may be what causes Sarah's death. But Abraham journeys on, finds a wife for Isaac, remarries himself and has six more children before dying at 175.
So, while Abraham may have said, "Hineni," I think it unlikely that he did so with much enthusiasm. Besides the fact that he and Sarah are elderly and probably tired and somewhat hesitant to change, I doubt that Abraham's personality would have predisposed him to willingly seek this assignment at any time in his life. If there are some who seek greatness and others who have greatness thrust upon them, Abraham seems to be squarely in the latter category. We don't know whether Abraham welcomed conflict and change as a young man, but certainly at the point that we become acquainted with him, he seems to seek ease and pleasantness and eschew friction. After he and his family come back from Egypt, they have so much wealth in the form of cattle that there isn't room enough for his cattle and Lot's to graze, and their respective herdsmen begin to bicker, Abraham says to Lot "Let there be no strife between you and me. If you go north, I will go south, and if you go south, I will go north." Sarah is feistier, but she gets no help from Abraham. When she complains to him about Hagar's haughty ways, he isn't going to get himself in the middle: He says, "Your maid is in your hands. Deal with her as you think right." I'm fairly sure that when Abraham and Sarah discover that, at their respective ages of 100 and 90, they are about to be blessed with 2AM feedings ,the ancient equivalent of Pampers and the prospect of planning a Bar Mitzvah when they're 113 and 103, their laugh contains at least some part shock along with joy. When do they get to retire to the condo in Sun City?
So were Abraham and Sarah simply chosen at random--their names pulled out of some celestial hat? Perhaps. But I would like to suggest one other possibility. Maybe Abraham and Sarah were not chosen despite their age, ordinariness and imperfections but, at least in part, because of them. These are survivors who do the best they can with what skills they have, and one of their most important skills is their ability to stay the course. They are not dewy-eyed idealists, impetuous hotheads or single-issue zealots. They have faith in God, but don't assume that God will step in and solve their problems--though He often does. They do what they are chosen and have chosen to do even though they may not always do it graciously. When they cannot do a perfect job--and they often can't--they accept that they will do a good-enough job. They often blunder and stumble and--like the rest of us-- they do things that are thoughtless, cruel, uncaring or just plain stupid. They receive much help from God and need all of it. They wouldn't be very good sprinters, but in a marathon they might finish when others dropped out in sheer frustration.
I feel very close to Abraham and Sarah when I need to keep going and I'm exhausted and my kids are having their tenth battle in an hour; I sense them nearby when I need to be in three places at once and no matter which one I choose folks at the other two will be mad at me. I feel close to them tonight not only because I've been chanting and talking about them but because even though I've been thinking about this D'var for months, I couldn't quite get it to come out the way I wanted it and my Torah chanting still seems shaky. I don't think I'd feel comfortable even thinking about quasi-gods: A man who is as tall as 70 put together or (especially) a woman who blinds angels with her dazzling beauty. But Abraham and Sarah, our ancestors, were unabashedly human, and I find great comfort in that.