For the week ending 28 October 2017 / 8 Heshvan 5778

Parshat Lech Lecha

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Ten generations have passed since Noach. Man has descended spiritually. In the year 1948 from Creation, Avram is born. By observing the world, Avram comes to recognize G-ds existence, and thus merits that G-d appear to him. At the beginning of this weeks Torah portion G-d tells Avram to leave his land, his relatives and his father's house and travel to an unknown land where G-d will make him into a great nation. Avram leaves, taking with him his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, their servants, and those whom they converted to faith in G-d. When they reach the land of Canaan, G-d appears to Avram and tells him that this is the land that He will give to his descendants. A famine ensues and Avram is forced to relocate to Egypt to find food. Realizing that his wife's beauty could cause his death at the hand of the Egyptians, Avram asks her to say that she is his sister. Sarai is taken to Pharaoh, but G-d afflicts Pharaoh and his court with severe plagues and she is released unmolested. Avram returns to Eretz Yisrael (Canaan) with much wealth given to him by the Egyptians. During a quarrel over grazing rights between their shepherds, Avram decides to part ways with his nephew Lot. Lot chooses to live in the rich but corrupt city of Sodom in the fertile plain of the Jordan. A war breaks out between the kings of the region and Sodom is defeated. Lot is taken captive. Together with a handful of his converts, Avram rescues Lot, miraculously overpowering vastly superior forces, but Avram demurs from accepting any of the spoils of the battle. In a prophetic covenant, G-d reveals to Avram that his offspring will be exiled to a strange land where they will be oppressed for 400 years, after which they will emerge with great wealth and return to Eretz Yisrael, their irrevocable inheritance. Sarai is barren and gives Hagar, her Egyptian hand-maiden, to Avram in the hope that she will provide them with a child. Hagar becomes arrogant when she discovers that she is pregnant. Sarai deals harshly with her, and Hagar flees. On the instruction of an angel, Hagar returns to Avram, and gives birth to Yishmael. The weekly portion concludes with G-d commanding Avram to circumcise himself and his offspring throughout the generations as a Divine covenant. G-d changes Avrams name to Avraham, and Sarais name to Sarah. G-d promises Avraham a son, Yitzchak, despite Avraham being ninety-nine years old and Sarah ninety. On that day, Avraham circumcises himself, Yishmael and all his household.


My Cup Runneth Over

“...and all the families of the earth will bless themselves by you” (12:3)

As we get older we fall into two categories: Those who exercise and those who are waiting for their doctors to tell them to exercise.

I try and swim a few times a week. Outside the changing room of the pool there is a basin. Once in a while someone puts there a grubby looking white plastic natlan — a cup for netilat yadayim. It vanishes after about two days. Six weeks or so go by. Someone puts another cup there, but this time it’s secured to the faucet with a serious plastic-covered metal cable. It vanishes after about two days. A few months ago someone went out and bought this beautiful eau-de-nil-colored metal washing cup with chrome handles. It must have set them back a hundred shekels or so.

I thought to myself, “This one isn’t going to last two days — it’s going to last two minutes.”

I was wrong. It was there the next time and the time after that. Two months later it’s still there.

I thought to myself, “What’s the mindset here? Why will someone take something cheap but leave something expensive?”

In Parshat Ekev, Rashi explains the unusual use of the word ekev to mean “if”. Ekev can also mean a heel. Says Rashi, a person must be as careful with the mitzvot that are typically down- trodden with the heel as he is with more serious sins.

I can rationalize taking a cheepo plastic cup, worth a couple of shekels at most, when I need it more than “them” — but to take an expensive item? What, me? I’m no thief!

That’s how I understood the psychology.

My good friend and colleague, Rabbi Yitzchak Dallah, had a different, and, I think rather beautiful, explanation.

He told me a story that a wall in a certain town square was constantly being defaced with graffiti. The local authority had large signs put up on the wall saying, “NO GRAFFITTI!” The result was that the signs were defaced with graffiti. Someone had a bright idea: He got an artist to paint a beautiful mural on the wall. The result? No more graffiti.

When you show me how beautiful the world is, it elevates me into being a higher person. So why would I want to spoil it?

Avraham elevated the entire world. Before Avraham came along, the entire world was busy serving itself. Avraham raised the eyes of the world to gaze Heavenward; to ultimate beauty.

A famous Midrash tells how Avraham’s father owned an idol emporium. One day Avraham took a hammer and smashed all the statues except for the largest one. He then took the hammer and placed it in the hands of that idol. When his father returned to the store he was furious at the destruction. “Who did this!?” he demanded. “The largest idol,” said Avraham. “Look! The hammer is in his hands.” “What nonsense!” said his father. “An idol can’t do that.” Avraham replied, “So why do you worship them then?”

An idol is a way of getting out of the world what you want. You want rain? A quick offering to the “rain god”. You want sun? No problem! A couple of libations to the “sun god”. Avraham was smashing the idea that life is about getting what you want.

Avraham looked into the world and saw design. He saw purpose. He saw that life demands connecting to that purpose. He gave the world the elevated life.

The Midrash says: Rav Yitzchak said, “A traveler was journeying from place to place, and he saw a mansion ablaze with light. He said, ‘Is it possible that this mansion is without a master?’ The owner of the mansion then peeked out and said: ‘I am the owner of the mansion.’ So, too, our father Avraham said, ‘Is it possible that the world is without a Master?’ G-d then looked out at him and said, ‘I am the Master of the world’.” (Midrash Rabbah 39:1)

"These are the generations of the heavens and the earth in their creation” (written “B'hibaram") (Bereishet 2:4). Don't read the word as "B'hibaram," but (rearrange the world's lettering and read it as) "B'Avraham" — for Avraham. (Bereishet Rabbah 12:9)

When G-d created the heavens and the earth, He had in mind someone like Avraham, someone who would raise the eyes of the world from its self-serving graffiti and look to the sublime.

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