Shabbat shalom to everyone! It’s hard for me to think about this week’s Torah portion, without having the late Debbie Friedman’s song spring up in my mind. May her memory be a blessing, she has added so much to our musical tradition. In this week’s sedra, you know him as Abraham, however we encounter him initially as Abram – the progenitor and originator of the Jewish people. Many of my colleagues and the Rabbinic commentators focus at length on the name of this week’s parsha, Lech Lecha. I’m certain many of you here today have come into contact with many iterations and explanations of lech lecha. Rather than dissecting the name Lech Lecha, today I will explore the notion of Abram’s trust in God. We all know that Abram leaves his father’s home, the land of his birthplace, and placed his trust in setting off on a journey to the land that God would show him.
Before we get into Abram’s physical journey, we need to lay some background into who Abram was. Abram is known as Avraham avinu (our father) but also as Avraham ha ivri (the one of the other side). Avraham ha ivri refers to Avram’s belief in monotheism at a time when everyone around him, his family included, worshipped idols. I’m sure many of you have heard the midrash concerning Abram working for his father Terach as a salesman in his father’s idol shop. For those that have not heard this tale, essentially the story goes young Abram smashes all the idols with a hammer of sorts and places said hammer in the hands of the largest idol. Upon returning to the shop, his father is shocked to discover the destruction of all of his idols. When Terach questions Abram as to what occurred, Abram responds that the idol was angry with the others and proceeded to smash them. Terach was furious and told Abram that his account was ridiculous, idols do not animate and smash one another they are mere objects with no ability to come to life. Abram responds to his father that he is correct and that idol worship is wrong. Abram showed such determination in sharing this lesson this with his father – that there is only one God and to busy oneself with idol worshipping is misplaced.
After leaving his home, Abram, accompanied by his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, begin their trek to Canaan. All of a sudden, we learn in Genesis 12:10 that the land of Canaan is not flowing with milk and honey as we are led to believe. Not only is there no milk and honey, there is nothing at all as a famine has descended upon the land. Does Abram trust in God and remain in the land? The answer is as we will see in the future, when there is famine in Canaan we travel to Egypt. Prior to entering Egypt Abram takes his wife aside to go over the plan. In Genesis 12:11-13 “As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. If the Egyptians see you, and think, ‘she is his wife,’ they will kill me and let you live. Please say that you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may remain alive thank to you.” I don’t know about you but this plan does not seem like something a man of trust in God would have to devise.
According to Rashi Abram did a great thing. He used his wits in order to avoid possible death, knowing the Pharoah upon learning of Sarai’s beauty would want her for himself. Not only that, Rashi mentions that the people in Egypt at that time were repulsive and barbaric. They were not accustomed to seeing a beautiful woman and would have done unspeakable things to take her to their Pharoah to claim rewards fro bringing him such an attractive woman. According to the great Sforno, the entire country of Egypt was likened to one large brothel. Ramban, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, criticizes Abram’s actions expressing the opinion that what Abram did in lying to the Egyptians was a sin. Fortunately, God intervenes, Genesis 12:17, “…The Lord afflicted Pharoah and his household with mighty plagues on account of Sarai, the wife of Abram.” Where is the voice of Abram? The one that supposedly trusts in Hashem? The one of the other side? When Pharoah was giving Abram sheep, oxen, donkeys and other treasures in gratitude for his “sister” Sarai – why didn’t Abram speak up? Pharoah calls to Abram and demands to know why Abram lied to him when he told him that Sarai was his sister and not his wife. Pharoah realizes that the plagues that have befallen him are attributed to his taking Abram’s wife, Sarai. In Genesis 12:20 the Torah says, “Pharoah sent Abram and his wife away with all they possessed”.
So in the end all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast…Abram is given tochecha (rebuke) from Pharoah and rightfully so. What can we take away from this? Abram, a man purported to put his life and the lives of his wife and nephew in the hands of God by trusting to follow God where he would take them turns out to be human after all. At the moment in which Abram’s life is put in danger, he struggles and he pursues the path of what he considers least resistance. Abram reveals his human side, doubt creeps in and he does what he feels he needs to in order to survive. There’s a lot we can take away from parsha Lech Lecha, but one lesson in trust is that even when we struggle God does not mistake a lapse in judgment for an irreparable character trait. God stays with Abram and protects him and Sarai even when they stray from trusting in God.
Returning to Debbie Friedman and her beautiful lyrics in L’chi lach, in spite of our human tendencies, on all of our journeys God will bless us and will allow us to be blessings in the lives of others. May we understand that being human is a gift and that at times we will fall short of being the best versions of ourselves. This is natural and should not be a source of discouragement, but a call to improvement. Sometimes we place our avos on pedestals and look at them with awe and wonderment. Though we revere our forefathers, we also understand that even the greatest among us are human.