Lech-Lecha 5773 – Gilayon #771
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And he took him outside and he said,
"look up to the heavens
and count the stars,
If you can count them." and he said,
"so shall be your seed."
And He took
him outside – The prophecy to observe the stars came to him in his tent in
a prophetic vision, and so (Ezekiel 8:3) "And
brought me in visions of God to Yerushalayim".
Earlier He told him "as the dust of the earth" and now He told him
that they will be like the stars of the heavens, and all this is by way of hyperbole,
as we have said… Furthermore, He intimated to him that in the end, in the
days of the Messiah, they will be like the stars of the heavens, human hand
will no longer rule over them, and their light will be everlasting. And in
Bereishit Rabba (47:12), it says "And
He took him out" – He said to him, Ignore your astrology; Avram
will not father, Avraham will father, Sarai will not give birth, Sarah will
give birth, meaning that I will change your names so that you may give birth,
and so it was.
know that just as a man sees while sleeping that he has made journey to a
certain country, was married there, has stayed there for a certain time, that a
son was born to him there, that he called him by a certain name, and that this
son’s circumstances and state were such and such; so in the case of prophetic
parables seen enacted in a vision of prophecy, when the parable requires
a certain action, when things are done by the prophet, when intervals of time
are mentioned within the parable between the various actions and the
transportation from one place to another, this takes place on in a vision of
prophecy , they are not real actions, actions that exist for the external
senses… Only those weak in syllogistic reasoning fancy with regard to all
this that the prophet tells that he was ordered to do certain things and hence
did them. For instance he tells that he was ordered, while he was in Babylon,
to dig in the wall that is on the mountain of the Temple, and thereupon
he recounts that he actually dug in it; for he says: And when I had digged
in the wall (Ezekiel 8:8) .
However, he had already made it clear that this was in the visions of
God. Similarly, it is said of Avraham: The word of the Lord came
into Abram in a sight, saying (Bereishit 15;1). And
it is said in this same vision of prophecy: And He brought him forth abroad,
and said: Look now toward heaven, and count the stars" (Ibid. ibid. 5). It is therefore clear that it
was in a vision of prophecy that he saw that he was brought out from the
place he was in so that he could see the heavens and that afterwards it was
said to him: And count the stars; and this is recounted in the way you
(Rambam, Guide of the
Perplexed II, 46, English translation by Shlomo Pines)
Regarding the stranger in our midst
Michel and Danny Brom
In memory of
In the Book of Bereishit in general and in our parasha in particular,
we receive a fascinating look into the personal lives of our cultural heroes.
Considerable attention is paid to the interpersonal relationships between
Avraham and Sarah and others, including stories which present us with complex ethical
dilemmas. We wish to examine various approaches to one issue in the parasha and
to attempt to understand what and how we can learn from it and apply its
lessons to our own lives.
We read that, in light of fertility
problems, Sarah suggests to Avraham that he raise a generation of descendants
by means of her maidservant, Hagar. Following this, the relations between Sarah
and her maidservant deteriorate, and Sarah torments Hagar until she decides to
Some explain the story as follows: In
the beginning, Sarah did not relate to Hagar as a servant. She accorded her
honor and Hagar was content with her standing, even saying, "Better to be
a servant in this household than a noblewoman in another" (Bereishit Rabba, 35:36). Upon becoming pregnant, Hagar’s pride grew, and she
humiliated Sarah in front of her guests and mocked her barrenness. Sarah hears
her shaming but does not react (Ibid). Sarah torments Hagar, not out of jealously, but
because she fears others will learn from Hagar and emulate her.
RaDaK, in his commentary on our parasha, suggests that we
read the story differently. Sarah is barren and she realizes that she will not
bear children, that God promised Avraham seed, and
therefore a different woman must bear his progeny. Sarah thinks to herself, "It
is good that I give my servant to him as a wife, perhaps I will be built
through her and she will be unto me as a son and I will be happy, rather than
that he have a son through another wife". After
birth, Hagar’s worth rises in the eyes of Abraham. Sarah reacts by working her
hard, striking her and cursing her until Hagar can no longer bear the
situation, and flees.
According to the first explanation,
Sarah appears to be a reserved person, humble, relating respectfully and decently
to a worker in her household. Even when Sarah behaves towards her with a degree
of severity, it is a result of deliberation and worthwhile motives. Sarah is a paradigm
The second explanation has Sarah acting
in a complex interpersonal reality and out of egoistical interests. She abuses
the woman she chose to become part of her family and to continue her husband’s
dynasty. She acts aggressively towards Hagar as her envy overwhelms her. This
is a not model to be copied. RaDaK has painted a familial and personal
situation from which we are to learn what kinds of behavior to adopt, but, even
more so, which actions we are to avoid. RaMBaN, too, espouses a similar
These exegetical positions provide a
basis for different educational approaches. One sets before its learners
narratives with heroic figures who are supposed to inspire us. We learn that
there are persons with ideal characteristics, fine traits of humility, acceptance,
etc. The advantage of this approach is that it presents clear goals in life and
that actions which seem, at first glance, to be negative, such as Hagar’ s
dismissal, receive an interpretive framework having clear value significance.
In our lives, too, we can apply this approach, becoming less critical towards
ourselves and our environment, giving others the benefit of the doubt. The
danger inherent in this approach is the perpetuation of an undesirable
situation. It is liable to justify social and ethical injustices through
apologetic rationalization. The adoration of the past and idealization of
reality are liable to paralyze our critical sense so essential to social
The second approach presents our
patriarchs, and perhaps all of our cultural heroes, as complex human beings,
with interpersonal tensions and tendencies towards intense emotional reactions.
Such an approach teaches us to examine critically the story and our own social reality.
On the one hand, this allows us to develop humility, knowing that truth is not
always on our side, that we are in a process of
becoming perfect and not in an ideal reality. On the other hand, extreme
criticality is liable to spoil the possibility of creating a unifying
narrative. People gather around a narrative which presents exemplary characters
Reading a narrative through different
lenses without negating other approaches enables us to benefit from advantages
of the respective approaches and to cope with their limitations.
Another aspect of the Hagar story, as
yet not discussed, is her "outsider" status. Hagar is an Egyptian,
a product of a culture alien to that of Avraham and Sarah. From this
perspective, it is possible to read the Hagar narrative as an example of
relating to "the other", to one from a lower status and dissimilar
Coping with strangers in Israeli society is complex in many ways. Like Avraham
and Sarah, who brought a stranger into their home, so have we have brought
foreigners into the State. And just as Sarah wanted to protect the distinctiveness
of her family, so it is important that we protect our identity, our cultural
inheritance and our national cohesion. On the other hand, just as Sarah was
obliged to respect Hagar’s dignity and to grant her rights and not hurt her,
so, too, are we obliged to protect the rights of the strangers who live in our midst. Tension exists between the two approaches. To our
public tends to favor one of the approaches without coping with the challenge
of integrating both. According to the principle of "The behavior of the
patriarchs is a sign for the sons" – a principle learned from our parasha – we can learn from our ancestors, via the
commentary of our Sages and later Biblical explicators, to develop the ability
to encompass the stranger who lives in our midst and the attendant dilemmas.
Brom is a social worker in
psychologist in Yerushalayim
is the Practice of Justice"
"And he trusted in the Lord, and He reckoned to his tzedaka", the word tzedaka is derived from tzedak,
which means justice; justice being the granting to everyone who has a right
to something, that which he has a right to and giving to every being that which
corresponds to his merits… The fulfilling of duties with regard to others
imposed upon you on account of moral virtue, such as remedying the injuries of
all those who are injured, is called tzedaka.
Therefore it says with reference to the returning of a pledge "And it
shall be tzedaka unto you." For when you
walk in the way of the moral virtues, you do justice unto your rational soul,
giving her the due that is her right.
of the Perplexed, III, 53, Pines edition)
Sarah afflicted her, and she fled from her"
Our mother sinned by this affliction, and so did Avraham by
allowing her to do so, and God heeded her affliction and gave her a son who
will be a wild man to afflict the seed of Avraham and Sarah with all
manners of affliction.
(Ramban, Bereishit 16:6)
The Ramban – who usually notes
the gentleness of Sarah, prepared for any sacrifice – is unwilling to justify
her action with psychological explanations, because no understanding of causes and
circumstances can cancel the harshness of the transgression of "and Sarah
oppressed her". Perhaps the Torah wished to teach us that whoever stretches
himself higher than human stature and takes upon himself missions beyond his
ability, will do well to first ask himself if he can fulfill them completely.
For if not, better that man live according to his ability and according to that
which is demanded of him. If, but for a moment, he should rise above his ability
to forgo, to bring a sacrifice, to quash every natural inclination and all his
aspirations – even should he have succeeded in remaining for a while on those
high peaks to which he has climbed, there awaits the danger that he will
plummet deeper than the plain on which he had previously been.
Leibowitz: Iyunim B’Sefer Berishit – Studies in the Book
of Bereishit, p. 111)
The Behavior of the Fathers Is a Sign for the Children:
Hagar's Flight As A Moral Grounds for
"From my mistress Saray do I flee (Heb. borachat)." Twice in the Massoret; here and
there (the second place in the Bible which this world is recorded) "At the
shout of horsemen and bowmen the whole city flees" (Jeremiah
4:29). Because Sara expelled Hagar, therefore
"and became a bowman".
(Baal HaTurim, Bereishit 16:8)
"One day the divine beings
presented themselves before the Lord, and the Adversary (ha-satan) came along
with them. The Lord said to the Adversary, "Where have you been?" The
Adversary answered etc." He
said to Him: Master of the Universe, I have been roaming over all the world,
and I have found no one as faithful as Avraham, to whom you said: (Gen.13) "Rise, walk about through the
land in its length and in its breadth, for I will give it to you." (Even)
when he (Avraham) found no place to bury Sarah until he purchased (a
plot) for 400 silver shekels, he did not question our attributes."
(Bavli, Bava Bathra 15b)
The Land Was Given Us On Condition
That We Will Be Deserving
"Now it was about that time
that Yehuda went down…" (Gen.38:1)
This is the meaning of what is written: "A dispossessor will I bring to
you who dwell in Mareshah" (Micha 1;15). Said the
Holy One to Israel: I concluded (a covenant) with Avraham your father and told
him "Rise, walk about through the land" (Gen.
13;17), and I carried out my promise and I gave him all the land, as is
written "The sons came and took possession of the land" (Nehemia 9:24) and "I will bring you to
this country of farm land," (Jeremiah
2:7), a land which is yielding and full. But you angered me, "…
you came and you defiled my land, etc." And
what will I do to you? I will bring the nations and they will drive you from
the land :
"A dispossessor will I bring to you who dwell in Mareshah" (Micha
1;15), because you failed to heed the words of Micha of Mareshah.
Bereishit, Chap. 64)
Similarly in general affairs between people.
Sons have the right to inherit their father's possessions. But
the question whether or not these belongings will remain intact in the sons'
hands depends not upon the sons' rights of inheritance. It is depends on
what use the sons make of the legacy."
(From Prof. I. Leibowitz, "Seven Years of Discussions on the
Weekly Parasha", p. 8)
17 years after rabin’s murder
On Post-Modernism and Distortion
On Motzei Shabbat, Parashat
Lech-lecha, 17 years ago, 12 Marheshvan 5755, at the end of a rally titled: "Yes
to Peace, No to Violence", an Israeli Prime Minister was assassinated.
It seems to me that
sometimes, perhaps because of the difficulty in coping with this memory, there
is a tendency "to escape" in different directions which do not enable
tikkun (repair), and therefore Israeli society has not been cured of
acts of violence on ideological and political grounds. To our sorrow, the
community that proclaims allegiance to the Torah of Israel and its mitzvoth are not immune to this malady.
form of escape is the focusing upon the murderer and tending to direct all
feelings of anger and revenge at him. There is also a tendency, primarily among
the extreme right, to disseminate a conspiracy theory pointing a finger at
different sources in the political world anxious to eliminate Yitzhak Rabin.
are prepared "to understand" the public fury against the one
responsible for the "
crimes", and therefore, even if they do not justify the murder, they are
prepared to accept the tendency of extreme sources to lose control and take the
law into their own hands.
addition, it was suddenly discovered that the Yom Zikaron (Memorial Day) of our
Matriarch Rachel is on 11 Marheshvan, and behold, the date is marked in diaries
Similarly, since the 12 of Cheshvan was declared a day of national mourning,
so was the day on which Rehavam Zeevi (Ghandi) was murdered by terrorists
declared by the Ministry of Education a day to be marked in the schools.
I have no problem with respectful relating to our mother, Rachel, Father
Yaakov’s beloved wife, "who "cries over her children" and is
comforted by God’s promise: "There is hope for your end’ and sons will
return to their border." Indeed the sons have returned.
And, even though Ghandi was not a figure I particularly admired, his murder
by a terrorist is a source of sorrow; every act of terror should be condemned even
if the victim is not an acting minister, and the perpetrators certainly must be
brought to trial.
With all this, it is most important to differentiate between murder
of an Israeli Prime Minister by a Jew in the name of his faith, nurtured by an
atmosphere of uncompromising, anti-democratic zealotry from which we have not
been weaned, fed by letters and publications of ethnocentric and racial
character and expressed by "price tag" activity against religious
sites, olive groves and other places and by threats against ideological rivals,
between these and other incidents.
demise of our Mother Rachel in childbirth and the murder of Ghandi in a terrorist
attack did not endanger our existence as a Jewish and democratic society.
other hand, political assassination, fed by a violent atmosphere of zealotry
and sanction-ing every means to achieve goals
considered acceptable for ideological, religious, and political reasons,
presents a clear danger to our existence in this land as a Jewish and
In Parashat Noah, the Torah delicately terms certain animals "the
beast which is not clean"; in Parashat Shemini, it
states directly "the unclean beast".
Perhaps we should learn from this that sometimes clear and unambiguous statements
should be preferred.
Pinchas Leiser, editor
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