Lech-Lecha 5773 – Gilayon #771


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Parshat Lech-Lecha

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."

(Bereishit 15:5)

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.

(RaDaK, ibid.,

ibid.)

 

You should

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

see.

(Rambam, Guide of the

Perplexed II, 46, English translation by Shlomo Pines)e took him out o

 

Regarding the stranger in our midst

Michel and Danny Brom

                                                                                                 In memory of

our mother,

                                                                                                 Golda Brom-Lenchner

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

flee.

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

for all Israel.

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

interpretation.

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

improvement.

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

and inspires.

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

culture.

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

sorrow, the Israel

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.

Michel

Brom is a social worker in Ashdod and Danny Brom is a clinical

psychologist in Yerushalayim

 

Tzedaka

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.

(Rambam, Guide

of the Perplexed, III, 53, Pines edition)

 

"And

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.

(Nechama

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 Israel's

Flight.           

"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 Israel fled from him, for "bowmen" is Yishmael, as is written of him

"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.

(Midrash Agadat

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.

One

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.

Other

are prepared "to understand" the public fury against the one

responsible for the "Oslo

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.

In

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

and calendars.

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.

The

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.

On the

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

democratic society.

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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