Shabbat Message from Cantor Ron Eichaker
Parashat “Lech Lecha” – “You will go” is found in the Book of Genesis 12:1 – 17:27 and the second third of the section is Chapter 14:1 through 16:21.
This middle section of the Torah seems so timely as we enter a phase of conflict resolution and anticipate future conflicts among our families and our communities.
The short summary: Four kingdoms coalesce to fight five other kingdoms; two of the five on one side are Sodom and Gemorrah. Now, this is not the famous story of Sodom and Gemorrah, but an intertribal war that helps us look into Avram’s character and influence in the region. At one pivotal point in the back and forth battles, Avram’s relative, Lot, is taken captive. Avram musters his resources, assembles a small force, and rescues Lot from captivity. At this point Avram is blessed and is told (in Chapter 15:13) that his yet unborn children will bring about a generation that will go to “a land not their own for four hundred years” and after those four generations (four hundred years) they will leave to form their own nation. Avram has been blessed by God by not only ensuring a path to His World to Come, but Avram’s actions have ensured The World to Come through a generation he will never see.
This section of the narrative continues with the realization that Sarai is unable to conceive and birth a child. She offers her maid-servant Hagar, as a surrogate and Ishmael is born. Sarai, seeing this play out, became despondent and banished Hagar and Ishmael from the family. However, Hagar and Ishmael are brought back, and Sarai later becomes pregnant with Yitzchak (Isaac). This middle section of the Torah lays the foundation for the conflicts between Isaac, Ishmael and their descendants to this very day. This section began when a member of Avram’s family was under duress and Avram came forward to the rescue. At the end of this section, Avram’s family is under duress due to the internal conflicts of jealousy, envy, territorialism and a retracted transaction resulting in domestic tensions. The dynamics of family life can be tricky. What causes one person to be and act a certain way may not be familial in origin but become part of the family chemistry whether it is liked or not. We can, still, point to the first chapter of Genesis and the introduction of Adam (the first human) and the Noachite reboot when, after the Flood, God commands Noach to “be fruitful and multiply” repeating this charge previously. We look to this foundationally because, at the core of our communal existence, we must accept that we are all created from the same “blood”; whether directly related or not. This core reality tells us that, as we look at our own family members and their “isms”, we must somehow detach ourselves from the biases and expectations and look at every living person as an extension of the first person on earth. It is said that we can choose our friends, but we cannot choose our family, and this may be true on a certain level. In line with the “Adam” thinking however, choosing, or not choosing our friends make little difference concerning the politics of relationships. Even our enemies have friends and family so common ground is established there at the very least.
The Torah is famously void of context and in-depth psychological profiling of the principle characters. We can, at best, make midrashic assumptions as to the inclinations and motivations of an individual. From this, then, we can only apply our model for the moment in determining what drove Avram to bring Hagar and Ishmael back to the family fold. What we do know is that Sarai brings us Isaac and a new tension emerges in our protagonists at that point in Our Story.
Whether familial, social, political, religious or strategic, conflicts are never comfortable but, as we have seen throughout human history, are a regular occurrence in narratives across the cultural lines. The RAMBAM (Maimonides) points out that each person is imbued with the “yeitzer tov” and yeitzer rah” – good inclination and bad inclination – and that it is through the bad inclination that greater growth is achieved. “Yeitzer ra” moves us to think longer about decisions we may make. It also provides us with more opportunities for self-awareness and open doors to opportunities that would have, otherwise, been unknown to us through our “intellectual arrogance”. The conflicts we are experiencing through The Book of Genesis is there for a reason. I believe that the reason is to remind us that we all have the “yeitzer rah” living inside of us and how we recognize it and leverage it toward a better tomorrow is dependent on the acceptance that we are all sharing the same blood line and, with that in mind, are impacted by the actions of every other person on earth. When you read about these conflicts in the Torah, try to do so through the mind of a mediator. Make attempts to step outside your personal biases or assumptions and work through both sides of the conflicts by seeing the shared realities first. Working outward from there, you will experience amazing growth and a better understanding of yourself and your place in that sacred bloodline we call “Humanity”.
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