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Rabbi's Erev Shabbat Message

10/15/2021 12:11:15 PM


Shabbat Lekh L'kha: Taking the First Step, Again

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר לָהּ֙ מַלְאַ֣ךְ יְהֹוָ֔ה הַרְבָּ֥ה אַרְבֶּ֖ה אֶת־זַרְעֵ֑ךְ וְלֹ֥א יִסָּפֵ֖ר מֵרֹֽב׃ 

HaShem's messenger said to [Hagar], “I will greatly increase your offspring; they shall be too many to count.” (Bereshit 16.10)


Shalom Shir Tikvah Learning Community,


The philosopher David Hartman ז״ל used to observe that the entire Torah is one long record of the failure of the Creator to learn to relate to the Creation, that is, to us human beings. Certainly the first few parashot  of the Torah are daunting, from the perspective of the Creator, if the divine desire had been to create a whole and peaceful world (“whole” in Hebrew being the meaning of shalom, “peace”). 


The first attempt at creation was completely destroyed by the disappointed Creator; we might imagine a painter deciding it has all gone wrong, scraping all the paint off the canvas and starting again. Yet it is interesting and salient to note that, for the painter, the next effort will be a palimpsest, a drawing over a drawing, through which evidence of the first drawing might still be seen.


Breaking a bone is a similar thing, or repairing any kind of rupture in wholeness. The scar remains, yet healing takes place and it is possible to begin again.


Similarly, HaShem found that starting over with the same human beings was not a completely new start. The nature of humanity had not changed, and according to the midrash, the same human problems emerged - people behaved with the kind of disregard for each other that had caused HaShem to bring about the Flood. The Tower of Babel was not in and of itself problematic, as we saw at the end of last week’s parashah: rather it was the sublimation of human beings and their needs to the demands of building the tower. And so it was that


If a man fell down and died, no attention was paid to him, but if one brick fell down, they would sit and weep and say: woe betide us, when will another one be hauled up in its place? Pirkei d’Rav Eliezer 


The second divine attempt at creation is still, as it were, full of program bugs. The desire for the peace of wholeness is still far from realized. And so HaShem, as it were, cancels the program, again, and scatters the humans.


And now we reach the third parashah of the Torah. If the first attempt at creating a world is ended by the Flood, and the second by the ending of the Tower of Babel project, then this week’s story can be understood as HaShem, trying again to start again. This time not with an entire world or even with a whole city - but with one human being.


Harbah arbeh, HaShem says to Hagar; don’t worry, go ahead, I’ll take care of you. It’s an invitation to a single human to take a step, regardless of the rubble all around, and to have faith in the idea that life is still full of potential good. Trading safe space for brave space, Hagar turns around and goes back to the place where she has been hurt.


As for Avram, who receives the call to lekh l’kha, Profesor Alan Cooper of the Jewish Theological Seminary points out that, intriguingly, Avram did not obey the call to go forward and leave everyone and everything behind for an unknown new place. He took his wife and his nephew, his servants and his retinue; according to Rashi ז״ל he even took a bunch of new followers. 


It’s a great example of not exactly starting anew when one starts over - we have memories, we can’t be re-born out of them. The only question remains: how will we answer our own lekh l’kha? How will we, when it’s necessary in our lives to step forward into the unknown, create our own palimpsest, bring that which has been into balance with that which we will summon?


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Ariel


*Image: Egyptian woman kneading bread, Louvre Museum

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Thu, October 21 2021 15 Cheshvan 5782