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Parashat Lech Lecha 5778 — 10/28/2017

Parashat Lech Lecha 5778 — 10/28/2017

Bereshit 12:1 – 17:27

And He took him [Avraham] outside and said, “Gaze now toward the heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall be your offspring.” (15:5)

Gd really stretches Avraham in this parashah. First he is told to leave all his comfortable and familiar surroundings and move to an unspecified place. Then he is told that he will have a son who will inherit him, by his 89-year-old wife, who up till now had been unable to conceive. Later in the parashah he will have to circumcise himself, and in the next parashah he will have to offer his son up as an offering to Gd. All of these “tests” that Gd put Avraham through were meant to enliven in him potentialities that would otherwise have lain dormant.

In the quoted verse the Jewish people is compared to the stars. Abarbanel marshals six ways in which this comparison is apt:

  1. The leaders and prophets of the nation shine as brightly as the stars.
  2. The nation will be as numerous as the stars – this is the plain meaning of the text. (Incidentally, the editor points out that Abarbanel held that “…there were an enormous number of stars that are not visible to the naked eye, a fact the rest of the world didn’t yet subscribe to when he wrote his commentary in the early 1500s, long before the invention of the telescope.”)
  3. The Heavenly bodies are moved by Gd; Israel as a nation is also moved by Gd to fulfill His purposes.
  4. Just as the heavenly bodies were created to “declare Gd’s glory” (Ps 19), so was Israel selected from among the nations to be Gd’s witnesses.
  5. Just as the heavenly bodies rise and set, so Israel has periods of spiritual ascent and spiritual descent.
  6. Just as the universe came into being, but is eternal, so Israel will never be completely destroyed, no matter how far off the path we get.

The Midrash tells us that there was significance to the fact that Gd told Avraham to “go outside” the tent to see the stars. According to the Midrash, it was impossible for Avraham and Sarah to have children by natural means – some say she had no uterus, but this is a bit hard to square with the verse that she had “ceased to be in the way of women” (i.e. had entered menopause). Whatever the explanation of Sarah’s infertility, the answer did not lie within the purview of medical science. Gd’s telling Avraham to “go out” of his tent was to inform him that “Israel as a nation is also moved by Gd” rather than by nature.

This concept shows up in Rabbinic thought in a number of ways. The Jewish people is considered to be “above nature.” Our existence is miraculous – whether through Sarah’s miraculous conception or through our survival as a nation in the face of relentless persecution. The Jewish people does not have a “heavenly minister” as do the other nations – that is, an angel who “represents” the interests of each nation in heaven. Rather, the Jewish people, and its unique destiny, are presided over by Gd directly. Finally, there is the question, debated in the Talmud, whether (or rather, to what degree) the stars/constellations influence the Jewish people, individually and collectively. Certainly, the stars do not determine what anybody does, for every human being has free will. Nonetheless, their influence on Israel is held to be less than on the other nations, as Israel, due to its closeness with Gd, has an extra helping of free will.

All these three ideas are intertwined of course. I’d like to focus on the idea that Israel is somehow “above nature.” How can a physical entity be “above nature”? It’s part of nature!

We’ve seen on a number of occasions that there is a level of physics that describes all forms and phenomena in creation as different modes, or “tones,” of vibration of an underlying unified field. In an analogous way, there is a “unified field” that underlies all creation – a field of pure Existence. From this field spring all the laws of nature, yet it is transcendental to nature. If one can project one’s thoughts and actions from this field, one would be in control of all the laws of nature, rather than the usual situation in which the laws of nature control us. Virtually all traditions, including our own, are replete with stories of people who could, in fact, act from this level and in doing so perform “miracles.” Gd, of course, always acts from this level – everything Gd does is a miracle, even if He chooses to order creation so that it acts with great regularity. The “laws of nature” that we discover in science are nothing other than manifestations of Gd’s Will.

How do we come to act from the transcendental level of life? It requires regularly exposing our awareness to the transcendent. That is why we have rituals and prayers and ways of living a well-regulated life. If we train ourselves to have our attention on the deepest level of our own thinking process, then we will begin to project our thoughts from progressively deeper levels, and the world will start to respond in ways that can only be considered miraculous.

I think this is why our Sages tell us that “when Israel does the Will of our Father in Heaven,” we are not governed by nature. It is only when we forget about Gd and only see the natural world that Gd leaves us to our own devices, as we read in the tochachahs of the Torah and in the prophetic writings. If we want Gd to maintain awareness of us and to supervise our actions and protect us from harm, it is up to us to maintain awareness of Gd and to act as He wants us to act.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Lech-Lecha

In Parashat Lech-Lecha, we have another new beginning: Abram is told by Gd to leave his homeland and to go to a land which Gd will show him, a land in which Gd will bestow blessings on him.

We see this make a new start theme in Beresheit, where Adam and Eve are sent out of Eden; we see this in Parashat Noach, where Gd destroys the old civilization, and creates a new one from the couples of all kinds selected by the righteous Noah.

In our own lives we see this sometimes when we are asked to let go the familiar and to trust that Gd will guide us to a better situation in which Gd will bless us.

There are many senses and ways in which this letting go and trusting and enjoying the blessings Gd reveals takes place.

An example:

Every moment we need to let go – cannot, in fact, hold on – to the thought of the moment and trust that the new thought will guide us in a good direction – ideally, a better one since thoughts come from a source that most of us do not know, we must trust that each moment is bringing the seeds of a better.

Another example: When we go to sleep, or when we fall asleep, whether we wish or not, we must let go of the old world and then wake to a world which is the same world and yet somewhat changed because our sleep has changed us, refreshed us, made us somewhat new, and sometimes very new.

A third example: during our prayers, our spiritual practices, we may be praying for the future to be better, we may be opening ourselves to the blessings, the Greater Wholeness, of the moment—certainly, we are hoping for a fresh start, a new beginning, something better than we can imagine, something that Gd will show us–and certainly, to some degree, we get one.

“Lech-Lecha” means, literally, “go for yourself”. Some rabbis take it to mean, “Go to your Self” – a view that is very acceptable to our Beth Shalom community because so many of us have this experience of leaving the surface of our life and going to the depth, our Self, the Self within which rises to the surface, the very important, charming details of our surface life.

In leaving the surface of our life and going to the depth, our Self, we find that we do not know exactly what we will experience, Gd needs to show us, but when we trust, let go the surface, we experience the depth as more and more, our Self, and more and more, Gd’s Blessings, ever new.

Reading this parashah helps us to let go and to become new and, eventually, a lot already and more to come swiftly, Fully Whole, the Reality within which time and Timeless mingle, joyfully mingle.

For sure, we continue letting go and growing, letting go and growing.

Baruch HaShem