Parashat Lech-Lecha – Erev Shabbat 15 October 2021 (5782)
Week of 10-16 September 2021
Torah portion: Genesis 12:1-17:27 Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27-41:16
Theme: Good – and Bad – News
Covid-19 has, in 18 short (and long!) months, become a common household name. Even young elementary school-aged children can readily recite stats, safety measures, and the seriousness of this worldwide pandemic. The depth of pain and loss experienced by each family may never be fully expressed. Canceled events, final breaths negotiated alone, routines interrupted; disruptions to everyday life and underlying unmitigated anger seem to be present in every sphere of life.
The lament psalms have carried the weight of overwhelming grief for many, perhaps for the first time showing themselves a needed, and appropriate expression of faith. As a community, we cry out, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Ps. 13:1-2) And even as we lament, we also note with surprising joy the places in which and ways the pandemic is revealing goodness and beauty. God’s new work is evident as priorities are reshuffled, family life is resurrected, and new growth blossoms (cf. Isa. 43:19-21). We turn from our lament, as did the psalmist, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” (Ps 13:5-6)
We find expressions with which we can identify in scriptures beyond the psalms. This week’s Parasha Lech-Lecha chronicles the confusing, painful, and blessed journey of patriarch Abram. The constantly changing and evolving pandemic realities pale in comparison to the whiplash Abram must have experienced as the Lord spoke to him of things to come. God promised Abram descendants – the making of a great nation: “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them…So shall your offspring be.” (Gen. 15:5) He also promised Abram an amazing expanse of land: “To your descendants, I give this land.” (Gen 15:18) And yet, in the same breath, God also told Abram, “For four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.” (Gen. 15:13) According to Frymer-Kensky, Abram experiences the way biblical texts appear to suggest, “the way to God’s reward is through the margins of society and the depths of degradation.” (Held, 21)
Scripture does not detail Abram’s reaction, but after the past 18 months, we might imagine, because we have been there ourselves. The Good – and bad – news come in one after the other. While we long for the rewards of God, few of us willingly embrace suffering and trials. The two come hand-in-hand or are perhaps two sides of the same coin. Abram learned that. Have we?
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Have you experienced a whiplash moment similar to Abram’s? 2. What other biblical characters experienced something similar? 3. Respond to Frymer-Kensky’s observation that God’s reward comes through degradation and marginalization. What does that suggest about the character and values of God?
Bibliography: Held, S. The Heart of Torah, Vol 1 (Philadephia: 2017).
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Rev. Dr. Kristen Bennett Marble, USA, Bat Kol Alumna: 2015