Parsha Lech Lecha: Establishing a covenant with God

This week’s d’var Torah comes to you from Bovay Scout Ranch, where we are preparing for the 17th Houston Kinus.  I am writing this week in memory of my dear mother, Ethel Block, the sister, mother and grandmother of Eagle Scouts, and a supporter of Scouting.  Her jahrzeit will be this weekend, and she would be glad to know that we will remember her at a gathering of Jewish Scouts.

Dear Scouts:

Last week, when we began to learn about our Father Abraham (Avraham Avinu) we saw that Judaism teaches us we must be responsible for the community in which we live.  This week, in parashat Lech Lecha, we see Abraham (still known as Abram) try to live up to that.

You’ll recall that one of the signs that the people of the Tower of Babel were concerned with their own importance was their statement, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed across the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4)

By contrast, Abram’s goal is to live a righteous life – to take responsibility for fulfilling God’s purpose for humankind.  God sees this, and wants Abram to succeed. The first step is to send Abram to a new land, Canaan, where he would be free of the corrupting influences of his home of Ur Chasdim.  God makes a covenant with Abram. If Abram will take his family to Canaan, “I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.” The people of the Tower of Babel wanted to make a name for themselves by building a city and failed. God sent Abram to a life of isolation in a new land, and promised to make his name great.

At many turns of his journey, Abram takes responsibility for fulfilling his role in God’s plan. In Canaan, Abram and his nephew, Lot, have been blessed with ever increasing flocks of sheep, and the land cannot hold all of them. So, Abram and Lot decide to go different ways, and Abram takes responsibility for the welfare of his nephew – he allows Lot to choose which way he wants to go.

When Lot is captured in a war, Abram again takes responsibility for his nephew’s well-being. He leads the men of his household against the army that has taken Lot, and rescues Lot.

God tells Abram that He will reward him, and Abram asks what good a reward will be when he and Sarai are not able to have children. God replies that He will give Abram a child, and make his offspring as numerous as the stars. Sarai takes responsibility for the continuation of Abram’s work by telling him to marry Hagar, her maidservant, so that Abram can have children.

Then God changes the couple’s names to Abraham and Sarah, as signs of their future status as the noble parents of a great people. As a sign for all the generations, God instructs Abraham to circumcise himself and every male in his household. Abraham is now 99 years old, but he immediately takes responsibility to fulfill God’s commandment, even circumcising himself (though some Sages say it was done by Shem, the son of Noah). This was the 10th of Tishrei, the day that would become Yom Kippur. We know that Abraham was born in the year 1948 from the creation of Adam (after the creation of everything else like the Sun and Moon, so we start with normal, 24-hour days) and his circumcision was 99 years later, in the year 2047. We just observed Yom Kippur of 5774 last month, so we know that Abraham’s circumcision occurred exactly 3,727 years and 27 days ago.

You and I and every other Jewish boy and man share in Abraham’s covenant made so long ago. It is our responsibility to carry on his work, and make the world a better place through a life of righteousness and deeds of loving-kindness, such as our Father Abraham did. Next week we will see more examples of how our Patriarch did this.

Shabbat shalom,

Nelson Block