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Dan Has Questions About Our First Ancestors: Parshat Lech Lecha

11/04/2022 08:26:11 AM


Dan Leemon

At the end of last week's Parshah, we were told of the many generations descended from Noah and his family after the great flood. Nine generations later, three of these individuals were Abram, his wife Sarai, and his nephew Lot, and that's where this week's Parsha begins. 

This week's Parshah is called Lech Lecha, which literally means "go you". This is God's command to Abram: "Go you from your land, from where you were born, from your father's house, to a place I will show you." God tells Abram that his name will be well-known, and he will be a blessing, and that those who bless him will be blessed, and those who curse him will be cursed. The Torah does not tell us why God selected Abram for this mission and this promise, but Abram goes, without any reply or question, and, by doing so, becomes the first Jew. 

- What do you think God was looking for when Abram and Sarai were selected?

- What would you want Abram and Sarai to be like as people? What would they have to be like for you to be proud to have them as your ancestors?

- Why do you think Abram went as God instructed? Would you have gone?

God has them travel to the land of Canaan, and tells Abram that this land is for him and his descendants. But after settling in Canaan, there is a famine, and Abram takes his family to a place that has plenty of food: Egypt. 

- Does this story remind you of another story that comes later in the Torah? (Hint: the other story is the basis for a holiday we celebrate every spring.)

If it sounds familiar, there's more: The king of Egypt (Pharaoh) sees that Sarai, Abraham's wife, is beautiful, and brings her to his palace. God brings a plague on Egypt as a result, to protect Sarai, and Pharaoh sends Abram and Sarai home, with cattle, donkeys, camels, and flocks of sheep. So while this story has some similarities to the story of Passover - famines, a Pharaoh, a plague - it ends rather quickly and differently. 

Abram and Lot are wealthy and have so many sheep that their shepherds argue about the grazing land and cannot figure out how to share it. So Abram and Lot agree to separate, and each finds a different place to live with plenty of land. God again promises Abram that this land will be for his descendants, and that there will be many of them.

- Do you ever have a conflict - perhaps with a friend of sibling - about sharing or taking turns? How do you resolve it?

- God promises Abram land - not gold or silver or other things of value. Why was land so important in ancient times?

Not long after, there's a war in the land, and one of the groups that is fighting kidnaps Lot and takes him to the city of Sodom (we'll hear more about that city later in the Torah). Abram organizes a group of fighters and successfully rescues Lot. The leaders of the warring factions recognize that Abram worships, and has been strengthened by, what they call "the one true God".

Abram and Sarai have this far been unable to bear children. Abram points this out to God and asks, "what good is the land you've promised me if there are no children to inherit it?" God tells Abram to count the stars in the sky - and says that Abram will have as many descendants as that. God also tells Abram that his descendants end up as slaves in a foreign land, but God promises to bring them back to the land Abram has been promised.

- What story is God telling Abram (Hint: See Jewish holiday reference a few paragraphs back!)

- Have you ever tried to count the stars in the night sky? How many do you think you could count? Is there anything you'd like to have as many of as the stars in the sky? Why?

Meanwhile, Sarai is concerned that she and Abram have no children, and tells him to try to have a baby with her maid, Hagar. This seems rather odd and inappropriate to us in modern times, but it was not uncommon in ancient times. (Later on, of the twelve tribes descended from Jacob, Abraham's grandson, four are born to Jacob's wives' maids - but let's not get ahead of the story.) Anyway: Hagar quickly becomes pregnant, and Sarai gets angry and punishes her, so Hagar runs away from the household. God comes to Hagarm tells her to return to Abram and Sarai's household (even though living with Sara's anger and mistreatment will be difficult). God promises Hagar that she will have a son, who will have many descendants. God tells her to name him "Ishmael", which means "God has listened".

- Have you ever wanted to run away? Why? How could you - or others around you - have dealt differently with the situation that cause you to want to run away?

- Do you know what your name means? If not, look it up. Do you know why you were given that name?

God then tells Abram that he will now be called "Abraham", which means "father of many," again promising that a great nation will be descended from Abraham. God also changes Sarai's name to Sarah - the "h" (the Hebrew letter "hey") added to each of their names is also one of the letters that symbolizes God's name. God them promises Abraham that Sarah will have a son, who will be named Isaac, and that God's agreement with Abraham will be carried on through generations starting with Isaac. So the Parshah ends with God making yet another promise to Abraham, in addition to the land and all the descendants already promised. 

- What do you think of all these predications - of land, a son, many descendants, slavery in Egypt, return to the promised land? Were these things certain just because God predicted them, or were they up to the people who would come later?

- Would you like to be told what your life will be like and how things will turn out? Why or why not?

So this Parshah is quite an adventure story - God appearing to Abraham, promising Canaan to him as the home of the Jewish people to come, famines, wars, a foray into Egypt, a kidnapping and a rescue, and the beginning of the next generation. In the last Parshah, God was unhappy with how evil humans turned out to be and was ready to destroy the earth. In this Parshah, God is making promises and predictions about a future that's very far ahead. 

- How has God's attitude toward people changed? Why do you think it changed?

Abram, now Abraham, has uprooted his family as God instructed, traveled to Egypt and nearly lost his wife in search of food, battled to rescue his nephew, worried about Sarah not having children, and accepted God's promise of the land of Canaan and of making Abraham the first of a great people.

- What does all this tell you about the kind of person Abraham was?

We'll learn more about Abraham and his family, and his relationship to God, in next week's Parshah. In the meantime, Shabbat Shalom, and have a good week.



Wed, December 7 2022 13 Kislev 5783