The Start of a New Journey

Cheshvan 11 5780

The motto of this community is כִּי בֵיתִי בֵּית-תְּפִלָּה יִקָּרֵא לְכָל-הָעַמִּים “…for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” Isaiah 56:7b. We are comprised of many nations here and each of us brings experiences from our past. We each are marked by beliefs that are embedded within. From the moment that we change these beliefs, we find ourselves confronted with opposition from family and friends. Abram was told by the Creator “lech lecha”, get away from the people to whom he was attached, and go out on his own. Many of us can understand that very well. We have left our countries and have had to start again. We have had to adjust to a new way of life in so many areas which helps us to understand this Parashat Lech Lecha.

Abram was told to leave his father’s home with their many gods and go to a place that he did not know. He left with his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, all his belongings and with “v’et hanephesh asher asou b’charan- וְאֶת-הַנֶּפֶשׁ, אֲשֶׁר-עָשׂוּ בְחָרָן all the souls that he made in Charan.” These people accepted Abram’s understanding of the one God. None of them were his descendants with the exception of Lot but they followed him. They formed a new community of believers in the one God. Abram would become the father of many nations. God would bless those who blessed him and curse those who cursed him, and he would be a blessing to all the nations.

This was the foundation of kahal Israel, the community of Israel, comprised of many nations under one God. All these people had one thing in common– they were “called” by the Creator. Genesis 12:8 says that Abram built an altar to the LORD and he invoked the name of יהוה Yud Heh Vav Heh, showing us that Abram knew how to pronounce the name. Our sages have told us that it is wrong to pronounce His Name while the Torah teaches us the opposite. We have fallen into the trap of following human interpretation instead of the Torah. The third of the Ten Commandments tells us not to take the Name of the LORD in vain.

לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת-שֵׁם-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לַשָּׁוְא
כִּי לֹא יְנַקֶּה יְהוָה, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-יִשָּׂא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ לַשָּׁוְא.

It doesn’t say that we cannot pronounce or speak it; rather we are not to use His name in vain which means not to put words in His mouth. We are not to misuse the things He told us.

It was a great challenge to Abram because he had to walk by faith, allowing the Creator to lead him on the way. How could Abram be so sure that it was the Creator who spoke to Him? Perhaps he was Schizophrenic. Everywhere he went it became evident that the Creator was with him. I love the fact that the Torah shows us that all our heroes were very human with their frailties and faults. Everyone speaks of how Abram was a man of “super-faith” however immediately after he was called righteous because he believed God, Abraham asked Sarah to repeat to Abimelech, King of Gerar, what she had told the Egyptians, that he was her brother so that they wouldn’t kill him and take her. His son, Isaac would later do the same. Where was his faith then? The Torah is bluntly honest to show us that the Creator works with us as we are, imperfect human beings.

We might think that Lot was more perfect than the rest because he was Abram’s blood relative, but Lot clearly shows his true nature. Abram had to fight four kings to rescue him as well as intercede for him when he lived in Sodom. Lot knew that there was only one God but, in the end, he chose prosperity over walking with the Creator. Even Eleazer, Abram’s servant was more faithful. The Torah is teaching us not to make men into heroes but that each of us needs to be faithful to our calling. Each of us here has a calling that we need to show to others. This doesn’t mean that we need to convert others. No one can convert anyone to anything. Abram spoke to the people around him about what he had heard; those who believed him followed him and those who didn’t remain behind. We can’t be a witness about our Creator by being holier than thou; rather by allowing others to see our imperfections and despite them, we are made righteous by God who is in us. Our lives will demonstrate to others who we are.

Abram needed to leave his home so that their pagan ways would not overwhelm him. Today we live in a world in which human traditions overshadow the truth of the Torah. We need to depart from an institution that has been corrupted by greed. Just because we talk about God, doesn’t mean that He is with us. How do we live our lives? We are in a process of growth, where we sometimes take two steps forward and one step backward. This helps us improve but we will never be perfect. The Creator never abandoned Abraham no matter what he did wrong, showing us that we have the opportunity to always return to Him.

Sometimes, like Sarai, we think we need to give the Creator a hand in getting something that seemed impossible done but look at the consequences! When we do something outside the will of God, we suffer. The names Sarai and Abram were both changed to Sarah and Abraham because they chose to walk with God despite their failures. God knew that their hearts and their intentions were not evil and that they wanted to make reparation for their mistakes. Abram had the desire to follow the God who had revealed Himself to him. Most people think that they decided to follow the Creator, but it is always the Creator who reveals himself to us and then we respond. Belief or faith is not enough; both faith and free will are gifts of God; the step we need to take is to put these into action. A follower follows man, but a leader follows God. Are we followers or are we leaders?