Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

More on Lech-Lecha

Although I am not blogging the entire cycle this year (still waiting for suggestions on a good theme), I am still going to synagogue regularly and following the weekly parsha.  This week's parsha introduces the patriarch Abraham, as he is commanded to leave his home and go to the land which G*d will give to him and his descendants.

Many rabbinical discussions speculate on what distinguished Abraham to merit this call.  Some create legends out of whole cloth, suggesting that as a small child he saw the folly of idol worship.  Others see him as an adult, observing the world and concluding that there must be a Creator.  Some conclude that G*d calls each and every one of us, just as He called Adam in the Garden of Eden.  It is up to us to respond appropriately.

I have an edition of the Torah which breaks the text thematically rather than strictly along Parsha lines. This edition clued me in to a much more organic explanation of Abraham's prophetic encounter.  His childhood is not a total mystery, to be shrouded in legends.  The end of Parshat Noah gives some extensive detail:

כז  וְאֵלֶּה, תּוֹלְדֹת תֶּרַח--תֶּרַח הוֹלִיד אֶת-אַבְרָם, אֶת-נָחוֹר וְאֶת-הָרָן; וְהָרָן, הוֹלִיד אֶת-לוֹט.27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begot Lot.
כח  וַיָּמָת הָרָן, עַל-פְּנֵי תֶּרַח אָבִיו, בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹלַדְתּוֹ, בְּאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים.28 And Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.
כט  וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם וְנָחוֹר לָהֶם, נָשִׁים:  שֵׁם אֵשֶׁת-אַבְרָם, שָׂרָי, וְשֵׁם אֵשֶׁת-נָחוֹר מִלְכָּה, בַּת-הָרָן אֲבִי-מִלְכָּה וַאֲבִי יִסְכָּה.29 And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.
ל  וַתְּהִי שָׂרַי, עֲקָרָה:  אֵין לָהּ, וָלָד.30 And Sarai was barren; she had no child.
לא  וַיִּקַּח תֶּרַח אֶת-אַבְרָם בְּנוֹ, וְאֶת-לוֹט בֶּן-הָרָן בֶּן-בְּנוֹ, וְאֵת שָׂרַי כַּלָּתוֹ, אֵשֶׁת אַבְרָם בְּנוֹ; וַיֵּצְאוּ אִתָּם מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים, לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן, וַיָּבֹאוּ עַד-חָרָן, וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם.31 And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son's son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.
לב  וַיִּהְיוּ יְמֵי-תֶרַח, חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וּמָאתַיִם שָׁנָה; וַיָּמָת תֶּרַח, בְּחָרָן. 32 And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.

What do we know here? Abraham (then Abram) was the eldest of three sons.  His youngest brother Haran died as a young father, leaving behind a son (Lot) and two daughters (Milcah and Iscah).  Does Abram feel any guilt in this?  As the eldest, does he feel responsible for the tragedy, or for its consequences? His middle brother marries his niece Milcah and (as we learn later) has 8 children with her, as well as 4 children by a concubine.  In the meantime Abram marries his (as we later learn) half-sister Sarai, who turns out to be barren.

In the midst of all this, his aging father decides to uproot from the city of Ur and head towards Canaan.  (Did he have a divine call in this?  What did this trip mean to the father, who had buried his youngest son?)  He takes with him his childless son and daughter-in-law, as well as his orphaned grandson Lot.  Abram and Sarai develop a sort of foster-parenting relationship with Lot.  Nahor and his large clan are left behind. How does this impact Abram?  Disconnected from his familiar town, his friends, and his remaining brother and his family.

Terah, Abram, Sarai and Lot never do arrive in Canaan.  They stop in Haran. In Hebrew this is spelled differently than the deceased brother's name, although this could be a transcription error, as the letters חָ and הָ are quite similar. It may well be that they named their stopping-point in his memory.  Why do they stop?  How does Terah feel about not making it to Canaan?  How does Abram feel about this?

It is in this context that Abram hear's G*d's call:

א  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ.1 Now the LORD said unto Abram: 'Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee.
ב  וְאֶעֶשְׂךָ, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל, וַאֲבָרֶכְךָ, וַאֲגַדְּלָה שְׁמֶךָ; וֶהְיֵה, בְּרָכָה.2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing.
ג  וַאֲבָרְכָה, מְבָרְכֶיךָ, וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ, אָאֹר; וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ, כֹּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה.3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.'
ד  וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָם, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֵלָיו יְהוָה, וַיֵּלֶךְ אִתּוֹ, לוֹט; וְאַבְרָם, בֶּן-חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וְשִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה, בְּצֵאתוֹ, מֵחָרָן.4 So Abram went, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him; and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
ה  וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם אֶת-שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת-לוֹט בֶּן-אָחִיו, וְאֶת-כָּל-רְכוּשָׁם אֲשֶׁר רָכָשׁוּ, וְאֶת-הַנֶּפֶשׁ, אֲשֶׁר-עָשׂוּ בְחָרָן; וַיֵּצְאוּ, לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן, וַיָּבֹאוּ, אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן.5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.

G*d's promise does not come in a vacuum.  G*d is promising to make right everything that went wrong in Abram's life.  He will have progeny, he will be a blessing rather than a curse to others (still feeling guilty about his little brother....) and he will complete his father's mission by arriving in Canaan.

This, indeed, is a person with whom we can identify!  Living through personal loss and disconnection, Abram sees in the divine an opportunity for deliverance.  He seeks to create a meaning for his life that is greater than the everyday details of his existence.  He has made a good living in Haran, but he is not settled.  He needs more.  He needs validation that there is a meaning and value to his losses.

And then G*d speaks to him.

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