by Lori Gross - October 11, 2013
This week's Torah portion is Lech-L'cha. To put it into context, it is the third parashah of B'reisheet, the book of Genesis. The first parashah is B'reisheet itself, the story of creation. The second parashah, which was read last week, is Noach, the story of Noah and the ark. Then, it is in Lech-L'cha, the third parashah, where the story of Avraham and the Jewish people really begins.
Lech-L'cha begins with God commanding Avraham "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you. God then promises: I will make you into a great nation and make your name great and you shall be a blessing.
Lech-L'cha is not only a command for Avraham to leave his physical surroundings, but a command to make a philosophical departure. He lived in a land where everyone, including his own father, worshipped idols. Avraham rejected his pagan upbringing and showed his faith in God through his actions. Even as a child, he believed there was a single God who created the universe and who required ethical and moral conduct. It was after Avraham's extraordinary spiritual breakthrough that God issued his directive to Avraham. As a result, Avraham changed the course of civilization.
There are other tests of faith in Lech-L'cha, including the act of circumcision (b'rit milah). This is established in Lech-L'cha as the earliest Jewish ritual. As a sign of their covenant, God commands Avraham, at age 99, to circumcise himself and the future generations that come from Avraham and Sarah. God also promised to give Avraham and his 90 year old wife, Sarai, a son who was named Isaac. Once again, Avraham obeys. The ritual of circumcision continues today, almost 4,000 years later – which is an indication of its significance to the Jewish people and their relationship with God.
There is a notion that we should live with the times – meaning, the weekly Torah portion should be experienced in our own lives. The literal translation of Lech-L'cha is "Go to yourself". Look within yourself, stand up for your principles and live by what is right, not by what is popular. We must think independently and, at times, have the courage to distance ourselves from the influences of those around us. Avraham stood against the tide, yet had the courage to follow his convictions.
Today, as we gather to celebrate our sons' B'nai Mitzvah, I hope they'll continue to practice the many important lessons they've learned through this process and will have the same courage to follow both their convictions and their dreams.