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Parshat Lech Lecha: The Biggest Loser

This is the day
Of the Expanding Man
-Steely Dan


In this week’s Torah portion we are introduced to the father of Judaism, Avraham (called Avram at this point, before the name change which will be explained soon). He is also considered to be the first monotheist but this is not really true. Noah certainly believed in One God as did Adam and even contemporaries of Avraham. No, he was not the first to come up with this idea, just the first to really do something about it and get the word out to others. And because he made that extra effort he earned a special covenant with God that continues to this day. 

One would think that being called upon by God to father His special nation might have certain perks and advantages. But when we look at what happens to Avraham in the course of this week’s reading we see that this isn’t necessarily the case. Here is a brief summary of events in Lech Lecha and you’ll see why:

  1. Avraham is told to leave his homeland, his birthplace and his father’s house in present day Iraq and go to Canaan/Israel. Moving is never easy especially thousands of years ago without planes, Googlemaps and Tripadvisor to scout out local lodgings.
  2. Upon arriving in Canaan and being promised the Promised Land he finds it not very promising since a famine ensues and he must depart and head to Egypt to avoid starvation.
  3. In Egypt his beautiful wife, Sarah is accosted and abducted by Pharaoh and his henchmen.
  4. He splits from his nephew, Lot over financial wranglings and disagreements. But then… 
  5. He gets drawn into a war to save Lot’s life – a conflict that has nothing to do with Avraham other than saving his nephew.
  6. God puts him into a terrifying, deep sleep where he receives prophecy of the impending doom of exile that his offspring will suffer ultimately in Egypt (and beyond).
  7. His wife is barren and he reluctantly marries the slave servant, Hagar and has a child with her. Ishmael, the father of the Arab people is born. 
  8. Finally, God tells him to perform the commandment of circumcision, at the age of 90 no less. Ouch.

While things definitely pick up for Avraham later on in next week’s Torah portion, for many years his life was filled with trials and tribulations. And if there is any common theme to all these events it is something more than arbitrary difficulties. It is difficulties of a particular variety, all associated with loss. In fact his life seems to represent loss, separation and a breakdown of all that Avraham knew and cherished. A life where everything that he came from and believed in was stripped away. 

All the things that anyone would want and value were threatened or on very thin ice with Avraham. Every goal, every love, every comfort – all of it was taken from him. 

Whether it is the security of homestead and homeland as in 1: Leave your home and go elsewhere and then 2: No you will not be able to stay in this new home either. Or family, 3: his wife is endangered and 4: his closest relative takes leave of him. Or physical safety, 5: since he gets drawn into a war. Or his future, 6: How will his offspring survive slavery and 7: when will he have his own children? And finally his health, 8: where he is told to undergo surgery as an old man. 

Nothing seems to be simple nor a given in Avraham’s life. Nothing is permanent nor can anything be assumed to be stable. The rest of the world can bop along in their creature comforts, but not Avraham. 

My back to the wall
A victim of laughing chance
This is for me
The essence of true romance

Only because Avraham went through all these problems did it allow him to give rise to the Jewish Nation who carry on his legacy. Only such a man could be the cornerstone of a people that would be able to withstand the trials and tribulations that we Jewish people have endured for thousands of years. There is no other way that we would have survived our losses – our losses of family, our losses of lives, of security, of homes and of homeland – without Avraham’s ability to have lived through every one of these difficulties and still carry on. And not just carry on but even flourish. Avraham planted this within our DNA. 

We are here today only because Avraham didn’t buckle nor break under his many tests. Tests that were crucial to create the man whose name was prophetically changed to Avraham by the end of the parsha, meaning Av Hamon Goyim, a Father of Many Nations as indeed he became. Not just the father of the Israelites and not just the father of the Ishmaelites and not just the spiritual father of Christians, but to everyone and anyone who wishes to join the cause of believing in One God and its off-shoots of Truth, Morality, Justice and making our world a better world. 

Avraham’s life was one of a very unique and singular man who would not and could not go with the flow of everyone else. The society around him may believe and live their lives one way, but Avraham chose, and was chosen, to go in the exact opposite direction all by himself. And because Avraham was able to buck the system, to go against the grain of every wish, need and desire of those around him – only because of this was he able to rise to the top. By losing everything that everyone holds dear, he was able to get it all and then some and become what everyone else could only dream of becoming. 

Only by losing it all was Avraham able to ultimately get it all. He was the biggest loser who became the biggest winner. 

They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose

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