Lech-l’cha: Get to yourself… and the others
The reading portion of the week is "Lech lecha\לך לך - Go, march out, reach yourself". God said these words to Abram (Genesis/Bereishit 12:1-17:20). God insisted to make him leave his native land; go out from his father's house and homeland. The words clearly mean that Abram is called by God to "become a great nation, be blessed... and all the families of the earth (mishpechot haadamah\משפחות האדמה) shall bless themselves by you [in/through your name]”. This also implies that these humans, organized in families, were fashioned out of the earth - adamah\אדמה like the Adam haqadmon\אדם הקדמון, address themselves a blessing and not a cursing. They cannot restrict their benedictions to themselves but extend them to each other, nation to nation, family of the earth to any other nation of the earth.
"Lech lecha\לך לך" sounds beautiful and like a challenge in Hebrew. "Halach\הלך - to go, march in/out, go forth" has this short imperative form and the shortened "l-ל" from "el\אל, al\על, if not halach\הלך" shows something irrepressible. This is a major Shabbat and week in the Jewish cycle of the readings. In this portion, Abram accepts God's call to a move that, in his cultural and social environment could only appear to be as a frightful, dangerous, hopeless and meaningless goal.
Fear is worse than anxious ignorance. Fear that we may discover when life can be set in a series of dangers imperiling our freedom, freewill, change our points of views or, on the contrary, widen them unexpectedly. There is much courage in Abram's response to God. Indeed, he finally left his homeland and marched out. Did he come out as an adult? He did it twice because, when he firstly tried to leave his father's house, he got so scared according to the Tradition that he ran back or maybe did not even look too far.
Abram lived in a male civilization. We know nothing about his mom. Let's even think that the man is a character composed of different personalities that lived at a certain period in the same region of Sumer. By his time, Sumer was the cradle of reflection and self-conscience and culture. He is linked to a civilization that got aware that life is not vain. Life makes sense, comes from God and turns toward God. He had a mother like anyone of us. She might have been quite a character too! Abram does not leave his father's house, his homeland. We are told that he did leave his country and home. We know that he sent Eliezer to his father's home in order to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac. Isaac's son, Jacob did the same. The third and last patriarch of Israel always chose his home tribe and parentage to prolong and develop Abraham's call to be a great nation.
The point is that Abram left his mom when he understood that he had to break the ties that existed in his father's house. When he left Ur-Kasdim and the area of Haran, he combated and overcame idolatry, destroying the mother-like natural nourishing and nurturing idols whose natural flavor he had suckled from his mother’s breasts.
It is difficult to struggle and to go beyond the reach of this very gregarious experience. Abram has always been obedient to God… and to Sarai (Sarah) to some extent; safe when he was about to “give” her to Pharaoh. He was so afraid by Pharah that he introduced his wife as being his sister. This kind of problem of fear copes with some existential anxiety that she could resolve for a while. Sarah made Abram really quit his father’s house. Their family bond anticipated serfdom in Egypt when she proposed him to get a child with her maidservant Hagar, an Egyptian. From Mesopotamia to the Nile, Abraham and Sarah dug down to the heart of the Semitic and universal call:
“Vehifreti otcha bimeod meod\והפרתי אתך במאד מאד - I shall make you exceedingly fertile – unetatecha legoyim\ונתתיך לגוים and make nations of you” (Bereishit 17:6). This fertility is meant as “bimeod meod\במאד מאד – in the very too much = totally human as Adam, using the same consonants as when God saw that His creation was “tov meod\טוב מאד – very good” (Gen. 1:31).
We have to face in our daily life the same problem of faith: is the creation really so nice? Frankly, this is a pending cultural and environmental interrogation. The animal micro- and macro-cosmos consists in a constant fight for survival and not being swallowed, forced to be killed. On the second day of Rosh HaShanah, there is the seder tashlich\סדר תשליח : "Who is a God like You, Who pardon iniquity and forgive transgression for the remnant of His heritage? ... You will cast all their sins into the depths of sea\ותשליח במצולת ים כל חטאתם " (Micah 7:18-20). Still, the sea depths are definitely not a peaceful and magnificent place. Fish eat fish, beasts capture and capture the nicest colorful fish species. There is no harm. Ever since, the "seder Tashlich\ סדר תשליך" phrases correspond to the 13 Attributes of the Lord's loving-kindness (Exodus 34:6-7).
Bestiality shows everywhere in a world and human societies often based on hatred and swallowing processing dynamics. The prophetic vision of the bear living with lions, sheep and a small child is not a League of Nations dream after the collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian empire that gathered in so many Central and East European nations under the Habsburg while Kamal Atatürk took the lead of a new Turkish republic after the fall of the Ottoman empire 90 years ago. The Prophets did not envision peace amidst humans as being comparable with raw and wild animal instinct. The United Nations Organization remains a platform for some kind of strategical dialog and encounters.
The ancient ascetic [often monastic] way of living tries to match natural, ecological realm and respect environment and wildlife. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I of Constantinople repeatedly insists on the obligation for the faithful to respect the Earth and all plants, animals, the environment. It is and has always been a dynamic move in the Eastern Church.
Vegetarian food, avoid eating animal flesh and blood do correspond to the the Noahide Laws and St. James' decision at the Jerusalem synod (49-52?). The Eastern Orthodox tradition does focus on healthy food, recurrent fasting periods over the year. This is why the Christian Orthodox check the ingredients that are foun in oil, vegetables, products, beverages, meat and fish. These rules should positively be compared with the Laws governing Kosher food and cleansing methods because they are historically connected and reply upon the very similar fundamentals. We commemorate the memory of Isaac Bashevis Singer, the great Yiddish writer who, after World War II decided that he never will eat animal food. He became a vegetarian that seemingly was "contradictory" to his moral views as described in his books.
On the other hand, this does not mean at all that the creation is at peace. Ants eat termites and tigers eat eliphants! Animals are cruel: any veto makes this crude experience when trying to cure an injured or sick pet! Praying mantis are beautiful and swift: bees and praying mantis turn to man-eaters... the list is long but real. Now, human beings never really cared about how to protect their environment, except in the field of a respectful attitude taught by the Mitzvot. The Noahide law that prohibits to remove or break a limb from a living animal or the mitzvah/commandment not to kill the mother of fledglings introduce moral conscience and true ethics.
We have certainly reached a bottom line in the 20th century. Mass murders, genocides using gas that got more and more sophisticated systematized the fascination exercised upon human brains and masochist tendencies that always existed.
Abram left Ur-Kasdim and the house of his father and humbled himself with Sarai to go through the ten "nissayonot\נסיונות = tests'. The last one is the Akeidat Itzchak\עקדת יצחק - binding of Isaac" whose account is read every day during Shaharit\Morning prayer.
Abraham reached his "self-conscience point". This is very rare. It is a mental quest. It is even more difficult in our generation because we are hedonistic, very self-mirroring, individually self-centered. This often affects religious life: again, the faithful never compete. They are called to be one without judging the others. One of the big problems is that time passes, societies change but never repeat the same pattern. Development shows new situations and positioning. But we are slow to cope or accept that.
Nonetheless, on forthcoming Tuesday 11th of November 2011, the world will commemorate the end of the first world war. 1918 was a real deadline, an unimaginable turn in our civilization. It stopped a period of some sort of European connections, empire and conflicts, caused the fall of other grandiose leaderships.
In 1917, the Balfour Declaration confirmed His Majesty's positive views that backed the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine... Russia, China, Japan, East Africa, Spain and Germany along with the raise of the American states or Canadian provinces, Argentina and Brazil, the French recovery of Alsace-Lorraine and cultural impact... Europe and the world will start its strong addiction to oil - petrol and gas.
Ur-Kasdim, the Near and Middle-East became with the Indian peninsula, Pakistan and the birthplaces for profitable actions. The area got the feedback or boomerang slap of spirituality that erased the first fundamentals born in the region. This paradox continues in the shape of a burning metamorphose.
The Eastern Orthodox Church proposes the reading of the "Jesus' priestly prayer" in St. John ch. 17: "Father, I have manifested Your Name unto the men that You gave me out of the world: Yours they were and You gave them me; and they have kept Your word... I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil... Sanctify them through Your truth: Your word is truth".
Go, march in, forward consists in reaching this Divine Truth, i.e. not only the heart of who we are but Who "Ehyeh Asher Eyeh\אהיה אשר אהיה - I am the One I am [become the One I am in the process of becoming constantly], the Living Lord.
Av Aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)