The following post is the translation of the Dvar Torah that I gave this morning in Hebrew at our synagogue on the occasion of our son’s barmitzvah. I’m mostly putting it up here so that those in my family who don’t understand Hebrew can read it, and so that those family members who were unable to join us can also read it. Mazal Tov Elnadav – you are the best son a mother could pray for.
Breishit (Genesis) Chapter 12, v 1-2
וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ
“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.”
וְאֶעֶשְׂךָ, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל, וַאֲבָרֶכְךָ, וַאֲגַדְּלָה שְׁמֶךָ; וֶהְיֵה, בְּרָכָה.
“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing.”
Parashat Lech Lecha, to me, is the first indication we have of Israel being the Promised Land for the Jewish people.
After man is exiled from the Garden of Eden everything goes downhill. The world goes bad, God brings a flood and only Noah, his family, the animals & Og the King of Bashan survive. After the flood, the world quickly returns to its wicked ways, and the people, who all speak the same language, build a tower to reach the God in the sky, and God’s solution is to give them all individual languages and confuse them all. Imagine how easy Aliya would be if the tower of Babel had never been built! We would all speak the same language and there would be no ulpan!
Avram, born in the year 1948 after creation – no coincidence in my opinion – is living in Haran, married to Sarai, and according the famous midrash, is working with his father Terach, who had an idol shop. Idolatry was normal in Mesopotamia, an ancient civilization, rich in culture and in some kind of worship. It is no coincidence that the land given to us as Israel, is situated exactly between Mesopotamia and Egypt – the two most ancient civilizations. According to the midrash, Avram knew there was something more to faith than idols, and he smashed up the idols in his father’s shop to prove that there was nothing to them, that there was indeed a higher being.
Now it’s all very well to take a stand against your parents. What teenager hasn’t voiced an opinion that he knows will shock his parents to the core? But in Avram’s case, he didn’t stop with just voicing his opinion. Avram heard the voice of God, and Avram did what he was told to do.
A man is told by a voice to take his wife and his possessions, and to leave his homeland and most of his family. He is told to go to the place that the voice will take him to, a place where he has not been before. He is sent to Canaan, a mostly barren land, occupied by feuding kings and multiple nations. With no hesitation, just a complete belief and faith in this monotheistic being that he believes is the one true God, off he goes. Are we today capable of having that type of blind faith in God, or have we become too cynical for that to be possible? Today, with all the different brands of Judaism, with all the sinat chinam (baseless hatred) between all of us, is there any chance for any one of us to rediscover that pure belief in God?
“וַיְהִי רָעָב, בָּאָרֶץ; וַיֵּרֶד אַבְרָם מִצְרַיְמָה לָגוּר שָׁם, כִּי-כָבֵד הָרָעָב בָּאָרֶץ“. (Gen 12 v 10)
“And there was a famine in the land; and Avram went down to Egypt to dwell there, because the famine was bad in the land”
And yet, shortly after Avram arrives in the Land of Canaan, there’s a famine, and Avram chooses to go down to Egypt. Why does Avram choose to leave Canaan, the land that God has shown him and has promised to him? Surely he should show the same faith in God that he showed when he left his homeland to go to Canaan to begin with?
According to the Ramban, Avram sinned by going down to Egypt and by making his wife Sarai lie to Pharoah:
“ודע, כי אברהם אבינו חטא חטא גדול בשגגה, שהביא אשתו הצדקת במכשול עוון מפני פחדו פן יהרגוהו. והיה לו לבטוח בה’ שיציל אותו ואת אשתו ואת כל אשר לו, כי יש בא-לוהים כוח לעזור ולהציל. גם יציאתו מן הארץ שנצטווה עליה בתחילה מפני הרעב – עוון אשר חטא, כי הא-לוהים ברעב יפדנו ממות
“And you should know that our father Avraham committed a great sin unintentionally, in which he brought his righteous wife to stumble into transgression because of his fear of getting killed, and he should have trusted the Name to have saved him, his wife and all that was his, because Elohim has power to help and to save. Also his going out from the land – of which he had been commanded at the beginning – due to famine was a transgression that he committed, because Elohim would have saved him from dying (even) in a famine.”
However, if we read the text as it is in the Torah, we can argue that the Ramban’s theory is not without flaws. Did Avraham really sin by going down to Egypt? No, because before Avraham goes to Egypt, when he is still in Alon Moreh, God promises the land to his descendants and not to him personally: “לְזַרְעֲךָ אֶתֵּן אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת – Unto thy seed will I give this land” (Gen 12 v 7). The actual promise of the land to Avraham himself and to his descendants comes only after he returns to Israel from Egypt and after he has parted from Lot:
“כִּי אֶת-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה רֹאֶה, לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה, וּלְזַרְעֲךָ, עַד-עוֹלָם.”
“for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. ” (Gen 13 v 15)
Therefore we can surmise that it was acceptable for Avraham to go down to Egypt when there was famine, because at that time he was still wandering the land, and it had not yet been promised to him personally. God had not told Avraham to settle the land, only to wander the land. Only later, after returning from Egypt does God’s intention become clearer. Once Avraham had split from Lot, Avraham was given the land for himself and his heirs, and after that he never left the land of Israel again.
Rabbi Menacham Leibtag suggests that God did not make the full promise to Avraham until after he separates from Lot, because Avraham had viewed Lot as his heir. Lot was his orphaned nephew, and as long as he had no sons of his own, Avraham saw Lot as his son. So when God made the original promise of the land to Avraham, “לזרעך אתן את הארץ הזאת “ – “to your seed I give this land” Avraham took it to mean Lot. After their shepherds fought Lot chose to go his own way – and he chose a way that was both physically and spiritually distant from Avraham (Physically he went far to the East, near the Jordan River, rather than nearby on not so distant mountains. Spiritually, by choosing the area near the Jordan River, Lot was saying he wasn’t counting on God to guarantee water, but the river would ensure that there was water, while Avraham relied on God to provide rain). The Torah specifically says:
וַיהוָה אָמַר אֶל-אַבְרָם, אַחֲרֵי הִפָּרֶד-לוֹט מֵעִמּוֹ, שָׂא נָא עֵינֶיךָ וּרְאֵה, מִן-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה שָׁם–צָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה, וָקֵדְמָה וָיָמָּה.
כִּי אֶת-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה רֹאֶה, לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה, וּלְזַרְעֲךָ, עַד-עוֹלָם.
וְשַׂמְתִּי אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ, כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ: אֲשֶׁר אִם-יוּכַל אִישׁ, לִמְנוֹת אֶת-עֲפַר הָאָרֶץ–גַּם-זַרְעֲךָ, יִמָּנֶה.
“And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him: ‘Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward and southward and eastward and westward;
for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.
And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth; so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.” (Gen 13 v 14-16)
Once Lot was out of the equation, God’s repeated promise to Avraham about giving the land to his descendants took on a new meaning to Avraham – now it was clear that by descendants, he meant of Avraham’s own seed.
Immediately after the clarification of the promise, God tells Avraham to keep wandering:
ק֚וּם הִתְהַלֵּ֣ךְ בָּאָ֔רֶץ לְאָרְכָּ֖הּ וּלְרָחְבָּ֑הּ כִּ֥י לְךָ֖ אֶתְּנֶֽנָּה: “Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for unto thee will I give it” (Gen 13 v 17)
This phrase is at the top of every permission slip I get from my kids’ schools for field trips, and I never tire of seeing it.
A little over two years ago, Keith & I said to Elnadav our son: “Leave your country, the land of your birth, and go to this country we will show you, where you have never before set foot” and Elnadav, like Avraham, listened, and went. When I say, he listened and he went, I mean, he did not have to be dragged onto the plane. Like Avraham, Elnadav arrived in the Promised Land where he knew no one and did not speak the language, but he has made a fantastic life for himself here. He has many, many friends, I’ve been told he speaks Hebrew (and though he will never speak it in front of me, after hearing him read from the Torah today I know now that he reads it very well) and he has maintained his general carefree personality, in spite of the challenges he has faced. Elnadav wherever you go you find friends and followers. Your character traits are similar to Avraham Avinu in many ways. You are modest, never boasting about your achievements. You are a shrewd yet honest businessman. You are happy to get by on what you have, even though your luck tends to bring wealth in your direction without you even trying. You constantly attract others – kids of all ages like to follow you and learn things from you – solving Rubik’s cubes in almost record time, Capoeira, football, basketball, pretty much everything you attempt, you manage to succeed in. My blessing to you is that you continue to be successful in all that you do, that you always maintain your humility and your smile. I am bursting with pride right now.
While Avraham Avinu came to a land that was mostly barren, Elnadav came to a country that is flourishing. I stood up in our synagogue this morning, not only as Elnadav’s proud mother, but also proud to be part of this very special community in the Land of Israel. I want to take this opportunity (because I doubt I will ever stand up there again) to thank the Berman community for making our Aliya & absorption so easy, and for welcoming us to Israel, not only with open arms, but with open homes and open hearts. I think I speak for many people in our synagogue, when I say that while our families are far away geographically, this community allows us to form new bonds, to create “almost family” so that no one is ever alone. My children, who do not see their cousins often enough, have friends here that they are so close to they may as well be cousins. Together with our almost-family we are forming new traditions for festivals, while keeping our own family customs. This is a wonderful, magical place, where it is truly possible to turn Aliya into “living the dream”. In the inimitable words of Herzl:
אם תרצו אין זו אגדה ואם לא תרצו כל אשר סיפרתי לכם אגדה הוא יוסיף להיות .
“If you will it, it is no dream, and if you don’t will it, everything I have told you will a dream continue to be”
May all of you, who are not yet living in the State of Israel merit to join us soon, so we can sing to them, like our community sang to us “ושבו בנים לגבולם” (and the children return to their borders) and hasten the arrival of mashiach and the geulah (redemption).