Reflections – Lech-Lecha
This week’s parsha, Lech Lecha, has been translated by Rashi as “Go for yourself” or as Maimonides puts it, simply “Go”. As with all great stories, this one involves a journey, one filled with hope, heartache, war and promises.
The parsha begins with Abram’s journey to the land of Canaan, a journey which takes him, his wife Sarai and his household to Negeb, Egypt, Bethel, Hebron and many other places. Whilst I will not spoil the many twists and turns of this story, there are several key themes that render it one of the most significant in Jewish liturgy. These include: miracles, the role of women, transformation and, of course, the covenant.
Whilst the six chapters recount Abram’s and Sarai’s time in Egypt, wars fought (and won) by Abram, the birth of Abram’s son, Ishmael, to Sarai’s handmaid, Hagar, the renaming of Abraham and Sarah and the conception of Isaac by a 99 year old Abram and a 90 year old Sarai, it is a prophecy and the covenant that are the focus of my reflections.
In chapter 15 of the parsha, Abram falls into a deep sleep and God speaks to him: “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance”. There is no doubt that this prophecy is a bitter sweet one which would have troubled Abram and no doubt still troubles Jews today. At a time when examples of anti-Semitism are all too prevalent in our society, the prophecy resonates for us today.
When Abraham is 99 years old, God speaks to him once more and says “And as for thee, thoushalt keep My covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised’¦and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.” Thus the tradition of circumcision was created.
It was whilst reading these passages that I began to think of my own covenant with God and what it means to be (or become) a Jew. It is not surprising that some people find it hard to understand why someone would choose to convert to Judaism considering the history of the people and the atrocities that Jews have experienced. With a world that at times appears godless and unjust, why would one choose to convert to a religion at all, let alone one with a prophecy predicting oppression and enslavement?
However, the prophecy does not end here. There is the all important promise of freedom. It is the fulfilment of this part of the prophecy, and seeing the inspirational stream of new students choosing to be on the conversion course, that assures me that the power of the covenant is everlasting and that we, the Jewish people, are indeed continuing our journey to freedom.
Samantha Kay is a member of New North London Synagogue
Sources: The Soncino Chumash, 2nd Edition, 4th Impression 1993.