Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #3 Lech L’kha (Get yourself out) B’resheit (Genesis 12:1-17:27)
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 40:27-41:16
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 7:1-8
This week we are going to address what may seem to be a contradiction between the name of our parashah and the narrative from which it is named. “Lech lecha” is translated as “Go to yourself” rather than “Get yourself out” as we may understand it. After reading the narrative, we will learn that Abraham was actually called out by G-d to become the man G-d had in mind for him. Abraham would be called to leave the familiar and strike out in faith and trust to a new life and a place unknown to him. This would be Abraham’s “exodus from Egypt” experience that provides an example for all who want to be called faithful by G-d at the end of our wilderness journey. This the sidra is dissected for closer examination past the literal wording, we will see that we too, have been called out to ourselves, to fulfill our G-d-given purpose.
Names in the Hebrew language always have an essence; a meaning beyond the simple spelling. This concept is consistent with the names of each parashah. The names they bear provide a clue to the content, even though they are usually taken from a word in the first sentence. But nothing happens by chance, and words are not wasted in G-d’s Torah. Every word in G-d’s Torah is placed where it is by Divine Providence, and it’s truth is being discovered by science and archaeology every day.
We might ask when the names of the Sidrot (order/arrangement) or parashot were first “invented?” The Torah portions seems to have been developed during the Babylonian captivity (6th century BCE). The origin of the first public Torah readings is found in the book of Nehemiah, where Ezra the scribe writes about wanting to find a way to ensure the Israelites would not go astray again. The term parashah” means “portion.” In rabbinic Judaism, there is a law relating to legal documents, that a name mentioned in one becomes a name recognized by Torah law if it has stood unchallenged for 30 days. A Parash, since the names of the Sidrot have stood unchallenged for more than 1,000 years, and are mentioned by Sages such as Rashi, they are recognized as such by Torah. With this background, we can now continue to explore the understanding and implications of “Lech lecha.”
“Lech lecha” is usually translated as “Get thee out (from your country and your birthplace and your father’s house….)” But it literally means, “Go to yourself.” In this context, “Going” has the connotation in Torah of moving towards one’s ultimate purpose of glorifying G-d throughout life. This is strongly hinted at by the phrase, “Go to yourself”—meaning, towards your soul’s essence and your ultimate purpose, that for which you were created. The word “go” also indicates that an individual must take action toward something such as achieving a goal, following a command, etc. Abraham would not have reached his full potential or fulfilled his purpose for G-d’s glory had he not taken action; moved forward; gone away from familiar surroundings.
This was the command given to Abraham, which now we can understand has more than one meaning. He was told to leave the familiar; his father’s house, his hometown which was one of idol worship, and from his kinsmen. He was told to go to a land (Israel) of which he did not yet know. And within Israel he was “going and journeying to the South,” that is, towards Jerusalem. Although he did not know it at the time, he was “ascending” towards an ever- increasing degree of holiness. But juxtaposed in the journey toward holiness and ascent in his relationship to G-d, we see a “sidebar” so to speak which reads “And there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt.” Why this sudden reversal of his spiritual journey, especially as the whole Sidra (as testified by its name) is supposed to contain an account of Abraham’s continual progress towards his fulfillment? This event is certainly a spiritual obstacle; one of many Abraham would have to overcome on his ascent to holiness.
To go to Egypt was itself a spiritual descent—as the verse explicitly says, “And Abram went down to Egypt.” And the cause of his journey— “and there was a famine in the land”—also seems like the deliberate concealment of G d’s blessing. The more so as G d promised Abraham, “And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great.” Is it not strange that when he reached the land that G d had shown him, a famine forced him to leave? This event illustrates just one of the many tests Abraham would have to negotiate on his spiritual journey towards his purpose. Anytime we read about Egypt in the Torah, we understand the country represents a sinful lifestyle; one of idolatry and disdain for the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You will never see a “going up” to Egypt. It is always a lesser state; a moral descent.
Why could G-d have orchestrated this interruption of Abraham’s journey toward his destiny? Because his destiny could not have been reached or his purpose fulfilled without this and the other tests given him. Abraham’s mission was not simply a personal one—it was his task to spread G d’s name and essentially share his witness through his lifestyle. There is a Midrash that compares his many journeyings to the way a spice box must be shaken about, to spread its aroma to all corners of a room. Other testings included his encounter with Pharaoh when Abraham entered Egypt, and Sarah was taken because Abraham did not tell Pharaoh that Sarah was his wife. And even though he did not so much as touch her, it was an evident descent from the spiritual course that seemed to be outlined for them because at this point in his journey, Abraham did not have the level of trust in G-d that he would develop later.
So how, in the face of so many contrary indications, can it be that the whole story of Lech Lecha is—as its name would seem to imply—one of Abraham’s continual ascent towards his destiny? We can work towards a resolution of these difficulties by understanding the inner meaning of the famous dictum, “The works of the Fathers are a sign for the children.” This does not mean simply that the fate of the Fathers is mirrored in the fate of their children. But more strongly, that what they do brings about what happens to their children. Their merit gives their children the strength to follow their example. And in Abraham’s wanderings, the subsequent history of the children of Israel was rehearsed and made possible.
Abraham’s journey down to Egypt foreshadows the future Egyptian Exile. “And Abram went up out of Egypt” presages the Israelites’ redemption. And just as Abraham left, “weighed down with cattle, silver and gold,” so too did the Israelites leave Egypt “with great wealth.” But we must continue this dialogue by looking past the Tanakh to the B’rit Chadashah where Yahshua tells those who ask about what it takes to be a true disciples/talmidim that “If anyone wants to come after me, let him say ‘No’ to himself, take up his execution -stake and keep following me. For whoever wants to save his own life will destroy it, but whoever destroys his life for my sake will find it Matt.16:24-5). In Matthew 10:16 Yahshua told his disciples that “Pay attention! I am sending you out like sheep among wolves, so be as prudent as snakes and as harmless as doves.” In John 17:14-19 we also see the reason Abraham and all others who have responded to the call of the Ruach toward repentance and reconciliation to G-d through Yahshua’s resurrection are destined to suffer trials throughout our earthly journey. In this passage, Yahshua is praying to the Father just before he was taken captive by the Roman cohort. Yahshua prayed “I have given them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world. I don’t ask you to take them out of the world, but to protect them from the Evil One. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Set them apart for holiness by means of the truth-your word is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. On their behalf I am setting myself apart for holiness, so that they too may be set apart for holiness by means of the truth.” We see the interplay of the use of “word” and “truth,’ which are synonymous with YHVH/Yahshua. Although Abraham did not have the written Torah during his life, he did have the Living Torah of G-d personified as one of the angels who came to his tent and foretold the birth of Isaac (Gen. 18:1-10), and the word of G-d through his verbal conversations with G-d as Adonai and El Shaddai (Gen 17:1). Again, the truth of the Word of G-d is supported by comparing the Tanakh to the B’rit Chadashah with the same results. More important is the consistency of G-d’s word, YHVH/Yahshua through both the Old and Refreshed/Renewed Covenants. There is no contradiction in the teaching of G-d’s Word by G-d himself as Emanuel/Yahshua the Messiah and the commands/instructions of Adonai Elohim Tzva’ot.
Understood in this light, we can see the end of Abraham’s journey to Egypt foreshadowed in its beginning. For its purpose was his eventual departure “weighed down with cattle, silver and gold,” expressing the way in which he was to transform the most secular and heathen things and press them into the service of G d. This was indeed the purpose of the Israelites’ exile into Egypt, that G d’s presence should be felt in this most intransigent of places. The final ascent was implicit in the descent.
There is, in Jewish learning, an image which captures this oblique directedness. The Babylonian Talmud, unlike the Jerusalem Talmud, never reaches its decisions directly but arrives at them through digressions and dialectics which shed, in their apparent meandering, provide more insight than a direct path. Such is life as well. It takes trials and adversities; wind bending the young tree to stimulate growth and strength. As for the Talmud, when the two books disagree, the Babylonian verdict is always followed. But remember that the Talmud is not the same as G-d’s Torah. The information in the Talmud is valuable to teach logical thought and critical thinking skills, but rabbinic law and commentary within the Talmud is limited by mans’ interpretation of the Tanakh without a complete examination of the B’rit Chadashah. The “other half of the Book” is not even considered in rabbinic teaching.
So too do the seeming digressions of Jewish history represent not a wandering from the path of destiny but a way of shedding the light of G d on untouched corners of the world, as preparation for, and part of, their subsequent redemption. Abraham’s removal to Egypt was not an interruption but an integral part of the command of “Lech lecha”—to journey towards that self-fulfillment which is the service of G d.
And as Abraham’s destiny was the later destiny of the children of Israel, so it is ours. Our exile, like his, is a preparation for (and therefore part of) redemption. And the redemption which follows brings us to a higher state than that which we could have reached without exile. “Greater will be the glory of this latter house (i.e., the Temple of the Messianic Age) than that of the former (the first Temple)” (Haggai 2:9).
Exile, and other trials then, are an integral part of spiritual progress; continuing the race towards the prize of being found a faithful servant by YHVH/Yahshua when we leave this earth and wait for the Resurrection. The world is not becoming more elevated and a better place as some of our Jewish brethren are taught. What is becoming more elevated and closer to G-d are those who have been called and either have or will respond to follow the path of Abraham physically and spiritually. Just as he was considered the first man to “cross over from the other side” called ivri or hebrew, he was not a Christian or a Jew by traditional definition. However, he was a Jew according to Yahshua’s definition of a true Jew described by Rabbi Sha’ul (Paul) in Romans 2-3. Therefore, it follows that if we claim to be descendants of Abraham, we need to examine our belief system and align it with his since G-d considered him a righteous individual who will inherit the promise of eternity with G-d (Hebrews 11:13-19). Indeed, we should strive to become a “true Jew” according to G-d’s Torah.
Haftarah Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 40:27-41:16
The haftarah for this week discusses Abraham’s journey to the land of Canaan at G‑d’s behest, and touches upon Abraham’s miraculous battle against the four kings, both of which are described in this week’s Torah reading.
The prophet Isaiah addresses Israel’s complaint: “My way [of serving G‑d] has been ignored by the Lord, and from my G‑d, my judgment passes [unrewarded].”
Isaiah reminds Israel of G-d’s greatness. The time will come when “He will give the tired strength, and to him who has no strength, He will increase strength. Youths shall become tired and weary, and young men shall stumble, but those who put their hope in the Lord shall renew [their] vigor, they shall raise wings as eagles; they shall run and not weary, they shall walk and not tire.” Nevertheless, “there is no comprehension of His wisdom,” and as such, at times we cannot understand why He chooses to delay the reward of the righteous.
Then the haftarah turns its attention to the idolatrous nations of the world. Isaiah reminds them of Abraham’s greatness, how after arriving in Canaan he pursued and defeated four mighty kings. “The islands saw and feared; the ends of the earth quaked.” Nevertheless, the nations who witness these miracles did not abandon their ways. “The [idol] craftsman strengthened the smith, the one who smooths [the idol] with the hammer strengthened the one who wields the sledge hammer; the one who glues its coating says, “It is good,” and he strengthened it with nails that it should not move…”
G‑d promises the Jewish nation that includes all true believers to reward them for their loyalty to G‑d. “Do not fear for I am with you; be not discouraged for I am your G‑d…” “Behold all those incensed against you shall be ashamed and confounded; those who quarreled with you shall be as naught and be lost.”
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 7:1-8
This is a narrative of Stephen’s last moments; whose face is described as looking like the face of an angel as he testified before the Sanhedrin of G-d and G-d’s relationship with Avraham. Stephen brings out the fact that although G-d promised the very land the Sanhedrin was standing in at the moment to Avraham who never stepped foot in it and was childless at the time of the promise, G-d promised the Land would be given to him as a possession and to his descendants after him. Stephen had been accused of having taught against Moshe, G-d, the Temple, and the Torah; in other words, everything Judaism stands for. Demonstrating that the best defense is a good offense, he indicts the religious leaders after the manner of the Prophets, saying it is they who have abandoned each one of these four sacred trusts. He addresses the Sanhedrin as fathers and brothers, speaking as a fellow Jew, one of the family. His critique is no more anti-Semitic than those of his predecessors, the Prophets. His first words refute the charge that he has “spoken blasphemously… against G-d” (6:11). His regard for the one true G-d is demonstrated consistently throughout his speech. Stephen paints a picture of much of Israel refusing to honor those whom G-d chose to bring them into salvation he had promised them- especially Yosef (vv.9-16), who was recognized by Pharaoh, a Gentile, but not by his own brothers, and Moshe (vv.17-44). Interestingly, we as Messianic Jews who most closely follow the teachings of G-d/Yahshua as did the disciples as the first Messianic Jews are considered “non-Jews” by those in other Jewish sects. We must take our queue on how to respond to such injustice and condemnation from the prophets and Yahshua himself. We must continue to walk in His ways and trust Him to straighten our paths. (Proverbs 3:6).
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart