Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah#3: Lekh L’kha (Genesis 12:1-17:27)
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 40:27-41:16
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 7:1-8
This parashah takes us “up close and personal” into the life of Avraham and the significance of his life to those who call themselves his descendants. We believe ourselves to be so well-versed with the story of Abraham that we do not always stop to think about what a strange turn it is in the biblical narrative. If we fail to understand this, we may fail to understand the very nature of Jewish identity itself, our calling as G-d’s special people, and the awesome responsibility that comes with such a calling. A true leader/believer must lead by example.
Until now, the Torah has been concerned with humanity in general. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel are human archetypes. The former represents the tensions between husband and wife; the latter the rivalry between siblings. Both are stories about individuals and both end tragically, the first with paradise lost, the second with bloodshed, fratricide and death.
A pair of narratives follows: the Flood and the building of Babel – this time about society in general. Each is about the tension between freedom and order; neither of which we have in contemporary society. The Flood is about a world where freedom (violence, lawlessness, “everyone doing what was right in their own eyes”) destroys order. Babel is about a world where order (the imperialist imposition of a single language on conquered peoples) destroys freedom.
All four narratives are about the human condition as such. Their message is universal and eternal, as befits a book about God who is universal and eternal. God as He appears in the first eleven chapters of Genesis is the God who created the universe, made all humanity in His image, blessed the first humans, and who after the Flood made a covenant with all humankind. The God of the universe is the universal God, unchanging in all aspects of the complex unity.
We must ask ourselves why the story shifts in Genesis 12 from the general, universal human condition to specific individuals? The focus becomes Abraham, one woman (Sarah), and their children, who by the time of the book of Exodus have become a large and significant people – but still no more than one nation among many. The first challenge to Abraham is to leave everything behind that may come between a budding relationship with G-d and himself, without question. This is a theme commonly expressed throughout the Bible and just as applicable today as it was during Abraham’s life. Worshipping, coveting, or placing things and people above our relationship with G-d is pure idolatry. The society from which Abraham came was steeped in it. With this introduction, we are now taken in on a zoom-lens look at the life of Abraham out of all the other people in the world at that time.
Had G-d suddenly written everyone else off? The answer is found in both the Old and “New” Testaments, the latter of which is never explored which unfortunately contributes to the current blindness of the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform communities; part of G-d’s plan for this time in history. At the end of Genesis Joseph says to his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but G-d intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen 50: 20). It may be that the phrase “many lives” means no more than the lives of his own family. But the plain sense of the phrase am rav, “a great people,” suggests Egypt. Not until Exodus are the Israelites called am, “a people”. Joseph is saying that G-d sent him not merely to save his family but also the Egyptians.
That is also the point of the book of Jonah. Jonah is sent to Nineveh, the Assyrian city, to persuade the people to repent and thus avoid their own destruction. In its closing words G-d says to the prophet, “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left?” (Jonah 4: 11). G-d is concerned not only with Israel but with the Assyrians, despite the fact that they would become Israel’s enemies, eventually conquering the northern kingdom of Israel itself.
Amos famously says that G-d not only brought the Israelites from Egypt, but also the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir (Amos 9: 7). Isaiah even prophesies a time when the Egyptians will worship G-d and He will rescue them from oppression as he once rescued Israel (Isaiah 19: 20-21). So it is not that G-d loses interest in humanity as a whole. He feeds the world. He sustains all life. He is involved in the history of all nations. He is the G-d of all people. Why then the narrowing of focus from the universal human condition to the story of one family?
The philosopher Avishai Margalit, in his book The Ethics of Memory, talks about two ways of thinking: “i.e.” and “e.g.” The former speaks of general principles, the latter of compelling examples. It’s one thing to talk about general principles of leadership, for instance – think ahead, motivate, set clear goals and so on. It’s another thing altogether to tell the story of actual leaders, the ones who succeeded the role models. It is their lives, their careers, their examples, that illustrate the general principles and how they work in practice.
Principles are important. They set the parameters. They define the subject. But without vivid examples, principles are often too vague to instruct and inspire. Try explaining the general principles of surrealism so prominent in Salvador Dali’s work to someone who knows nothing about art, without showing them an example of his work. They may intellectually understand the words you use, but they cannot fully know what you are talking about until you show them an example.
That, it seems, is what the Torah is doing when it shifts focus from humanity as a whole to Abraham in particular. The story of humanity from Adam to Noah tells us that people do not naturally live as G-d would wish them to live. People are NOT inherently good as we read in our last parashah. They eat forbidden fruit and kill one another for any number of reasons, or for no reason at all. So, after the Flood, G-d becomes not only a Creator but also a teacher. He instructs humanity, and does so in two ways: i.e. and e.g. He sets out general rules – the covenant with Noah – and then He chooses an example, Abraham and his family. They are to become role models, compelling examples, of what it means to live closely and faithfully in the presence of G-d, not for their sake alone but for the sake of humanity. This is the same concept G-d uses later with the Israelites. They, and we, are to set the example for how G-d wants us to live though our obedience and love for His Torah. This is where Orthodox Judaism falls short of explaining the epitome of an example of leadership. They do not acknowledge that G-d provided the ultimate example by sending Yahshua as our Cohen Gadol (High Priest), our ultimate Teacher and living example of how G-d expects us to live. The B’rit Chadashah is replete with Yahshua’s admonishments to follow Him which makes perfect sense because He is G-d. Here are just a few:
John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:12: “Yes, indeed! I tell you that whoever trusts in me will also do the works I do.”
John 14:15: “ If you love me, you will keep my commands; and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another comforting Counselor like me, the Spirit of Truth, to be with you forever.”
John 14:23-26: “If someone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Someone who doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words- and the word you are hearing is not my own but that of the Father who sent me. I have told you these things while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Ruach HaKodesh, (Holy Spirit) whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, that is he will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
That is why five times in Genesis the patriarchs are told, “Through you all the families, or all the nations, of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12: 2, 18: 18, 22: 18, 26: 4, 28: 14). The people recognize this. However, this means more than the Orthodox rabbis teach. They fail to teach the inclusion of Gentiles that begins with Caleb, as only one of two adults saved out of the first generation of Israelites in the desert along with Joshua. Caleb was a convert. In Genesis, Malkizedek says about Abraham, “Praise be to G-d Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand” (14: 20). Avimelekh, king of Gerar, says about him, “G-d is with you in everything you do” (21: 22). The Hittites say to him, “You are a prince of G-d in our midst” (23: 6). Abraham is recognized as a man of G-d by his contemporaries, even though they are not a part of his specific covenant. G-d makes provision for grafting in of fellow travelers and Gentiles as Scripture tells us especially in the second commission by Yahshua to His disciples. The first, Matthew 10:6-7 reads; “Don’t go into the territory of the Goyim, and don’t enter any town in Shomron, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is near.’” The second is found in Matt. 28:19: “Go and make people from all nations into talmidim (disciples), immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son, and the Ruach HaKodesh and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age.” The original manuscripts do not compartmentalize G-d as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” This was a later translation designed to meet the agenda of the Christian church to compartmentalize G-d into separate persons, supporting the incorrect theology of a trinity not taught in the Bible even admitted to by Christian scholars. The overwhelming accepted translation is “mikvahing them in My Name.”
The same is true of Joseph, the only member of Abraham’s family in Genesis whose life among the gentiles is described in detail. He is constantly reminding those with whom he interacts about G-d. Keep in mind that there are many similarities between Joseph and Yahshua; one of them being the constant referral and deferment to G-d. When Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce him, he says, “How could I do such a great wrong? It would be a sin before God!” (39: 9). To the butler and baker whose dreams he is about to explain, he says, “Interpretations belong to G-d” (40: 8). When he is brought before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams, he says: “G-d will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (41: 16). Pharaoh himself says of Joseph, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of G-d?” (41: 38).
Jews (Israel and Judah) are not called on to be Jews for the sake of Jews alone. They are called on to be a living, vivid, persuasive example of what it is to live by the will of God, so that others too come to recognize G-d and serve Him, each according to their specific calling within the parameters of the general principles of the covenant with Noah. The laws of Noah are the “i.e.” The history of the Jews is the “e.g.”
Jews (Israel and Judah) are not called on to convert the world to Judaism. That is the job of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit). There are other ways of serving G-d. Malkizedek, Abraham’s contemporary, is called “a priest of G-d Most High” (Gen. 14: 18). Malachi says a day will come when G-d’s name “will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets” (1: 11). The prophets foresee a day when “G-d will be king over all the earth” (Zechariah 14: 9), without everyone converting to Judaism. However, during the Tribulation there will be 144,000 from the tribes of Israel sealed to witness to Judah before the coming of the Messiah. Those who finally accept Yahshua as the rightful King of Israel and Messiah will be martyred.
We are not called on to convert humanity but we are called on to inspire humanity by being compelling role models of what it is to live, humbly, modestly but unshakably in the presence of G-d, as His servants, His witnesses, His ambassadors – and this, not for our sake but for the sake of humanity as a whole.
It is very easy to forget our calling and our responsibility to G-d. Too many times we fall into the contemporary social attitude of watching out for ourselves and letting the other person fend for themselves. In rabbinic Judaism, many of the Chassidic societies are bordered off and isolated from the “outside world.” This is exactly the opposite of what we read in Torah about how we are to interact with the world while remaining separate. This was the lesson of the insulation of Noah’s ark. It separated him from the outside and the inside. Although he was still in the Flood, he was not part of the flood. However, this dual-insulation was only for a time. He eventually had to leave the ark and interact with the world. Many who study Torah as a profession in Israel and in the Chassidic communities separate themselves in ways such as refusing to join the Israeli Defense Force for the required 2-year period. I submit to you that if enough of them refuse to serve in protecting their country, there will not be a country in which they have the freedom to study Torah!
To be a Jew according to Yahshua’s definition in Romans chapters 2-3, is to be one of G-d’s ambassadors to the world, for the sake of being a blessing to the world, and that necessarily means engaging with the world, acting in such a way as to inspire others as Abraham and Joseph inspired their contemporaries. But more than this, our ultimate Teacher and example is Yahshua who provided a perfect example of how we are to live as witnesses and disciples for G-d and who is the One with whom we should strive to establish a dynamic spiritual relationship that continues until we see Him face-to-face. That is the challenge to which Abraham was summoned at the beginning of this week’s parashah and the challenge we are offered. It is a challenge that carries an awesome responsibility and blessings that cannot be described in human language.
The title of the parashah translates to “Get yourself out.” We see this plea restated in Revelation in the same context. Revelation 18:4 reads “My people, come out of her! So that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not be infected by her plagues, for her sins are a sticky mass piled up to heaven, and G-d has remembered her crimes.” Abraham heeded the call; will you?
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 40:27-41:16
The haftorah 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 haftorah 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 smoothes [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, Avraham never stepped foot in it and was childless at the time of the promise. Yet, 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