Friday, October 11, 2013

A Thought on the Parsha

Feel free to download and print the Parsha sheet and share it with your friends and family: Click here:  Parshat Lekh Lekha

Hearing the Call of Lekh Lekha
The following is the parsha thought that Rabbi Linzer shared at the installation of Rabbi Asher Lopatin this last Sunday

Why Avraham?

We know why God chooses Noach.  God even tells him why:  “for you I have seen righteous before me in this generation.”
But why does God choose Avraham?  Without any preamble  we read: “And the Lord said to Avram: lekh lekha.  Why?  Why command only Avraham and no one else?

The Sefat Emet offers a startling answer.  God did not command Avraham alone.  The charge of lekh lekha went out to the entire world.  Avraham, however, was the only one who heard it:

For, behold, lekh lekha is proclaimed by God to all people, at all times. Avraham, however, was the only one who was able to hear it."   

God’s command – get up, move, don’t be complacent, force yourself out of your comfort zone and your comfortable surroundings, get out into the larger, challenging, unfamiliar world, take risks, seek out God, find your way to the promised land – this command goes out to all people tamid, constantly, at all times.   But only a few are able to hear it.  Only those who are listening can hear it.

The ability to hear lekh lekha is rare.  Most people either do not hear God’s voice at all or, if they hear it, only hear the voice that Noach heard.  Not the lekh lekha but the aseh lekh. The clear, black-and-white command.  The voice that tells you exactly what to do and how to do it.  Build an ark.  This high, this wide, this deep.  Three levels, use this material, bring these animals, enter in on this day.  Those directions they can hear and they can follow: “And Noach did exactly as God said.”  Nothing less, and also nothing more.  Family – check.  The rest of the world – not on the to do list. 

To hear lekh lekha requires something different.  It is to hear God’s silent commands that permeate every pore of existence.  It is to sense these larger truths and begin to act on them even before they come fully into focus.  It is to begin to travel to Canaan even in last week’s parsha, even before lekh lekha is clearly heard.  It is to be so attuned to this ever-present voice of divine calling and divine truth that one can hear it, that one must hear it, even when God’s black-and-white, Noach voice seems to command otherwise.  It is to respond to God’s plan to destroy Sodom and Amorah with God’s own value of truth and justice: “Will the Judge of the entire world not deal justly?!” 

Perhaps most importantly, to hear the call of lekh lekha is to hear the call of the entire world.  It is to be aware of what is going on outside of our own families, our own communities. 
To care about the disadvantaged, the disabled, victims of abuse and of violence, victims of prejudice and bigotry, and to hear God’s insistent voice – lekh lekha – change this, make the world more moral, more Godly. 

It is to see a world in which religion and religious denominations so often divide people, so often breed hatred and antipathy and to hear God’s unrelenting call, lekh lekha, focus on what we share, focus on what brings us together, not what sets us apart.  

It is to see a world in which 22% of Jews define themselves as Jews of no religion, and to hear the urgent call, lekh lekha.  Make the world a more religious place, help religion be a force of good in the world.  

It is to respond to this voice by calling out in the name of God – vayirak bi’shem HaShem.  It is to respond to this voice by helping others to hear it as well.

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School was founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss, who has always heard the divine voice of lekh lekha.  It attracts students with stellar character and unmatched leadership abilities, students who hear much more than the Divine Noach voice of aseh lekha, of do just this, of do for yourself.  YCT has placed close to 100 rabbis who are transforming the Orthodox community, the Jewish community, and the world, rabbis who have heard the call of lekh lekha, rabbis spreading throughout the world, from Los Angeles to New York to Nairobi, calling out in the name of God.

And it is now to be led by Rabbi Asher Lopatin.  In our brief time working together, I have been moved by Rav Asher’s frumkeit, his depth of his learning, his sincerity and his passion.  But most of all, I am inspired by his ability to hear the insistent call of lekh lekha.  To see all the ways we are being called on to help the world, to help Klal Yisrael, to help the Orthodox community, to help every individual. 

Every day Rav Asher speaks to me about another initiative, another way YCT can make a difference.  Every day Rav Asher is finding new ways to vayikra bi’shem HaShem, to call out in the name of God. 

May we merit, under Rav Asher’s leadership and in all our future work, to always be able to hear that ever-present voice that goes out to all people, at all times, lekh lekha.

A Follow Up to Hearing the Call of Lekh Lekha
Words shared by Merle Feld, author, poet and founder of the Albin Rabbinic Writing Institute, after mincha at YCT this last Thursday.

We begin with a question – why did God call Avraham?  As Rabbi Linzer taught us on Sunday from the Sfat Emet, God in fact called all the world, but only Avraham heard it.  Further, Avraham heard even God’s silent command – travel to Canaan, heard it before the command.  Avraham heard the suffering and needs of all humanity, heard the command – change this!

We begin with a question, but a question always leads to another question, so the next question is, why was Avraham able to hear so profoundly, so uniquely?  We read towards the end of Noah 19 verses of fecundity -   Shem begot Arpachshad and then begot sons and daughters; Arpachshad begot Shelah, and then begot sons and daughters; Shelah begot Eber and then begot sons and daughters; Eber begot Peleg, Peleg begot Reu, Reu begot Serug, on and on, the fecund rhythm is hypnotic. 

And then –“ Sarai was barren, she had no child.”  In the white spaces between these letters is a singular agony – a blessing withheld.  “All the world is blessed in this way, but not us.”  In the white spaces between these letters lies such pain.  In the months that pass, the years that pass, day by day, pain from a blessing which is withheld. 

Not theirs - the joy of seeing their love fulfilled, not theirs – the pleasure of nurturing, guiding, watching new life flourish.  All around them, sons and daughters, fecundity.  “Sarai was barren, she had no child.” In the white spaces between these letters lies such pain. 

I read from the opening stanza of a poem of mine in Finding Words

I know everything there is to know about pain:
the pain of not being the favorite, the pain
of watching dark moods envelop someone you love,
the pain of longing and longing for what you can’t have,
of counting minutes, minute by minute, waiting
for the good thing to happen, waiting for relief.
Pain is slow, it inches along, if it moves at all…

(excerpt from “How it crowds out all the good things of life” from Finding Words, © Merle Feld)

What do you do with the pain in your life? Does it embitter you, does it shut you down, close you off, narrow you?  Or does it cause you to look up, does it crack you open, does it lead you to listen with a full loving heart to the pain of others, does it deepen and widen your soul?  Does it lead you, as it led Avraham, to listen for a holy call – lekh lekha?

Shabbat Shalom!

Happenings at the Yeshiva


This Sunday was a landmark day for the yeshiva, as we celebrated the installation of Rabbi Asher Lopatin as our new president.  Over 500 people attended the event, and everyone who was there left with a tremendous high, inspired by the words, the speakers, and all those who were gathered, and filled with a sense of hope for the future of Klal Yisrael.

I share below my dvar Torah from the event, a reflection on the opening of parashat Lekh Lekha.  I have also included a follow-up dvar given by Merle Feld who runs a seminar in spiritual writing at YCT, this last Thursday after mincha.

Finally – I’d like to invite everyone to the opening event of our Community Beit Midrash, co-sponsored by Mechon Hadar and Yeshivat Maharat and with the participation of Drisha, JTS Rabbinical School, and HUC-JIR New York.   The first evening of the beit midrash took place this last Tuesday, with over 50 men and women from the various schools participating in chavruta learning and a shiur.  It was such a high just being there. 

This coming Tuesday night, Oct 15, at 7:30 PM will be our official launch for the larger community.  The launch will feature a panel of R. Dov Linzer (myself), R. Ethan Tucker,  and Erin Leib Smokler, discussing Reading and Rereading the Akedah: Ethics, Submission and Serving God.  The event will take place at Mechon Hadar, located at 190 Amsterdam Avenue (at 69th Street) in Manhattan.  More information can be found here.  I hope to see you there!