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Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27)

Partnering With God

In Parashat Lech Lecha we begin learning about a character by the name of Abram. As we know, his name will eventually be changed to Abraham, and our knowledge of his life is pivotal to our understanding of God’s plan for humanity. In fact, the entire Scripture hinges around this one person. When we read this week’s portion, Abraham’s courageous faith immediately becomes apparent when we read of him leaving everything behind in order to obey God’s command and move to the land of Canaan. This is the first of several of Abraham’s trials we read about in this small section of Genesis. 

The next trial we learn about is his encounter with Pharaoh and how he attempts to protect his family from the Egyptians. Then we read of the dispute between his nephew Lot’s shepherds and his own, and the trial of dividing the land between his nephew and himself. We also read about his trial of rescuing Lot when he and his household were captured in a by invading armies. The next trial is overcoming the pain of being childless and results in the taking of his wife’s servant Hagar as an additional wife through which his son Ishmael is born. The last trial in this portion is the commandment for Abraham to circumcise himself and all the males of his household. But there is something unique about how this trial is introduced.

Parashat Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32)

Parashat Noach opens with the words, “These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). In this passage, “generations” is the Hebrew word toldot (תדלות). The word toldot is most often used in the Scriptures in relationship to genealogy, since its primary meaning is “descendants” or “offspring.” For instance, toward the end of this week’s parashah we read, “These are the generations of Shem” (Genesis 11:10). Immediately following is a list of Shem’s descendants. The pattern repeats with Terah, the father of Abraham, saying, “Now these are the generations of Terah” (Genesis 11:27), followed by a list of his children. The same goes for the lists of the sons of Ishmael in Genesis 25, etc.

However, in the case of the Bible’s description of Noah (and a few other select individuals), rather than listing his children, his character traits are listed. The Scriptures appear to be emphasizing that, more than his literal offspring—the very ones that would repopulate the world after the flood—Noah’s legacy was to be found in his character. The Scriptures list three “offspring” of Noah: his righteousness, his blamelessness, and his relationship with God. Let’s briefly explore these concepts.

Parashat B'reisheet (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

Parashat B’reisheet is always filled with fascination and intrigue whenever we study it. There are so many facets of the Creation account to explore that it would take a lifetime to begin unraveling them. For instance, on the first day of Creation, we read about the creation of light:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:3–5)

Although light is created on the first day, the sun, moon and stars are not created until the fourth day. If these luminaries were not created until the fourth day, then what was the light that illuminated the first three days? Fortunately, we have insights of our sages from the last two millennia that help us peer into the deep mysteries of these events. When Rashi, the famous medieval commentator, read this passage his response was that it cannot be properly understood without outside commentary, particularly the midrash.

What does the midrash have to say about this passage? It has more than we have time to cover here. But the main concept we need to understand is that this light that was first spoken into existence is unique and distinct from the light produced by the luminaries. It was a special, pure light that radiated from God himself. The Torah gives us a clue about the quality of this light when it says, “And God saw that the light was good.” It was the first of all Creation to have this special designation of “good.” According to Rabbi Elazar, in a midrash called Yalkut Shimoni, the light that God created on the first day was used by Adam to look from one end of the universe to the other. It was something extremely special.

Parashat Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52)

This week’s Torah portion is only a single chapter long. The Ha’azinu, the Song of Moses, spans all fifty-two verses of our Torah portion. When reading this parashah, there are several questions that come up. We will only have time to answer a few at this time. 

First, in a Torah scroll the Song of Moses is written in two columns, rather than one. Why does this passage merit this unique rendering? The song opens with the words:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. (Deuteronomy 32:1)

Moses introduces this song by calling upon two witnesses: the heavens and the earth. The Torah sets a precedent that a matter is only established by the testimony of two witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). By calling on both the heavens and the earth, Moses establishes his two witnesses against the Children of Israel to hold them accountable for their actions. The two columns of the Torah scroll are a reminder of this fact: two witness are being called to the stand; two witnesses are watching the Children of the Most High at all times.

Second, why does Moses ask both the heavens and the earth to listen to him? Why are the heavens and the earth called to be witnesses against humans? Just before giving us the details of the creation of man in Genesis 2, the Torah tells us that man is the combined product of both heaven and earth:

These are the generations [toldot] of the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 2:4)

The word toldot can mean generations, offspring, genealogy, etc. Man was made as a combination of both heaven and earth when the Creator breathed a small portion of Himself into the dust of the earth. Heaven and earth, therefore, are partially responsible to oversee the actions of mankind.

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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