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Torah Sparks

October 27, 2001/5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Genesis 12:1 - 17:27 (Hertz, p. 4; Etz Hayim, p. 69)
Triennial: Year I: Genesis 12:1 - 13:18 (Hertz, p. 45; Etz Hayim, p. 69)
Haftarah-Isaiah 40:27 - 41:16 (Hertz, p. 60; Etz Hayim, p. 94)

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(12:1-9) God speaks to Abram: "Go to the land I will show you." Abram, his wife Sarai, and his nephew Lot travel from Haran to Canaan. Abram sets up altars to God at Shechem, and near Bethel.

(12:10-20) Because of famine, Abram goes to Egypt. He lies saying Sarai is his sister. Pharaoh takes her into his house. God brings plagues upon Pharaoh. Pharaoh angrily sends Abram and Sarai away.

(13:1-13) Lot's herds men and Abram's herds men quarrel. Abram generously allows Lot first choice of grazing land. Lot chooses the fertile Jordan valley, near Sodom. Abram gets the rest of Canaan.

(13:14-18) God renews His promise to grant Abram the land of Canaan. Abram settles near Hebron.

(Chap. 14) Five Canaanite kings rebel against Chedarlaomer, King of Elam. A coalition of four eastern kings moves to punish the rebels. In the battles between the two groups of king Lot is captured. Abram arms his followers and pursues Lot's captors in order to rescue his nephew. He defeats them and saves Lot and the other captives.

(Chap. 15) God makes a covenant with Abram renewing His promise of progeny and the land of Canaan. God tells Abram that his descendants will be exiled, redeemed and returned to the Land. The Land's boundaries and its inhabitants.

(Chap. 16) Abram's concubine, Hagar, becomes pregnant, leading to conflict with Sarai. Sarai mistreats Hagar, who runs away, but she returns after an angel of the Lord promises her that the son within her womb will become the founder of a great nation. The son is born, and is named Ishmael, considered to be the ancestor of the Arab peoples.

(Chap. 17) God establishes circumcision as the sign of the covenant. Atthis time Abram and Sarai are renamed Abraham and Sarah. God also predicts that Abraham and Sarah will bear a son, to be named Isaac. The Sedrah concludes with the circumcision of Abraham, Ishmael, and all the men of the household.

This Shabbat's Theme: "No Pain, No Gain" - But Is It Really Worth It?

The Lord said to Abram, Go forth from your native land and from your father's house... (Gen. 12:1)

  1. With ten trials our father Abraham was tried and he stood firm in them all, to make known how great was the love of our father Abraham (for God). (Pirke Avot 5.3)
  2. Go forth... and I will make you a great nation (12:1-2) ...This means, go forth for your own benefit and reward. (Rashi)
  3. If God assured Abraham that leaving would be for his own benefit and reward (Rashi above), we should assume that this was not such a difficult test to endure after all! Actually though, this was a great test for Abraham. For the text states later that ultimately Abraham did not leave Haran for his own benefit and reward. It says, "Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him" (12:4) which means that he went only because he followed God's command, without any other specific motive. The real test then was whether, after receiving assurances of a reward (becoming a "great nation"), he would fight against any personal temptations for greatness and set out on his journey for only one reason; he wanted to do what God commands. (Yehudah Aryeh Leib [The Gerer Rebbe, d. 1905, one of the last great masters of Polish Hasidism], Sefat Emet)
  4. Rabbi Jonathan said: A potter does not try to examine defective vessels, for he cannot give them even a single tap without breaking them. What then does he examine? Only sound vessels, for he will not break them even with many blows. Similarly, God does not test the wicked but the righteous. Rabbi Jose the son of Rabbi Hanina said: When a flax worker knows that the flax is of good quality, the more he beats it the more it improves and the more it glistens; but if it is of inferior quality, he cannot strike it even once without splitting it. Similarly, God does not test the wicked but the righteous. Rabbi Eleazar said: When a man possesses two cows, one strong and the other feeble, upon which does he put the yoke? Surely upon the strong one! Similarly, God tests none but the righteous, as it says in Psalms 11:5 - "The Lord tries the righteous... (Genesis Rabbah 55:2)
  5. "And it came to pass after these things, that God tested (nissah) Abraham" (Gen. 20:21). It is also written in Psalms 60:6 that "You have given a banner (nes) to them who fear You, that it might be displayed (le-hitnoses) because of the truth." This means, trial upon trial, greatness after greatness, God tries those who fear Him in the world and they are like a ship's banner (nes) flying aloft (they are exalted). And what is the purpose? "Because of the truth", in order that the standard of God's justice may be recognized in the world. (Genesis Rabbah 55:1)
  6. Suffering brings out and develops character. It supplies a field for all sorts of virtues, for resignation, courage, resource, endurance. It stimulates; it purifies. (Claude G. Montefiore 1858-1938)
  7. Rabbi Yohanan once became ill, and Rabbi Hanina went to visit him. He asked him, "Are your sufferings welcome to you?" Rabbi Yohanan replied, "Neither they nor their reward." (Talm. Berachot 5b)
  8. Rabbi Phinehas said in the name of Rabbi Hanin of Sepphoris: It is written, "Happy is the man whom you chasten, O Lord" (Ps. 94:12), but if he loses his temper (because of his sufferings) then "do teach him out of Your law (ib.). For when Abraham, at God's behest, left his birthplace, famine befell him, yet he did not lose his temper and reproach God. So when sufferings fall upon you, do not lose your temper, or reproachGod. Rabbi Alexander said: There is no person to whom no sufferings come; happy is the one whose sufferings come because of the Torah... (Genesis Rabbah, Miketz, 92,1)

“Sparks” for Discussion:

How comfortable do you feel with the above theological approach to suffering?

We are all tested in life. I guess if we do not follow a religious approach, we would probably conclude that whatever bad befalls us is purely by chance. There is no reason. If, however, as Jews or as a believer in other monotheistic Faiths, wedo turn to God in prayer - then what can we say about the evil that befalls us? Is it part of God's overall design to allow evil so that we could relish good occurrences? Does suffering "refine" us?

As Jews, we have been tested and suffered greatly. Haven't we passed the test by now? Should we say "enough already!"?

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