Category Archives: Lech Lecha

Horoscope-Proof (Lech Lecha)

Horoscope-Proof (Lech Lecha)

 This is the excellent foppery of the world: that when we are sick in fortune — often the surfeits of our own behavior — we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars, as if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence. An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star!  -William Shakespeare (King Lear: Act 1, Scene 2)

 

Jewish tradition looks negatively at astrology and those who follow horoscopes. Judaism typically views adherents of modern astrology as somewhere on the spectrum between idolatry, superstition and simple foolishness. We are meant to have a simple faith in God, to believe in our free will, to choose wisely, to make our best efforts in all we do and ultimately attribute the circumstances of our lives to God and not to His intermediaries.

However, both the Midrash and the Talmud carry a slightly more nuanced story of the power of astrology (though it’s believed that the insights of true astrology have been long lost). The Midrash recounts how Abraham was a master astrologer and read in the stars that he would remain childless. God chides him, tells him to look beyond the stars, renames him (from Abram to Abraham) and tells him that not only will he have a child but that he will be the father of a multitude of nations.

Based on this episode, the Talmud explains that the people of Israel are impervious to horoscopes, that we are beyond the laws and effects of astrology. Our free will is such that we are unbound by mundane, predictable predestination. Our destiny is so open and free that even the mighty stars and constellations have no effect on our future.

The Meshech Chochma however, fine-tunes such thinking. He explains that the Talmudic dictum is true, that the people of Israel have direct divine providence that is independent of astrological influences. However, that is only true for the entirety of the people of Israel and not necessarily for an individual Jew. A Jew, in theory, could be subject to astrological forces.

But there is an exception to that exception. Any Jew who serves the Jewish people or is needed by the Jewish people has the same inoculation, the same immunity to any arbitrary astrological influence as does the entirety of the Jewish people. A Jew who is so identified with the Jewish community, who is a resource to his brethren, has a much more direct divine influence, without any intermediary stellar intervention.

May we keep our direct divine connections.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Link Kollel and Shul, for a truly wonderful learning and davening experience.

Uncountable People (Lech Lecha)

Uncountable People (Lech Lecha)

Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty. –Jacob Bronowski

God communicates with Abraham. God tells Abraham, who at the time was old and childless, that his progeny will be as uncountable as the dust of the earth, as the stars in the heavens. To further deepen the wonder of God’s promise to Abraham, the Midrash recounts that among Abraham’s many amazing attributes and capabilities was the fact that he was one of the greatest astrologers that ever lived. He knew how to read a person’s destiny based on the movement of the planets through the constellations. When he sought his own astrological prognosis, he saw that he would remain childless.

The Midrash continues the conversation with God telling Abraham to look beyond the astrology, beyond the stars, for his destiny and that of the future people of Israel is not tied to this physical, visually-perceived world. Jews, from their very inception, are beyond nature, above physical laws.

The Berdichever, in his commentary on the phrase, “if a man were able to count the dust of the earth, so too, would your progeny be counted,” recalls that there is a Torah prohibition against directly counting the nation of Israel. When a census was done, the counting was done indirectly, using a coin for each person. To this day, when we want to determine if there are ten men, the minimum for a Minyan (a prayer quorum), we are prohibited to count the people directly (i.e. we don’t count 1, 2, 3, etc.). The classic way is to recite words from a verse that we know contains ten words.

The Berdichever elaborates that not only are we prohibited from counting Jews, but that more fundamentally, it is impossible to count Jews. Israel as a whole, and its component members individually, are beyond understanding, beyond rational grasp. How can you count something that you don’t understand, that you can’t comprehend? What is the meaning of numbering an entity or entities that are beyond our perception?

In some deep sense, we are as numerous and as uncountable as the dust of the earth and as the stars in the universe.

Because Israel can’t be understood in our world, in our reality, even Abraham, the great astrologer, can’t see his or our destiny in the constellations. We are not limited by our physical reality. We’re beyond that. We’re physically unknowable; essentially uncountable; spiritually limitless.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the upcoming Mayoral elections throughout Israel. Every vote counts.

You can choose your friends

You can choose your friends

Tell me who’s your friend and I’ll tell you who you are. -Proverb

God commands Abraham to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s home. In the process, Abraham is also leaving his childhood friends, the social network he grew up with and was familiar with his entire life. He’s commanded to leave all he knew, his comfort zone, and move to a new land, a new climate, a new culture and a new people.

We may go through life surrounded by friends of circumstance. Classmates, co-workers or neighbors become our closest friends, not from any conscious decision, but rather from a natural progression of circumstance, comfort and inertia. Rabbeinu Bechaye on Genesis 12:1, quoting King Solomon asks us to reconsider how we choose our friends. King Solomon in Proverbs 13:20 states: “He who walks with the wise will become wise, but the companion of fools will come to harm.”

So too, Abraham needed to leave the foolish people of his hometown before he could truly grow and serve God. They were holding him back from becoming the great man he had the potential to be: the beloved of God, the beacon of his generation and the forefather of the Jewish people.

Rabbeinu Bechaye is not saying we need to move countries to find worthy friends. What he is saying is that we should become closer to the wise and put some distance from the foolish. It’s a conscious effort. When we take the path of least resistance, we may fall back to old, unproductive patterns and relationships. However, when we look around and actively seek out those who are wise, those who are pursuing noble goals, people of character, integrity and purpose, and befriend them, we elevate ourselves. There is nothing artificial or conniving in purposely seeking out new friends, better friends, inspiring friends; of finding areas of joint interest; of identifying shared dreams and aspirations; of pursuing a common cause for the greater good.

Rabbeinu Bechaye compares befriending the wise to walking into a perfume store. Even if one didn’t buy anything, just having been in the store already improves ones scent. So too, being in the presence of the wise will rub off on a person. The converse is likewise true.

May we be worthy of wise friends and enjoy each other’s company.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To my own childhood friends, who’ve stayed in touch through all the continents and decades.

Abraham the Individualist

Abraham the Individualist

Not armies, not nations, have advanced the race; but here and there, in the course of ages, an individual has stood up and cast his shadow over the world. -Edwin Hubbell Chapin

individualistIn the very first recorded conversation between God and Abraham, God commands Abraham “Lech Lecha” which can be translated as “go for you” or “go to you.” Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 12:1 explains that it is a command to “go your own way” or “follow your unique path.”

Rabbi Hirsch elaborates that one of the prominent beliefs during Abraham’s time was the primacy of the communal over the individual and the priority of centralization of authority rather than individual decision-making. It engendered the “tyranny of the majority” (a phrase originally seen in the writing of John Adams, and subsequently popularized by Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill).

Abraham, by leaving his country, his birthplace and his people, by demonstrating an unyielding belief in one God, by standing up to the entirety of the rest of the polytheistic world, indeed carved his own path. He demonstrated an unflinching capacity to do his own thing, to go his own way, to be his own person, to do what he knew to be correct though the entire planet thought otherwise. He is a model of the Individual, of the non-conformist, of the person who will take a stand for what is right though it is unpopular. His is the lesson that even if the majority believes in something or says something, it doesn’t necessarily make it right.

May we hold steadfast in our positive and unique paths.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the global Shabbat Project and especially to those organizing it and celebrating it in their own unique ways in Uruguay.

 

Circumcision Power

 The earth seemed to move with me. I found a new source of power and beauty, a source I never knew existed. -Roger Bannister 

The first commandment given to the proto-Israelite nation, in the form of our patriarch Abraham is circumcision, the Brit Mila. I don’t believe it is coincidental, that of all the myriad of commandments in our tradition, circumcision is perhaps the most widely practiced to this very day, although it has fallen under attack in isolated venues.

The Sfat Emet on Parashat Lech Lecha, writing in 5636 (1876) explains that a person is composed of two forces. Man has a spiritual force that is present in his body in this world, but he also possesses a spiritual force in the upper metaphysical realm that is independent of his body. For a man specifically, (as opposed to a woman), the Brit Mila (literally, the Covenant of the Circumcision), is a ritual that creates a connection between these two forces, in a way binding them together, and granting the person access to an otherwise unprecedented amount of spiritual power. When a Jewish male has a Brit Mila, he has the capacity to reach completeness, to be existentially whole.

However, it seems there is really only one way to activate this incredible power, and it is an aspect that is intrinsic to the covenant between the Jewish people and God. The key to accessing that storehouse of spiritual energy is the Torah. Learning the Torah, becoming acquainted with the Torah, knowing the Torah and living the Torah allows a person to tap into that infinite power that was used for the creation of the universe. The divine guidebook for our lives has a much deeper and pervasive effect than one might imagine. And it is there for the taking.

May we grow in our spiritual capacities and power, using that ancient yet entirely relevant guide, the Torah.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To The Shabbos Project.

Super-blessed

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/lech-lecha-super-blessed/

Baal Haturim Genesis: Lech Lecha

Super-blessed

Count your blessings. Once you realize how valuable you are and how much you have going for you, the smiles will return, the sun will break out, the music will play, and you will finally be able to move forward the life that God intended for you with grace, strength, courage, and confidence. -Og Mandino

After the failures of Adam, Noah and successive generations we are finally introduced to the first Patriarch, the founder of our nation, Abraham.

He was an outstanding personality. He rose to a higher calling against all opinion, pressure and odds. In return for his loyalty, his courage, his goodness and his example, God blesses Abraham.

The Baal Haturim on Genesis 12:2 enumerates seven blessings with which Abraham was graced:

  1. Abraham will become a Nation
  2. Abraham will receive great wealth.
  3. Abraham will receive a new name (Abram was switched to Abraham)
  4. Abraham himself will be considered a blessing.
  5. Whoever will bless Abraham, God will ensure that they in turn are also blessed.
  6. Enemies will be cursed.
  7. All families of the world will be blessed by Abraham.

May we live up to the example of Abraham and also participate in his blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Gabriel Boruchovas for going over and above the call of duty in making sure the Uruguayan Shabbos Project was a major success.

 

 

 

Hermanos de Juramento

ficción bíblica: génesis: lech lejá

Hermanos de Juramento

—No voy a ir con Abram en esta campaña enloquecida —Eshkol pisoteó sus largos y ágiles pies en el piso de mosaico de la casa de Mamre—. ¡Es un suicidio!

—¿Cómo puedes pensar en abandonarnos, Eshkol? —Mamre respondió desde lo profundo de su grueso pecho—. Quebrantarías nuestro pacto sagrado con Abram, ¿por cobardía?

Aner, el mayor de los tres, observaba el debate con creciente preocupación, y se puso de pie para interceptar Eshkol antes de que se acercara a corta distancia de Mamre.

—Vamos, vamos, Mamre —Aner afirmó en tono tranquilizador, mientras agarraba a Eshkol—, no hay necesidad de hablar tan despectivamente de nuestro hermano.

—Mamre, hemos luchado codo con codo con Abram en escaramuzas previas y pequeñas incursiones —dijo Eshkol secamente—, donde me vi amenazado personalmente y en peligro. Pero lo que Abram propone ahora es nada menos que un suicidio. Para atacar a legiones de Amrafel, luego de que ellos hubieran destruido con éxito los ejércitos combinados de Sodoma y Guemará, es simplemente una locura. Estamos hablando de enfrentar a los trabajadores y los esclavos contra los soldados profesionales de Amrafel.

—No trates de asustarme —Mamre respondió con enojo—: Soy leal a Abram hasta la muerte, y más aún al Dios de Abraham, quien visiblemente lo protege como un niño favorecido. Abram tiene que rescatar a su sobrino de Amrafel, y nosotros, sus hermanos de juramento, tenemos que ir con él. El Dios que protege y bendice a Abram continuará protegiéndonos y bendiciéndonos a nosotros también.

—Yo también creo en su Dios —explicó Eshkol—. Sin embargo, en contra de un enemigo tan formidable, bien podríamos matarnos nosotros mismos aquí en casa — nos ahorraríamos el viaje, y al Dios de Abram la molestia.

Aner se aclaró la garganta, consiguiendo la atención tanto de Mamre como de Eshkol.

—Yo también tengo miedo de una empresa tan trascendental. Sin embargo, no podemos renunciar a nuestro hermano Abram —dijo Aner.

—Por situarnos así en una posición tan imposible —Eshkol replicó—, Abram es el que nos está abandonando. No voy a desperdiciar mi vida en contra de toda razón.

—En primer lugar —Mamre levantó un dedo fornido, hablando con voz cada vez más fuerte—, Abram no nos ha pedido ayuda. En segundo lugar, Abram , nuestro gran hermano, no pensará menos de nosotros por no unirnos a él. En tercer lugar, y lo más importante – te está faltando fe. ¡Fe! Si no tienes la fe de que el Dios de Abraham , el Dios único , como Abram nos ha enseñado, que el Creador y Señor de la Tierra, pueden hacer milagros más allá de nuestra imaginación – entonces tal vez es mejor que se queden en casa . Aunque creo que eso rompería mi corazón y tal vez nuestra amistad —Mamre se sentó pesadamente, mirando a sus huéspedes.

Eshkol estaba sin habla. Tenía la boca abierta por las declaraciones de Mamre. Se sentó con aire taciturno. Después de unos momentos de silencio incómodo se explicó:

—Puede ser cierto que el miedo es mayor que mi fe. Sin embargo, no puedo vivir con mi amistad siendo interrogada. Sólo necesito un poco de esperanza más tangible – algo concreto que la razón esté por encima de la inquietud.

La confesión de Eshkol fue recibida con un silencio incómodo.

—Entonces, permítanme sugerir una idea que me acabas de inspirar —Aner rompió el silencio—, que me anima y que puede darte la prueba concreta que necesitas. Amrafel acaba de reconquistar y saquear toda la llanura de nuestros vecinos ricos de Sodoma y Guemará. Si por algún milagro el Dios de Abraham colocara a Amrafel en nuestras manos, los tesoros de la guerra irían más allá de lo que hemos visto.

—Esta es sin duda una meta más tangible —Eshkol dijo con más entusiasmo—, aunque igualmente suicida.

—El botín sería nuestro por convención —añadió Mamre—, y sería realmente monumental. Aunque eso no es lo que finalmente me atrae, y estoy seguro de que tiene poco atractivo para Abram.

—Estamos de acuerdo entonces —el mayor Aner miró significativamente al delgado Eshkol—, que estamos juntos en esto y tenemos como condición explícita que una parte justa del botín es nuestra.

Eshkol miró pensativamente Aner y luego a Mamre. Tenía un miedo mortal de atacar a las legiones de Amrafel. La imagen de enfrentarse al ejército de Amrafel hizo temblar sus piernas y dar vuelta su estómago. Pero no podía hacer frente a la posibilidad de ser tildado de cobarde. Tal marca sería su ruina. Y la idea de decepcionar a Mamre, y lo que es peor , al santo Abram, era más de lo que podía soportar. ¿Cómo podía abandonar a sus amigos, sus hermanos de juramento? Siempre habían estado ahí para él, especialmente Abram. Abram era muy amable, gentil y sabio, sin embargo, tan fuerte, firme y valiente. Él sabía en su corazón que seguiría Abram hasta los confines de la tierra.

El viejo Aner tenía razón. La idea del botín era una buena distracción y disminuía el temor. Y Mamre también tenía razón. El Dios de Abraham había hecho milagros para Abram contra todo pronóstico. En realidad, era poderoso.

—Yo estoy con vosotros —Eshkol declaró emocionado—. Me equivoqué al sembrar la duda, incluso en nuestra amistad.

Mamre dejó salir una lágrima de sus ojos.

—Mi querido Eshkol —Mamre casi gritó mientras agarraba el antebrazo de Eshkol—, siento haber cuestionado tu amistad. Esta será una gran aventura.

En ese mismo momento, como por inspiración divina, Abram entró a la casa de Mamre.

Aner fue el primero en darle la bienvenida y rápidamente empujó a Abram dentro del abrazo de Eshkol y Mamre.

—¡Salve Abram! —Aner exclamó—: ¡Príncipe de Dios!

—¡Salve Abram! ¡Príncipe de Dios ! —Eshkol y Mamre respondieron.

—Estamos contigo en todos sus angustias. ¡Sé fuerte y valiente! —cantó Aner .

—Estamos contigo en todas sus angustias —Eshkol y Mamre respondieron al unísono—. ¡Sé fuerte y valiente!