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Parashat Lekh Lekha (Genesis 12:1-17:27)

“As for Me, this is my covenant with you: you shall be a father of a multitude of nations.” (Genesis 17:4)

Parashat Lekh Lekha documents the next step in God’s learning how to steward the world (which is now twenty generations old). God’s new strategy is to partner with one family instead of with all of humanity. God chooses Abram (Lekh Lekha doesn’t tell us why, allowing commentators a free hand to explain) and charges him to abandon his past and begin again in a new and unknown place (Gen. 12:1). Abram’s biggest challenge, though, comes at the end of the parasha, or portion, when God tells him, “…I am El Shaddai, walk before me and be perfect.” (Gen. 17:1) God is already working on “World 3.0,” but Abram has to get it perfect “out of the box?”

Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) finds multiple meanings in this verse. First, Rashi defines “walking before” to mean constant devotion and worship. This leads to wholeness and wholeheartedness (as a result, not as a reward). Rashi also notices this verse precedes the commandment of circumcision (Gen. 17:10-14). Rashi connects the two adjacent episodes, maintaining circumcision remedies the Abraham’s (newly renamed) deficiencies, bringing him to both physical and spiritual perfection.

The Talmud offers another reading. It recognizes external circumstances beyond our control sometimes prevent the performance of a commandment. We are credited for the act, though, if our intention is sincere. (Babylonian Talmud B’rachot 6a). Viewed through this lens, God is asking Abraham for perfect intention, not execution. It is intriguing to consider this a reflection of God’s previous unsuccessful attempts to collaborate with humanity: sometimes, effort matters as much as results.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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