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Torah Commentary
Lech L'cha (October 27, 2012)

Abra Lee, Coordinator of School and Family Learning

LAST SHABBAT, we read the story of Noah. He is chosen by God for his righteous ways among the men of his time to survive the great flood and replenish the earth once the flood waters clear. Ten generations pass without another instance of God speaking directly to humankind, until finally we encounter an exchange between God and our ancestor Abram. God, too, chooses him for his unique qualities among his generation, for in a society that believed in worshiping idols, Abram was a monotheist, worshiping and serving only one God.

As Parashat Lech L’cha opens, we are presented with God’s command to Abram, “Go forth from your father’s land to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. Your name shall be great and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and those who curse you, I will curse.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

God’s promise to Abram, in exchange for his faith and obedience, is blessing and protection for him and all of his descendants. Abram leaves his birthplace and all he knows, traveling with his household, all the while in obedience of God’s commands. Yet, upward in years, Abram and his wife, Sarai, find themselves still childless. Whence will the descendants come? Concerned with the future of his household, Abram cries out to God, and God answers, “Gaze now toward the Heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them! So shall your offspring be!” (Genesis 15:5)

The descendants of Abram and Sarai will be as numerous as the stars. Are we, the living evidence of God’s covenant, as numerous as the stars? Perhaps not, but strong and present we are. And among us, there are stars, possessing great gifts and talents, working to keep that covenant and partnering with God in the work toward a more perfect world.

Think for a moment of this metaphor, comparing our people, indeed all people, to the stars. Seemingly tiny specs of light, far away in the vast evening sky, and almost indiscernible, stars are more than meets the eye. Through careful observation, astronomers have taught us that stars actually are massive spheres of plasma, burning with internal temperature and pressure. They radiate abundant energy. These blazing balls of gas are catalysts for the creation of elements such as helium, hydrogen, carbon and oxygen, which are elements critical to all life forms. Therefore, the importance of an individual star is greater than one might think. So, too, is the potential for every individual within our community. We need only to look more closely and see the unique gifts of everyone with whom we encounter. Being in a sacred relationship with one another is a cornerstone of Congregation Emanu-El. Our relationships are built and strengthened by our sense of one another and our appreciation for each uniquely talented member of the community.

What’s more is the language we use to describe each individual and the precepts that language ascribes. Recall the often-asked question, “What’s in a name?” and return to our Torah reading. Later in the parashah, the covenant between God and Abram is renewed, and Abram becomes known as Abraham, the father of a multitude of nations. Sarai, too, is given a new name, reflective of this covenant, and is known hereafter as Sarah, “princess over all.” (Genesis 17:5, 15)

Does a name predetermine qualities and characteristics? Is a rose by any other name still a rose? Would our Emanu-El community not embrace our blessing that indeed “God is with us,” had our founders chosen a different name? We have the power and the responsibility to choose our language with intentionality. The language we use with each other and in reference to each other can denote the special, even holy, qualities we each possess.

I do believe to a great extent that we are what we say we are, and I am proud to call myself a member of this sacred community. I am reminded of a Chinese proverb my children and I learned from the beloved character Po, the “star” of the animated children’s movie Kung Fu Panda: “For something to be special, you have to believe it is.”

Generations have asked why God chose Noah and Abraham. What made them so special? While the unique qualities of each individual are perhaps not evident initially, further understanding of these two great men uncovers the qualities that made them worthy of God’s choosing. What special star might we overlook if we don’t take the time to know each other? Perhaps we can take a lesson from the story of Po and know that stars are among us. If we take the time to understand one another, from each other we can glean powerful energy and radiant light, as well as serve for each other as catalysts of greatness.

Join the conversation and post your thoughts.

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