Yom Sheini, 18 Av 5779
Monday, 19 August 2019
Parashat Lech L'cha 5776

Rabbi Alexandra Wright
23rd October 2015

 

‘And the Eternal One said to Avram, “Go forth from your land, your birthplace, your father’s house, to the land that I will show you”’ (Genesis 12:1).· This is how the story of Abraham begins in this week’s sedra Lech L’cha.· As all good stories begin, this story commences with a journey and a discovery.

A midrash on this verse compares Abraham’s journey to the journey of a man who was travelling from place to place when he saw a building in flames.· The man wonders: ‘Is it possible that the building lacks a person to look after it?’· At that moment, the owner of the building looks out and says, ‘I am the owner of the building.’· So too, said the Rabbis, Abraham asked himself, ‘Is it conceivable that the world is without a guide?’ At that very moment, the Holy One looked out and said to him, ‘I am the Guide, the Sovereign of the Universe.’· (Genesis Rabbah 39:1)

Many midrashim focusing on the early life of Abraham see him as a prodigy, rejecting the idolatry of his father and the people among whom he lived, ridiculing the idea of putting one’s faith in carved idols of stone or wood, placing his own faith in an invisible God.

But this midrash offers a different perspective on Abraham’s journey of faith.· A man sees a building on fire.· He asks himself – is there an owner, someone who cares about this building who will ensure it is not destroyed?· Abraham, too, sees a world that is ‘on fire’; he thinks of the lives that need to be saved from a world that is destroying itself, he wonders if there is a guide, a presence who cares about the created world. And it is at this point that the owner suddenly looks out from the building and says, ‘Yes, look here, I am the Guide.’

And in this way, Abraham encounters God for the first time. But who is this God?· And if the midrash is a metaphor for the meeting between God and Abraham, how does God first address Abraham?· What is Abraham’s first experience of God?·· Does he encounter God’s authority and indignation - of course I am the Guide and Sovereign, who else?· Or does he hear in God’s voice the care and concern God has for the universe?· Or is that voice full of despair and, in fact, a plea for partnership?· I am the Owner: please help me prevent my world from being destroyed by corruption and brutality.

One might argue that this imagery and attribution of feeling reduces God to human proportions – to a character of imperious authority, or empathy and love, or even a Presence who weeps for the desolation inflicted on the earth.· Yet we have no other way to speak of God.·Scepticism of such language will not do here.· If we wish to create a personal relationship with a Presence who guides us towards moral choices and desires a true covenantal partnership, then we must open ourselves to the rich, poetic, metaphorical uses of language and understand that we are no different from the Sages or from the prophets of ancient Israel who allowed themselves to speak of a God who had the capacity for anger and loving kindness, for justice and mercy, for disappointment and consolation.

It is through such language that we are moved to allow the Divine Presence to become a real force for good in our lives. For an essential part of Judaism is the idea that God requires the partnership of humanity to extinguish the flames of hatred and destruction and to find a renewed purpose for good in the world.