Lech L’cha (Genesis 12:1 – 17:27)

We took the sukkah down last Sunday, only a week and a half after the holiday. Interestingly, one of the intervening storms had spun it around 180°.  And the bamboo s’chach mat developed little gray dots of mold that I should deal with.

Now we start reading the story of the Hebrews.  We were briefly introduced to Abram and wife (half-sister?) Sarai last week.  They are 75 and 65, respectively, when the portion starts, 99 and 89 at its end.  We are told that Abram’s father, Terah, had packed everyone up to move from Ur (in Mesopotamia) to Canaan at some point but only got as far as Haran.  Abram is told to go to a land the Lord will show him; maybe because of Terah’s earlier plan he assumes it will be Canaan.  He and his descendants will be blessed and, through them, the world will be blessed.  Over the next 24 years, Abram has his hands full, especially with his nephew Lot. (Why did he tag along? As a possible heir to childless Abram?)  Lot’s workers and Abrams get along poorly, so they split up.  And Lot has to be rescued from some neighborhood kinglets by military action.  And we’re not up to Sodom and Gomorrah yet.

Abram also doesn’t seem able to connect with the women in his life.  When he and Sarai temporarily relocate to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan, Abram passes her off as his sister, endangering her to protect himself; we aren’t told if he consulted with his wife first.  Then, since they have no child, Sarai gives her maid Hagar to Abram as a concubine, and is merciless toward Hagar when she actually does become pregnant.  Abram apparently ignores their conflict.  Hagar runs away but returns, after some divine guidance, and gives birth to Ishmael.  Thirteen years later, the names of Abram and Sarai are changed to the more portentous Abraham (father of multitudes) and Sarah (princess).  The Lord tells Abraham that he and Sarah will have a son and that, if they and their descendants walk in the Lord’s ways (details undefined), they will be numerous and have the land of Canaan “as an everlasting holding.”  As a sign of accepting this covenant, Abraham, Ishmael, and the men in the household are circumcised.

Why is Abraham the protagonist of the story?  For a man this important in our story, there’s a puzzling lack of detail.  We start his story in medias res.  As a firm believer in the one Lord, he is clearly individualistic, an iconoclast among the inhabitants of Ur and Haran.  Yet we don’t know when, how, or why he became a monotheist.  We are not told anything about the marriage of Abram and Sarai.  Stories were composed to fill in the gaps, like the one about young Abram wrecking the idols for sale in Terah’s shop and then blaming the biggest idol for smashing the others, and midrash about being persecuted and thrown into a furnace.  Perhaps the message implied by the Torah’s account is that the early activities don’t matter much.  What really matters is what happens once he leaves his country, his birthplace, and his father’s house and goes off to a new land and a totally different life.

Shabbat shalom,


Yes, I know it’s Halloween.  American Jews tend either to avoid it altogether because of its pagan and later Christian history or ignore all that and have fun. [I have fond memories of trick-or-treating and trying to make my pillowcase full of goodies last for weeks.]  An alternative, which is both halachically defensible and easy for households having no young children, is presented by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg at the ou.org website.  Excerpts are below.


“… Fascinatingly, despite Halloween’s designation as having pagan roots, several gedolim (major rabbinical authorities) proudly distributed candy to those who knocked on their door trick or treating…

“Avraham Avinu (our father) … described himself as ‘ger v’toshav anochi imachem, I am a stranger and a resident together with you.’

“Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l explains that in this introduction Avraham captured the tension that every Jew is destined to live with forever…. Ger v’toshav – we are to simultaneously be part of, and apart from, the general world around us. Striking the proper balance and equilibrium between our dual identities and roles is the mission of the Jew at every time and in every place that he or she has ever lived.

“… On Challahween this year, I suggest we follow the example of our great leaders. We should graciously give candy to those who knock on our doors, while abstaining from dressing up or trick or treating ourselves.”


Moving To A New Office
(my husband is in the midst of an office move, BTW)

The orthopedic surgeon I work for was moving to a new office, and his staff was helping transport many of the items.

I sat the display skeleton in the front of my car, his bony arm across the back of my seat.

I hadn’t considered the drive across town …

At one traffic light, the stares of the people in the car beside me became obvious, and I looked across and explained,

“I’m delivering him to my doctor’s office.”

The other driver leaned out of his window.

“I hate to tell you, lady,” he said, “but I think it’s too late!”



tph moving boxes



Has That Changed Too?

After many years, a young Talmud student who had left the old country for America returns to visit the family.

“But– where is your beard?” asks his mother upon seeing him.

“Mama,” he replies, “In America, nobody wears a beard.”

“But at least your keep the Sabbath,” mama asks.

“Mama, business is business. In America, everybody works on the Sabbath.”

“But kosher food you still eat?” asks mama.

“Mama, in America, it is very difficult to keep kosher.”

The old lady ponders this information and then leans over and whispers in his ear, “Isaac, tell me, are you still circumcised?”



The Jewish Swordsman

The Emperor of Japan advertises for a new bodyguard.  Three swordsmen apply: one is Japanese, one is Chinese, and one is Jewish.  To test him, the Emperor lets a fly loose in the room and tells the Chinese swordsman to kill it.  The swordsman sweeps down his blade and chops the fly in two.  The Japanese swordsman is given the same test.  He swings his sword twice and manages to cut the fly into quarters before it hits the ground.  The Jewish swordsman is then given a fly.  He chases it around the room, swings his sword a few times, then sits down with the fly buzzing around his head.  “Why have you stopped?” ask the Emperor.  “The fly is still alive.”  “Yes,” replies the Jewish swordsman.  “But now it’s circumcised.”



Quotes about Individualism

“I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way.”
― Robert Frost

“Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.”
― Oscar WildeThe Soul of Man under Socialism

“All rational action is in the first place individual action. Only the individual thinks. Only the individual reasons. Only the individual acts.”
― Ludwig von MisesSocialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis

“Perhaps, if one wishes to remain an individual in the midst of the teeming multitudes, one must make oneself grotesque.”
― Salman RushdieMidnight’s Children



Top Ten Signs It’s Shabbos Halloween
by seth Posted: 10-29-2008(Viewed 3632 times)

10. Shabbos Candles lit in a Jack-o-lantern
9. Open the door during the song “Lecha Dodi” mainly to welcome trick-or-treaters
8. Pumpkin kugel, orange shabbos settings, cobwebs on your seforim (books) finally seem relevant!
7. White shabbos tablecloth has 2 eyeholes in it from your ghost costume
6. Trick or Treat: Whether or not there will be a Rabbi’s sermon
5. For some reason your Bigdei Shabbat (special shabbos clothing) and jewelry feel very costume-y
4. The sounds of the beautiful z’miros (songs) seem almost haunting
3. You are a zombie upon awoken from your shabbos nap
2. Black hats/cats are everywhere
1. Challahween!

(Halloween starts at sunset on Fright-day night. Lantern-benching is at 5ish)

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