In grad school, I remember once, while I was walking somewhere but my mind was elsewhere, a person came up to me and kindly asked if I knew where I was going. This has happened to me several times when I know my destination; I guess my face just looks lost if I am thinking and walking at the same time. On this occasion, I was startled, because it sounded like an existential question: did I know where I was going in terms of my life, career, and so on? I didn’t. But I did know where I was walking.
Abram faces the opposite situation in this week’s Torah reading, Lech L’cha. He does not know where he is going, physically. But he knows he will be the source of a great nation through which all families of the earth will be blessed (12:1-4). He is told by the Lord to uproot himself, at age 75, from Haran and go somewhere he’ll be shown. We are not told why Abram is chosen, nor if this was the first time he communed with the Lord (rabbinic stories fill in the background). Abram totally trusts the Lord, packs up his household, and he, Sarai, and nephew Lot take off.
But when they reach Canaan, famine forces them to move to Egypt temporarily. Because Sarai is so beautiful, Abram is afraid he’ll be killed so she can be taken into Pharaoh’s household as a wife. He thus asks Sarai to masquerade as his sister. She does and is taken into Pharaoh’s household as a wife and Abram was treated well as her “brother.” (By the way, the rabbis call this incident one of the 10 trials of Abra(ha)m! It’s actually the first example of his problems with women.) A plague of skin disease alerts Pharaoh something is amiss, the trickery is revealed, and Pharaoh throws out Abram et al.
Abram’s family issues are just beginning. He and Lot part company after they return to Canaan. Lot, living in Sodom, is caught in the middle of a war involving 9 kings and has to be rescued by Abram. Abram hears again from the Lord about his anticipated reward but is still childless. Sarai gives him her Egyptian servant, Hagar, as a concubine, but Hagar’s pregnancy makes her act uppity, so Sarai drives her away. (Really, can’t you see Genesis, as least starting with Abram, as a TV soap opera?) Hagar is advised to return by an angel she met at a well (where else…) because she will bear a son, Ishmael. And so Ishmael is born when Abram is 86.
Thirteen years pass. The Lord now makes a covenant with Abram. His descendants are to accept the Lord as God and they will inherit Canaan. As a sign of acceptance, the males are to be circumcised. Also, Abram and Sarai are now Abraham (father of multitudes) and Sarah (princess) and they will have a son, Isaac. Since they would be 100 and 90 respectively, Abraham’s reaction is laughter. There will be more laughter next week.
Names matter. Given names may be chosen to honor an individual, living or dead, the latter an Ashkenazi custom; for some symbolic reason; or simply because the parents like the way it sounds. In Jewish genealogical records, it can be difficult to tease out which generation is which, since a son would often be named after a grandfather or great-grandfather; one of my more remote branches has a Yosef Halevi every few generations.
But surnames can be a real bear in Jewish genealogical research. In Eastern Europe, most Jews didn’t have surnames until about the 19th century, and sometimes members of one family chose totally different surnames; see, e.g., The Jewish Surname Process in the Russian Empire and its Effect on Jewish Genealogy. And there’s a lot of folklore of mangled names at Ellis Island; in reality, immigrants changed names themselves, usually upon naturalization. Names continued to be mangled in English, though. My father’s family changed their name from Grundwag to Greenwald. Here are some of the variations I’ve found: Grunwog, Grunwarg, Grundwark, Grundwog, Grunsay, Greenwold, Grindwork, Grundwar, and Greendwog. Oy. IGP.
Quotes about Trust
Trust is hard to come by. That’s why my circle is small and tight. I’m kind of funny about making new friends. Eminem
ADVICE FOR ANYONE MOVING TO TEXAS (excerpts)
- Just because you can drive on snow and ice does not mean we
can. Just stay home the two days of the year it snows.
- If you do run your car into a ditch, don’t panic. Four men in
the cab of a four wheel drive with a 12-pack of beer and a tow chain
will be along shortly. Don’t try to help them. Just stay out of their
way. This is what they live for.
- Remember: “Y’all” is singular. “All y’all” is plural. “All
y’all’s” is plural possessive.
- Get used to hearing, “You ain’t from around here, are you?”
- If you are yelling at the person driving 15 mph in a 55 mph
zone, directly in the middle of the road, remember, many folks
learned to drive on a model of vehicle known as John Deere, and this is
the proper speed and lane position for that vehicle.
- If you hear a redneck exclaim, “Hey, y’all, watch this!” Stay
out of his way. These are likely the last words he will ever say.
- There are no delis. Don’t ask.
- In conversation, never put your hand on a man’s shoulder when
making a point, especially in a bar.
- Don’t tell us how you did it up there. Nobody cares.
- We do TOO have 4 Seasons: December, January, February, and Summer!
- If someone tells you “Don’t worry, those peppers aren’t hot”
you can be certain they are.
- If you fail to heed my warning in #18 above, be sure to have a
bowl of guacamole handy. Water won’t do it.
- If someone says they’re “fixin” to do something, that doesn’t
mean anything’s broken.
- The value of a parking space is not determined by the distance
to the door, but the availability of shade.
- BBQ is a food group. It does NOT mean grilling burgers and hot
- “Tea” = Iced Tea. There is no other kind.
This woman is visiting in Israel and notices that her little travel alarm needs a battery. She looks for a watch repair shop and while she doesn’t read Hebrew she finally sees a shop with clocks and watches in the window. She goes in and hands the man her clock. The man says, “Madam, I don’t repair clocks. I am a Mohel. I do circumcisions.” She says, “Why all the clocks in the window?”
And he says, “And what should I have in my window?”
TV anchorwoman Barbara Walters did a story on gender roles in Kuwait several years before the Gulf War. She noted that women customarily walked about 10 feet behind their husbands.
In a follow-up story, she returned to Kuwait recently and observed that men now walked several yards behind their wives.
Ms. Walters approached one of the Kuwaiti women and said, “This is marvelous! Can you tell the free world just what it was that enabled women here to achieve this total reversal of roles in a comparatively short period of time?”
The woman replied, “Land mines.”