I am tired. Here are old comments with old and new humor. Abram is told to leave his country, maybe for reasons not so different from those who toy with that idea today. Sometimes the “homeland” just isn’t home any longer.
This week, we get into the stories of Abraham and Sarah, born Abram and Sarai. At the beginning of Lech L’cha, Abram is 75 and Sarai, 65. They are childless. Abram’s father Terah had intended to move from Ur to Canaan, but stopped in Haran (why?). Abram is told to leave his land and his father’s house and go where the Lord leads him. [My friend Stanley says this command, “Lech l’cha” is best translated “Get going!”]
He and his descendants will be blessed and will enable all the peoples of the world to be blessed. At the end of the reading, 24 years have passed. Abram is Abraham (“father of multitudes”) and Sarai is Sarah (princess), and they are in Canaan. Abraham has a son, Ishmael, now 13, by Sarah’s maid Hagar, and has been told he will shortly have one by Sarah. The Lord makes a covenant with him, in which, if he and his descendants through Isaac walk in the Lord’s ways, those descendants will be numerous and will be assigned the land of Canaan as an everlasting holding. The covenant is sealed through the rite of circumcision.
In the intervening 24 years, Abram has a variety of adventures which illustrate his character. He is trusting, leaving Haran without knowing where the Lord is directing him. His skill at diplomacy and problem solving is evident in his handling of major disputes between his workers and nephew Lot’s. His military victories against the kinglets who capture Lot show him to be an able commander. His family loyalty is shown in his rescue of Lot and his love of Ishmael. On the other hand, when Abram and Sarai go to Egypt for respite from famine in Canaan, Abram passes Sarai off as his sister to save his own life while she is taken into Pharaoh’s palace. [OK, according to Rashi (1040-1105 or so) he does try to protect her at first by hiding her in a box.] Still…And he totally washes his hands of the troubles between Sarai and her maidservant (his concubine) Hagar.
But with all that, Abraham still seems something of a blank to me. We don’t have any text on his initial encounter with the Lord or why he was chosen. The rabbis have filled in some of this with midrash, but it’s puzzling why such a seminal development as Abram’s adoption of monotheism is not presented explicitly in Genesis. He lacks a clearly defined personality, and I can’t tell whether that is due to the gaps in the text or his actually having a generally bland personality. His strongest emotions concern his search for an heir – Lot? Eliezer (15:2)? Ishmael (17:18)?
Sarai and Hagar, in contrast, are real people, with recognizable, clearly limned, if not always admirable, characters. Sarai’s behavior toward Hagar is certainly questionable. She gives Hagar to her husband specifically to bear children for him, a common practice at that time by barren wives. Yet when Hagar conceives, Sarai has a hard time accepting emotionally the result of the plan she herself put into action. Further, Hagar is not at all submissive to her mistress but is blatantly disrespectful, in spite of how much pain she knows it must be causing Sarai. One would expect the first Matriarch to accept that with forbearance. Instead, she’s mean enough that Hagar runs away, coming back only after an angel tells her that she will have a son, Ishmael, and many descendants and that she should just put up with Sarai. And next week, we’ll see how these family tensions increase when Sarai, now Sarah, finally gives birth to her son Isaac.
* WIFE AND MISTRESS *
An architect, an artist and an engineer were discussing whether it was better to have a wife or a mistress.
The architect said he enjoyed time with his wife, building a solid foundation for an enduring relationship.
The artist said he enjoyed time with his mistress, because of the passion and mystery he found there.
The engineer said “I like both.”
“Both?” The artist and architect asked.
“Yeah,” said the engineer, “If you have a wife AND a mistress, they will both assume you are spending time with the other woman, and you can go into the lab and get some work done.”
Names carry so much symbolism. When I was engaged in grad school, one of my classmates chose not to change her name after marriage, one reduced her surname to a middle initial, and a friend was able to hyphenate, the names being suitable short (the Brits don’t seem to mind clunkiness, or at least they didn’t a hundred years ago – witness the suffragists surnamed “Pethick-Lawrence.”). For formal signatures, I chose to write everything out, using my original surname, Greenwald, as the middle name. I also go by Dr. Irene G. Plotzker, Mrs. Richard Plotzker, Ms. Irene Plotzker, Roz’s Mom, Alan’s Mom, Miriam’s sister, KS (standing for “kleinste schwester,” littlest sister, used by my big brother, “grosse bruder” or GB), and various other names. When I was teenager, a friend addressed an envelope to me as Irenie Greenie the Beanie and I didn’t notice anything odd. In some circumstances, I can go incognito without batting an eye. Great fun.
A couple more oldies:
The bris is over. Baby Sam has been circumcised and the rabbi, family and friends have all left the house. Moshe and Sadie are quietly sitting in their lounge when their 4 year old son Benny comes crying into the room. Sadie asks him what is wrong.
Benny sobs, “In his speech, Rabbi Bloom said he wants us brought up in a Jewish home – and I want to stay with you guys!”
Submitted by the webmaster
The old Mohel, Dr. Carver still did circumcisions. One afternoon he was called to the Goldberg house. The baby and guests were waiting anxiously.
The mohel came out of the room a minute after he’d gone in and asked Mr. Goldberg, ”Do you have a hammer?”
A puzzled Mr. Goldberg went to the garage, and returned with a hammer. Dr. Carver thanked him and went back into the bedroom. A moment later, he came out and asked, ”Do you have a chisel?”
Mr. Goldberg complied with the request.
In the next ten minutes, Dr. Carver asked for and received a pair of pliers a screwdriver and a hacksaw. The last request got to Mr. Goldberg. He asked,
”What are you doing to my son?”
”Not a thing,” replied old doc Carver. ”I can’t get my instrument bag open.”