Lech L’cha (Genesis 12:1 – 17:27)

Why Abraham?

The story of Abram (later Abraham) and his family starts with a command to him from the Lord (12:1-3):

The LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.”

Abram unquestioningly (for now) obeys.  He’s 75 years old, he doesn’t know where he is going, yet he uproots his family to go “there.”  We are not told why Abram is chosen to found a great nation, let alone have a covenant with the Lord.  Compared with all the laws the Israelites have to follow to continue their relationship with the Lord at the end of Deuteronomy, not much is asked of Abram. 

The rabbis, as is their wont, try to fill in the gaps. For instance, there’s the story about Abram smashing the all but one of the idols in his father’s shop, then blaming it on the lone surviving idol in order to teach his father that idolatry is nonsense.  Abram supposedly reasons his way into monotheism without the aid of spectacles like a burning bush.  Nachmanides asks what sense there was to Abram’s selection “without prefacing it by being loyal to God, or being righteous, or by telling him that by leaving his birthplace and going to another country he would attain a greater nearness to God?” He has no satisfying answer. Perhaps God simply recognized Abram was inherently worthy and able to withstand the trials to which he would be put.  From Midrash, Bereshit Rabbah 32: “Said R. Jonathan: A potter does not test cracked jars which cannot be struck even once without breaking.  What does he test?  Good jars which will not break even if struck many times.” (Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Bereshit, pp. 116-9)

Concerning the rest of Lech L’cha, I wrote in 2005: “For some reason, this portion strikes me as particularly disjointed and internally contradictory this year.   At 75, Abram is told to leave his home and move someplace TBD, which turns out to be Canaan. But he leaves Canaan soon after to shelter from the famine in Egypt. He’s told his descendants will be as numerous as the stars, but he doesn’t have a son until he’s 86, and then by his wife’s servant Hagar.   His wife is the one who suggests he take Hagar as a concubine and then she mistreats the pregnant Hagar, causing her to run away.   Abram is told he is to possess the land of Canaan, but that his descendants will be strangers in a strange land, enslaved for a couple of centuries. There are visions of the descendants of Abraham becoming a nation, but, between nephew Lot’s splitting off to live separately and the squabbling between Sarai and Hagar, this is one family that doesn’t seem able to live together themselves, much less be progenitors of a nation. We read of an exalting identity change (Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah) but also a dangerous identity sham (when Abram passes Sarai off as his sister to Pharaoh in Egypt). And it’s not until he’s 99, 24 years after he’s begun following the Lord’s commands, that he is finally called Abraham, that Sarah conceives, and that circumcision is instituted as a sign of the covenant. Times are definitely not settled, as we will continue to see next week.

Shabbat shalom,


When I was a kid, my parents moved around a lot.
But I always found them.            Rodney Dangerfield


Babysitting. I gave my nephews $5 each. I told them to hold it against the wall with their nose.  Whoever dropped first would lose, with the winner getting to keep both.  Kept them busy for three hours.


Welcome to America   submitted by: Mark

Yehudah Tzvi Windweher arrived at Ellis Island and asked his friend “What would be a good American name for me? I want it to be Jewish, but more American.”

His friend replied, “Sam Cohen, that’s a good American Jewish name.”

Yehudah Tzvi began his long walk up a massive flight of steps leading to the immigration office. With each step he said, “Sam Cohen, Sam Cohen,” in an earnest effort to learn his new name. When he finished carrying his luggage to the top of the flight, he was winded and tired.

A large immigration officer caught Yehuda Tzvi off guard when he said, “NAME?” in a booming voice. A flustered Yehudah Tzvi replied “Shoyn fargesin” (“I already forgot” in Yiddish).

The immigration officer replied, “Sean Ferguson, welcome the United States of America!”


A Priest, a Rabbi and a Minister

A priest, a rabbi and a minister decide to see who’s best at his job. The test is to go into the woods, find a bear and try to convert it.

After they are done the priest says, “I read to the bear from the Catechism, sprinkled him with holy water and next week is his First Communion.”

The minister said, “I found a bear by the stream, preached God’s holy word and he let me baptize him in the river.”

The rabbi was bandaged from head to foot and said. “Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t have started with the circumcision.”


tph land of canine


 Abraham was the first, but not the last, patriarch to have marriage woes.

(5 of) 9 Marriage Tips from Ancient Philosophers (excerpts)


Tips for wedded bliss from the first century CE philosophers Plutarch and Gaius Musonius Rufus.


From Plutarch’s “Advice to the Bride and Groom, and A Consolation to His Wife Those who have to go near elephants do not put on bright clothes, nor do those who go near bulls put on red;42 for the animals are made especially furious by these colours; and tigers, they say, when surrounded by the noise of beaten drums go completely mad and tear themselves to pieces.43 Since, then, this is also the case with men, that some cannot well endure the sight of scarlet and purple clothes, while others are annoyed by cymbals and drums,44 what terrible hardship is it for women to refrain from such things, and not disquiet or irritate their husbands, but live with them in constant gentleness?


Plutarch, from “Advice to the Bride and Groom”:

“Fishing with poison is a quick way to catch fish and an easy method of taking them, but it makes the fish inedible and bad. In the same way women who artfully employ love-potions and magic spells upon their husbands, and gain the mastery over them through pleasure, find themselves consorts of dull-witted, degenerate fools…”


From Rufus’ lectureOn Sexual Indulgence”:

“If it seems neither shameful nor out of place for a master to have relations with his own slave, particularly if she happens to be unmarried, let him consider how he would like it if his wife had relations with a male slave.…”


Plutarch:…“The lawful wives of the Persian kings sit beside them at dinner… But when the kings wish to be merry and get drunk, they send their wives away, and send for their music-girls and concubines… because they do not concede any share in their licentiousness and debauchery to their wedded wives. If therefore a man in private life… commit some peccadillo with a paramour or a maidservant, his wedded wife ought not to be indignant or angry, but she should reason that it is respect for her which leads him to share his debauchery, licentiousness, and wantonness with another woman.


Plutarch writes in “Advice to the Bride and Groom”:

“In the beginning, especially, married people ought to be on their guard against disagreements and clashes, for … such household vessels as are made of sections joined together are at the outset easily pulled apart …, but after a time, when their joints have become have become set, they can hardly be separated by fire and steel.…


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