Last week, Lech Lecha was the parshah, Isaiah 40:27-41, the haftarah. It was also the anniversary of Kristallnacht and the fall of the Berlin Wall. And, if you hadn’t heard, the United States elected Donald Trump. Interestingly all four of these occurred not just on the same week, but also all on the same day. What lessons might we pull from this coincidence?
It is already clear the reasons why electing Donald Trump was a tragedy. Many blogs and news articles exist explaining what is wrong with him; he is sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, homophobic, xenophobic, transphobic, anti-immigration and makes fun of handicapped people. This privileged white, heterosexual, rich capitalist man denies also global warming. So, not only will women and minorities of all different kinds potentially and most likely suffer under his presidency, his environmental policies may have devastating long-term, perhaps permanent, effects on all beings.
The anniversary of Kristallnacht marks the beginning of what would become the Shoah, the planned, systematic attempt to annihilate the entire population of European Jews. As we are aware, Hitler and his regime were quite successful killing more than 6 million of us. Since these events, most European Jewish communities have never recovered (if they currently exist at all).
Yet, the anniversary of fall of the Berlin Wall signals freedom, an end to communism and liberation from totalitarian regimes. Contact with the rest of the world was now possible for the people living under what was called the Iron Curtain. Likewise, a new hope dawned.
Now to the parshah from last week. First, Abram is told by the One to leave all that he has known and go elsewhere learning more about trust, hunger, war, the need for protection, misfortune and blessings in the process. Then, we have the covenant between the deity, Abram and Sarai. The mark of the covenant is twofold – circumcision and name changes – so too are its gifts – the Promised Land and the blessings of fertility.
The name change is significant, according to Rashi, because now Sarai is no longer a princess for one as Sarai means “my princess.” Rather, Sarah means “princess” and therefore she will become the mother of all. Likewise, Abram becomes goes from “father of Aram to Abraham or “father of all nations.” Sarah and Abraham then have a son Issac when they are 90 and 100 years old respectively. Here marks the beginning of the Jewish people, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah.
Yet, with abundance and blessing also comes misfortune. Described in this parshah is also, according to Rashi, the pain of galut, or exile. To enter a covenant with the One, Abra(ha)m and Sara(i)h must leave all that they have known to wander in a land filled with war, hunger and strife. Not only this but the physical leaving of a place is accompanied by a mental leaving as well– in midrash Abraham’s father creates, sells and worships idols. His father does not know nor does he believe in the existence of only one deity. Therefore, Abra(ha)m leaves behind both the city of Ur and his polytheistic family to wander in Canaan, a dangerous land that was not promised to him as much as it is promised to his descendants.
Now we turn to the haftarah, the words of the prophet Isaiah. Towards the beginning we hear, “Do not fear for I am with you; be not discouraged for I am your G-d: I encouraged you, I also supported you with my right hand,” (Isaiah 41:10, chabad.org). We learn that life often revolves around pain and misfortune, but while we may not completely understand how the One works, we know that through it all G-d is there. There is a reason why the rabbis have chosen to read these two sections together.
Not only do both the parshah and the haftarah speak of Abraham, his selection by the One and his acceptance of their covenant, they also speak to a consistent trait found in the One’s nature. In many ways, when Abraham and Sarah leave what they know, they also gain a new protector and caretaker, a new parent. We learn that our new parent, G-d, never abandons us. No matter what happens.
Moving further, there are two more substantial teachings that can be extrapolated from the parshah and haftarah. First, we are the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, meaning the covenant they had with G-d applies to us too. Just as they were given the responsibility to be father and mother of all, we too have that task. Second, G-d leads by example and shows us what parenthood means. We must protect and care for those less fortunate and more vulnerable than us. No matter what we cannot abandon them.
In the last week, we, Jews, have gone from hope in Abraham and Sarah’s covenant and reassurance of G-d’s presence in our lives to the reminder of effects of galut (being considered strangers in a strange land). In this environment of continuing anti-Semitism and the anniversary of Kristallnacht, we are reminded that we have been and continue to be targets. We are reminded by the fall of the Berlin Wall that institutions and situations that feel hopeless, full of corruption and seemingly endless do end. With the election of Donald Trump, the United States went from aspirations of walking further toward justice and equality toward injustice, destruction, threat, sheer hatred and bigotry. Now, both humanity and the planet are more vulnerable.
We have work to do. A parent’s job is never done.