Gathering the Blessings (Lech Lecha)

Genesis 12:3, part of the blessing to Avram (later Avraham) when God calls him to leave his land and his birthplace and his father’s house: Va-avar-cha m’var-checha um’kalel-cha a-or. “And I will bless those who bless you and those who damn you I will curse.”

Rabbi Robert Kasman, of Cong. Agudat Achim in Schenectady, gave a d’var Torah (drash) last week at the Board of Rabbis in which he pointed out that God is as good as telling the Jews, right from the very beginning, that there will always be those who hate us as well as those who love us. I abstract from this that, no matter what, there will always be challenges confronting us as Jews and a Jewish community, as well as blessings that we find and create and give to each other.

I wrote this little drash for the 140th anniversary service, so I was thinking about the generations of Berith Sholom in particular. The challenges facing each generation are different from those facing the previous and following — and so are the blessings. In our generation, the blessings (and for that matter the challenges) include the warmth and welcome that we extend to diverse kinds of Jews and Jewish families, and the tremendous hunger for meaning and guidance in the chaos of life in the early 21st century.

How do we get through the challenges and gather the blessings? Look at verse 5: V’et kol r’chusham asher rachashu, v’et ha-nefesh asher asu v’charan… “And all the acquisitions that they had acquired, and the soul(s) that they had made in Haran…” (Digression to talk about “making souls.” Look under “people they had gathered.”) Notice that “they” did the acquiring and making, not “he.” While in context it could mean Avram and his nephew Lot, I’ve always read it as Avram and Sarai, the couple who are embarking on this new Jewish experiment together: together they worked on their economic growth, and together they created a following for the One God. It’s in working together — as men and women, all of us; and if you read “they” to include nephew Lot, you could also say across the generations — it’s in working together that we face the challenges successfully and gather in the blessings.

Even so, in verse 5, vaya-vo’u artsa K’na’an: “They arrived in the land of Canaan.” Even with all the hard work and cooperation, even with all the hope and excitement, we still arrive at first in the land of Canaan — foreign territory. It’s not yet Eretz Yisra’el, the Land of Israel. It’s the promised but not yet received land.

But by making the journey, by working together in our generation, we lay the groundwork so that those who come after us can turn it into the Land of Promise, the Land flowing with Milk and Honey. Ken y’hi ratson — so may it be!