God As an Ally

Lekh Lekha By :  Matthew Berkowitz Former Director of Israel Programs, JTS Posted On Oct 9, 2013 / 5774

A journey of four thousand years begins with God’s command to Abraham. “Go forth,” God urges Abraham, “from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). Psychically, one senses the sacrifice inherent in God’s desire. And clearly God does not make it easy for his prophet. The three expressions employed by the divine voice make it increasingly more difficult for Abraham to leave—his land, his birthplace, and his father’s house. Indeed, the rabbinic mind imagines that leaving one’s land is not so difficult. But to abandon one’s birthplace and family requires pain and sacrifice. As Everett Fox writes, here Abraham is being asked to give up his past, while in the narrative of the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac), he is requested to give up his future. How sensitive is God in asking Abraham to sacrifice his past? What clues are we given in Parashat Lekh Lekha?

In explaining the third verse of our Torah reading, Joseph ben Isaac B’khor Shor showcases God’s sensitivity to Abraham. He writes,

“I will love those who love you and I will hate those who hate you” means, “do not let your heart say that I do not have a colleague or redeemer in the land, and if someone hates me, and seeks to do me harm, no one will stand up against him. Or if someone loves me, then who will give him recompense for such love?” For a person who has close friends—everyone (those friends) supports those who honor and benefit him. I will be for you a lover and a redeemer.

And so, when God declares that “I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you,” there is a profound sense that God recognizes Abraham’s existential loneliness in this sacred endeavor. God singles out Abraham. No doubt insecurity and alienation plague the nascent prophet. Rather than avoiding the issue, God addresses the topic head on—saying to Abraham, “you will not be alone.” I will be the ally and friend that you crave as you move forward.

God’s assurance provides a lesson in leadership for the Jewish People. Too often, standing up for what is ethical and moral in this world leads one to isolation. The Jewish People and the State of Israel prove to be case studies in such a phenomenon. We find ourselves, at times, without partners and without friends. God’s promise to Abraham, in the words of B’khor Shor, is one that that is eternal: “I will be for you a lover and a redeemer.” May we always see God as an ally in our sacred work and may it be true that the “families of the earth” be blessed by the loyal descendants of Abraham.