Patriarchs in Search of Peace: Lekh Lekha 5775/2014

One of my favorite songs by the late great Arik Einstein is called אוהב להיות בבית (listen here; lyrics below). He describes the heroic adventures of many people who go off climbing mountains and riding horses, and then says that he, however, prefers to be at home, “with my lemon tea, old books, the same lover and the same habits.” I think of this song when I observe father Avram this week. The man is a whirl of action, journeying from Mesopotamia to Canaan, only to move down to Egypt and then return. In Chapter 14 he intervenes in a regional war and defeats the mighty Kedorle’omer. Avram isn’t done traveling yet, but we get the sense that he is getting tired and concerned about his legacy.

At 15:2 Avram plaintively asks, “O Lord God, what can You give me, seeing that I shall die childless?” The contextual (p’shat) understanding is that Avram is complaining about his lack of a biological heir, but various Midrashim reverse the sense. According to Midrash Bereshit Rabba (44) Avram, like David, anticipates that his children will be the source of sorrow, angering God and disappointing their father. If so, Avram says, then better that I go childless! God does not accept this argument, but there are hints already in this portion that Avram’s sons will indeed live lives of conflict. In the night prophecy of chapter 15, Avram sleeps and falls into a “deep dread,” learning in v.13 that his offspring will be “strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years.” Chapter 16 includes the first version of the Hagar story and her flight before the rage of Sarah. Pregnant Hagar receives a prophecy that her son Ishmael will be, “A wild ass of a man; his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him.”

How dreadful and accurate have these prophecies been! Abraham’s descendants through the line of Isaac and Jacob will indeed suffer exile and oppression not once but repeatedly. And through the line of Ishmael, Abraham’s descendants will become a warlike people, with millennia of violent conflicts in every direction. Of course, this is only one aspect of our respective histories. Oracles never tell the entire truth. The history of the Jews is not a lachrymose procession of victimhood, but also includes glorious chapters of spiritual and material blessings. The history of the Arabs is not fairly reduced to chapters of conflict. Theirs is also a legacy of refined poetry and philosophy. Indeed, the parashah concludes with Abraham entering his first son Ishmael and all of the males of his household (but not yet the unborn Isaac) into the covenant of flesh (brit milah), though somehow only Isaac will be designated to carry the full covenantal legacy of Abraham. Chapter 17 struggles to fit within the larger chronology of Genesis, discussing Isaac’s future circumcision even before his birth is officially predicted in chapter 18. In general, the Torah is challenged in explaining the legacy of Ishmael, who is part of the family, but is also a frightening “other.”

Before our concerned eyes, conflict in Jerusalem has once again reared up and threatened to break out into massive fighting. I will not attempt to offer a political analysis, much less a prediction of what could possibly resolve this intractable conflict. Rather, I conclude this message with a simple prayer for peace. May the descendants of Abraham’s children Isaac and Ishmael finally learn to live in peace with each other, speedily in our days.

[Delayed posting]

בראשית פרק טו, ב 

(ב) וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם אֲדֹנָי יֱקֹוִק מַה־תִּתֶּן־לִי וְאָנֹכִי הוֹלֵךְ עֲרִירִי וּבֶן־ מֶשֶׁק בֵּיתִי הוּא דַּמֶּשֶׂק אֱלִיעֶזֶר:

בראשית רבה (תיאודור-אלבק) פרשת לך לך פרשה מד 

 ר’ יודן ור’ אייבו מש’ ר’ יוחנן שני בני אדם אמרו דבר אחד, אברהם ודוד, אברהם אמר י”י אלהים, אמר לפניו רבון כל העולם אם אני עתיד להעמיד בנים ולהכעיסך מוטב לי ואנכי הולך ערירי דוד אמר חקרני אל ודע לבבי בחנני ודע סרעפי (תהלים קלט כג) דע הפורשים ממני, וראה אם דרך עצב בי ונחני בדרך עולם (שם שם /תהלים קל”ט/ כד) [אמר לפניו רבון כל העולם] אם אני עתיד להעמיד בנים להכעיסך מוטב לי שתנחני בדרך עולם.

בראשית פרק טו, יג 

(יג) וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי־גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה:

בראשית פרק טז, יב 

(יב) וְהוּא יִהְיֶה פֶּרֶא אָדָם יָדוֹ בַכֹּל וְיַד כֹּל בּוֹ וְעַל־פְּנֵי כָל־אֶחָיו יִשְׁכֹּן:

אריק איינשטיין
מילים: אריק איינשטיין
לחן: מיקי גבריאלוב

יש אנשים שמטפסים על הרים
יש אנשים שצונחים מגבהים
יש אנשים שרוכבים על סוסים
ויש כאלה שגומאים מרחקים

אבל אני אוהב להיות בבית
עם התה והלימון והספרים הישנים
כן, אני אוהב להיות בבית
עם אותה האהובה ועם אותם ההרגלים
אוהב להיות בבית

יש אנשים שצדים נמרים
יש אנשים שדולים פנינים
יש אנשים שבונים מגדלים
ויש כאלה שצמים חודשים

אבל אני…

יש אנשים שתמיד מחפשים
יש אנשים שתמיד מגלים
יש אנשים שהולכים בגדול
לא מוותרים ורוצים את הכל

אבל אני