The parshat hashavua / Torah reading portion of the week is "Lech lecha - Go, march out, reach yourself" said to Abram in Bereishit 12:1-17:20. God insists to make him leave his native land; go out from his father's house and homeland. The words clearly mean that Abram is called by God to "become a great nation, be blessed... and all the families of the earth (mishpechot hadamah) shall bless themselves by you”. This also implies that these humans shaped and structured in families out of the earth - adamah like the Adam haqadmon, address themselves a blessing and not a cursing. They cannot restrict their benedictions to themselves but extend them to each other, nation to nations, family of the earth to any other nation of the earth.
"Lech lecha" sounds beautiful and like a challenge in Hebrew. "Halach - to go, march in/out, go forth" has this short imperative form and the shortened "l-" from "el, al, if not halach" shows something irrepressible. This is a major Shabbat and week in the Jewish cycle of the readings. In this portion, Abram accepts God's call to a move that, in his cultural and social environment could only look frightful, dangerous and hopeless, without significant goal.
Humans are like walkmen, people on a walk with a multitude of tunes: not used to wearing sandals, a tunic (at least some pants and a T shirt). Credit cards? A pocket toothbrush? Just call me Ape and my password is "God with us"; this can be declined from “Immanu-El” to "Gott mit uns" as it was written on the Nazi belts. Fear is worse than any anxious ignorance. Fear that we may discover when life can be set in a series of dangers imperiling our freedom, freewill, change our points of views or, on the contrary, widen them unexpectedly. There is much courage in Abram's response to God as he finally left his homeland and marched out. Did he come out as an adult? He did it twice because, when he firstly tried to leave his father's house, he got so scared according to the Tradition that he ran back or maybe did not even look too far.
Abram belongs to a male civilization. We know nothing about his mom. Let's even think that the man is a character composed of different personalities that lived at a certain period in the same region of Sumer, the cradle of reflection and conscience, culture, awareness that life is not vain. He had a mother like you and I and she might have been quite a character too! Abram does not leave his father's house, homeland. This is what we are told, but we know that he sent Eliezer to his father's home in order to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac. And Jacob did the same. The third and last patriarch of Israel always chose his home tribe and parentage to prolong and develop Abraham's call to become a great nation.
The point is that Abram left his mom when he understood that he had to break the ties that existed in his father's house. He did not kill anyone, like Moshe, for instance, who killed an Egyptian, thus showing a bluffing solidarity with the Hebrews, his people. He accepted the price not to enter Eretz Canaan that had been promised to Abraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Indeed, Abram, leaving Ur-Kasdim and the area of Haran, firstly combated and overcame idolatry, destroying the mother-like natural nourishing and nurturing idols whose natural flavor he had suckled from his mother’s breasts. It is difficult to struggle and to go beyond the reach of this very gregarious experience. Abram has always been obedient to God… and to Sarai (Sarah) to some extent when he was not about to “give” her to Pharaoh as his sister. This kind of problem of fear lines with some existential anxiety that she could resolve for a while. Sarah made Abram really quit his father’s house and anticipate the serfdom bondage in Egypt when she proposed him to get a child with her maidservant Hagar, an Egyptian. From Mesopotamia to the Nile, Abraham and Sarah dug down to the heart of the Semitic and universal call: “Vehifreti otcha bimeod meod / I shall make you exceedingly fertile – unetatecha legoyim / and make nations of you” (Bereishit 17:6). This fertility is meant as “bimeod meod – in the very too much = totally human as Adam, using the same consonants as when God saw that His creation was “tov meod – very good” (Gen. 1:31).
The haftarah read for the Shabbat “Lech lecha” is a portion of the Book of Prophet Isaiah 40:27-41:16, common to the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions. There can be some differences between the various Jewish rites or minhagim. In fact, chapter 40 of the book begins with the famous consolation words: “Nachmu, nachmu ammi – comfort, comfort My people” (Isaiah 40:1). Some scholars presume that the Prophet was born around 765 BCE and was called to be a prophet in 740 in the Temple of Jerusalem. Isaiah was a talented prophet whose tongue profoundly imprinted the spirit of the nation. Prophets are men – and occasionally women – of speech. In his case, he summarized and “embodied” the vertical, transcendental call addressed by God to His people and to all the Nations. It is a time of danger for Israel that was seduced by idolatry and content with her own “self” and “divine Service”. The Babylonians would, in some short time of two centuries, destroy Jerusalem and the Temple and deport the Jews. Thus, it is usually considered that the haftarah portion read this week could not have been written by Isaiah. Instead, it is thinkable that chapters 40-55 were included because of the great zeal and faith shown by a sort of “gilgul acher – another shadow or double” of the great Prophet who always referred to sanctity and confidence in God. The scientific exegetes conducted by the Christian theologians suggested the existence of a “Second Isaiah” who produced this “Book of the consolation”. The Prophet Isaiah was supposedly slaughtered under Manasseh according to the Jewish tradition. His impact on the “revelation of the Messiah” – the coming in and out of the Mashiach/Moshiach – has been very powerful and continues to be of great importance in the debates between Judaism and Christianity.
On the other hand, “nachmu nachmu ammi” can also be read as “nachmu immi – comfort together with Me”. This sounds in harmony with Abram’s intercession and dialogue with God about the necessity of saving Sodom if there were a few righteous living in the city. We are God’s co-workers, co-builders. This might sometimes be a bit bizarre in Jerusalem. We c an often meet people who would contact us “because they need to minister in the Holy Land”. The kind of comfort that is suggested is an open-minded and realistic hope. “God gives strength to the weary, fresh vigor to the spent. Youths may grow faint and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but they who trust in the Lord shall renew their strength as eagles grow new plumes” (Isaiah 40:30-31; cf. Tehillim 103:3). “Melech shebe’ofot nesher – the king of the birds is the eagle” states Hagigah 13b. The animal is unclean (Hullin 60b) but very kind to his young ones (Peah I, 15d). “God shall give the righteous wings like those of the eagles and they shall soar” (Sanhedrin 92b), even if “nesharim” refers to “the powerful heathen Romans” (Sanhedrin 12a).
The person who is called to read the “haftarah – additional/completing (prophetic) reading” is called a “maftir – implementing/carrying out utensil-person”. His task is to break through – “patar” (Berachot 8, 1, 46a). He would seemingly discharge and dismiss the community with one more reading that would be related to some birthing (Ketubot 12, 5). “Petar” means altogether: “to free, dismiss, let go and divorce”. The maftir has the awesome privilege to be the last of those called up to conclude with the prophetic reading. During a very long period, the Book of the Prophets could conclude all the readings by a sort of personal choice made by the maftir (reader) himself. There was no specific order. Interestingly, Jesus of Nazareth acted as maftir when he read in the synagogue from the Book of Prophet Isaiah: “He was handed over a scroll of the prophet, unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, thus He has anointed me to bring good tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind and let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Rolling back the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.” (Luke 4: 16-30; cf. Isaiah 42:1.sq). He then delivered a speech about the meaning of the text as the lesson that should be also given by the maftir.
The quotation makes sense in the context of New Year seasons as also the citation of the daily morning blessings kept in the Jewish tradition about the liberation of the captives and the recovery of the sight to the blind.
On the coming Monday, the Eastern Orthodox Church will celebrate the memory of the Righteous Abraham and Lot, showing the very ancient roots of how to quit oneself for God’s sake and redemption. I often wonder why there is no synagogue, no “ohaley shalom – tents of peace”, place of meditation or church, chapel at Sodom. Beyond this small ocean of salt (it preserves and revives at times) and its industrial importance, the place is at the heart of all ethical and spiritual combats for righteousness: from sex to societal rejection, moral blindness and fenced horizons for which Abraham interceded like a plume-renewing eagle.