Posts Tagged 'Avram'

Off the Mark, But On Target

Despite only being eleven years old at the time, Yadid decided to fast on Yom Kippur. Being that he was not yet a Bar Mitzvah (13 years old) he had no obligation to do so. We were clear with him that if he ever wanted to eat or drink he should stop fasting. At the end of the break on Yom Kippur we were headed back to synagogue for Mincha. At this point Yadid asked, ” Is it harder for people who do not see themselves to be obligated to keep mitzvot to fast on Yom Kippur? I mean since I know I can eat it makes it even harder for me not to eat.” What is the interplay with our sense of obligation and ability to be accomplished?

Yadid’s question makes me think about  Lech Lecha. There our nation’s journey began with God instructing Avram (soon to become Avraham) to leave his birthplace and set out to start a new people in a new land. He was off to the land of Canaan. What a novel concept? A people collected by common belief as opposed to an accident of birth place. But if we were paying attention to the end of previous Torah portion, we would have seen that the destination for Avram’s travel was not new at all. Terach, Avram’s father, had set out with his family toward the land of Canaan, but never got there. While it seems that Avram was more successful than his father in terms of getting to the land of Canaan, as we see later in the this Torah portion in Avram’s travels to Egypt he was equally unsuccessful as his father in terms of staying in Canaan. How are we to compare the Avram’s divine quest with Terach’s life journey?

In the Gemara we learn that,  “Greater is the one who is commanded and does then the one who is not commanded and does”( Kidushin 31a). This sentiment can be explained with a basic understanding of the human need to combat authority. It  is more meritorious to overcome our need to rebuff authority and comply than to just do something for its own sake. It is interesting to ponder the opposite of this adage. How would you compare one who is commanded and does not comply to the one who is not commanded and does not comply? The first one is testing the limits of authority, but still might be in a relationship with the authority. The later is just not doing anything at all.

Surely Terach’s intentions were good, but we do not know them. At first Avram is successful in following God’s direction to go to the land of Canaan, but soon after he gets there he does not stay. But still he aspires to go and does eventually comply and settle in the land of Canaan. In many ways we are all still beneficiaries of this aspiration and this relationship. Beyond the scope of going to Israel, we all fail to fulfill God’s commandments, but with clear expectations it is possible for us to try again and succeed.

I was reminded of Yadid’s question again when reading Matot-Massei, this week’s Torah portion. Here we read about the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and  half of Manasseh asking for the lands east of the Jordan as their portion in the Promised Land, these being prime pastureland for their cattle. Moshe is initially angered by the request, but subsequently agrees on the condition that they first join, and lead, in Israel’s conquest of the lands west of the Jordan. Is this a success or failure?

As the story goes there once was a prince who becomes a master archer. The prince excels to such a point that he believes he’s the finest archer in the world. On his journey homeward, the prince stops in a small town to get something to drink. Across from the tavern, the prince sees a barn with painted targets along the entire side of the barn. And, there is a single arrow, dead center in every target on the barn. How could such a master archer be living in this small town? Finally, the prince sees this young boy and asks him. “It was me,” says the boy. “Show me,” demands the prince. They stand. The boy takes aim. The boy hits the side of the barn, far away from any of the targets. Then, the boy runs into the barn. He emerges with a brush and a can of paint. He paints a solid circle around the arrow he has just shot, then two more circles to form a target. The boy says, “That’s how I do it. First, I shoot the arrow, and then I paint the target.” 

A Young Assistant To The King Paints Bullseyes Drawing by Charlie Hankin

We all want to be successful and still we are all prone to miss the mark. It is meaningless to claim success by painting the target. Our shared success and accomplishment is stipulated by clearly stating shared goals from the start. In this case even when we miss the target we can support each other in eventually or in other ways hitting the target. Even though Moshe was initially angered by their request this story of Reuben, Gad, and  half of Manasseh was a success.

 Avram and the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and  half of Manasseh are successful even with different results because their commitment is clear, known, and shared. Yadid’s wisdom was in expressing the difficulty of accomplishing goals when we do not share a common understanding of commitment. As my friend Diana Bloom always says, ” People do not fail, systems fail.” In our lives we ask, do we have the systems of accountability in place to make sure we hit the mark?

How Great are Commandments?

Despite only being eleven years old, Yadid decided to fast this year on Yom Kippur. Being that he is not yet a Bar Mitzvah (13 years old) he had no obligation to do so. We were clear with him that if he ever wanted to eat or drink he should stop fasting. At the end of the break Adina, Yadid, Libi and I were headed back to synagogue for Mincha. At this point Yadid asked, ” Is it harder for people who do not see themselves to be obligated to keep mitzvot to fast on Yom Kippur? I mean since I know I can eat it makes it even harder for me not to eat.”

At the time Yadid’s question makes me think about  Lech Lecha, this weeks portion. Here our nation’s journey begins with God instructing Avram (soon to become Avraham) to leave his birthplace and set out to start a new people in a new land. What a novel concept? A people collected by common belief as opposed to an accident of birth place. But if we were paying attention to the end of  Noah, last week’s portion, we would have seen that the destination for Avram’s travel was not new at all. Terach, Avram’s father, had set out with his family toward the land of Canaan, but never got there. While it seems that Avram was more successful than his father in terms of getting to the land of Canaan, as we see later in the this Torah portion in Avram’s travels to Egypt he was equally unsuccessful as his father in terms of staying in Canaan. How are we to compare the Avram’s divine quest with Terach’s life journey?

In the Gemara in Kidushin 31a (in a totally different context) we learn that,  “Greater is the one who is commanded and does then the one who is not commanded and does”. This sentiment can be explained with a basic understanding of the human need to combat authority. It  is more meritorious to overcome our need to rebuff authority and comply than to just do something for its own sake. It is interesting to ponder the opposite of this adage. How would you compare one who is commanded and does not comply to the one who is not commanded and does not comply? The first one is testing the limits of authority, but still might be in a relationship with the authority. The later is just not doing anything at all.

Surely Terach’s intentions were good, but we do not know them. At first Avram is successful in following God’s direction to go to the land of Canaan, but soon after he gets there he does not stay. But still he aspires to go and does eventually comply and settle in the land of Canaan. In many ways we are all still beneficiaries of this aspiration and this relationship. Beyond the scope of going to Israel, we all fail to fulfill God’s commandments, but with clear expectations it is possible for us to try again and succeed.

Yadid’s question was special in that it came with a certain openness. I hope Yadid maintains this openness for many years beyond his becoming a bar mitzvah. There is still more depth of the question, but alas even thinking about it makes me hungry.

– Borrowed from older post

 

Count On It

In Lech Lecha, this week’s Torah portion, we see Avraham come into his own as a (or even the) person of faith. There we read:

5 And God brought him out, and said: ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if you are able to count them’; and God said unto him: ‘So shall be your seed.’  6 And he believed in the Lord; and God counted it to him for righteousness.  (Genesis 15:5-6)

While it is hard to see in modern city living, we have all been out in nature and looked up and saw the majestic night sky. We have all been humbled by the image of the vast universe with it countless stars.

Similarly, Avram was  brought out of the tent to count the stars. What made him think, feel, or believe that he could count these stars? Even today with all of our amazing technology this is still not possible. Clearly Avram was a man of faith. For most of my life I assumed that his emunah was tremendous and frankly out of reach. How could I ever achieve that level of faith?

Later in the same chapter we learn about the Covenant Between The Parts. It is dramatic scene in which Avram sacrifices a number of animals, we are told of a covenant between God and the decedents of Avram, and a flame comes down and goes in between the parts. There we read:

12 And it came to pass, that, when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Avram; and, a dread, even a great darkness, fell upon him. 13 And God said to Avram: ‘Know of a surety that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 15 But you shall go to their fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And in the fourth generation they shall come back from there; for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full.’ 17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and there was thick darkness, behold a smoking furnace, and a flaming torch that passed between these pieces. (Genesis 15:12-17)

This darkness clearly sets up the theatrical moment for the fire passing between the parts. It also has profound implications as for the nature of faith.

If  the sun goes down during the Covenant Between the Parts, it implies that it was up for Avram’s moment of faith. What if was not our image of the starry night? What might it have meant for Avram to be lead out of his tent in the middle of the day to look up to the sky and count the stars in heaven?

I might not believe that I could count the stars in the universe, but I do believe that the stars will be out tonight. I do have faith that certain things exist even when I do not see them. Maybe God is just asking Avram (and us for that matter) to believe in God even when we cannot see God.  Faith need not be infinitely complex.  We can trust and believe with our eyes wide open. Maybe faith can be this simple without being simplistic. This is a faith that is within reach and one you can count on in our modern lives.


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