11 Cheshvan 5773 / October 26-27, 2012
In this week’s portion, Lech Lecha, we find Abram (his name was changed later to Abraham!) being instructed by God to leave his native land, and to journey “to the land that I will show you.” Abram brings his wife, Sarai (name changed later to Sarah), his nephew, Lot, and their collective households (think: cattle, slaves, etc. -- they were pretty wealthy folks).
After a brief trip to Egypt due to famine where Abram lies about Sarai being his wife by having her agree to pretend that she is actually his sister in order to save his life (she was quite attractive, and Abram was afraid he’d be killed if the Egyptians knew he was her husband), Abram and Lot finally reached a massive open area and needed to decide where they would settle with their respective flocks (they couldn’t settle in the location because their flocks were too numerous to be contained in the same space). Abram let Lot choose where to settle, and Lot chose the more fertile land, near Sodom.
It seems that no selfish act goes unpunished, as shortly after settling in, Lot is captured by rival kings who conquered the land where he lived. Upon hearing this, Abram called all the members of his estate to arms, and they went, battled, and freed Lot from captivity.
What does it mean to put your life and property at risk in order to rescue another?
Who in your life would you make such a potential sacrifice for?
As Jews, we have a bit too much experience with needing to be rescued. Our history is littered with examples of others taking advantage of us and making us prisoners. While at times others would take personal risks in order to save us, unfortunately mass mobilizations making rescuing us a priority didn’t frequently materialize.
More recently, Jewish resources and resourcefulness in the United States and autonomy in Israel have allowed for Jews to play an active role in rescuing other Jews when necessary. See, for example, the work done with Soviet Jewry and Ethiopian Jewry.
We learn in the Talmud (Shevuot 39a): "Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh” – all Jews are responsible for one another.
What are we to make of this charge of responsibility?
Many of us wouldn’t take the risk that Abram took for our own family members – let alone strangers who happen to share a common heritage.
Can we truly strive to work towards the wellbeing of Jews around the world that we don’t even know?
Nineteenth Century Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus (whose work can be found on the Statue of Liberty) may have said it best: “None of us is free until we are all free.”
This Shabbat, reflect on what it is to uproot and leave your home, as Abraham (then called Abram) did.
Compare this with being trapped – imprisoned – and not being permitted to leave, as so many of our Jewish (and non-Jewish) brethren have had to deal with throughout history.
Resolve to be conscious of freedoms being denied to others. Be ready to act. Be ready to sacrifice. Because our perceived freedom is meaningless if others aren’t being permitted to partake of it.