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Lech Licha: The Promise of a Child, the Birth of a Nation

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Nov 1, 2022

Parshas Lech Licha, the dawn of our history, the birth of our nation.  And Hashem said to Avram: לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ - go to yourself, from your land, and from your birthplace, and from the house of your father, to the land that I will show you (Bereishis 12:1).  And at the age of seventy-five, Avram journeyed, along with Lot his nephew, Sarai his wife, and all their possessions and the souls they converted in Charan (Rashi to Bereishis 12:5), and they arrived in the land of Canaan.  

Much is known to us about the lives of Avraham and Sarah from the Torah text.  In this week’s sedra, they arrive in Canaan, find a famine in the land, descend to Egypt because of the famine,  and Sarah is taken by Pharaoh (Ch.12); upon leaving Egypt, Avraham and Lot (his nephew) part ways (Ch.13); Lot is captured in the first World War and Avraham goes to battle to save his nephew (ch.14); Avraham has the nevuah of the Covenant Between the Pieces (Ch.15); Avraham takes Hagar as a wife, but Sarah banishes her from their home, and in the desert, Hagar sees angels and is promised a child (Ch.16); and finally, Hashem promises Avraham that Sarah will have a child and commands Avraham regarding bris milah (Ch.17)!

In the very last perek of the sedra, Hashem promises Avram that their names are no longer Avram and Sarai, but Avraham and Sarah, and that together, they will have a child.  

וַיִּפֹּ֧ל אַבְרָהָ֛ם עַל־פָּנָ֖יו וַיִּצְחָ֑ק וַיֹּ֣אמֶר בְּלִבּ֗וֹ הַלְּבֶ֤ן מֵאָֽה־שָׁנָה֙ יִוָּלֵ֔ד וְאִ֨ם־שָׂרָ֔ה הֲבַת־תִּשְׁעִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה תֵּלֵֽד - and Avraham fell upon his face and he laughed, and he said in his heart: To a man of a 100 years shall there be born (a child)? And shall Sarah - a woman of 90 years - give birth? (Bereishis 17:17); וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹקים אֲבָל֙ שָׂרָ֣ה אִשְׁתְּךָ֗ יֹלֶ֤דֶת לְךָ֙ בֵּ֔ן וְקָרָ֥אתָ אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ יִצְחָ֑ק וַהֲקִמֹתִ֨י אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֥י אִתּ֛וֹ לִבְרִ֥ית עוֹלָ֖ם לְזַרְע֥וֹ אַחֲרָֽיו - And Elokim said, Indeed, Sarah your wife will bear you a son and you shall call his name Yitzchak; and I will fulfill My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him (v.19)… וְאֶת־בְּרִיתִ֖י אָקִ֣ים אֶת־יִצְחָ֑ק אֲשֶׁר֩ תֵּלֵ֨ד לְךָ֤ שָׂרָה֙ לַמּוֹעֵ֣ד הַזֶּ֔ה בַּשָּׁנָ֖ה הָאַחֶֽרֶת - and My covenant I will uphold through Yitzchak whom Sarah will bear to you at this appointed time next year (v.21).

The covenantal community, which began with Avraham and the covenant of milah in this week’s sedra, will continue, by Divine promise, through the child promised to Avraham and Sarah, namely, Yitzchak.  And through this child, the covenantal community would become a teaching community.  With Sarah as mother and Avraham as father, new roles in the covenantal community would be formed, as father/mother pass the mesorah onto child/student, ensuring that our national destiny and mission would continue and endure.  

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt’l, the Rav, movingly teaches, “Judaism apparently considers the act of education to be synonymous with the act of faith.  Indeed, educational endeavors require the teacher… to turn one's face to the future and sacrifice continually for a great vision that may never be realized during the teacher’s lifespan.

“It is not implausible to link the verb ‘a-m-n’ to ‘em’, ‘mother’, since she is the foremost teacher of and believer in the child.  A mother will never despair of her child, nor will she spare any effort to further her child’s welfare (see Bereishis 21 when Yitzchak is born and Sarah orders Avraham to send Yishmael away), even though she does not expect to live long enough to enjoy the fruits of her toil and sacrifice.  She is the most unselfish being.  Her faith in her child can never be shaken.  She will patiently try to do some particular thing for her child over and over again, since failure, however disappointing, does not weaken her determination to bring out the best and the finest in the child.  The em, the mother, is unconditionally committed to her child, in whose capabilities she has unrestricted trust.

“To believe and to bring up are identical accomplishments… The element of faith is indispensable for any pedagogical endeavor.  A teacher who lacks confidence that his pupil is able to grasp the ideas he passes on to him will never be successful.  The teacher must also have faith that learning will have a moral impact upon the disciple.  We believe that knowledge is redemptive and a therapeutic performance.  A pessimist must never do any teaching or be entrusted with the care of a child, since his efforts are doomed to failure from the very outset.  All educational activities are identical with mothering, for what is mothering if not displaying unlimited faith in a child? … In a word, the religious teacher is an instructor, a teacher, an educator charged with the mission of completing G-d’s works… He must have faith in G-d and, at the same time, faith in man; he is both a ma’amin and an omen, patient and courageous.  Avraham was such a person” (Abraham’s Journey, p.97-99).  

The director of a certain cheder in Beit Shemesh came to consult with Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman zt’l regarding the acceptance of children from a certain family into the cheder.  Other parents in the school were pressuring the administration not to accept the children.  R’ Aharon Leib was incredulous.  “It is gayvah to insist that you are better than another person and to reject a child based on such haughtiness!” he exclaimed.  “But the father is acting crazy!” the principal countered.  “He’s using any and all means possible to push in the children!”  “Other parents in the school also want the best chinuch for their children” R’ Aharon Leib countered, “Why isn’t the principal calling them crazy?  The parents pushing the school to not accept these children are full of gayvah!”  He then repeated several times, “Gayvah, gayvah, gayvah!”

R’ Aharon Leib continued, “With the criteria some schools are setting up today, even Avraham Avinu would not be accepted to a ‘good’ school!  After all, he was the son of Terach, an idol merchant!  Rikva Imeinu would definitely have trouble getting accepted as well, with Besuel for a father and Lavan for a brother!  And our Imahos Rachel and Leah, daughters of Lavan the swindler, would not get accepted either.  In fact, a good portion of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs would not be able to get into our schools today!  In Brisk, when I was growing up, there was one central cheder for those who wanted a Jewish education - we all learned Torah together” (Reb Aharon Leib, Artscroll, p.151-152).

With the birth of the covenantal community, the teaching community was born.  Father/mother teaches child; teacher/rebbe teaches talmid (student).  It is with unlimited faith, unbounded patience, and unrestrained love that the mesorah is transmitted from one generation to the next.   And with these ideals in mind, Avraham and Sarah were promised that they would have a child. It is from them that we learn for our day and age.  For though times have certainly changed, the commitment of mother/teacher to the child, and father/rebbe to the eternal covenant, remain a constant m’dor la’dor, from generation to generation.  

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום

Mesorah Women 

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    Learning on the Marcos and Adina Katz YUTorah site is sponsored today by the Cohen, Kraut and Silver families in memory of Elaine Bienenfeld Silver z”l and by Ellie and Elli Ausubel for a refuah shleimah forהניא בת ברכה לאה דבורה