Pursuing Righteousness

Changing the external to affect the internal.


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Parashat Lekh L’kha chronicles Abram’s development and maturation into the role that God designates for him: to be the seed of a new people whose values are rooted in justice and righteousness (Genesis 18:19).

God tells Abram to “be a blessing,” (12:2) a cryptic phrase for the nascent leader and for us. What does it mean to “be a blessing?” As the parashah unfolds, we can trace Abram’s development into this role. His growth shows us what it means to embody justice and righteousness; to be a blessing.

american jewish world servicePublic and Private Lives

The parashah chronicles Abram’s actions out in the world and in his own tent, giving us a sense that justice is equally important in public and at home. A series of episodes shows us that when his actions aren’t guided by justice, he fails in both arenas.

While in Egypt as a public figure, Abram pretends that his attractive wife, Sarai, is his sister in an attempt to avoid harmful relations with his Egyptian hosts (12:13). Pharaoh takes her as a mistress and Abram gains wealth as a result. However, when Pharaoh discovers the truth, he berates Abram and banishes him and Sarai from his country (12:18-19). Ramban goes so far as to claim that Abram’s immorality in Egypt ultimately causes his descendants to be enslaved there (Ramban on Genesis 12:10).

Abram fails similarly in his personal life when righteousness and justice are absent. At the beginning of the parashah, he renders his wife powerless and voiceless, both in his ruse with Pharoah and when he leaves his land with her: the text says that he literally “takes” (yikah) her with him (Bereshit Rabbah 40:4).

The power imbalance that this language implies is palpable. Sarai’s silence persists for four chapters of the parashah, as Abram acts upon her rather than with her in their childless, inequitable relationship.

Bringing the Two Spheres Together

There is a pivotal change in the parashahwhen we see Abram begin to embody righteousness and justice both internally and externally. Publicly, this is most clearly demonstrated through his courageous and righteous dealings with foreign kings in a time of war.

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Sam Berrin Shonkoff is currently the Jewish student life coordinator at Stanford Hillel. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies from Brown University and has also studied in Jerusalem at Hebrew University, Pardes Institute, and The Conservative Yeshiva.

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