Parashat Lekh Lekha

Pursuing Righteousness

Changing the external to affect the internal.

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In the private sphere, Abram turns around his relationship with Sarai. She finally breaks her silence, and the text says that "Abram listened to the voice of Sarai" (16:2). Compared with the dominant position illustrated by the earlier passage, this new language connotes an equitable relationship (vayishma--he listened, rather than vayikah---he took). After this key change, in the very next chapter, God promises Abram that his wife will be blessed and that she will bear a son (17:16-19).

Abram's public and personal maturation is poetically confirmed in the parashah's conclusion. God adds the divine letter hey to his name, so that he is to be known as Araham for the rest of his life. He then undergoes a circumcision, altering the most private part of his body. This twofold transformation of public and private serves as a mirror image of his growth as a leader and a husband.

According to this read, Parashat Lekh L'kha suggests that true leadership must be a combination of justice personally and politically. When we genuinely work to increase justice and righteousness in our own lives, we also cultivate these values externally; when we actively address global issues, we set the stage for developing just personal lives. All of these actions intertwined are what make Abraham, and us, a blessing.

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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.