Beginning With The Individual

Lekh L'kha marks a transition between God relating to humanking as a collective to relating to individuals and the struggle to maintain a balance between the two.

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Provided by the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, a summer seminar in Israel that aims to create a multi-denominational cadre of young Jewish leaders.

Lekh-L'kha is such a comfortable parashah. Coming after the pre-historic pyrotechnics of Bereshit and Noah, one feels that one is on much more solid ground here--the people live long but not THAT long, we can start recognizing 'Jewish' things, and, in general, there is a feeling that we have left behind the world of myth and magic and moved into a much more real and recognizable world of commandment and custom.

Rashi (1040-1105) flags this shift for us in an interesting way. Last week's parashah, Noah, ends, generations after the flood, with the birth of Abraham, and the unexplained move by Terach, Abraham's father, in the direction of Canaan, to the town of Haran, where he and his family apparently settle. The parashah concludes by telling us that Terach died in Haran.

The Nun of Haran

The last letter of the word "Haran" is a final nun. Rashi says that traditionally, when we write a Torah scroll, we write this nun backwards, so it's facing the other way. It would then function like the closing half of a parentheses or bracket (when you are writing Hebrew, from right to left), as if to indicate that here, with the death of Terach and Abraham's coming on to the scene, is the end of God's anger (in biblical Hebrew, anger is 'charon af,' which sounds like the last word of the parashah of Noah, the one with the backwards nun, the place name 'Haran').

Today, we do NOT have the custom to write this nun backwards, we just write it regular.

Leaving that aside, we see that Rashi, too, feels that, with the birth of Abraham, we move into a new era, different from the first era of "Creation." Rashi sees this new era as being better than the first one, in that the first, pre-Abraham one, was typified by God's anger at humanity, and that, with the coming of Abraham, this was no longer the case.

By anger, Rashi is clearly referring to the central stories of Bereshit and Noah--the Fall, the expulsion from Eden, the murder of Abel, and, of course, the flood. All in all, Rashi is telling those of us who have not been paying attention, God's creation was a failure, and that made him mad. People behaved in an unreasonable way, were evil, and this angered God. It is only with Abraham, and his descendants, that God begins to see some 'nachas' (Yiddish/Hebrew for pleasure, satisfaction) from his creation, and his 'haron af,' his anger, subsides.

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.