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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This focus on Abraham prefigures, and in fact lays the groundwork for, God's choice of Abraham's descendents, the Jewish people, to be the recipients of the Torah, thereby becoming his special, chosen people, a nation of priests, a holy people.

This idea, a chosen people, is seen by many, for obvious reasons, as problematic. How can one simply dismiss the vast bulk of humanity and say that God is really only interested in us, a small handful of the faithful? I mean, there are an awful lot of un-chosen people out there. What is God's relationship with them? Aren't many of them demonstrably as 'good' as, if not better than, many Jews? How does this chosenness work?

I don't think I have an answer to these questions, and I certainly do not want to start comparing one nation's qualities to those of another. I would, however, like to point out what I think is an interesting dynamic in the way that we see God relating to the world in these sections of the Torah.

The First  Individual

God, in creating mankind, created an individual--Adam. However, this individual was clearly seen as the beginning of a collective, instructed by God to "be fruitful and multiply," and is clearly a first step in the creation of an aggregate humanity. We see that God's choice from the beginning was to relate to the world as a collective, to relate to mankind as a whole, and, ultimately, to get angry at mankind as a whole. When Adam is cursed, mankind is cursed. When Eve is cursed, mankind is cursed. This, all through Genesis and Noah, is the way that God continues to see the world. Noah, who alone is saved from God's anger at everyone, is not really saved for himself. Rather, he is seen as a way to begin another collective, to restart the entire world.

Again, soon after the flood, as a collective ("And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech"), the world sins--building the tower of Babel and thereby challenging God's supremacy. God's response is to de-collectivize them, mix them up, by creating a number of smaller collectives, separate nations, with distinct languages. The sense we get from the tower of Babel story is one of God moving away from a collective humanity, and towards relating to the smaller collectives of individual, distinct nations.

And then Abraham, through his remarkable behavior, catches God's attention in a way that no one had before. God is forced, as it were, by Abraham's uniqueness, his faith, his humanity, to relate to him alone, to set him apart from the rest of humanity. A rabbinic etymology of the word 'Hebrew' ('Ivri'), used in reference to Abraham, is someone who stands on the opposite side of humanity, separate, individual, alone, with all the world on one side and him or her on the other. Abraham's accomplishment can be seen as his ability to get God to focus on one individual, and stay focused on him.

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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.