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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Perhaps this explains the end of God's anger, which Rashi sees as the defining feature of this new age. God's decision to commit, as it were, to an individual, to one person, may lie at the root of this change. Despairing of his rocky relationship with all of humanity, God realizes, as it were, that the appropriate unit for a relationship is the individual. It is with one human being that one must begin the job of relating - successfully, meaningfully - to all of humanity, and God begins with Abraham. A relationship with a collective, to work, must begin with an individual.

And yet, God, like us, has no choice but to also look beyond the individual, to a nexus of relationships; family, children, grandchildren, friends, enemies, neighbors. He therefore immediately foresees a nation being started by Abraham, with whom he will also have a special, particular relationship, based on this first relationship with Abraham, and through which, in turn, He will relate to other nations. So, although God has moved away from all of humanity as His natural area of interest, He, like us, must still navigate his way between the poles of the individual and the collective, and somehow relate to both.

But, lest we lose sight of where God's real interests lie, later on in the Bible, God reminds the Jewish people that his real commitment is to the individual. In Deuteronomy, Chapter 9, Moses tells the Jewish people that "Not for your righteousness, or the uprightness of your heart" does God give you the Land of Israel, but rather he does this so "that he may perform the word which the Lord swore to thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."

Ultimately, it is the personal relationship, the promise God made to these individuals, which sustains, defines, and informs all other, subsequent relationships.

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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.