Parashat Lekh L’kha-- Genesis 12:1-17:27
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Questions for Young Children

  • God tells Avram to leave his family and go where God tells him. Then he promises him a reward for following the command. Can you think of a time your parents told you to do something and then offered a reward?  Do rewards encourage you to do something that's hard for you?
  • Avram came from a city, Ur. When he gets to Eretz Yisrael, he pitches his tent in many different places. He also has to go to Egypt when there’s no food in Eretz Yisrael. How do you think Avram felt about moving from place to place? How do you think Sarai felt about packing up and moving from place to place?
  • If your family takes a trip or moves, who makes the decisions? Who is making decisions for Avram, Sarai, and all the people with them?

Questions for Older Children

  • When God makes the brit (covenant) with Avram, he tells him: “all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” (12:3b) What do you think that means?
  • This parasha includes episodes of Avram’s life beginning with his departure from Ur and ending with brit milah-- his and Ishmael’s circumcision. Which episode is the most interesting to you? Which episode is the most puzzling for you?
  • What are three words you would use to describe Avram/Avraham from this parasha? Does he seem like a leader?
  • If Avram could use tweeter, what do you think he'd tweet his dad, Terah, when he arrived at Shechem?

Questions for Teens and Adults

  • In chapter 14 Avram gets involved in a war among nine kings when he hears his relative has been taken captive. Avram musters 318 men and defeats Chedorlaomer and his allies and redeems not just his relative but also “his possessions, and the women and the rest of the people.” Do you think going to war was justifiable in this case? Are there more recent examples of a country going to war to redeem a captive?
  • We learn about Avram’s character by his actions rather than the narrator’s comments. Consider how Avram reacts in each of the individual narratives that constitute Lekh L’kha. What kind of person is Avram?
  • Why are the name changes of Avram to Avraham and Sarai to Sarah significant?
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Table Talk
God’s blessings to Avram (aka Avraham) provide multiple ideas for a centerpiece connected with God’s promise to Avraham:

שָׂא נָא עֵינֶיךָ וּרְאֵה, מִן-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה שָׁם--צָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה, וָקֵדְמָה וָיָמָּה.  כִּי אֶת-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה רֹאֶה, לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה, וּלְזַרְעֲךָ, עַד-עוֹלָם.  וְשַׂמְתִּי אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ, כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ: אֲשֶׁר אִם-יוּכַל אִישׁ, לִמְנוֹת אֶת-עֲפַר הָאָרֶץ--גַּם-זַרְעֲךָ, יִמָּנֶה. יז קוּם הִתְהַלֵּךְ בָּאָרֶץ, לְאָרְכָּהּ וּלְרָחְבָּהּ: כִּי לְךָ, אֶתְּנֶנָּה

"Raise your eyes and look out from where you are to the north and south to the east and west,

for I give all the land you see to you and your offspring forever.

I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth so that if one can count the dust of the earth, then your offspring too can be counted.

Up, walk about the land, through its length and its breadth, for I give it to you." (Genesis 13:14b-17)

1. Use a compass as a centerpiece.

  • How do you think ancient people discovered and named directions?  Look especially at the Biblical Hebrew for east (qedmah) and west (yamah).
  • The Hebrew word for compass is matzpen--it has the same root as tzafon, north.  How do you find directions if you're in the wilderness at night?

2. Dust of the earth as a centerpiece

  • This week's recipe features powdered sugar taking the place of dust but you might consider what other natural substances seem impossible to count and place them in the center of the table.
  • Why does God select a simile like "dust of the earth" rather than saying your offspring will be too many to count?

 

3. Set up some hiking gear in the center of your table like a canteen or a flashlight or create a tiny tent for the centerpiece.

  • Consider why God would command Avram, "up, walk about the land."
  • If you're in Israel or planning a trip to Israel, talk about an itinerary at your table that includes places you haven't seen through its length and breadth.
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Our national history begins in Parashat Lekh L'kha with the uprooting of Avram and his family from urban Ur to an unknown God-chosen western destination. When Avram reaches the Land of Israel, his and Sarai’s characters unfold as they interact with foreign nations like Egypt and their extended family like Lot. In this parasha God changes Avram’s name to Avraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah signifying their new covenant (brit) and connection with God. Hagar, Abraham’s concubine, bears a son named Ishmael, and God promises that Sarah will bear a son and God will maintain the brit with that son. The parasha ends with a mass circumcision which might not be suitable table talk.

Find the Food Connection...

וְשַׂמְתִּי אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ, כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ

I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth...  Genesis 13:16a

Dust!--or powdered sugar -- culinary dust.

 

The Side Dish

God often explains with very concrete examples.  This week's dessert features one simile God used with Avraham to describe how numerous his descendants would be--like the dust of the earth. God uses another simile in chapter 15:5.  With expert pedagagogy, God tells Avraham to go outside.  Next step, look up at the heavens and count the stars if you can.  Then God delivers the promise--your descendants will be that many.

.וַיּוֹצֵא אֹתוֹ הַחוּצָה, וַיֹּאמֶר הַבֶּט-נָא הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וּסְפֹר הַכּוֹכָבִים--אִם-תּוּכַל, לִסְפֹּר אֹתָם; וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, כֹּה יִהְיֶה זַרְעֶךָ 

On Thursday night, Rosh Hodesh, I had a chance to count the stars.  I traveled with my cousins to Ezuz, not a place on most people's Israel itinerary.  It sits forsaken next to the Sinai desert and is one of the places in Israel most free of light pollution.  Using a potjieko*, my cousin Giora cooked a vegetarian kind of cholent over a campfire. Maybe I can recreate the recipe for another parasha. The small picnic area dotted with historical remains and trees was planted by the Keren Kayemet.  Even if tourists don't make it to Ezuz, the proceeds from the blue box are at work. 

After sundown when it was still twilight we headed to a remote spot where we could lie down on the ground and look up at the sky.  At first we saw only three stars forming a triangle.  Slowly our eyes become accustomed to the night skies and the stars began to appear. After an hour it was truly impossible to count the stars. It was dazzling and I could imagine how Avraham felt God made the promise to him.  How can that promise be possible?

Under the multitide of stars in the desert it's easy to flash back to Avraham. 

As I lay under the stars, I began to wonder what Avraham Avinu would think if he returned to Eretz Yisrael today.  Would anything be recognizable?  Would he even be allowed to go to the land he bought from Ephron the Hittite near Hebron?  How would Avraham Avinu approach the issue of the quarrel between the descendants of his sons Yitzhak and Yishmael?  The natural world of Israel offers a glimpse of the eternal, but both in Avraham's time and today there are foreign relations to consider, domestic tranquility.   I like to think Avraham would smile at the changes, enjoy a tour of the archaeology section of the Israel Museum to see the familiar, and plan a return visit to see how Israel is getting along in another milennium.  

If you haven't been to Israel recently or have never traveled to Israel, take the hint from the parasha's title--"Lekh l'kha"--get going! (Gen. 12:1) Then follow the directions God gives to Avram once he arrives in Eretz Yisrael: "Up, walk about the land, through its length and its breadth." (Gen. 13b).

 

*The potjieko originates with Afrikaner South Africans and is a cast iron cauldron used for cooking over an open fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Dash of Halakha
In chapter 14 Avram goes to war to save his nephew, Lot, who was captured in the war of the kings. In Hebrew this is known as pidyon sh'vuyim, redemption of captives.
”Captives may not be ransomed for more than their calue, for the sake of the social order.” Mishnah, Gittin 4:6
“Whatever price may be demanded—when the captive is in mortal danger we are to offer ransom even more than his value.” Tosafot, Gittin 58a

Sadly, Avram was not the only one to have to face this situation. It was a constant fact of life in Jewish history and a complicated legal and ethical system evolved to help Jews understand their obligations. Do any modern applications that come to mind?

A Dash of Mishnah
Pirkei Avot (5:4)  states: “With ten trials was our father Avraham tried, and he stood firm in all of them; [this is recorded] to make known how great was the love of our father Avraham [towards God].”
What are the ten trials? There is more than one answer to this question since Pirkei Avot doesn’t enumerate. According to Maimonides’s list, this parasha includes six of the ten trials. Can you and your guests list them? (Other commentators disagree with Maimonides so feel free to make up your own list).

What do you and your guests think about the idea that God tested Avraham ten times?  Do you think he passed all his tests?

A Dash of Visual Midrash
There is no lack of visual response to the Avraham stories. One interesting sculpture is by Max Ernst entitled The King Playing with the Queen. View the image on the Tali website:
http://www.talivirtualmidrash.org.il/the-king-playing-with-the-queen/. In addition to viewing the work, there’s a link to an article describing multiple artists’ interpretations of Avraham’s trials.
How would you capture your understanding of Avraham and/or Sarah visually?

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Lemon Bars with Lots of Dust

Pareve. Yield: 24 small bars, 18 larger bars.

Ingredients for base rsz lemon bars with dust copy

  • 1 cup margarine
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • ¼ tsp. salt

Directions for the base

  1. Melt margarine.
  2. Mix in flour, salt and powdered sugar.
  3. Press in a 9x13 pan.
  4. Bake for 20 min. @ 350º.

Ingredients for the lemon layer

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 whole lemon + 2 Tbsp. juice
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. flour

Directions for lemon layer

  1. Combine eggs, lemon juice and sugar in a mixer and blend well.
  2. Add flour and beat well.
  3. Pour over baked crust.
  4. Bake for 25 min. @ 350º.
  5. Sprinkle powdered sugar over top while still warm.
  6. Cut when cold. You can freeze the bars after baking and cut before they are fully thawed.

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