Intimacy in the Shadow of Separation
“Abraham and Lot Depart for Canaan”
Attributed to David Vinckboons (1585-1600)
The Parting of Abraham and Lot
Tapestry, wool and silk, 6 warps per cm, The Parting of Abraham and Lot from a set of eight of the Story of Abraham, Mortlake, after a design attributed to Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Bernard van Orley, c. 1658-9.
A Yiddish Vinkle of our Own:
Here is a link to the Yiddish Film, Zay Gezundt Jerusalem.
In addition to the film title using one of my favorite expressions in wishing people good health and expressing good will as well, the film captures in its own way, the tension felt in the Yiddish speaking world of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. It was a time in which Hebrew was emerging as the ‘new” language of a Jewish people and the Land of Israel was emerging as the new focus of a European Jewish community which was beginning to break free from its previous Hasidic and Ultra Orthodox embrace. This film captures a time in which there was a realization which seemed to foreshadow an end to European Jewish life and the Yiddish culture, along with the Yiddish language which seemed to unite it. They were well aware that on the one hand, there was no future in Europe for the Jews and on the other, a mass aliyah of Europe’s Jews would spell the end of Yiddish Language usage and quite possible an end to Yiddish culture as we once knew it. Watch the film, it is brief and poingient.
Zay Gezunt, Jerusalem (2015)
Note: I have made a decision to return to the custom (Tradition! — or Masores), of introducing Yiddish words and phrases into our studies, if for no other reason, then we have lost just too much of such a rich tradition of Jewish wisdom and literature in this past century. And in some small way, I am going to try to bring back ‘a Biseleh a Mama Lushen’ or ‘a little of our mother language’ so at the very least, we can all have a little forshpeis (small taste) of the language that had sustained us for countless generations and gave us a world in which we could find ‘a groisseh Naches’ or ‘a lot of both joy and meaning’ with one another and for one another. It’s not a ‘choilem’ or a ‘dream,’ we can bring ‘a bisleleh’ back to our collective tish, (so to speak).
A shanem dunk . . . .
While we find ourselves in Genesis, in a series of stories, most of which concern Abraham, there is just so much to consider. Some would even say, perhaps a little too much. In a casual perusal of this week’s section, in which we find ourselves, ‘Parsht VaYera,’ we will have no less than 6 major episodes of the ongoing saga of Abraham and Sarah. All of the stories are informative, many of which are pivotal. Some stand out and speak loudly and as I am now famous for saying, they are best understood only when ‘lain out’ — side by side. Pun simultaneously unintended and intended, please forgive in both instances . . . refer to a Barnes wall, any wall if you would like.
|י וַיֹּאמֶר, שׁוֹב אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ כָּעֵת חַיָּה, וְהִנֵּה-בֵן, לְשָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ; וְשָׂרָה שֹׁמַעַת פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וְהוּא אַחֲרָיו.||Gn 18:10 And He (or they) said: ‘I will certainly return unto thee when the season cometh round; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son.’|
טז וַיָּקֻמוּ מִשָּׁם הָאֲנָשִׁים, וַיַּשְׁקִפוּ עַל-פְּנֵי סְדֹם; וְאַבְרָהָם–הֹלֵךְ עִמָּם, לְשַׁלְּחָם.
Gn 18:16 And the men rose up from thence, and looked out toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way.
It is here that we have a long awaited rumination of Gd as to whether he is going to tell Abraham of his plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. (Please note that he does not ruminate about his decision, but only about including Abraham in his decision).
|טז וַיָּקֻמוּ מִשָּׁם הָאֲנָשִׁים, וַיַּשְׁקִפוּ עַל-פְּנֵי סְדֹם; וְאַבְרָהָם–הֹלֵךְ עִמָּם, לְשַׁלְּחָם.||Gn 18: 16 And the men rose up from thence, and looked out toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way.|
Gd, at this moment in the story, gives us a reason as to why he wouldn’t include Abraham in his plans
And herein lies the rub . . . Gd is not so sure that letting Abraham in on his plans will yield the same reaction that he got from Noah. If Gd is looking for another Noah, Abraham would not be the right choice.
|כב וַיַּעַשׂ, נֹחַ: כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה אֹתוֹ, אֱלֹהִים–כֵּן עָשָׂה.||22 Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.|
Remember this Noah is the one that doesn’t say a word Noah did exactly as Gd told him to do. And in case we have forgotten, Abraham is not exactly very Noah-like.
|יז וַיהוָה, אָמָר: הַמְכַסֶּה אֲנִי מֵאַבְרָהָם, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי עֹשֶׂה.||Gn 18: 17 And the LORD said: ‘Shall I hide from Abraham that which I am doing;|
|כג וַיִּגַּשׁ אַבְרָהָם, וַיֹּאמַר: הַאַף תִּסְפֶּה, צַדִּיק עִם-רָשָׁע.||23 And Abraham drew near, and said: ‘Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?|
We are relieved to be known as the Children of Abraham — and not as the Children of Noah, especially given his passive reaction to Gd’s commands.
|כה חָלִלָה לְּךָ מֵעֲשֹׂת כַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה, לְהָמִית צַדִּיק עִם-רָשָׁע, וְהָיָה כַצַּדִּיק, כָּרָשָׁע; חָלִלָה לָּךְ–הֲשֹׁפֵט כָּל-הָאָרֶץ, לֹא יַעֲשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט.||Gn 18:25 That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the righteous should be as the wicked; that be far from Thee; shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?’|
Importantly, however, the Torah is now a little more interested in Lot’s family — especially in the way they perceive ‘their world around them.’
And of course, let us remember, Sodom is more than just a town, it too is a world unto itself. The people who live there appear to be evil, at least in the way that the Torah ‘sees’ them to be. In addition to everything else, they are understood as ‘inhospitable.’ (note: Abraham and Lot act hospitably, Noah does not).
And so now let’s keep an eye on these two: Lot and Noah — and how their stories are told within the Torah itself. It’s no longer just the Noah and Abraham story, which we have discussed. It is now the ‘World of the Flood’ and the ‘World of Sodom and Gomorrah, a much wider and much deeper comparison.
It is not just the family of Noah, it is also the family of Lot. And while all of this is going on, we even able to see Abraham move a little to the side, especially as we now turn our attention to both ‘Noah and Lot’ and to their ‘family members,’ all of whom are ‘trapped inside of an ark and within ‘a doomed city’ of sorts.
Stay tuned, it only gets better . . .
Rabbi Seth Frisch / מהרש’’ף
Lerhaus: A Newshul of Jewish Thought and Learning