Parashat Lekh L’kah

At a recent teacher enhancement seminar at the Seattle Jewish Federation, the host asked us to consider this text from Parashat Lekh L’kha (Gen. 12:1-3):

Vayomer Hashem el Avram, lekh l’kha mei’artzekha umimolad’t’kha umibeit avikha el Ha’Aretz asher ar’eka. V’e’es’kha l’goi gadol va’avarekh’kha v’agad’lah sh’mekha, veh’yei b’rakhah. Va’avar’kha m’varakhekha um’kalelkha a’or, v’nivr’khu v’kha kol mish’p’hot ha’adamah.

Hashem said to Avram, go for yourself, from your land, and your birthplace, and your father’s house; to the Land which I will show you. I will make of you a great people, I will bless you and make your name great; and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse the one who curses you; and all the families of the land will bless themselves through you.

The host asked us to work with hevrutah (study partners) and explore this text for things which surprised us. My hevrutah noted that in verse three God states that “those who bless you” is a collective action while “the one who curses you” is a single actor. This is a very significant point to consider.

The Hizkuni (Hezekiah ben Manoah, a 13th century French rabbi and exegete) states regarding this “the singular language is to teach you that there will be many more who bless (you) than those who curse (you).” The Radak (Rabbi David Kimhi, a medieval rabbi, biblical commentator, philosopher, and grammarian of 13th century Provence) states regarding this “regarding the curse, it was not stated in the plural, because there will be far fewer who curse him and seek evil (tidings) for him.”

If, as children of Abraham, we can take the liberty of extending our verse to our own lives, then those who bless us will be many and those who curse us will be few. We then need to reconsider the implications of this in our lives today. While these medieval commentators offer the comforting idea that those who seek to curse will be few, it seems that in modern times this really is not the case, and was probably not the case at many times in Jewish history.

One of the best ways to fulfill this revelation and receive blessings of peace is to first give them. In Perek HaShalom, The Chapter of Peace, (see note) we find:

Rabbi Yose HaGalili stated that Shalom is great, in that at the time of war, one must first open with (an offer of) peace as it is stated: (Deut. 20:10) “When you approach a city to wage war on it, you shall first offer that city peace.”

As an American rabbi who served as a career Navy officer, I am concerned about the United States and Israel, along with the broader world. If we explore the history of the United States over the last several decades, we see many acts of war, carried out by both Democratic and Republican administrations. We should, however, not just be concerned with global or national issues. At any level in our world, be it country, state, county, city or neighborhood, there are always issues of broken peace (to put it mildly).

And it’s not just the leadership that needs to deal with issues of peace. For us as citizens of our world, we are also obligated to bring peace, in order to receive blessings of peace. As we see in Avot (2:16) Rabbi Tarfon states: You are not obligated to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.

This past week there was a huge focus on volunteering. This is something that must continue. People frequently look at how troubling the world can be and say “why bother?” While no one person can cure all the ills of the world, taking the words of Rabbi Yose and Rabbi Tarfon to heart can be very wonderful. When any one person helps another person, there is a feeling of good will, a blessing of peace.

God told Avram that those who worked to bring peace would be blessed with peace. In Parashat Bereishit we are told that we are created B’tzelem Elokim, in the image of God. Any time that any person steps up and helps another person, particularly when crossing those traditional lines of enmity, (e.g. Democrat/Republican, different racial or social heritage, Jew/Muslim, etc.) we are acting in the image of God, and helping to bring peace to the world.

I suspect that if all, from our leaders to our neighbors, would follow these ideas more closely, we would have far fewer people seeking ill of us. Thus I believe it is incumbent on us as Jews, clergy and citizens of the United States and the world, for us to continually call, not only on our leadership, but on all of our neighbors to work towards peaceful solutions to our problems, and use force only as a last ditch effort when all else fails. The tradition of “Shoot first and ask questions later” must come to an end. Only then will we, as children of Abraham, be able to enjoy an existence where many will bless us and only few will curse us.

Shabbat Shalom.

Note: Perek ShSahlom is included as the last chapter of Tractate Derekh Eretz Zuta in the Vilna Talmud, but according to the Soncino Talmud {c.f. The Minor Tractates, p. 59a(3)}, it is actually an independent collection of statements about peace.


Rabbi Jaron Matlow was ordained by AJR in May, 2009.