Judaism and Super-heroes: Parashat Lech Lecha
“Lech Lecha” is the third Torah portion in the Pentateuch. This is the first time, in the current reading, that we meet our Father Abraham. For some reason I find myself emotionally moved by this encounter (even though it happens again every year). Abraham’s appearance in the Biblical story changes the narrative from the story of Creation of the world in its universal sense, the flood, etc. into our “personal” story. Starting from Abraham Torah becomes our story/history, and part of the collective memory of the People of Israel.
What does Abraham symbolize?!
Tradition tends to treat our Fathers as heroes, by contributing to them special powers such as those we only know in fictive figures: Superman, Spiderman etc. Because of this I read the whole Torah portion “Lech lecha” (Genesis 12:1 to 17:27) looking to find superheroes!
We first meet Abraham when God tells him:
“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.[a]
3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Back then Abraham was still “young” (75, but considering the ages of his other “friends” – Adam, Noah etc. – he was only at the beginning of his way), and he was about to immigrate. He and his wife took with them their belongings as well as his nephew, son of his belated brother.
The Midrash tells us Abraham’s well-known story; just before leaving Abraham breaks all the idols in his father’s store (who paradoxically was selling them). Beyond the credibility of the story, our sages note an important thing – that in Abraham’s leaving his house there is also a deed criticizing his parents’ tradition.
Straight from the start of his way we witness many challenges. Economic problems which lead them to Egypt, existential fears, an unsuccessful encounter with Pharaoh – the authorities – who sends them back on the road and then finally a better period starts, with financial improvement, separation of lands from the nephew’s etc…
And then his wife Sarah, not being able to conceive, which is quite an emotional charge by itself, suggests that he “makes a child” with Hagar, the servant. Disappointment, guilt, desire for continuation, generosity, these are all mixed around these three people.
And then? Hagar conceives, delivers… jealousy, inferiority complex, bitterness, conflicts.
This is all not easy for Abraham! But he continues to “communicate” with God and both Abraham and Sarah continue to dream: “you will become a great nation!”. However still, the poor woman can’t conceive (she is quite poor because this was clearly against her personal will).
Circumcise yourself! And your son! Abraham continues and obeys, like someone who knows that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Yet we’ll see in the next portions that the conflicts do not decrease, they actually become more complex, the relationships between Abraham and his sons (Isaac will enter the story), problems with Sarah, expulsion of Hagar, nothing comes easy! And again I look between the lines and I can’t find – when does Abraham become a superhero??!
I read again and see the story of an immigrant, who had substantial differences in values with his parents, who leaves home dreaming of a better future for the children he doesn’t yet have, who is struggling with financial difficulties, who goes through crisis in his relationship with his wife, who makes mistakes, who finds parenthood complicated…
Our sages add to Abraham the title “our Father”, and all of a sudden this puts his character in a different context.
I read again, and this time whenever I read “Abraham” I add “our Father”, and recognize his humanity. Now I can finally see the amount of challenges this “guy” is facing, I find an ordinary man with big dreams, an entrepreneur, a fighter, a believer…
In Pirkei Avot, Ben Zoma teaches: “Who is a hero? He who conquers his impulse!” The hero is the man who faces challenges…
Abraham is not a blameless, perfect being. He is our father, a fighter, and yes, a hero, because he is a model to faith, adherence, commitment and a non-despairing presence.
Last week we read Parashat Noah. We saw and we criticized the quiet character, who encloses himself in the ark. Abraham (as we’ll see next week) sits at the gate of the tent, facing outwards. He is loud, he is present and no, he is not perfect and luckily so! Because Superman does not exist (I apologize if I am disillusioning anyone now) and neither is he human. On the other hand, in Abraham the Torah offers a sample model to which we can aspire. Ordinary people can have transcendence. They-we- can leave our impression on the world. Torah says: do not cease to dream, do not stop believing, do not stop wishing, don’t enclose yourself with your problems trying to save yourself, look forward! Commit! Conquer your spirit, face your challenges and be partner by seeking the way of continuity and creativity in creation and in continuity.
Rabbi Nico Socolovsky