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Lech-Lecha: Start Walking

"And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing..." (Bereshit/Genesis 12:2)

Lech lecha means "get going," basically, or literally (and somewhat mystically) "go to yourself." How stirring! And we've reached the beginning of the Jewish people. We've got the founding of the covenant, a lot of sketchy behavior on Abraham's part (passing his wife off as his sister), and equally sketchy behavior on Sarah's part (being nasty to her slave).

James Tissot, The Egyptians Admire Sarai's Beauty
James Tissot, The Egyptians Admire Sarai's Beauty

I think it's really fascinating that the Torah doesn't portray the patriarchs and matriarchs as paragons. Despite its incredibly terse, sparse language, it manages to characterize them as vibrant, complex, and flawed human beings. It's incredible storytelling: given how few words are devoted to describing anyone in the text, they should be fairly one-dimensional figures.

In addition to the start of the Jewish people, we also get the start of the fraught relationship with Egypt: a refuge to flee to in times of famine, but a potentially dangerous one. This Pharaoh comes off as more of a dupe than an abuser of power, and the treatment of Hagar, the Egyptian stranger among the tiny Jewish tribe, with a person in power alarmed by the fertility of the oppressed, prefigures the treatment of the Israelites in Egypt--a lament against the cyclical nature of violence that seems to echo backwards into Genesis from Exodus.

Join us at 9:00 am this Saturday for coffee, donuts, and what's always a lively discussion.

Other lenses

Want to know what other Jewish thinkers are saying about this parsha?

Wikipedia has an incredible treasure trove of geekery about the weekly portion, laying out everything from the number of Hebrew letters in the parsha to summaries of classical commentaries. Prepare to go down a very deep rabbithole.

Sefaria is an amazing free resource--an ever-growing library of Jewish texts in both Hebrew and English. In addition to the Hebrew text and translation, it provides the text of most of the classical commentaries (not all of which have been translated... yet). The parsha is one of the first links on the main page.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, does a podcast called Ten Minutes of Torah--perfect for when you're time-constrained. The Union for Reform Judaism has a whole page of resources for the parsha, ranging from beginner's guides to pieces on the contemporary relevance of the portion. The Women of Reform Judaism site has a glorious archive of the entire text of The Torah: A Women's Commentary divided up by parsha.

My Jewish Learning has a summary of the portion, the parsha itself and the haftorah, and commentary.

For a Reconstructionist take, visit Reconstructing Judaism's weekly learning page. T'ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, has a weekly d'var that looks at the parsha as a starting point for contemporary political issues.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism has a parsha commentary archive.

Keshet's Torah Queeries page provides commentary from an LGBTQ perspective (search on the portion name).

The Jewish Theological Society (the Conservative Branch seminary) provides weekly commentary at JTS Torah Online.

Yeshivat Maharat, the first Orthodox yeshiva to ordain women, has a collection of Divrei Torah written by women and organized by parsha on its site.

Limmud, a 35-year-old grassroots Jewish learning event that started in the UK and has become an international phenomenon, maintains an archive of commentaries.

Liberal Judaism's Thought for the Week provides concise but thoughtful analysis of the portion.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi Emeritus of England, engages in profound commentary on the weekly portion in Covenant & Conversation.

InterfaithFamily puts out an animated Torahlog including contemporary reactions, poetry, folk music, and Jewish scholarship on the parsha.

The Jewish Renewal movement's site maintains an archive of commentary. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, the Velveteen Rabbi--an author and Jewish Renewal rabbi--does commentary on her site.

The #parshachat hashtag on Twitter marks a constantly-running social media conversation on the parsha.

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