Thoughts on Lech Lecha

canstockphoto0885276The Torah portion for this week is Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:1-17:27.[i] The haftarah is from Isaiah 40:27-41:16, and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is from John 1:35-51.

I find the beginning of this week’s haftarah very interesting. If we back up and read all of Isaiah 40, we see ADONAI comforting Israel as she begins to return from Babylonian captivity. The chapter begins with comfort and encouragement,

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. Speak kindly to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed. (40:1-2)

When we continue reading, we see that the chapter ends with the assurance that ADONIA would be Israel’s source of strength as they return to Him and to the land of Israel,

…but they who wait for ADONAI will renew their strength. They will soar up with wings as eagles. They will run, and not grow weary. They will walk, and not be faint. (40:31)

However, our haftarah begins a few verses prior to the above assurance, on a cautionary note. First, HaShem brings to mind Israel’s questioning of His care for His people,

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from ADONAI, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? (40:27)

I have heard it taught that the phrases “my way is hidden” and “the justice due escapes me” indicate that Israel assumes she has “gotten away” with her transgressions, that somehow Israel has hidden her sin and transgression from ADONAI. However, this does not fit the context. The Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary points out that Israel assumes that HaShem has turned away from them in His anger and is wearied of them because of their actions. This coincides with what we read in the end of Parashat B’reshit, “So ADONAI regretted that He made humankind on the earth, and His heart was deeply pained” (Genesis 6:6). While it is true that HaShem was not pleased with Israel’s behavior, which resulted in the Babylonian Exile, He did not turn His back on Israel, even in their disciplined state. In fact, the prophet Isaiah proclaims HaShem’s sovereignty and long suffering,

Have you not known? Have you not heard? ADONAI is the eternal God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow tired or weary. His understanding is unsearchable. (40:28)

In this verse we read that ADONAI is the Creator of the ends of the earth. This means that the same God who “in the beginning…created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), is still active in the lives of His creation. ADONAI is the one who created the earth from one end to the other, indicating the extremities and everything in between. This means that even though Israel is in Babylon, there are not beyond His reach. They are not beyond the scope of His vision or the domain of His power. HaShem is eternally that same, therefore He still possesses the power He possessed and manifested displayed at creation. He is continually active in the lives of His creation, and nothing and no one are outside of His continual sovereignty. If this is the way HaShem looks after His creation as a whole, how much more does He watch over and care for His chosen am segula.

Nevertheless, there is a conundrum in verse 28. While it is true that HaShem does not grow weary with His creation, the verse says, “His understanding is unsearchable,” or as the CJB[ii] renders it, “His understanding cannot be fathomed.” Many of the actions of HaShem are simply beyond our understanding. Rav Shaul challenged the believers in Rome with these questions,

For “who has known the mind of ADONAI, or who has been His counselor?” (11:34, cf. 1 Corinthians 2:16)

When we realize and accept that there are things we may never know or understand, simply because HaShem has not revealed them to us, we can rest, not in our ignorance or lack of knowledge, but in the assurance that HaShem knows what He is doing. Resting in this assurance may will be what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he wrote, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen” (11:1). Equally, it is resting in this assurance that prompted the prophet to write “but they who wait for ADONAI will renew their strength.” It is not the knowledge of the future or the understanding of the plans of ADONAI that gives us the courage and strength to continue on. It is the assurance that He knows what He is doing, even when we do not. Two of my favorite verses on this topic are found in the writings of Jeremiah and Rav Shaul. Jeremiah’s words were written while awaiting the soon coming fall and exile of Jerusalem and Judah, and Rav Shaul’s were written to the believers in Rome.

For I know the plans that I have in mind for you,” declares ADONAI, “plans for shalom and not calamity—to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Whenever we think the HaShem does not see or does not care for our situation or condition, remember and consider this week’s readings. In the Torah portion, Avram was told, “Get going out from your land, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you,” (Genesis 12:1). He did not know where he was going or what he was going to do when he got there, but he trusted in Him who would become known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then when Abraham got close to the land of Canaan, ADONAI appeared again and said, “I will give this land to your seed,” (12:7) which was a great promise to an elderly, childless married couple. But we all know the end of the story, Avram (who became Abraham) became the founding patriarch of Bnei Yisrael and thereby brought blessing to all of creation. We may not know our next step. We for sure do not know the end of our story or our children’s stories, but we can and should rest in the fact that HaShem most assuredly does.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern. All rights reserved.

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