A Few Thoughts on Lech Lecha

A few weeks ago, in Parashat Bereshit, we read about a couple of poor choices people made. The first poor choice was that of Adam and Chava (Eve) in the Garden when they chose to eat from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, contrary to the command of HaShem (Gen. 2:17). 

“Now the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a thing of lust for the eyes, and that the tree was desirable for imparting wisdom. So, she took of its fruit, and she ate. She also gave to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” 

Genesis 3:6

It is noteworthy that the “snake” did not force Chava and Adam to disobey HaShem – he merely made suggestions, twisting the words of HaShem which led the new couple to making the poor choice on their own. Then, the next poor choice was that of Cain in Genesis 4:3-7. 

“So it happened after some time that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to ADONAI, while Abel—he also brought of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. Now ADONAI looked favorably upon Abel and his offering, but upon Cain and his offering He did not look favorably. Cain became very angry, and his countenance fell. Then ADONAI said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, it will lift. But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the doorway. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.’” 

Here it was not the “snake” that was causing Cain problems, it was his own heart. Cain was jealous and resentful of his brother, but HaShem told him that he had the power or ability to take control of the situation.

It is important to recognize that we are just like Cain. Situations and circumstances in our lives continually cause us to respond in ways that are contrary to derech eretz or “the way of the land.” Derech eretz means (1) being a mensch or being a person of integrity and honor (2) living ethically or responsibly and finally (3) appropriate behavior. The third definition most aptly exhibits HaShem’s encouragement to Cain, “If you do well, it will lift. But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the doorway. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Here, Cain is told that he has a choice to make, either master his anger and jealousy or be consumed by it. His choice is well known. We too have choices to make every day. A favorite verse of mine is from Rav Shaul’s letter to the Yeshua-believers in Corinth,

No temptation (trial or test) has taken hold of you except what is common to mankind. But God is faithful—He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can handle. But with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so you will be able to endure it. 

1 Corinthians 10:13

There is always a way of escape, we just have to make the choice. 

This week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:1-17:27 begins with a command and a choice. HaShem commands Abram to pack up and leave his home to go to someplace new, though the particulars were not made clear. Abram, in an act of faith, made the choice to follow the command of HaShem, trusting that HaShem knew what he was doing. Aside from the command to go, (lech) HaShem promised that Abram would be the father of a great nation. Unfortunately, this did not happen quickly.

According to tradition, Sarai was around 75 years old when they left Haran. In Genesis 16, some 10 to 15 years later, the narrative introduces Hagar. It was then that Sarai, still childless, followed an accepted custom of offering Abram her handmaid to provide an heir (Genesis 16:2). Two poor choices were made or maybe better said, two temptations were surrendered to. HaShem’s promise of an heir seemed to be long overdue. Instead of continuing to trust in HaShem, Sarai took it upon herself to aid HaShem and “Abram listened to Sarai’s voice” (Genesis 16:2). Interestingly, “Abram listened to Sarai’s voice” sounds quite similar to “She also gave to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6). One has to wonder, how the narrative might have been different if Adam had stopped Chava or if Abram had refused Sarai’s suggestion. But then again, we seldom recognize the repercussions of our poor choices until long after they have been made.

Abram and Sarai were not the only ones to make poor choices. Hagar, whom HaShem blessed with a son, chose to despise her mistress (Genesis 16:4). Thus, instead of joy over the potential birth of an heir, there was enmity and strife between Sarai and Hagar. Sadly, Abram did what many husbands have done in the past, he chose to capitulate to Sarai’s complaining, allowing her to deal with Hagar as she wished. The end of the story saw HaShem’s promise of making his seed into a great nation split into two nations, half-brothers who would, like Jacob and Esau in the very near future, become enemies, holding animosity against one another even to this day.

Traditional Judaism teaches that we all have the capacity and the responsibility to make good choices. We are not predetermined to make bad choices, rather we can master our evil inclinations. Yaacov wrote to his community, 

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’—for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is dragged away and enticed by his own desire. Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is full grown, it brings forth death.” 

James 1:13-15

It would appear Yaacov’s words could well have been said to Cain, just as HaShem’s encouragement to Cain should be taken to heart by each of us, “If you do well, it will lift. But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the doorway. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Instead of following the example of these poor choices, consider for a minute Yeshua’s choices when he faced temptation in the wilderness (cf. Matthew 4:1-11). At no time did the tempter force Yeshua to do anything. Rather as with Chava, Cain, and even Sarai, he played on Yeshua’s physical and emotional needs, hoping to cause Yeshua to make a poor choice just as Adam and Chava, Cain, Sarai, and numerous others have made throughout history. Yeshua never argued with tempter, he responded with the Word of God and when the tempter used the Word of God incorrectly, Yeshua answered by accurately handling the word as Rav Shaul encouraged Timothy to do. May these closing words be our mantra as we continue our walk of faith.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture readings are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

** 2 Timothy 2:15 from New American Standard Bible — NASB 1995. Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

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