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October 27, 2014 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Lech Lecha

The first few paragraphs of this week’s Torah portion are all about place- quite fittingly for me, since I traveled to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon this weekend, the first time in my life I was ever in the far Southwest of the United States (not counting Amarillo which is sort of southwest and sort of south, or Los Angeles which has a very different climate).

The portion begins with God’s pledge to Abram (not yet Abraham) to make him “a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great.” (Gen. 12:2).  Why does God bother to make these promises?  Isn’t the voice of God enough?  Maybe not, since Abram never heard of Judaism and has no reason to take this deity seriously (assuming that he believes that it IS a deity speaking).  So maybe he needs a bribe from God.

Rashi has a different but also interesting explanation.  According to the Soncino Chumash, he says that “Travelling hinders the building up of a family; it also diminishes one’s fortune and fame.”  In my life, at least some of that has been true.  I have lived in 13 cities in the 27 years since I graduated from law school, and held about that number of jobs.  It has certainly hindered me from getting married, since few of my jobs were in major Jewish population centers, and because it is hard to date when you don’t know where you will be living in a year or whether you will be employed (at least, it has been hard for me).   I’m not sure its hindered me much financially, since I haven’t been unemployed for more than a year or so during those 27 years.  Travelling has certainly hindered my “fame” since it takes time to become civically active anyplace; and since some of my jobs had term limits I wasn’t that motivated anyhow.  So Rashi is pointing out that the difficulties of moving meant that Abram needed extra assurance from God.

Another place-related issue is posed by 7:6, which states “the Canaanite was then in the land.”  Assuming arguendo that Moses is writing the Torah, isn’t the Canaanite still in the land?  Nachmanides is creative, stating that, as President Clinton might say, it all depends on the meaning of the word “land.”  The Torah doesn’t mean the entire land of Israel, just Shechem (from which the Canaanites were eventually ousted by Jacob).   Of course, this still leaves open the question: what happened to Shechem after Jacob left for Israel?  Was it retaken by the Canaanites, and does that weaken Nachmanides’ argument?

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