Friday, October 30, 2020 /12 Heshvan, 5781
Parashat Lekh L’kha Genesis 12:1–17:27
This week’s portion introduces us to Avram and Sarai, two brave souls who heeded God’s call to set on a journey away from the only home they had ever known. Abraham never felt comfortable in the world of idolatry. Midrashim explained that he always had a different dream, which couldn’t be realized until he heard God’s call at the age of 75. When he did, Avram and Sarai said farewell to their families, friends, customs, and traditions to build a more promising future for themselves and future generations. They wished to make their dream a reality.
The story of the early Zionists shares some resemblance to our Torah tale. With raging antisemitism all around them, the Jewish people were suffering, and Zionists dreamt of a different reality. To the ardent Zionists, “Jews remained passive, weak, fearful, and huddled over ancient, sacred texts instead of defending themselves and taking history into their own hands,” explains Daniel Gordis.
Zionists knew in their hearts that there was a different path. Filled with zeal, inspiration, and courage, they were willing to sever their ties with the past to build a more promising future. That is not where the similarities end. In his book Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, Gordis explains, “So desperate were the Jewish people to fashion a new kind of Jew that they even changed their names. Israel’s first four prime ministers were a case in point. David Ben-Gurion had been born David Gruen. Moshe Sharett was born Moshe Shertok; Levi Eshkol was originally Levi Shkolnik. Golda Meir (Israel’s first female prime minister) had been Golda Meyerson. Altering their names was a way of saying “no more”— it was time for a new Jewish worldview, a new Jewish physique, a new Jewish home, new Jewish names. It was time for a “new Jew,” a Jewish people reborn.” Without their vision, optimism, bravery, and willingness to take a leap of faith, we would not be blessed with the Land of Israel today.
Sarai and Avram did not choose to change their names, but God felt that it was a meaningful way to honor their transformation into Jewish leaders, realizing their dream. Avram becomes Abraham, and Sarai becomes Sarah. In essence, each of them gains the letter hey (ה) in their name. The letter Hey is one of the ways we denote God’s name. It stands for Hashem, “The Name,” The one true God. Some Rabbis explain that the added Hey symbolizes God’s centrality in their lives or the way their sacred journey had changed their very beings. Rashi points out that in adding the Hey, Avraham moves from being the father (Av) of his native country, Aram (Av (A)ram), to becoming the father (Av) of a multitude of nations (Avraham).
There is a Jewish tradition that when one changes one’s name, one changes one’s destiny. Today we are grateful for those who dare to dream of a more promising world and who take the leap of faith to make that dream a reality. They remind us that whenever times get challenging, there is more we can do than lament. We can act and realize our dreams.
If you haven’t yet voted, I encourage you to do so now. Like Abraham, Sarah, and our early Zionist leaders taught us, we have the power to determine our future.
Rabbi Cassi Kail