Shabbat candles: 5:36 p.m.
Torah: Gen. 12:1-17:27
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27-41:16
Havdalah: 6:35 p.m.
A war breaks out, four tribal kings battling against five. Lot, Abram’s nephew, is captured, and Abram — his name not yet changed to Abraham — immediately arms and allies a force of his own to rescue Lot. Abram’s allies are victorious and Lot is returned.
Abram’s allies gather to divide the spoils of war. The Torah reports, “And Malchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God the Most High. Malchizedek blessed (Abram), saying, ‘Blessed is Abram of God the Most High, maker of heaven and earth, and blessed is God the Most High, who has delivered your foes into your hand’” [Genesis 14:18].
The priest, Malchizedek, whose name means Righteous King, is mysterious; this is his only biblical mention. Most intriguing, he lives in Salem, which the Midrash Rabba identifies as Jerusalem. So there is already a monotheist in the very same area where God has asked Abraham to settle in the beginning of Lech Lecha [Gen. 12:1-5].
This is even stranger when we take into account the verse from the end of Parshat Noach, “Terach took his son Abram; and his grandson Lot ben-Haran; and Sarai [not yet Sarah], his daughter-in-law, Abram’s wife; and they departed from Ur of the Chaldees, to go to the land of Canaan. They arrived at (the town of) Haran, and settled there” [Gen.11:31]. So, like Abram, Terach was also on his way to Canaan, but Terach went no further than the town of Haran, on the road from Mesopotamia to Canaan, never to complete the journey.
The Zohar says, “Terach actually began the journey” [Zohar I:78b]. But why would he go to Canaan?
Terach had lost a child, Abram’s brother died in Ur. Perhaps they were fleeing painful memories. Perhaps after naming the town “Haran,” after his dead son, Terach lost heart and could not go any farther. It seems that God was trying to establish monotheism in Canaan, with Malchizedek, but Malchizedek’s influence was limited. And then, God attempted it with Abram, and it worked. Monotheism “took.” Abram did establish monotheism in this very place, Canaan, in what was to become the Land of Israel, and from there the knowledge of the true God spread across the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, and the world.
What might the Torah be teaching us? Perhaps, that God has many important tasks for us to carry out in the world, tasks that can only be accomplished and lessons that can only be imparted through human beings. God therefore needs us to be God’s partners.
Howard Schwartz, a professor at University of Missouri-St. Louis, writes in “Reform Judaism” magazine, “Rabbi Isaac Luria of Safad, known as ‘the Ari,’ was the first to propose that the Jewish people are God’s partners in repairing the world. The Ari did so by constructing a cosmic myth around the term Tikkun Olam [from the prayer Alenu, “l’taken olam b’malchus Shaddai,” the repairing of the world under God’s sovereignty]. In the Ari’s myth, the primordial light God sent forth on that First Day is the same light scattered through our world as holy sparks, which each of us is called upon to seek out and gather.”
This has become a mainstream Jewish teaching. We are God’s partners in perfecting and continuing Creation. But we are imperfect. We don’t always follow through. We don’t always want to undertake the tasks presented to us. So God will keep trying to find the right person to bring more understanding into the world, and to accomplish what God thinks needs to be done.
We are all called upon to do our part: a little part of all the things God would like done. May we be like Abraham, who, without hesitating, went forth to do what God asked of him. When something is asked of us, when we see how we can be of help and of service to God and each other, may we say to the Source of Life, “Hineni [Here I am], just tell me what you want me to do, and whatever You, dear Holy One, wish to have done. Oh, please, let it be through me.”
Rabbi/Cantor Jill Hausman is spiritual leader of The Actors’ Temple in Manhattan.