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B'nei Mitzvah of the Week

Caitlin Kaufmann & Ezra Lief Wang

November 9, 2019

Parashat Lech L'cha - Genesis 12:1 - 17:27

  • Abram, Sarai, and Lot go to Canaan. (12:1-9)
  • Famine takes them to Egypt, where Abram identifies Sarai as his sister in order to save his life. (12:10-20)
  • Abram and Lot separate. Lot is taken captive, and Abram rescues him. (13:1-14:24)
  • Abram has a son, Ishmael, with his Egyptian maidservant, Hagar. (16:1-16)
  • God establishes a covenant with Abram. The sign of this covenant is circumcision on the eighth day following a male baby's birth. (17:1-27)

For more information and resources on this section, click here.

Caitlin's Interpretation

My torah portion, Lech Lecha begins with God saying to Abram:

“Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you And curse him that curses you; And all the families of the earth Shall bless themselves by you.”

Soon after hearing God’s call, and without hesitation, Abram left his homeland of Haran and began his journey to find a new home for him and his descendants in Canaan. At this point in his life, Abram was already 75 years old with a wife, nephew, and a comfortable life in Haran. When thinking about this portion, I tried to imagine being in Abram’s shoes. If you were Abram, how would you respond to God? Would you ask questions or would you just go? Personally, I would ask LOTS of questions. Like: “How long will it take to get there? What happens when I get there? What will we eat? Why did you choose me of all people?” But Abram does not say or ask anything, at least as the story is written in the Torah. Instead we are told in verse four, “Abram went forth as the LORD had commanded him, and Lot went with him.”

Reading these verses made me wonder, Why didn’t Abram ask any questions or show any concerns? Are there times when it is best to act first and question later? Other scholars have asked the same questions as me and have come up with their own opinions. The commentary by a medieval (pronounced “mid evil”) rabbi known as Or HaChaim takes a traditional point of view. He believes that the Torah wants to show Abram’s love and complete trust in God. Therefore, Abram leaves immediately without asking God any questions. Another commentary comes from the classic midrash Tanchuma. It says, “Abram embarks on his journey without knowing his destination, calling upon him for unqualified devotion and trust in being guided by God.”

A more modern point of view comes from Rabbi Charles Kroloff. In his interpretation, he reflects on his own personal life, and imagines how it felt to be Abram faced with the challenge of leaving his home and starting a new life in a new land. He even encourages us to think about Lech Lecha moments in our own lives, for example, starting a new school or going to sleepaway camp. Rabbi Kroloff suggests that Abram could have said “God, I’m honored that you chose me, but I’m too old. We’re well established in Haran. Thanks, but no thanks.” He also cites Professor E.A. Speiser, who suggests Abram’s journey was more than just a trip to a different land, but rather it was the beginning of an epic journey in search of spiritual truths and a homeland for the Jewish people. It was a journey of faith for Abram and the family that traveled with him.

Personally, I believe that Abram should have expressed his concerns and asked God for useful information. By asking questions you can prepare yourself for the journey ahead and have more information about the unknown. For instance, I remember how nervous I was before my first summer at sleepaway camp. I must have asked a million questions before getting on the bus, and this helped me feel more comfortable going to a new place.

How do Abram’s actions relate to us as the Jewish people today? I believe that this portion is actually very ironic. I have always been taught that part of being Jewish is questioning and learning from our questions. Rabbis have different opinions on everything and we are encouraged to form our own views. But Abram at the very beginning of Judaism asked no questions. He simply accepted God’s word.

Maybe the fact that Abram did not hesitate in responding to God’s call, shows that he valued his Jewish identity and had faith. Therefore, his journey reminds us to always do the same. As I am standing here today, becoming a Bat Mitzvah, I find it very special that this tradition has continued for thousands of years and that there are kids the same age as me, reading the same Torah portion across the world today. It is a reminder that the Jewish people are all connected and have roots to our Jewish home land. Last March I had a chance to actually travel to Israel with my family for the first time. I was fascinated knowing that I was walking in the same steps as Abram. Seeing the ancient history in Israel made me realize that God did keep his promise to Abram. Israel really is a “great nation”.

Traveling in Israel made me think about my Jewish identity. While we were there, we visited Israel’s Hollocaust museum, Yad VaShem and I participated in the twinning program. This program matches B’nai Mitzvah children with a child around their age that died in the Holocaust. My twin’s name was Claire Kaufmann - spelled with two “n’s” like me. I learned that Claire Kaufmann was born in Germany (like some of my ancestors). She and her parents all died in the Holocaust, but her sister Ellen survived. Claire never got to have a Bat Mitzvah of her own, so today, standing up here, I am honoring her memory.

Caitlin's Mitzvah Project

Having a Jewish identity does not only mean going to services and religious school, but also helping others in need. For as long as I can remember, I have loved to sing. Since I was in preschool, I have participated in the Star Kidz singing and acting program with two of my closest friends, Dylan and Madi. We decided that for our Mitzvah project we wanted to share our love of singing and host a karaoke event for kids that may not have the opportunity to participate in programs like Star Kidz. We organized an afternoon at Larchmont Temple for children living at the Coachman Center, a center that provides temporary homes for Westchester families in need. Our Star Kidz singing troupe performed for them, and then we opened the mic and invited the kids to join in karaoke. It was rewarding to me to see the smiles on all of the kids faces and to know that although we have very different lives, at the end of the day we are all kids having fun.


Ezra's Interpretation & Mitzvah Projects

In my Torah portion - Lech Lecha - God sends Abram (who is quite old) to leave his home and go forth from his land on a journey. Or, as some commentaries translate, go “to himself.” God tells Abram that if he does this he will become a blessing and will be blessed.

So what does it mean to be blessed? Joel Lurie Grishaver explains being a blessing like this: “When God blesses a person, God is making promises about that person’s future. When God gives a b’racha (or blessing), God changes a person’s life.” I think that that God blesses Abram and improves his life with things like happiness, education, good health, good fortune, and providing for all of his needs like food, water, and a safe place to live. On the other hand the Medieval Rabbi Rashi specifies three things that he believes Abram was blessed with: Children, wealth, and fame. However, I do not agree that these are the most important blessings Abram could receive. I think that a person can be very happy and live a really good life even if they are not rich or famous. I do agree with Rashi though that children can be blessings. After all, look how much joy Jonah and I bring to my parents!

In addition to any blessings Abram received, God also promises to make Abram a blessing. For my key koshi (or question,) I am wondering how we and Abram can become blessings. Gersonidies, a 14th century rabbi, thinks being a blessing is about our actions and doing things to positively impact others. I completely agree with him, and I think being a blessing isn’t just having your name said in praise, but helping others and making sure that they receive blessings in their own lives. Just as God blesses Abram with education, good health, happiness, and basic needs, I think to be a blessing means helping other achieve these things. For instance, I tried to be a blessing by volunteering at the Larchmont - Mamaroneck Food Pantry at the Mamaroneck Community Resource Center as part of my Mitzvah Project. Twice a month at the food pantry I helped organize and distribute food for people that do not always have enough money to buy food and provide for their other needs. This was really meaningful to me because I was helping people in my own community and after every visit I went home feeling better. Volunteering there also made me appreciate how fortunate I am to never have to worry about my next meal.

Looking around us, our current world needs many people to step up and become blessings. This starts with us. We have to do our best to help the world become a better place and ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to have a good and healthy life. One other part of my Mitzvah Project of trying to be a blessing was to help at the Miracle League of Westchester. The Miracle League is an organization where kids with disabilities like autism come to play baseball. I was assigned a very kind and bright boy named Braylon whose favorite thing to do was play baseball. Braylon has autism, but that never stopped him. Every week, he would greet me with a high five and we would go onto the field. We started off with a jog around the bases and then I would help him throw, catch, bat, and field throughout the session. I was so happy to be a friend for Braylon and help him play the sport he loved, and I hope he learned from me.

This experience made me realize how great these kids are and how they push through their disabilities and have a great time. Despite the challenges they face, they are blessings in the world. I am excited to continue my help at the Miracle League in the spring, and I can’t wait to see Braylon again.

Wed, November 13 2019 15 Cheshvan 5780