Rabbi marks three anniversaries;reflects on the meaning of familyLech Lecha, Genesis 12:1-17:27
The Biblical commentator, Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michael better known as Malbim (1809-1897), asks about the order of the command given to Abram in this week’s Torah portion. He notes that Abram is told, “leave your country, leave your birth place, leave your father’s house.”
But there is something wrong with the order. If we take a trip, one normally would leave his father’s house first, then his birthplace or home community and then his country. Malbim asks why the order is reversed.
He answers that God is using psychology, helping Abram break the bonds that tie him to home gradually. It is easy to leave one’s country, as emotionally one is not as tied to one’s country as one is tied to one’s home community. It is a little harder to leave one’s home community and the hardest is to leave one’s family.
Of course, if we read the Bible carefully and go back to the end of last week’s Torah portion, we know that Abram’s father, Terach, at least began the journey with Abram leaving their country Ur for the land of Canaan and settling in Haran. Abram does leave his father’s body buried in Haran and continues on to the land of Canaan with some of his family in tow — Sarai, his wife; and Lot, his nephew.
But the Torah tells us in Genesis 12:5 that Abram also took person(s) (in Hebrew, nefesh or soul) that they had made. Generally, this is understood as people who had converted to the belief in one God that Abram and Sarai worshipped. I believe though that the Torah is suggesting that “family” can be defined beyond being just biological or marital.
Recently, my congregation and my community helped me celebrate three major milestones in my life that occurred this year: my 60th birthday, my 30th year as a rabbi and my 25th year serving as the rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El Israel in Greensburg. At this point in my life, I have lived the majority of my life in Greensburg and my congregation has become my family. That is not to say that family and friends from outside the area were not included in the celebration; they were.
But, as even my sister Esther noted, CEI has become family. Abram and Sarai learned long ago, and as our people have experienced throughout the centuries, our country is not always our country forever. There are times we leave our birthplace and our father‘s (and mother’s) home without ever returning. But we can create a new home and new family.
To all of you who are not native Pittsburghers, not native western Pennylvanians, welcome to the family. To you who have made us feel like family — Thank You.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)