A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 10.29.2020

Parashat Lech Lecha

In a midrash from Genesis Rabbah (39:9), the sages make an interesting observation. Rabbi Levi notes that the unusual term lech lecha / “Go forth,” which gives this week’s parasha its name, actually appears twice in the Abraham stories: once this week (lech lecha m’artzecha / “Go forth from your native land”), and then again next week in the story of the akeidah – the binding of Isaac (lech lecha el eretz haMoriah / “Go forth to the land of Moriah”). In each case, the command to “go forth” is accompanied by a literary redundancy: in the first case, “Go forth from your land, and from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” In the second case, “Take your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac, and go forth ….” The details of the midrash are a little too involved for this space (you can read the midrash in English here, on page 318: https://archive.org/details/RabbaGenesis/page/n365/mode/2up), but the upshot, according to Rabbi Yochanan, is that God likes to reward the righteous with suspense. There is some delight, at least the way God sees it, for the recipient of God’s favor to have the gratification of realization delayed. The postponement of knowledge, of destination, of understanding, is it’s own reward, somehow.

Not so with us, I daresay. Our suspense around the election is closer akin to dread than to delight, no matter whom you’re voting for. And certainly, that is the current national disposition: one of foreboding and fear.

With a little luck (a lot of luck?), all will be well. We’ll have a clear victor and the loser will concede gracefully. But there is no doubt that THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO IS VOTE.  I voted yesterday: I stood in line at Brooklyn College in a long queue of masked and socially-distanced citizens, and I did my civic duty. On my way out the door, I picked up my “I Voted” sticker and affixed it to my messenger bag with the satisfaction of a schoolboy who just did well on a test.

Of course, one of the things contributing to our darkening national mood is the increasing polarization and radicalization of our citizenry. The bedrock principles of pluralism upon which the fragile tower of democracy is built feel as though they are shifting, tectonically. I mention this not to cause alarm but to raise awareness. Today is Rabin Day, the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. Rabin was assassinated by an ultra-nationalist Orthodox Jew who was opposed to Rabin’s efforts to make peace with the Palestinians. The magnitude of that tragedy is truly incalculable, and it took place in an atmosphere that, every day, looks more and more like our own. Rabin’s assassin was not acting in a vacuum; there was a loud and violent movement that incited him to this terrible act.

Next weekend, we will have an opportunity to view a remarkable film about the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin. The critically acclaimed docu-drama Incitement chronicles the radicalization of the assassin and makes a profound statement about a society’s descent into a hot-zone of dangerous polarization. We’ll have details for you this coming week about how you can view it.

If you still need help voting, or formulating a voting plan, please contact the office and we will make every effort to help you out. There are also still opportunities to volunteer, like making phone calls and texting folks to get out the vote.

In the meantime, while our suspense may be anxiety provoking, let us hope that we can all “go forth” to a post-election world where the rhetoric can be dialed down – that is an end worth waiting for.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Sam Levine