'Hanging by A Thread': A D’var Torah on Parshat Lech Lecha
14 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2019 Last revised: 5 May 2020
Date Written: November 4, 2019
Readers of the Book of Genesis have come to take for granted that the primordial history of the Jews begins with a single pair of founders – Abraham and Sarah – and then passes through a very narrow line of successions – to Isaac and Rebekah and then Jacob and his wives – before it finally spreads out to an entire family that eventually becomes the large nation that leaves Egypt in the second founding story told in the Book of Exodus.
Less clear, though, is why this should be. One Midrashic tradition, after all, claims – not implausibly in the light of the history of religious movements – that Abraham and Sarah gathered converts from the very start. And even if the narrative must focus on genealogical inheritance, why wait until the fourth generation before an entire cohort of siblings can share a single familial and then national identity?
This talk suggests several possible explanations. The first is social and arguably feminist. The second is theological. The third is existential. Abraham and Sarah and a select few of their immediate descendants were for a time the only Jews on Earth, and the future of the whole enterprise hung by a thread. There is surely a lesson in this, and even an experiential imperative.
Keywords: Bible, Genesis, Abraham, Foundation Myths, Eponymous Myths, Biblical Feminism, Judaism
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