Sometimes it’s spooky how much Torah reflects and informs my life. When I found out I was writing this drash, 2 nights ago, I went home and read the parashah. That night I couldn’t sleep, it felt like the “Torah fairy” visited me and made all these connections to the past week in my life. What a week it’s been! Last Friday I saw the film maker Ken Burns over at Brookdale. I was on the edge of my seat for the whole presentation. One of the things he said will always be with me. He said he was a huge fan of Lincoln, calling him “the bees knees” He said that biographers have tried to see Lincoln as just an ordinary human being with the same failings as us all, but have had a hard time: Lincoln is just more than the sum of his parts. Ken said everything great is more than the sum of its parts, our loves and passions, and then he said the thing that caught my ear: that distance between the sum and more than the sum, that’s the most interesting part! Then he went on to say he thinks that space is where we place our ideals and hopes. I teach this same concept introducing each term in biology, that life is, on each level more than the sum of its parts, The text calls that “emergent properties” I call it magic. More than the sum, maybe that’s the most interesting part, that’s where God is. I travelled to Virginia later that day to be with my brother. We saw a movie: Into the Wild. Halloween came, Tuesday along with, a tragedy in New York. Wednesday marked the birthday of my first born Sara. Thursday night at the sisterhood meeting I listened to an outrageous act of hospitality when Rachel MacAulay told of how she flew to Florida to volunteer with Nechamah rebuilding the homes of strangers. She needed to help personally in fixing this tragedy, and to meet some of the souls whose lives were so damaged.
Is a remarkably mirror to the week’s parashah, Vayera. When it opens Abram had just been given new names, Adding the “hey” from God’s name to form the names Abraham and Sarah. They have been transformed to more than the sum of their parts – the difference –that’s where God is. There are acts of outrageous hospitality where both Abraham and Lot run to three passing travelers, strangers who turn out to me messengers of the most High. And Sarah’s first born, named Isaac is born, just as my daughter was born. If there is anything more transformative than becoming a parent for the first time I don’t know what it is. Suddenly you care more for that tiny bundle of joy and tears and the like, more than you ever thought possible, holding a bundle of forever in your hands
Abe and Sarah have been promised children, descendants as many as the stars – they want desperately to have a child, and it seems they may be too old. I think many of us can understand that longing. And yet In this parashah that child that they hoped so much for will almost die by Abe’s own hand. Raising the question, can we really change, be transformed to more than the sum?
This parashah in fact repeats many of the same strange faults of Abraham as last week, but whenever we find repeats in Torah, look for the differences, I’ve been taught. Once again Sarah is taken by a foreign king and Abe tells her “Say I’m your brother” (This masquerade reminded me of Halloween) But this time Abe stops to explain, they apparently really are related. Once again Sarah is worried about Hagar and Abe sends Hagar and their child Ishmael out in the desert with a little bread and a skin of water. But this time instead of washing his hands, metaphorically, and telling Sarah to do as she likes, he’s troubled, and asks God’s advice. Abe is told “whatever Sarah tells you is what you must do” and he acts in that faith and indeed Hagar and Ishmael are OK. The Discussion with God over Sodom perhaps also gives Abe faith that God is just –enough for a fearful man to trust. Sodom may be a turning point. And then there’s Sodom – whose cries reached out to God and is the reason those messengers were sent. I wondered who cried out, if all were evil. Their evil reminded me of the killings of the bikers and pedestrians that happened again, this time in NYC. And I wonder, where is our transformation as a society? We can be so much better than that
Oh and that movie I saw – Into the Wild, about a young man looking for “truth” and maybe for God who renames himself Alexander Supertramp and roams the countryside and cities with a goal of ditching people to be one on one with the great Alaskan wilderness. But it’s on his travels that he becomes like those messengers from the parashah. Given hospitality by a “hippie” couple who were troubled by the woman son’s abandonment, he helps them heal. Given hospitality by an old man played by the great Hal Holbrook, he helps heal a man who lost his wife and son decades ago and withdrew from life. It is in these interactions that families, communities, individuals can be more than the sum of their parts. That’s what Torah is all about – relationships and the space between, and the possibility to be more than the sum of our parts – That space between, if we let it happen is where God is. It’s spooky (!) how much Torah can reflect on and inform our life. Torah is more than the sum of it’s parts too. Abraham, feet of clay and all, has faith, and is more than the sum of his parts. Ultimately he is the father of both the Arabs and the Israelites, a father loved, and blessed, the light of Yisrael: Avraham Avinu
Avraham Avinu/ There is Hope (David Paskin) mash up,
Avraham avinu padre querido, padre bendicho, luz de Yisrael (2x)
There is hope, there is healing, there is peace, there is blessing.
When the waters are wide, and you can’t reach the other side
When your courage runs dry
There is hope, there is healing, there is peace, there is blessing
What you try to endure when the future’s unsure, believe in something more. David Paskin