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Lech Lecha 5767

Lech Lecha (Genesis 12-17 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING! Recently I received an email asking me, "What good is prayer? They prayed in the Holocaust and that didn't help them." I love blanket statements that cover all people, all situations, all times and gives one result. They remind me about how little I actually know.

I do not pretend to understand how and why the Almighty answers prayers. My personal experience in talking with Holocaust survivors and in reading biographies of survivors is that they prayed and their prayers were answered - at least in part. However, these are the survivors. What about those who didn't survive? It is probably fair to say that they too prayed, just we don't know which of their prayers were answered.

I believe the person who asked the question had the following logic: (1) Everybody prayed, (2) Everybody was not saved, (3) Ergo: prayer does not work.

If one has a simplistic definition of prayer as a form of barter - one puts in his requests and God is suppose to fill his list of requests, then one has the wrong definition of prayer. Prayer is about coming closer to the Almighty and creating a relationship with the Almighty. And whether the Almighty fulfills one's requests in full or in part is determined by the Almighty as to what will help us grow in that relationship. That is why all prayers are answered - sometimes with a "Yes," sometimes with a "No" and sometimes ... with a "Not yet."

Our purpose on earth is to grow as human beings, to develop our souls by doing the mitzvot (the Almighty's commandments in the Torah), to work on refining our character and perfecting the world. Prayer is a means for us to fulfill our purpose.

Prayer is about building a relationship with the Almighty. Prayer is about changing yourself and recognizing that all comes from the Almighty and only the Almighty. By strengthening this relationship it changes us and makes it good for the Almighty to give us our request.

A prayer has three components based on how one would make a request to an earthly king who had the power to grant your request or even put one to death: (1) Praises of God. (He doesn't need our praises; it focuses us on Who we are talking to.) (2) Our requests. (3) Thanks. It is the height of good manners to show appreciation.

Of course, we would love for our requests to be answered in the affirmative. However, it is not always in our ultimate best interest. We can relate to this as parents. A child may beg for something that the parent knows is not in the child's best interest and may even be a danger to a child. The smart and caring parent will do the right thing, do the difficult thing and say "no."

We Jews believe that there is a God Who created the world, loves us, gives us ultimately what is best for us, has a covenant with us which obligates us to fulfill His commandments, deals with us with both justice and mercy -life is complex. We are finite; God is infinite. We (those of us who understand that we are ignorant) do not presume to know the whole picture. We do know based upon our understanding of Torah and history that God has a plan for history and a track record of fulfilling His promises - be they for reward or punishment. We understand that the Almighty acts in this world with purpose, meaning and good.

What good is prayer if our prayers aren't answered in the way we want or in the way we think we deserve? Prayer gives us hope. What is the value of hope? Prayer is a means of integrating into ourselves that life has meaning and that we are not alone. What is the value of that? Perhaps the piece below, illustrates best:

I asked for strength, and
God gave difficulties to make me strong.
I asked for wisdom, and
God gave me problems to solve.
I asked for prosperity, and
God gave me brawn and brain to work.
I asked for courage, and
God gave me dangers to overcome.

I asked for love, and
God gave me troubled people to help.
I asked for favors, and
God gave me opportunities.
I received nothing I wanted.
I received everything I needed.
My prayers were answered.

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Torah Portion of the Week
Lech Lecha

The Almighty commands Avram (later renamed Avraham) to leave Haran and go to the land of Canaan (later renamed the Land of Israel). The Almighty then gives Avram an eternal message to the Jewish people and to the nations of the world, "I will bless those who bless you and he who curses you I will curse." Finding a famine, Avram travels to Egypt (once renamed to be part of the United Arab Republic) asking Sarai (later renamed Sarah), to say she is his sister so they won't kill him to marry her (the Egyptians were particular not to commit adultery).

Pharaoh evicts Avram from Egypt after attempting to take Sarai for a wife. They settle in Hebron (also known as Kiryat Arba) and his nephew Lot settles in Sodom. Avram rescues Lot who was taken captive in the Battle of the Four Kings against the Five Kings.

Entering into a covenant with the Almighty (all covenants with the Almighty are eternal, never to be abrogated or replaced by new covenants), Avram is told that his descendants will be enslaved for 400 years and that his descendants (via Isaac, "... through Isaac will offspring be considered yours" Gen. 21:8) will be given the land "from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates." (I do not think that this part of the story made it into the Koran...)

Sarai, childless, gives her handmaid Hagar to Avram for a wife so that he will have children. Ishmael (the alter zedeh of our Arab cousins) is born.

The covenant of brit mila, religious circumcision, is made (read 17:3-8), God changes their names to Avraham and Sarah and tells them that Sarah will give birth to Yitzhak (Isaac). Avraham circumcises all the males of his household.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And (the Almighty) took (Avraham) outside and He said to him, 'Please, look heavenward and count the stars if you can count them... so, too, will be your descendants." (Genesis 15:5)

According to the Midrash, Avraham knew that according to astrology, he and Sarah would not have children. Rashi cites the Talmudic statement (Nedorim 32a) that the Almighty told Avraham to discount the effects of astrological influence. Even if there is a sign in the stars that you will not have children, you will rise above this and merit having children.

From here, the Talmud (Shabbos 156a) states, "There is no mazal (astrological influence) for Israelites." This then is one meaning of the latter half of the verse, 'so, too, will be your descendants." The Jewish people need not fear any negative predictions in the stars.

Some people become nervous if someone predicts a negative future for them through astrology, chirology (palm reading), cards, etc. Trust in the Almighty and awareness of His unlimited power will free a person from any fears of such predictions. Prayer and the merit of good deeds will be able to change a negative destiny to a positive one."

(or Go to

Jerusalem 4:13
Guatemala 5:36 - Hong Kong 5:27 - Honolulu 5:45
J'Burg 6:07 - London 4:12 - Los Angeles 4:41
Melbourne 7:38 - Mexico City 5:43 - Miami 5:22

New York 4:43 - Singapore 6:33 - Toronto 4:46


Life is fragile - Handle with prayer.

In Memory of Fanny Elkayam
With love, Rafi & Dorothy Elkayam

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