Parashat Lech Lecha: What’s in a name?

2016-10-17-15-10-18-2Names carry with them all sorts of associations: memories, hopes, dreams, and possibilities.  The names we are given and those that we choose, tell the world something about ourselves: they may announce our ethnic origin or possibly something about our social class for instance. The dreams that our parents cherished on our behalf may be tied up in the names we have been given, as too may particular family histories.  As we travel through life, these associations – these dreams and memories – may at times become burdensome, and, at others, may buoy us up as we envision ourselves a link in the chain of generations.

In this week’s parashah we are told how God changed the names of Sarai and Avram to Sarah and Avraham. Before Isaac is born something fundamental about his parents is changed; through their new God-given names, their identities take on an extra dimension.

Whilst it is Abraham who is called by God to go to a new land, the holy land, it is both Abraham and Sarah together who start out on this new journey, a journey of partnership, while God stakes both His claim and His protection via the bestowal of a changed name. They are to become the parents, the ancestors, of a nation that will span many generations, thus becoming the first link in a chain of tradition that links us to them. And, by taking on their name, we then become tasked with forging a further link in this chain of memory and transmission.

And what about carrying the name not just of Jew, but Progressive Jew? What does that mean? For me it means pride. Pride at being part of a movement that values inclusivity rather than exclusivity. I am proud to call myself a progressive Jew and to be a part of movement that seeks to find ways of opening the door to Jews of all different colours and hues, committed Jews, ambivalent Jews and wannabe Jews, and to keeping it open, to all those who, like Abraham and Sarah, may have left their birth place and their parents’ house and are wandering looking for a home.

When God changed the names of Sarai and Avram to Sarah and Avraham, he did so in preparation for making them the mother and father of a great nation, of making them our ancestors. They faced this task with great bravery and fortitude. Making their mistakes along the way, they also suffered great loss and pain, but despite this they forged the first links in a chain that has spanned many generations.  To struggle, rejoice and to give thanks – all of these are contained in the name of being a Jew.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Rabbi Kath Vardi) 

Torah Reading for Lech Lecha

Genesis 12:1-17:27 (Gen 15:18-17:6)
Plaut p. 98; Hertz p. 55

Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16
Plaut p.118; Hertz 60

In our Parasha

•          Abram, Sarai, and Lot follow a call from God to go to Canaan.

•          But a Famine takes them to Egypt, where Abram identifies Sarai as his sister in order to save his life.

•          On their way back, Abram and Lot separate. Lot is taken captive in Sodom, and Abram rescues him.

•          Abram has a son, Ishmael, with his Egyptian maidservant, Hagar.

•          In the concluding chapter, God establishes a covenant with Abram. The sign of this covenant is circumcision on the eighth day following a male baby’s birth.

Podcast of Rabbi Schell’s weekly Sermons Tuesdays on Radio Today (10h30) or:

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