It's been a long and busy week, with much to do in preparation for our exciting Shabbaton with Rabbi Deborah Sacks Mintz (this Shabbat!!) in addition to regular shul and life stuff. With everything going on here and in Israel, I haven't had the head space to think deeply about what I wanted to share with us this week. But as I was studying Parashat haShavua, I was pleasantly surprised to see something in it that I hadn't ever paid much notice before, something that is a wonderful message for us entering into this weekend.
With my 8th grade Bible class, we create a "tool box" of critical reading and interpretive tools for finding deeper meaning in the text. One of my favorite tools is the echo word. An echo word is a distinctive word or phrase that appears in more than one narrative section. The appearance of the word in each of these sections enables you to read them alongside each other, ideally finding points of connection and illumination of meaning.
Please permit me one example to help illustrate this idea: When Moshe is born (Exodus chapter 2), we read that his mother hid him for three months when she saw כי טוב הוא (ki tov hu), that he was good. The phrase כי טוב (ki tov) is not common in the Torah, but it is all over the beginning of Genesis, in the description of Creation. Each day is declared by God כי טוב (ki tov), that it is good. The use of this phrase that recalls creation to describe Moshe's birth tells us that he represents the beginning of a new world for b'nei Yisrael. Moshe will be a gamechanger, creating a new reality for his people.
And now back to our parashah, Ḥayyei Sarah, and its echo word. When Avraham instructs his servant to go find a wife for his son, he instructs him: כִּ֧י אֶל־אַרְצִ֛י וְאֶל־מוֹלַדְתִּ֖י תֵּלֵ֑ךְ. "You will go to my land and to the land of my birth..." (Genesis 24:4). This phrase, "my land and the land of my birth" hearkens back to when we first met Avraham - still called Avram - and God commanded him to leave מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖, "from your land and from the land of your birth" (Genesis 12:1). We hear the echo, but what is the connection? What is it telling us?
The echo highlights that this is an unusual request for Avraham to make. After all, we often laud Avraham for his willingness to leave his homeland and follow God's command. He settles in the land promised to him by God, the land that is described as the home of his nation of descendents. Why, then, would he want to go back to a place he willingly left to find Isaac's future wife?
Looking at some of the classical commentaries on this verse, I saw this gem from Radak (Rabbi David Kimḥi, 13th c. France): The words reflect a well known proverb according to which people prefer to plant seed originating in their own backyard even though the strain is known to be inferior to those available elsewhere.
Avraham, at least in Radak's eyes, struggled with getting out of his comfort zone. His previous homeland was a place he knew well and it was less daunting to go back there. The task ahead was a significant one and rather than forging new boundaries in taking it on, he stuck with what was familiar. I wouldn't want to fault Avraham in this moment - and it defintely worked out well in finding Rivkah. But he certainly stuck with what he knew. I think this is something many of us can relate to.
Looking ahead to this weekend and our Song and Spirit Shabbaton, I want to give us a loving challenge to notice our own comfort zones and try to step outside of them. This Shabbat, we will have the blessing of learning from and singing with Rabbi Deborah Sacks Mintz, who is right out front in the current world of Jewish and liturgical music. We will learn new melodies, and sing old ones in new ways. We will welcome guests to our community and blend our voices the best we can. For many of us, we look to our Shabbat services to provide the comfort of the familiar. While there will still be much that is familiar, there will also be much that is new for our community. I encourage you to join us this weekend, to open yourselves beyond what is comfortable and familiar, and see what magic we can make together.