Commentary for Lech Lecha

11 Oct

“Abram was ninety-nine years old, and the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him “I am El Shaddai (a name for God which derives from “giver of benefits”); walk in My ways and be tamim. And I will establish My covenant between Myself and you, and I will make you exceedingly numerous (Gen. 17:1-2).” The Hebrew word tamim has been translated many different ways by different scholars, but is usually translated “whole” or “perfect.” The next fourteen verses lay out this new covenant, by which Abram and his descendents can become “whole” or “perfect.”

The terms of the covenant are that God will make Abram’s offspring very numerous. He will give Abram and his wife Sarai a child, and through that child Abram’s line will continue and they will be given the land of Canaan as a Divine inheritance. In return, Abram must change his name to Abraham and Sarai must change her name to Sarah. They and their descendants must worship God forever, and on the eighth day after they are born, all males must be circumcised.
The concept of circumcision, the removal of a part of the body, seems at odds with the concept of being “whole.” How is it possible that in order to be “perfect” we must alter our physical form the way our perfect Creator fashioned it?

Obviously God could have created a perfect world if God had wanted to. A world where there is no crime or hunger or poverty and everyone was compelled to follow all of the mitzvot. In such a world, we would all be like the angels, who are only capable of performing the specific tasks that God sets for them and never able to disobey, but there isn’t much glory in winning a rigged game.

Tradition tells us that the angels, being Heavenly creatures and only doing God’s will, have a higher, static base level of holiness than we do, but when we do mitzvot we reach a higher level of holiness than angels ever can because we are making a conscious choice to do so.

The highest levels of holiness can only be achieved through conscious human action. Just as Abraham had to take actions like leaving his father’s household, traveling to Canaan, and circumcising himself and his son in order to become more “perfect” and to fulfill his “whole” potential, so too should we make the conscious choice to take action and do mitzvot to achieve our whole potential.

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