Friday, October 27, 2017

Haftarat Lech Lecha: Seeds of Partnership

Two themes that repeat over and over again, both in the Torah AND in the subsequent books of the Hebrew Bible, are Responsibility and Relationship.
Time and again, God - often through various prophets - conveys the message that we have to take ownership of our role in this world; with the earth itself, with our fellow human beings, and with all animals and plants. And Adonai continuously reminds us that we are God's partners in this work. Some of it gets done From On High... but we've got to pull our weight as well. This week, at Ohev Shalom, we're talking about Food Waste and how we can make less of an impact on our planet and our resources. Hidden inside our Torah portion and its accompanying Haftarah, I see clues and hints that support this important issue. That shouldn't surprise you, because Food Waste Awareness is also about Responsibility and Relationship, and I JUST told you that those themes play on repeat throughout our Tanach!! Sooo, let's begin our hunt for clues...

Last week, I told you that our Haftarot sometimes have obvious links to their parashah, and sometimes they have tenuous ones. Lech Lecha, like Noach (last week), is on the more obvious end of the spectrum:
The Torah reading introduces us to our patriarch, Abraham, and the Haftarah, from the prophet Isaiah, declares that the Children of Israel are "the Seed of My friend, Abraham" (41:8). For our food-related purposes, notice the word "seed," which both in Hebrew and English serves a double function. It means "progeny" or "descendants," but also literal kernels that we plant in the ground. I know it's kind of subtle, but I see this dual meaning as a reminder that we are OF the earth, not separate from it. We are beings created by God, and formed out of the substance of our planet, just like everything else around us. We cannot survive without consuming other STUFF from the earth - whether it's vegetable, grain, or animal - and that too should be a reminder to us of the urgent need to be in symbiotic relationship with the world around us. We are seeds in all senses of the word.

Isaiah also emphasizes relationships, both with fellow humans and with God. In 41:6-7, he states: "Each person helps another, saying to a neighbor, 'Take courage!' The woodworker encourages the blacksmith; the one who flattens with the hammer [encourages] the one who pounds the anvil." Just a few verses later, Isaiah adds:
"Fear not, for I am with you... I strengthen you and I help you" (10). And those two verses are brought together when God then states: "I will help you... thresh mountains to dust" (14-15). In other words, our ability to work the earth, to till the soil, to feed and nurture our families and communities - THAT is a sign of God's favor and partnership. But in return, we must be good partners and not waste, wantonly destroy, or callously ignore dangerous warnings. Think of it this way, if we only fed our bodies junk food, never slept enough, and didn't exercise, we all know we would see signs of deterioration, illness, and pain in ourselves. How can we ignore those same signals from our planet, in the form of rising temperatures, convulsions of the ground, and other natural disasters?

Abraham is, in many ways, God's first human partner. God tried with Eve & Adam and then with Noah and his family, but ultimately Abraham is the first reciprocal PARTNER, and the one who enters into a covenant with God.
We all are, indeed, the "seeds" of Abraham, and the latest inheritors of that relationship. How are we taking responsibility for the tremendous task that has been left in our hands? And not just on a global scale, but truly on a local, everyday, simple, what-do-you-do-in-your-own-kitchen type of way? You too are a descendant of Sarah and Abraham, and you too are being called to partner with God. I hope you'll join the interesting presentations and conversations taking place at Ohev this weekend. You can also check out online resources that are both Jewish AND environmentally-focused, like Hazon and Greenfaith. I encourage you to think about what Relationship and Responsibility mean to you, and how you embody them in your own life. Oh, and I have a hunch you'll see those two themes returning - interwoven or standing alone - in many more blog posts to come.

Photos in this blog post:
1. CC image courtesy of Josealgon on Wikimedia Commons
2. CC image courtesy of Jacopo on Wikimedia Commons
3. CC image courtesy of Crochet.david on Wikimedia Commons
4. CC image courtesy of Iknowtrash on Wikimedia Commons

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