Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Family album

Wouldn't you love to wear this tallit? Well you could possibly own it, but you could not wear it because it is made of Wood. It is from the Floridian Fraser Smith whose work is just awe inspiring. The objects are carved out of wood and stained, either with watercolors or oil-based pigments. The surface is stained rather than painted, so it retains the texture of the sanded wood, which in the case of the quilts, is very similar to cotton cloth.

In this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, God tells Abram to “Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace, and from the house of your father.” (Gen. 12:1) Sarna, in the JPS Commentary on Genesis, writes: “The enormity of God’s demand and the agonizing decision to be made are effectively conveyed through the cluster of terms arranged in ascending order according to the severity of the
sacrifice involved: [leaving his] country, extended family, nuclear family.” Ramban suggests that each level helps Abram narrow the focus of God’s call—not only leave his country, not only leave his kinfolk, but also leave his father. Abram will be continuing the journey his father began in Ur of the Chaldeans as he leaves Haran for the land that God will show him.
God’s call to Abram is accompanied by a list of seven promises:
1. “I will make of you a great nation . . .”
— “A great nation” can be understood to mean that Abram’s descendants
will be great in number and significance. This promise is particularly
important in light of the previous statement in the text that Abram’s
wife “. . . Sarai was barren; she had no child . . .” (Gen. 11:30)
Leaving on such a journey in light of Abram and Sarai’s inability to
have children had to take a huge amount of faith on Abram’s part.
2. “I will bless you . . .”
— This has come to mean that Abram will enjoy material prosperity. We
learn this from Bereishit Rabbah 39:11: “‘Blessing’ connotes money, as
in Proverbs 10:22 ‘The blessing of God, it brings wealth.’”
3. “I will make your name great . . .” Not only will Abram acquire fame, but he will also be esteemed for his superior character.
4. “You shall be a blessing . . .” Abram will serve as the standard by which a blessing is invoked, i.e., “May you be like Abraham . . .” Rashi also teaches that thismeans that up to this point God has been the One who bestows blessings; now Abraham will have the power to bless whomever he wishes.
5. “I will bless those who bless you . . .” — Those who wish Abram well and demonstrate solidarity with him will also receive God’s blessing.
6. “And curse him who curses you . . .” — Abram will be a ger v’toshav—a stranger and sojourner in an alien land. Whoever maltreats him will be punished by God.
7. “And all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you [or because of you].” If “by you,” then it can be interpreted as people taking Abram’s own good fortune as the desired measure when asking a blessing for themselves. If “because of you,” God’s promises to Abram then proceed from the particular to the universal—blessings on Abram personally (#s 1–4), blessing—or curse—on those with whom he interacts (#s 5 and 6), and a blessing on the entire human race (#7).

Had we taken pictures as these opening three verses of Chapter 12 were read, we would have had to adjust our camera lens from wide to a narrow focus, and from the narrow focus to the wide angle shot. God’s call to Abram (Gen. 12:1) requires him to leave his country [click and zoom in], his kinfolk [click and zoom in for a close up], and his nuclear family [click]. God’s promise of blessings (Gen. 12:2–3) will apply to Abram [click and zoom out], to those who come in contact with him [click and zoom out for the wide-angle shot], and all the families of the earth [click].

Abraham’s journey provides the opening pages of our people’s “Family Album.” As descendents of Abraham, it falls to us to put ourselves in the picture. We can embark on our own journeys with courage and faith. We can behave in ways that will show our good character. And in turn we too can be a blessing.
From “And You Shall Be a Blessing” By Enid C. Lader at the Academy for Jewish Religion

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