10 Nov 2016

Haftara for Lekh Lekha 5777: Outside the Box

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Once we accept our limits we can go beyond them’. — Albert Einstein

Synopsis – Yishaya – 40:27-41:16

‘Our Haftara is chosen because it mentions Abraham Abinu as God’s beloved. The Talmud[1] states that the verse in the Haftara which speaks of the one who God ‘inspired from the east and summoned to His service’ (41:2) is none other than Abraham.

The theme of the Haftara presents God as the all-encompassing source of existence who ‘never tires’ and ‘Who created the ends of the earth’.

God reassures the people that no matter how far off they find themselves, God created the very edges of the universe and He is there. As He was with Abraham, He is at their aide, He will support, secure and protect.


Our patriarch Abraham, is the cornerstone of our entire nation and faith. He is credited with discovering the one true God and founding the Nation of Israel. Abraham’s discovery of God had many implications; the most important being that it opened the door to drawing human beings out of their own heads and into a rational, discerning view of reality.

Abraham lived in a world where deities were conjured, not discovered and ad hoc explanations of the world and nature were the norm. In the face of chaos and uncertainty, humans created myths with their active, imaginative minds, to fill in what they did not understand about their reality.

Abraham stepped consciously away from using self-generated stories to answer unknowns. Instead he used the clues that the world presented, in order to construct a reasonable, viable and consistent description of the world.

Abraham’s efforts focused on questioning and keeping assumptions to a minimum. He pursued rigorous exploration and thought when others ceased. The ultimate quest of Abraham was to discover the precursor of the world, the all-encompassing entity which preceded and powered everything. In pursuing that truth, Abraham discovered God.

In this discovery Abraham came to something more than just reality and rationality. He also encountered the most precious aspect of all —the hope that humanity could connect to the highest power, the ultimate source of life. Abraham freed us from relying only on ourselves and introduced us to our Maker.

The value of knowing God in this capacity enables us to realise that it is not through our own devices alone, that true and effective support can come to us in our lives. By believing we are solely in charge, we deny God, limiting Him into something of our own creation. Alternatively we may refute His existence in our lives completely.  We alone become the ultimate power of our lives and of the world; we become the centre, source and sole support of our universe. It is a position humanity neither deserves nor can handle without descending into madness and grief.

As Yishaya expresses, the God of Abraham is Primal and Final. He is the ‘Creator of the edges of the earth’ (40:28). He set life’s boundaries and subsumes them. He is therefore our ultimate help and support.

God assists, supports and nurtures us when we are at the edges of our own capacity, either psychologically, emotionally or physically. At times when we see nothing beyond the limits and confines of our perceived reality, it is upon God, Who created it all, subsumes it all and powers it all that we must rely on and reach out to for help.

It is upon this point that our entire Haftara is established.

‘Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord of the Universe, God, Creator of the ends of the earth, does not tire nor fatigue….’ (40:28)

‘I, God, am first and the last is Me’. (41:4)

‘He moved and achieved all of it; called out all generations from the onset’ (41:4).

‘I have held you from the edges of the earth and from its fringes I have called to you. (41:9)

It is God, omnipotent and omniscient Who created our boundaries, Who sets our real and ultimate limits, Who is the source of all our power, energy and strength. This became the evident and fundamental truth of Abraham’s life and it was the basis of his covenant with God. That covenant, into which we, his descendants, have entered, has miraculously brought us through four-thousand years.

When in our lives we believe, that all is left up to us and that it is our will that controls everything, we quickly reach our limits and tire, because we cannot survive in this world alone. It is an immature vision of life.

‘Young ones tire and become fatigued, the youth stumbles’. (40:30)

But when, in our growth, maturity and wisdom we realise as Abraham did, that we walk in this world powered and supported by the Source of Existence, co-creating our lives with the ultimate Creator, we join with Him in finding strength to rise beyond our own meagre means. It is this divinely endowed strength that Yishaya uses as the refrain of his message.

‘He gives strength to the weary, and to those who lack stamina abundant power’. (40:29)

‘Those who have hope in God will have renewed strength’. (40:31)

And thus God commits to us in our Haftara through the prophet Yishaya:

‘You Israel my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, seed of Abraham my beloved…Do not fear for I am with you, Do not fret for I am your God, I strengthen you and I help you, I uphold you with my victorious hand…I am your God Who says to you: ‘Have no fear I will be your help…I will help you’. (41:8,10,13-14)

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] Ta’anit, 21a

Parasha Perspectives

III  Lech Lecha 

16                First command to Avram: leave  (12:1-9)
17                Avram and Sarai leave Kena’an  (12:10-13:18)
Avram and Sarai visit Egypt (12:10-20);
Avram and Lot split up (13:1-18)
18a              The First War  (14:1-24)
18b              Covenant between God and Avram  (15:1-21)
18c               First eviction of Hagar, Yishmael born (16:1-16)
18d              Covenant between God and Avraham  (17:1-14)
18e              Promise of son, circumcision (17:15-27)

                    Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS