Emily Dinowitz’s D’var Torah
Shabbat shalom. My Torah portion is Lech Lecha. In this Torah portion, God tells Avram, “Lech lecha, go forth from your native land, to a place I will show you.” Avram follow's God's words and leaves home with his nephew Lot and his wife Sarai. Eventually they end up in the Land of Canaan. Lot and Avram both have many possessions, including flocks of sheep, and their sheep start to graze in each other's fields. Their herdsmen begin to quarrel about whose sheep can graze where. Avram makes peace with Lot by telling him that they should separate. He lets Lot choose where he wants to go, saying: “Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsmen and yours, for we are kinsmen. Let us separate. If you go north, I will go south, and if you go south, I will go north.” Lot chooses to go to the plain of the Jordan River, in the east, because he knows that the land near the river is well-watered and good for growing crops. After Lot parts from Avram, God comes to Avram with a promise about his offspring: “I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, then your offspring too can be counted.” Avram then builds an altar for God. The theme that stood out to me in this Torah portion was the relationship between Avram and his nephew Lot. This relationship is a central theme in my portion. Even though Avram is the uncle, he and Lot seem equal in some ways. This seemed strange to me, because usually the older generation has more possessions and more respect. One example of the strange power balance within Lot and Avram’s relationship is the equality of their possessions. The Torah says, “Both Lot and Avram had many possessions;” they both have equal amounts of tents, and animals. If you look around you, usually the older generation seems to have more possessions. Why are Lot and Avram equal in wealth if they are not equal in age? Another example of the power dynamic between Avram and Lot is when they settle the dispute about their sheep. It seems like Avram is letting Lot make the decisions and take charge. But Avram is older than Lot, and usually, we learn that we should respect our elders. In Judaism we have a mitzvah, or commandment, to honor your elders, called “kibud z’kenim”. In real life, I don’t tell my mom to cook dinner, my mom tells me to clean my room. So why is the older generation letting the younger generation take charge in this story? Why does Avram tell Lot, “If you go north, I will go south, and if you go south, I will go north?” And why does Lot choose the best land instead of saying, “Thanks, Uncle, but I’ll let you decide?” It sounds like Avram is giving Lot all the power here. Is Lot actually equal to Avram? The next thing that happens in the story helped me understand Avram’s actions better. After Lot leaves, God comes to Avram and speaks to him about his offspring, promising that there will be many generations. My interpretation of Gods’s speech was that it was some sort of reward to Avram. But what did he do to deserve a reward? I think that Avram was rewarded for setting an example for Lot. By making peace with his nephew and letting him choose the better land, Avram teaches Lot how to be a good person. He is not telling him, but showing him how to be generous and care about other people. Avram is showing Lot respect, and how to make a decision as an adult. When my mom and I were talking about the possible reasons for Avram’s actions, we both agreed that sometimes the best way to teach something is to show a person what's right. Besides Lot and Avram’s generational relationship, my Torah portion also has a generational relationship between God and Avram. God is the older, more knowledgeable one who has been around for years and years, and Avram is like God's child. And Avram is also taught a lesson in the very beginning of the parsha, when God tells him, “Lech lecha--Go forth from your native land.” Avram listens to God, and ends up in Canaan, where he finally separates from Lot. I think that Avram is teaching Lot the same lesson that God taught Avram. In the beginning of the portion, God tells Avram to separate from his father's house, and then Avram does the same for Lot. Avram is kind of like a father to Lot because Lot's father passed away, so Avram is really teaching Lot how to be independent. This is similar to the way parents nurture and guide children in real life. Avram does not say “leave now” or “go away,” he helps Lot by letting him choose where he wants to go and teaches him a lesson, like a parent helping their child grow and become independent. Most of the time, a parent will not say “get out of my house” and then just hope for their child to leave, they will help their child find a house, find a job, and maybe even lend them a little money. This is very similar to Avram and Lot’s situation. Avram still loves Lot but they really need to separate to keep the peace; a parent still loves his or her child but they need to separate to move on with their lives. I think having a bat mitzvah is similar to what Avram and Lot go through in my portion. Avram and Lot have worked hard and gathered many possessions, and now Avram is teaching Lot to be independent, guiding him to go off on his own and take care of himself, like God taught Avram in the beginning of the portion. Like Avram leaving his home and travelling in a strange land, and like Lot working hard to increase his possessions and take care of his flocks, I too have worked very hard to prepare for this day. I learned a lot of Hebrew, practiced chanting prayers, and studied carefully to understand my Torah portion. Preparing for my bat mitzvah has shown me what it is like to think independently and continuously work on something for a long period of time, something adults do. Through this process, I learned how to be more independent. The way people congratulate you on your bat mitzvah, saying, “You're an adult now,” makes it sound like you grew up overnight. But really, that’s not the way it is. A bat mitzvah is the beginning of becoming an adult. Everyone has to start being independent at some point. When I first read this Torah portion, I thought it was strange that Avram was letting Lot make all the decisions. But now I think Avram gave Lot the power to choose which land he would take because he wanted him to learn to be independent. It might seem like when you let a person be independent, they get all the benefits. But my torah portion ends on the happy note of Avram building an altar for God. This shows that the one letting go is rewarded as well. God teaches Avram to be independent, and Avram responds by honoring God. Later, Avram teaches Lot to be self-sufficient, and gets more space in return. If you have taught someone well and you let them be independent at the right time, you'll be rewarded for making the right decision. I too have people I would like to thank for letting me learn to be independent through the process of a bat mitzvah. My family encouraged me and kept me on track, but they also gave me enough space to work by myself and trusted me to be in charge of my own scheduling and studying. I'd like to thank Alicia and Rabbi Lippman for teaching me the skills I needed to have a bat mitzvah so I could carry them out on my own. I'd like to thank my friends for being my friends, and all of you for being here today and supporting me.
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