No sooner does Avram arrive in Canaan at God’s instruction that he has to leave. “There was a famine in the land, and Avram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land” (Genesis 12:10). The man who later becomes the model of hospitality, entertaining guests with a lavish feast (Genesis 18), first learns the value of food through its scarcity. Have you ever had to leave home, move to another country, because there wasn’t enough to eat?
This episode in Parshat Lekh-Lekha is a hint of a repeated experience for ancient Israel–the need to leave the Promised Land for neighboring Egypt in times of famine. Nahum Sarna explains the effects of geography on food supply in the region: “Its primary cause in Canaan would have been prolonged failure of the seasonal rains. The effects of famine there would have been aggravated by the normal inability to produce surpluses and the lack of long-term storage facilities, as well as by the unequal distribution of existing stocks both for social reasons and because of limited means of transportation in a country of such varied topography. Egypt, on the other hand, relied for its rich fertility on the more dependable and predictable rise of the Nile” (The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, p. 93). To this day, our world has regions that are susceptible to famine, and we continue to be plagued by unequal distribution of food supply.
Given the parshah, our proximity to Thanksgiving, and the constant need for famine relief in the developing world, American Jewish World Service has organized Global Hunger Shabbat. But, as we will see on Shabbat morning, AJWS is not focused on raising funds for food aid programs. It’s interested in enabling farmers in these famine-stricken areas to achieve self-sufficiency. I hope you will join us on Shabbat morning as we explore the role we can play to combat famine, so that today’s Avrams may remain securely in their homes, unconcerned by the source of their next meal.
Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Wise