Shabbat Lekh-Lekha 5774

Poor Avram just wants to be able to count to one. One child, that is. God has promised him that he will be the father of a great nation, yet for years he and Sarai remain, in fact, the only ones. They are childless.

It’s understandable that Avram would worry about numbers. We can say that he was the father of the concept of concern for “Jewish continuity.” But did he also instill in our People an obsessive fascination with numbers?

Much has been written about the Pew Research Center’s poll of American Jewry since the results were released recently. A rising number of American Jews describe themselves as “Jewish without religion.” A surprising number indicated that belief in Jesus as the Messiah is not incompatible with being Jewish. What do the numbers mean? Is the American Jewish experience on the brink of disaster?

I was fortunate to be on a conference call with Professor Jonathan Sarna, a leading thinker on American Judaism, earlier this week. On Shabbat morning, I’ll reflect on the Pew Report and its message for us. In the meantime, consider the message of this teaching from the Talmud about Avram and his way of reading the future:

“Rav Judah said in Rav’s name: How do we know that Israel is not subject to the stars? Because it is said, ‘He took him (vayotzei) outside.’ Abraham said to the Holy One: Master of the Universe, ‘my steward will be my heir.’

“Not so, God replied, ‘none but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ Master of the Universe, he answered, I have looked at my horoscope and I am not fated to beget a child!

God answered, Go forth (tzei) from your horoscope, for Israel is not subject to the stars! (Bavli Shabbat 156a)

What can we learn about interpreting survey data from this midrash? We’ll discuss this further on Shabbat morning.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, 


Rabbi David Wise