Friday, October 30, 2009

For Your Benefit

Parshat Lekh Lekha
Erev Shabbat, 12 Heshvan, 5770 - Friday, October 30th, 2009

     I’m becoming a little obsessed with Robert Crumb.

     Crumb has been, for the last fifty years, America’s great fringe comic artist, producing graphic art far out on the edge of our sensibilities; often on the edge of the law as well. However, for the last four years Crumb has been working his magnum opus and the most unusual piece of art he has ever created: the book of Genesis. Without presuming to know what Crumb’s intentions were for this project, it is clear that, despite his many years as a subversive, satiric expatriate artist, it is his Genesis for which he’ll be remembered.

     The denouement of Crumb’s artistic life reminded me of this week’s parsha, in which we meet Abraham for the first time.* The Holy One’s first words to him are, “לך לך, lekh lekhah, go for yourself” (Debbie Friedman wrote a whole song about this - you may have unconsciously imbibed it a Hebrew school or camp, if you went). In full:

     “And HaShem said to Avram, go for yourself from your land and your birthplace and the house of your father to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” (Bereishit 12:1-2)

     The most influential commentator of the Torah, Rashi,** picks up on the unusual language of “for yourself,” and reads it as meaning, “for your benefit and for your good.”

     So herein lies the lesson: those things which have the greatest benefit in store for us, require the greatest change. And it is not simply that the external factors of our new situations that change, but that we change. I am not the same person in Los Angeles and in New York. Abraham was not the same in Ur Casdim (his original home) and Israel. Robert Crumb is not the same artist when creating Weirdo and when inking Genesis. Radical changes of context don’t just change what’s around us, they change us.

    A famous phrase comes out of the Talmud on this verse:
שינוי מקום, שינוי מזל - Change your place, change your fate

May the changes in your life be for your benefit.
Rabbi Scott Perlo

* At this point his name is Avram - it will later be changed into Avraham, “the father of many.” And to be precise, we learn Abraham’s genealogy in the previous parsha, Noah.
** The first Hebrew book ever printed, literally ever, was his commentary on the Torah. They even left the Torah part out of the printing - it was just Rashi. In case it’s not yet clear how unreal I think this is, let’s just say it makes a statement when you print this guy before you even print the bible.


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