This week's portion, Lech Lecha, begins with G-d telling Abraham to "go out from your country, leave your people, leave your father's household and go to a land that I will show you". Abraham heeds this command and sets in motion the development of the Jewish nation which culminates with the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. We can learn an important lesson from Lech Lecha, which means "leave" or "go out". In order to reveal opportunities and Light in our lives, it is incumbent upon us to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones and to "go out" from ourselves. Once we mentally commit that we will "go out", the universe conspires to help us and creates openings and opportunities that make it easier to go beyond what we previously accepted as the highest point in various aspects of our lives. It is within the challenge of pushing ourselves upstream or against the river, that we open ourselves up to new experiences and higher levels of consciousness. It is analogous to the old adage "the sweetest fruit is on the highest branch". It is a challenge to push beyond our comfort zones - onto the higher branch or into the unknown. The reward, however, is always worth the effort. To have certainty and to be able to "go out" is a gift. We can access the energy of going beyond our comfort zone this week by connecting to the reading and following the example set by Abraham.
The portion continues with Abraham setting out on a Journey with his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot. After parting ways with Abraham, Lot's town is attacked and he loses his possessions and his home. When Abraham hears about this, he sends a small army of men who overcome the four invading kings to recapture his possessions and restore Lot in his land. Abraham meets with King Melchizedek and gives him a "tithes of everything". This is the first instance we see of tithing mentioned in the Torah. Ma'aser or tithing is the act of donating a tenth or 10%. This may seem like a lot to give, but it is really about receiving and the benefits afforded to those who give. The act of tithing shows an understanding that we are only channels for sustenance, material possessions and money - which are ultimately from a higher source. By tithing a percentage, we recognize that G-d, or the Light, has a hand in the results of our efforts. The Kabbalists point out that there is a negative energy in the world which attaches to us and our things when our ego tells us that we are the sole reason for our success. By tithing, we remove and disconnect from the potentially negative energy. The Zohar says, in connection with tithing, "it is one out of ten, and ten out of a hundred". Throughout the rest of the Torah and commentary we read how tithing, whether as money or an agricultural tithe, helps to support our financial sustenance and provides protection and blessings.
The concept of "evil eye" is introduced in this week's reading. Although the use of amulets and red strings have been popularized over the past several years as a fashion trend, the power of evil eye and the process by which we can protect ourselves is very real. The Kabbalists attribute a variety of misfortunes to evil eye so it is important to understand why it occurs and how to limit it in our lives. In Lech Lecha, Abraham's wife Sarah was not able to have a child so she gave her hand maiden, Hagar, to Abraham to be his wife. When Hagar realized that she was pregnant, she no longer respected Sarah and the commentators suggest that Sarah then cast her an evil eye. Hagar miscarried her first pregnancy and ran away from the house. Evil eye is usually brought on by jealousy or envy - in this case it was Sarah's jealousy of Hagar's relationship with Abraham and Hagar's ability to conceive. When we are proud and show off or brag, we draw evil eye from others. Hagar became haughty and dismissive of Sarah after she became pregnant, drawing the evil eye from her mistress. Even if not intentional, when people feel a lack and see someone else with something they desire, there is a subconscious desire which is often manifest as evil eye towards the other person. Gossiping or speaking badly about someone (l'ashon hara) is another way to bring evil eye as we create an opening for negativity in relation to our negative speech. By remaining humble and not speaking badly about others, we can protect ourselves against evil eye and its effects.
We read in this portion the story of how Abraham fathered both the nation of Israel and the Arab nation. G-d tells Abraham that his first born son - Ishmael, will be blessed, he will father 12 princes and he will become a great nation. Accordingly, Muslims believe that Ishmael is the ancestor of the prominent Arab tribes and is the forefather of Muhammad. Abraham's second son, Isaac, similarly was blessed and established the Jewish nation. Both nations have a common father and, based on shared ancestry, should logically be able to come together in peace. In fact, Jewish and Arab worshipers pray side-by-side at Abraham's tomb in Hebron. By reading and connecting to this story in Lech Lecha, we can hopefully connect to the unity of Abraham as the father of both nations. We can inject the energy of peace and love between brothers and send blessings of Light and awareness to all of the descendant's of Abraham that continue to fight in the Middle East. It is only through tolerance and unity that we can find and create peace in the world.