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Rabbi Clark on Parashat Lech Lecha

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How easy it is to act first and think about our actions only later, if at all. In two ways, Parashat Lech Lecha cautions us against this rash order of events.

First, in Chapter 13, God instructs Abram twice. The first instruction is that Abram should raise his eyes and look around the land that God will give to him and his offspring. God tells Abram that he should look north and south, east and west. Only after Abram has been told to look around does God then instruct him to rise up and walk about this land. Abram must consider his surroundings before he acts on them.

Second, when God instructs Abram to raise his eyes and look around, God includes within that instruction the Hebrew word na. This word is sometimes translated as “please.” In this reading, God very much wants Abram to look around before acting. God goes so far as to plead with him to do so. In contrast, the instruction to rise up and walk about does not include na.

Moreover, some grammar guides to biblical Hebrew, including the classic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew by Thomas O. Lambdin, note that na is better ignored. The Jewish Publication Society does just that in its translation of God’s instruction to Abram in Chapter 13. Na does not have a corresponding word in the JPS English translation. In this understanding, na itself is a pause, a filler word that slows God down before God completes the instruction to Abram. Not only does God require Abram to pause before acting, God models this behaviour by slowing down before continuing to speak to Abram.

God’s use of na should remind us, too, that a short pause before acting is commendable.

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