“For I am the LORD your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.
Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob,
little Israel, do not fear,
for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD,
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. — Isaiah 41:13–14
The Torah portion for this week is Lech Lecha, which means “go to yourself.” It is from Genesis 12:1–17:27, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 40:27–41:16.
There is an old Jewish Hasidic tale about the great Rabbi David of Lelov, who was on his way to visit his own teacher. On the way, he stopped at the home of a friend who was planning to join him. When the famed rabbi arrived, the friend quickly told his wife to prepare a meal for the rabbi. The wife was astounded. The family was extremely poor and all she had was flour – not a pinch of salt or a drop of oil. Still, the woman went out to the forest to gather twigs for a fire and boiled dumplings for her husband and the rabbi.
When Rabbi David returned from his journey he told his wife all about it, including the meal that he had at his friend’s house. He said, “My friend’s wife prepared such a delicacy, it tasted like it had been spiced with herbs from the Garden of Eden!” Rabbi David’s wife went to the friend’s house and asked his wife for the recipe of the delicacy her husband spoke of. The woman replied, “What delicacy? It was only flour and water!” “But that’s impossible,” said Rabbi David’s wife. “My husband said that it tasted like something out of Eden!” “My God!” the woman exclaimed. “As I was gathering twigs for the fire I prayed to God. I told Him that I had nothing, but that He had everything including the Garden of Eden. I asked God to add some spice from Eden so that the meal should be pleasing to the rabbi. God must have heard my prayers!”
This story has so many lessons for us. One is that, really, we all have nothing; we are nothing without God. But God, who has everything, can give us something and make us into something. With God, all things are possible, but without Him, we’ve got nothing.
In this week’s Haftorah reading God said: “Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you . . .” God called Jacob a “worm,” and Israel, “little.” In essence, God was saying, “You can’t do it without Me, but I will help you and then you can do anything.”
Earlier in this Haftorah reading, the prophet Isaiah made reference to Abraham who had been miraculously victorious in the battle that we read about in this week’s Torah reading. What won the battle? Was it Abraham’s strength? No, said Isaiah, it was God.
Today, as we face life’s challenges, remember that we can’t handle them – at least not on our own. But God says: “I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President