Magen Avraham: Building Community as our Shield and Sign (Parshat Va’yera)

rabbi-shohama_cu-2By Rabbi Shohama

Our forefather Avram had his name changed by G!d to Av-raham, father of multitudes. His life was not easy. At age 75, he heard G!d telling him to leave his home, and that “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Heeding the call, he travelled to Canaan where there was a famine, then down to Egypt where his wife was nearly taken by the Pharoah, then back to Canaan. There his beloved nephew, Lot, was captured and he had to battle five kings to free him.

Through all of this Avraham emerged safe, and with more family and more flocks. Then the Holy One said to him (Gen. 15:1):

.אַל-תִּירָא אַבְרָם, אָנֹכִי מָגֵן לָךְ
(Al tirah Avram, anochi magen lach.)
Fear not, Avram, I am your shield.

In the opening of our Amidah (the set of petitionary prayers in our daily liturgy), G!d is referred to as magen Avraham, the shield of Avraham, the protector of Avraham.  We pray that our Creator will be our magen as well.

Many of us wear a Magen David (or Mogen Dovid), a six-pointed Jewish star, emblem of the Jewish people.  When worn as a necklace, it sits on our heart as a symbol of G!d’s protecting light, guarding the Divine Light that sits within us, and attracting the Light from other people who come to support us.  It also sits as a barrier to keep out negative energies. The logo of Your Shul by the Sea carries an extra blessing, as one of the triangles is in the shape of a sailboat. It acknowledges the Divine Sailor that guards and protects us during stormy voyages as well as during times of smooth sailing.

Interestingly enough, Avraham is also known as a model for creating community, for embodying the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests). This is derived from the opening of Parshat Vayera, where Avraham was visited by three strangers and welcomed them to his tent and to a fine dinner. His reward?  They were angels in disguise, come to announce that his wife Sarah would conceive and bear a son after decades of infertility.

Jewish community is built upon this principle of hachnasat orchim —we welcome guests, even if they be strangers. In many congregations, the most frequent way we do this is by members taking turns hosting an Oneg after services, a festive snack time where people can nourish their bodies and build heart connections with old and new friends. It is on the building of community that the future of our people rests.

Our community can be a magen for us, a shield in times of joy and sorrow. May we find ever more ways to nourish and build communities of caring — our best protection against the storms of life.

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