D’var Torah: Biblical immigration and contemporary reflections

Rabbi Lane Steinger

By Rabbi Lane Steinger, Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Community

Torah Portion: Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:1-17:27

The Eternal said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1.)

…what is most striking here is the indeterminacy of the journey. What is left behind, canceled out, is defined, clearly circled on the map of Abram’s being; but his destination is merely “the land that I shall show you”: from “your land,” the landscape of your basic self-awareness, to a place that you will know only when the light falls on it with a difference. (Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis, page 74.) 

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“I will make the nation great through you, and I will bless you;

 I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you and curse the one who curses you;

And all the families of the land shall be blessed by you.”  (12:2-3.)

… A study released in June by St. Louis University economist Jack Strauss concluded that immigration is good for a city’s business climate. But the St. Louis region has 80 percent fewer foreign-born residents than other large metro areas, a big reason that the area’s economy is lagging.

…Rather than fear immigrants, the country should welcome them, as was suggested by former President Bill Clinton in 1998: “The United States has always been energized by its immigrant populations. America has constantly drawn strength and spirit from wave after wave of immigrants… They have proved to be the most restless, the most adventurous, the most innovative, the most industrious of people.”

Mr. Strauss said in his study that St. Louis would have seen a 4 to 7 percent rise in income growth; a 7 to 11 percent rise in total income; and a 4 to 5 percent rise in job growth if the region had attracted immigrants in the past decade as fast as other large metropolitan areas.

Mr. Strauss’ study reported that other metro areas had developed economic and social policies that helped attract immigrant workers… (“Opening Doors,” StL Post Dispatch editorial, October 15, 2012, page A10.)

So Abram went forth as the Eternal instructed him, and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the wealth they had amassed, and the life they had made in Haran. They set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived in the land of Canaan. (12:4-5.)

There has been no significant movement toward federal immigration reform since a bipartisan effort died in 2007, blocked by conservative opposition. But it has been the subject of a fever of legislation [and litigation] at the state [and national] level[s], and is certain to become an issue in the November presidential campaign. (topics.nytimes.com, Sept. 12, 2012 update; my insertions.)