Knowledge Is Power

This week’s Dvar Torah is written by Rabbi Laila Haas, CAJE’s Director of Adult Learning & Growth, and a Board Member of Yodeah as well as Chair of their Rabbinic Advisory Group.

This week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, opens with G-d calling out to Abram, saying:
Lech, Lecha/ Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you.” (Beresheet/Genesis 12:1-2)
The rabbis of our tradition understand the phrase “Lech Lecha” as having multiple possible translations.
Lech Lecha- “Go forth,” meaning go from a physical space. Lech Lecha- “Go for yourself” and enter the space of knowing. And Lech Lecha- “Go with yourself,” go attend to your spiritual self.
All three of these interpretations share the same action word- “Go!”- perhaps because for many of us the hardest part of any journey is getting started.
Whether a trip is planned, a surprise, or burdensome, each journey requires that we take the first step to “go,” to leave the place we currently find ourselves and move onwards. That first action is usually the hardest, because it demands the most from us.
Lech Lecha teaches us that every journey has the power to change the course of our lives-- physically, intellectually and spiritually.
My Lech Lecha journey began 7 years ago when I was serving a congregation as rabbi. The community had suffered the loss of two young mothers to cancer. Standing with their families during this traumatic time of pain and grief was heartbreaking. It was this experience that inspired me to take my first step.
Lech Lecha- Go forth.
The loss of these two young women made me realize that it was time for me to take the initiative and speak to my doctor to address my own cancer risk.
The doctor asked me one simple question: “What is your family cancer history?” I answered by recounting: “My mother is a breast cancer survivor and my aunt, on my father’s side, is a breast and ovarian cancer survivor…” and before I could even continue, the doctor interrupted, saying: “It’s time to get tested for BRCA, the genetic cancer mutation.”
I’ll never forget opening the envelope containing my BRCA results. It read: “Positive. You have an 87% chance of developing breast cancer in your lifetime and a 51% chance of developing ovarian cancer.”
As horrible as this news was, I understood immediately that knowing these test results had now empowered me to make decisions that could dramatically decrease my risk of developing cancer in my lifetime.
Lech Lecha- Go for yourself.
At 30 years old, I gave myself the greatest birthday gift-- the gift of life-- by electing to have a prophylactic double mastectomy.
Seven years later, my husband and I learned we would have to undergo in-vitro fertilization to start a family. As part of the process, we were able to screen the embryos for genetic and chromosomal abnormalities. 8 out of our 9 embryos carried the BRCA mutation and other chromosomal abnormalities. We focused on the blessing of having one healthy and viable embryo.
In Judaism we celebrate the concept of “L’dor Va’dor” the power of passing on our traditions, Torah and rituals from generation to generation. In this particular case, we were actually grateful to break the “L’dor Va’dor” chain of passing down this genetic cancer mutation to our son. And recently, we celebrated his first birthday--What a blessing!
My BRCA journey is not uncommon. Did you know Ashkenazi Jewish men and women are disproportionately more likely to carry hereditary genetic mutations that can markedly increase their lifetime risk of cancer?
1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews, regardless of family history, carries a mutation on a BRCA gene, and most of them don't know it.
That’s why I so openly share my story and work to educate others about BRCA— I want to help save lives!
I am honored to serve on the board of Yodeah, which means “knowing,” an organization whose mission is to educate the Jewish community about hereditary cancer genetic mutations and provide access to affordable, clinical-grade testing.
We are grateful for organizations like CAJE, who partner with us to reach as many people in the Jewish community as possible in order to share this information and empower both men and women to learn more about BRCA, to get tested and then have the ability to make choices that may decrease their risk of developing cancer.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I’d like to invite you to join Yodeah on Tuesday, October 19th at 7:30 pm, for a free virtual program, “Strong Women Making Powerful Choices”. The program features Ali Rogin, PBS News Hour Producer and author of Beat Breast Cancer Like A Boss, Dr. Dana Greenwald, Yodeah founder Dr. Elizabeth Etkin-Kramer, and me as we share our powerful Yodeah stories and how one simple test empowered us with the knowledge to make life-saving decisions when faced with BRCA and other hereditary cancer mutations. Click here to register.
Lech, Lecha, go with yourself.
Begin your Yodeah journey today. Take a simple saliva test (and recommend your family and friends do as well) to learn whether or not you carry the BRCA genetic mutation. With this knowledge you will be able to make decisions that can increase your ability to prevent cancer over the course of your lifetime. For testing information and to learn more, visit
The Babylonian Talmud teaches us: “Mishaneh makom, mishaneh mazal”- sometimes by changing our place in life, we can change our luck/fortune.
Empower yourself and others with the gift of knowledge. Make life-saving decisions for yourself and the ones you love.
Lech Lecha, go forth, begin your journey in the KNOW! Knowledge is Power. Knowledge can and does save lives!

Shabbat Shalom