The Lesson of Avraham
In spite of the detailed description devoted to the life and
accomplishments of our father Avraham, he remains an enigmatic figure to
us. How did one human being, without an army, a government, a publicity
apparatus, change the face of his generation and of all later generations?
What was his secret strength that allowed him not only to stand alone
against the pagan, violent society of his time but also to actually gain
the respect and eventually influence that very society?
I do not pretend to have any particular new insight into this matter,
nevertheless I think that the Torah itself casts light on this issue. It
describes Avraham as a person whose influence flowed from his personality
and his behavior rather than from public pronouncements or ideological
statements. By feeding the hungry, befriending the lonely, remaining loyal
to those who were no longer really worthy of his loyalty, he "called out
the name of the Lord" wherever he was. People saw in him a special person,
a unique figure, a hero of spirit and action. Eventually people saw
godliness in him. And finally, people saw God Himself, so to speak, through
Avarham's eyes and faith. All of this through Avraham's behavior, demeanor
and public reputation.
It is interesting that this lesson of Avraham was meant to be an example
for all later generations, especially those of his descendants. The view of
Judaism regarding the description of the lives of Avraham, Yitzchak, Yakov,
Sarah, Rivka, Leah and Rochel, is that this description was meant as a
"sign" - an instructive lesson of how to live and behave - to their
generations. Jews were to ask themselves: "When will my actions equal those
of my forbearers?" The lives, attitudes and behavior of the founders of
Judaism were to be the everlasting standard by which all generations of
Jews would measure themselves. Thus the Torah really does not describe
Avraham to us as much as it sets out a program for our lives and aspirations.
I have mentioned many times before in these columns that Western society,
post-modern and essentially rootless, pursuing pleasure and individual
gratification at almost all cost, unwilling to sacrifice for the future or
for others, suffers from a lack of heroes and role models. Sports stars,
movie actors and actresses, princesses and politicians, all have proven to
be poor objects of emulation and imitation. Having no standard by which to
measure ourselves, we are unhappy in our narcissism and mediocrity. We do
not realize the cost to ourselves and our world of remaining ignorant of
Torah and Jewish tradition, of not attempting to reach out and touch the
hem of our father Avraham, of being smug and self-righteous in our
prosperity and selfishness.
Having no memory any longer even of our grandparents, let alone of Avraham,
modern American Jews facing self-induced extinction, blissfully whistle
past the graveyard and espouse causes and struggles that can only further
dim the Jewish spark still remaining within us. We were meant to represent
godliness, morality, goodness, tradition, loyalty, and family in the world.
These were the prime beliefs of Avraham and through his behavior, the rest
of humanity came to recognize and even adopt these values. Does the
non-Jewish world see these traits and life-style in the Jewish community
today? Are we interested in "calling out to the name of the Lord" in
today's world? Are we proud to be the children and people of Avraham, or do
we feel the whole matter to be superfluous and irrelevant to us and our
families in today's world? These are the crucial questions that face Jews
today - not pluralism, peace processes, continuity and other manufactured
sloganeering. Let us be the children of Avraham in deed as in name!
Rabbi Berel Wein
Text Copyright © 2002 Rabbi Berel Wein and
Project Genesis, Inc.