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Abraham and His Commitment to Judaism

And the Lord said to Abram: “Leave your land, your family, and your paternal home and go to the land that I will point out to you”. This is the beginning of the parashat Lech Lecha, the third of the Book of Genesis.

In my point of view the most important topic on this parasha is the commitment to and relationship with the Judaism that Abraham assumed through his life, and his way to and through the Promised Land.

We start with the word “Lech”–which means “go”, or “walk”. Mordechai Maarabi, the Argentinian Rabbi of the Comunidad Israelita del Uruguay (the biggest in Uruguay) in his book Debarjá Iair (“Your word enlight you”) said about Abraham (quoting the Spanish poet Antonio Machado): “the walker has no way… he makes up his way while he is walking”. (Later, we will talk about what “way” or “route” or “path” derech Abraham has taken).

“Lech lecha” can be translated as “go yourself”. Can we go ourselves? In my opinion, the first step in reaching commitment is reflection, introspection, and internal debate. The person who desires to assume a commitment to Judaism must recognize his doubts and uncertainties, analyze them with the objective of being capable to take the path that will allow them the assuming of commitment.

Abraham had these qualities. He was a reflective man, with uncertainties, doubts, and questions. In the opinion of the Uruguayan Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum (Director of the Amiel Program for Practical Rabbinics): “Abraham, was a man that used to ask questions and wanted to figure out everything, a kind of honest revolutionary, whose attitude was determined by the values that held his faith. Abraham's image is far from that of being a bearded old man holding a walking stick, taking his son to be sacrificed”.

Proffesor Nechama Leibowitz (z”l), a bible scholar, commentator, and teacher at the Tel Aviv University in her commentary on parashat Lech Lecha (published in the book “Reflextions about the Parasha”) quotes the Jewish-Spanish physician and philosopher Moses Maimonides. In his work, “Code of Laws of Idolatry”, Maimonides tells us of Abraham in his early years, before his apparition in Lech Lecha: “Abraham (even though was a little boy) started to inquire and to meditate day and night and was astonished: how it is possible the sun could turn itself. Who is doing this? Because, it is not possible for the sun to turn itself”.

Rabbi Birnbaum said in his weekly commentary in the Ohr Tora Stone website that “Abraham reveals himself as a free thinker who does not accept the various conceptions of living popular during in his time. He is a rebel warrior who never gives up on the classic values he believes in”.

As we said, true commitment requires a process, to follow a path (derech). But which path should we take? Shalom Edery (z”l), a former Rabbi from the Uruguayan Sephardic Community in an interview released in a magazine of his congregation 23 years ago recounted: “a 12th century Rabbi named Rabbi Elai said that religion encourages one think in on of two ways: one of fire and other of snow. He who chooses the path of fire will be burned, and he who takes the path of snow will suffer the cold. Therefore, we should choose neither - we ought to choose a middle path”.

Abraham never gets burned nor gets frozen. Abraham chose the middle path, the mitzvoth and derech eretz (proper behavior we should have with our fellow) path.

Abraham made sacred human relations. “Human life is destined to be sanctified in all its natural structure, that is, consonant with the Creation”, said the German-Jewish philosopher Martin Buber in an essay titled “The Hasidism and the Man of Occident”. Buber added, quoting the hassidim, that “God is where He is permitted to enter”. For me, Abraham let God enter in his the relationships with the other. Remember that in this parasha Abraham is still healing from his own brit mila (circumcision), and is waiting, looking in fact, for strangers, just so he can greet them and offer them hospitality (hachnasat orchim).

Abraham was the first Hasid, a long time before the advent of Hasidism and the Buber´s philisophy. Rabbi Birnbaum said, “The Abrahamic revolution is more human and social [in my words, a revolution of chesed, — extreme goodness] than philosophic”.

Therefore, the lech lecha ( “go into/for/by yourself” - the reflexive and reflective) was the first step of Abraham's commitment.

We have talked about inner reflection, but also in Lech Lecha, there is the explicit commitment to go to the Land that God promises him — the material commitment with the tangible, with the Land; with the Land that never will be able to be untied from Jewish destiny nor Jewish identity.

Pablo, an ex-classmate of mine, who made aliya a few years ago; after arriving in Israel, decided to be a Jewish atheist — so he never fasts or goes to synagogue on Yom Kippur. Once I asked him about his Jewish feelings, about what made him Jewish. He said, “the Land”. The land that God promised Abraham, is for most Jews their only connection with the Judaism.

The third stage of the commitment to Judaism, as mentioned in our parsaha, is the brit mila (circumcision). I believe that with the brit mila Abraham assume his final and complete commitment with the Judaism. (This even though I have my own doubts about whether Abraham, or the modern Jew, can assume a “complete” commitment. What does this means? Being religious? Living in Israel?) Brit mila is physical. It has to do with procreation, continuity, the covenant with God, and also it is one of the signals to build the Jewish identity. In the last parsha of the Torah, — Ve Zot Habracha (And This Is The Blessing) - we read “Torah tziva lanu Moshe, morshah kehilat Yaacov”. “Moses gave us a Law, a possession of the community of Jacob”. Brit mila, is perhaps the first uniquely Jewish Law; for Jewish parents throughout he ages it had been synonymous with Jewish continuity - with both making a statement about their own Jewish identity and commitment and inscribing that identity on their male children. (Of course this is not the only, or even most effective, way of inculcating Jewish identity. But it is certainly the most outwardly obvious.) Jewish identity, in turn, means to possess the Torah, to possess the Jewish Law, to take possession of the Torah, to make it ours in a deep way. Our sages told us: "The torah has seventy faces". To posses the Torah means that every Jew must take Jewish Law as a foundation and then develop his Jewish life according his own mind.

In Pirkei Avot, Hillel the elder said: Be part of Aaron's disciples, love peace, and pursue it. I believe we should be disciples of Abraham, and consequently to consecrate life, to love the land and the State of Israel, and to commit to our Judaism.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah