2018-10-10 / Religion Column

What was it about Abraham that made him stand out?

RABBI EPHRAIM EPSTEIN
Congregation Sons of Israel

Parashat Lech-Lecha
Gen. 12:1-17:27

There is a beautiful custom observed by Jews around the world on the holiday of Sukkot called Ushpizin—which means “Guests.” On each of the seven nights of Sukkot we invite into our Sukkot one of the Seven Shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moshe, Aaron and King David. The Chassidic masters explain why we invite them every year. They explain that with every New Year, we start anew and reengage with G-d and our connection as a Jew to our national history and destiny; therefore it is necessary to invite again the historic spiritual founders of our nation to learn from them and deepen our relationship to the laws, values, and truths they brought to the world.

As we begin reading the Torah again, we meet our father Abraham. Abraham discovered G-d, rejected the false belief systems of his day, and is the father of our nation as well as all monotheistic religions until today. The prophet Isaiah references Avraham as Avraham Ohavi—Abraham, my Beloved. Why is Abraham referred to as Gd’s beloved?

As believing Jews and students of the Bible, we are aware of many of the great achievements of Abraham. Lech Lecha—He was willing to travel to Canaan, a foreign land sight unseen to fulfill the command of G-d. Brit Milah— Circumcision, at the advanced age of 99 Abraham circumcised himself to fulfill the Mitzvah of Circumcision. Of course Akeidat Yitzchak—The Binding of Isaac, after waiting a lifetime for progeny, G-d initially commands Abraham to offer Isaac on the altar as a sacrifice. Abraham’s belief and devotion to G-d are complete and unmatched. The Talmud states that G-d tested Abraham 10 times and he passed all 10 of them with flying colors.

However, all of our patriarchs and matriarchs were also outstanding people who gave of themselves selflessly and provided timeless teachings and values for our nation. Isaac allowed himself to be bound on the altar to G-d. Jacob worked for 20 years day and night to win the hands of Leah and Rachel to build the 12 tribes of Israel. Joseph was jailed in Egypt, and when brought before the Pharaoh of Egypt to interpret his dreams, shared in no uncertain terms that it is the G-d of Israel that provides him with the insight to interpret. Moshe conducted the Ten Plagues of Egypt. Aaron, David…So what was it about Abraham?

Perhaps the answer is in another reference to Abraham as Avraham Haivri. We often translate this as Abraham the Hebrew. The commentaries advance that there is a deeper meaning of these words Avraham Haivri. Ivri also means— The Other Side. The implication is that the whole world was on one side of the world, while Abraham was on the other side.

In his time, the whole word worshipped idols; Abraham stood up and rejected idolatry. In his time, the whole world practiced Human Sacrifice; Abraham rejected the common practice of Human Sacrifice. Abraham is G-d’s beloved because he was willing to stand up against the tide and for divine truth.

We are the children of Abraham. In a world where so many of the values that pervade our society are antithetical to the Torah G-d presented to us, we must also stand up and stand out even when it is inconvenient to do so. It is this practice and conviction of remaining separate and loyal to G-d and for the timeless truths of Torah that has sustained us until today. It is the modeling of our father Abraham that will fortify and strengthen us for generations to come until the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of Jerusalem soon in our days.

Shabbat Shalom. 

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