GOOD MORNING!! It’s a great portion this week. If you can’t make it to Synagogue, at least try to give it a read. I was reading Macbeth the other day – and loving it. But the Bible is a totally different league – and this portion in particular. And just like you need a decent commentary or Shakespeare won’t mean much to you, also the Bible. Don’t just read the words, listen to what they really mean.
I just want to check something. Have you been appreciating the autumn (fall) colours? I’d like to think that at least one time this autumn, you will stop your car and be awed by the incredible beauty of God’s world for a few moments, even minutes. I find that simply driving down some of the streets near me is like wandering through the Louvre with its priceless paintings. Actually, the Louvre has nothing on Western Avenue or Leeside Crescent! And this is London. If you are on the East Coast of America right now, I am very, very jealous. Make sure you indulge in God’s stunning masterpieces while you can.
Abraham is told by God to leave his land. He doesn’t hesitate, appreciating that just because you don’t understand God’s reasons doesn’t mean He’s not right. Upon arrival in the land of Canaan, there is a famine and Abraham leaves for Egypt, again understanding something fundamental: if you go with God, things will ultimately work out – but it will be in God’s timescale and way, not necessarily yours.
He returns to Canaan and wages war with a few of his servants against 4 mighty kings in order to free his nephew. With God on his side, how could he lose?
Abraham is blessed with a son, Yishmael – father of the Arab nations. He circumcises himself (must have had a steady hand for a 99 year old) and his household and is finally given tidings that another son will be born who will continue his legacy of awakening the world to Ethical Monotheism.
Abraham was tested with a series of challenges, a number of which are in this week’s portion.
Usually, when testing someone, one would expect the tests to increase in difficulty. If a person can pass a difficult test, he can certainly pass an easier one; but not necessarily vice versa. However, when we look at the order of the first two tests, this does not seem to be the case: Abraham’s first test comes when Nimrod, the local dictator, takes an intense dislike to his monotheistic ideas and offers him a simple deal. Either he bows down to Nimrod’s idol, or Nimrod will throw him into a particularly hot furnace. Abraham chooses the latter and only through God’s timely intervention does he survive. Abraham’s second test is that of God asking him to leave his homeland and travel to Israel. Surely this is an easier test than the first one (even if some who have been to Israel may not agree!)
The Rabbis explain that the second test was indeed harder. The first test required Abraham to establish what he was willing to die for – and die for it. The second test is actually a step further; not to die for his values – but to live for them. It’s so much easier to die for something you believe in, than to live for it. Because dying for what you believe in requires you to make the decision only once. Most people would die for their families – but how much time do they spend with them? Many Jews, if faced with the choice, would die rather than convert to another religion – but how much effort do they put into living their religion? Most people would die rather than kill another human being – but how much time do they put into helping others live?
Most people can, in times of adversity, rise above themselves to levels of greatness they didn’t know existed within them. It is much rarer to find someone who can do so on a daily basis. Abraham was such a person. As his descendants, we have that ability within us also. ‘Find out what you are willing to die for and live for it’, said my teacher Rabbi Weinberg a”h. ‘Until then, you haven’t really begun living.’
Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt