Abraham was known as an ivri. The most ancient name of the Jewish People, the ‘Hebrews’ comes from this term. It comes from the verb laavor, which means to cross over. The Jewish sages explain its meaning. Abraham crossed to the other side. The entire world was steeped in paganism – human sacrifice, prostitutes as priestesses, debauchery in their temples. But Abraham stood on the other side. Alone. He, alone, saw the truth in Monotheism – and not only practiced it, but promoted it. Not only did he promote it, but he did so at great personal risk. When ideas threaten a society’s very comfortable status quo, the historical response has almost invariably been to try to dispose of the advocates of those ideas. Indeed, Abraham was thrown into a furnace at one point for continuing to teach his ideas.
This is what it means to be an ivri – someone who stands up for truth, even in the face of massive counter social pressure, even if all the world laughs at him or her – even when threatened with dire consequences, perhaps even death. The Jewish People, Abraham’s descendants and spiritual heirs, absorbed and have lived this value over the millennia. Apart from disproportionate numbers of Jewish activists in Twentieth Century movements (for better or for worse) such as socialist, communist, feminist and civil rights, Jews, throughout the ages, have been willing to give up their lives rather than compromise their values. Sadly, they have been given ample opportunity to do so.
But I want to make this personal and practical. And so, I ask my reader, where are you an ivri in your life? Where do you stand up for what you believe in – even though you know that others, perhaps even society as a whole, judge you for doing so? What value do you hold dear enough to fight for? To suffer for? Perhaps even to die for?
In my mind, if there is nothing about which you have an opinion that is different to the mainstream, then who are you other than a product of your society? If no one is disagreeing with you, better yet, laughing at you, you are just following the crowd. And, given the madness of the crowd, you are complicit in that madness also.
My rabbi would always say, ‘find out what you are willing to die for and live for it’. In our times it is thankfully rare that we are called upon to die for our values. But it is very often that we are called to live for them. To stand up for them, perhaps in the face of mockery; to fight for them, perhaps in the face of personal threat. It is a Jewish value and a personal value of mine, to stand up for what I see to be true. To promote it and to fight for it, if necessary. Thankfully, I have never been called upon to die – and pray that I never will. But I would like to hope that there are values dear enough to me that I would even go that far.
‘If you have nothing you are willing to die for, you are a walking tree’, Rabbi Weinberg would say. If you are not an ivri somewhere in your life, then what are you?
Parsha in a Nutshell
Three strangers visit Abraham. He is not aware that they are angels but treats them as one would royalty nevertheless – for every human being is indeed a child of the King of Kings. What could be more regal than that? The ‘men’ head off to Sodom and Gemorrah which they promptly destroy – having first saved Lot, Abraham’s nephew. Lot becomes drunk and has a bit too much of a good time with his two daughters such that both become pregnant. Isaac is born to Sarah and Abraham passes the greatest test of his life – that of being willing to sacrifice his son and all of his dreams in order to listen to God.