And Adonai said to Avram, "Go forth from your land, your birthplace, your father's house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation; and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and it shall be a blessing. (Gen 12: 1-2)
If he follows God's command, Abraham is promised a new covenant that is so powerful, it will define the Jewish people for centuries to come. God's instruction to Abraham highlights how far he will need to veer from the world he knows. God tells him in three different ways-- leave your home, birthplace, father's house-- and with each description, Abraham must understand that life will look more and more different if he heeds God's call. And yet, Abraham is clear that he has a calling in this world.
In the wake of the discourse that characterized these last months of campaigning, no matter where we stand on the issues and no matter how we feel about the result, it is certain that we have all (willingly or not) left the familiar and we are on a new path. The kinds of hatred that were called out in the days leading up to November 8 are frightening to many as we saw racism, misogyny, xenophobia and anti-Semitism rear their ugly heads. We all know these are evils that must be constantly confronted, but we have seen that they are closer to the surface of the American consciousness than many of us would hope. We know now how difficult it can be for Americans to hear each other, how many disparate, diverse individuals make up this country and how our collective fate is tied to the well being of each individual.
The Rabbis share a midrash about Abraham in which they liken him to a man who sees a palace on fire and wonders where the owner might be. In the story, the owner quickly looks out and identifies himself to the man. Likewise, in the minds of the Rabbis, Abraham looks around and asks: "Is it possible that the world lacks a ruler?" God then looks out to him and says, "I am the ruler, the Sovereign of the universe." About this midrash, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks comments:
This is an extraordinary passage. Abraham sees the order of nature, the elegant design of the universe. It's like a Palace. It must have been made by someone for someone. But the palace is on fire. How can this be? Surely the owner should be putting out the flames. You don't leave a palace empty and unguarded. Yet the owner of the palace calls out to him, as God called to Abraham, asking him to help fight the fire. God needs us to fight the destructive instinct in the human heart. This is Abraham, the fighter against injustice, the man who sees the beauty of the natural universe being disfigured by the sufferings inflicted by man on man.
(Lech Lecha 5771: On Being A Jewish Parent)
I find great comfort in knowing that we are Abraham's descendants. In every generation, Jews are called anew by this covenant to go on a journey and find a new course. We still care about fighting the fires of our time even if we did not start them. How our new course will be shaped is unknown. Can we, like Abraham, follow the voice of the sacred and commit ourselves to the causes we hold dear? Can we live out our Prophets' mandate to work for justice, to eradicate poverty, suffering and oppression in all its forms? Can we continue to work on behalf of the widow and the orphan and all those who are vulnerable in our society?
Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of Palestine, wrote:
When a person feels that he is in great spiritual ruin, he should know that the opportunity has arrived to erect a new building, one that is more lofty and elevated, more stable and magnificent than what had been there previously. He must fortify himself and gather strength to improve his ways and deeds with proper order, a courageous heart, pure desire, and a heart filled with strength and inner joy."
Ken yehi ratzon. May it be so!