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Lech Lecha 5781 ~ Oct. 30, 2020

The teacher began the lesson with the story of Abram smashing his father’s idols. For countless centuries this story has been the cornerstone of faith. As the Midrash begins, Abram’s father Terach leaves his idol store for a while and places his son Abram in charge. But when he returns, many of the idols have been desecrated – one has an ax in its hand, another a sledge hammer. And Terach turns to his son and asks “what happened here?” Abram responds “while you were away the idols got into a fight and they began terrorizing each other.” Terach responds, “How could that happen? They are only made of clay.” To which Abram responds “so why do you worship these idols as gods if they cannot help you in your life?”

The student responds: “I seem to be missing something here. How can we revere Abram as our Patriarch if he was a religious vigilante? How can we accept his actions as legitimate? How can we condemn those who fight wars to bring the world to believe in their religious philosophy if our patriarch appears to use a similar motive to destroy another’s religious beliefs?”

The question of the student is clearly legitimate. How can we teach about Abram’s great lesson to the world if his actions were no better than the vigilantes and terrorists of yesterday and of today? Is he any different than those who brought down the statues of historic figures such as that of Christopher Columbus? Should we applaud Abram’s actions or condemn them? What should our response be to the student who proposes such a question? Should we reconsider the lessons of the Midrash in light of the frightening realities in our world today?

Do we dare tell the child that it is only a story made up by the rabbis to teach a lesson? Don’t blame Abram. He didn’t do it. The Torah only tells us that he followed the vision of God and left his ancestral homeland to begin a new experience and teach the lessons of a monotheistic belief in one G-d. Today, the story has no truth. But how could we destroy a story that has been taught and accepted by children and adults alike for centuries?

Should we then say that Abram’s actions and motives were much different. His efforts were not violent attacks on other human beings. Abram simply wanted to teach the tragic truth of life in the world. He used the idols to illustrate that the battles waged behind the gods by man were senseless acts of evil in the name of religion. His actions only came to prove that one should worship Hashem, the God of truth, justice and compassion.

In the eyes of the Midrash, Abram was an innovator and teacher who set out to challenge and make a difference as a living role model of the morality of Hashem. And as we continue to read the lessons of the life of Abraham we will learn that he becomes our patriarch because of his compassion for others, his hospitality, his going to the rescue of others in the midst of battle who have been captured. We can see the shadow of Abram in the face of the first responders and the physicians who during this pandemic have spent countless hours making every attempt to save the life of another despite the danger to themselves. His spirit of compassion was acted out by those individuals who have gone beyond to provide food and clothing for those whose lives have been destroyed by the loss of jobs, income and savings that this pandemic has created. We find these actions in the work of our Jewish Federation that provides air conditioning units to those who cannot afford otherwise. His words were echoed by the religious leaders and by many who attend religious services, and those who offered their own personal prayers of comfort and blessing through prayer, as the rabbis teach us in the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 39:11): “Abraham used to pray for barren women, and they were remembered [i.e., they conceived]; and on behalf of the sick, and they were healed. It was not necessary for Abraham to go to the sick person, for when the sick person merely saw him he was relieved . . . .”

Perhaps the student might then respond: “I hope that our world becomes filled with more people similar to Abraham.” May we all be blessed through Abram and may we continue to live our lives as did Abram, bringing blessing to others.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi K

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782