With Rabbi Naftali Schiff.
THIS WEEK we are introduced to one of the greatest revolutionaries who ever lived – a man who changed the face of humanity forever.
Abraham was an iconoclast who forged ahead uprooting not only his own convictions, not only his dear parents’ idolatry, but the entire world’s faith, in the face of that which he believed to be true. Abraham is later known as Avraham Ha’Ivri. The Hebrew “Ivri” means from the other side, as he stood on one side of a metaphorical river and all of humanity stood against him. Interestingly enough, although he is considered to be the first Jew, he is clearly not the first monotheist, as the Torah records God speaking to Adam and Noah, and Rabbinic literature has Noah’s son Shem heading a Yeshiva. So why is Abraham considered to be the first Jew rather than these previous believers?
One explanation that is offered is that while Noah and Shem taught those who came to them, Abraham goes out to the people and actively teaches the world about ethical monotheism. Abraham is the only person in the Bible referred to as God’s beloved. He is the one who makes God’s name known and loved in the world. Abraham primarily does this through his middat hachessed, his trait of loving kindness, of having a tent that is open on all sides to offer food and drink to weary wayfarers. He realises that one who loves God also has to love His children and take responsibility for their wellbeing.
This is in contra distinction to last week’s star character Noah, who fails to capitalise on the opportunity to influence his generation, to the extent that the flood waters are called mei noach, the floodwaters of Noah. Maimonides in his sefer hamitzvot claims there is a mitzvah to follow in Abraham’s footsteps and make God’s name beloved throughout the world.
The Talmud explains that the way to do this is through our personal and interpersonal conduct, that we should be role models and examples of morality and humanity whose behaviour is beyond reproach. To be a Jew is to answer a call to responsibility to be an ambassador of Godliness and goodness in the spirit of our ancestor Abraham. Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Naftali Schiff is executive director of Aish UK.