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What is Your Family's Story? #751

11/04/2022 06:20:58 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Lech Lecha: “Our forefathers have been forced out of many, many places at a moment’s notice -- “Maybe that’s why we always wear our hats.” Fiddler on the Roof.

What is Your Family's Story?


For American Jews, one of the most treasured features of life is the fact that few of our families have been in this country more than three or four generations.

What is your family’s story?

Did yours escape Russia or Poland more than a century ago?

Does your family have Holocaust survivors?

Did your parents or grandparents leave successful lives in Iran, Iraq, Syria or Morocco with only a suitcase and a few possessions?

Did you or anyone in your family look across the ocean, embracing a vision to live a more successful and rewarding life in the United States?

If “Yes,” then yours is the story of Abraham and Sarah – Judaism’s first couple, who we are introduced to in this week’s Torah portion.

Their story is virtually identical to so many Jewish families who have roamed the earth for almost 4,000 years.

From Biblical times to our Exodus from Egypt, from our expulsion from Israel to persecution, discrimination and rejection throughout the world, we have always been on the move.

Each one of us is descended from this “DNA.”

As this week’s parashah opens, we meet Abram and Sarai, a couple that seemingly has it all. They are wealthy. They are influential. Abram is a respected diplomat. But is it enough?

God speaks to Abram, commanding him to leave his comfortable environment, and “go forth” to “the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

My mentor, Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz, of blessed memory, had a teaching about this. He answers the question, “Why would anyone want to leave their comfortable lives to settle in a new country?”

First, God promises Abram, later renamed Abraham (father of many) that, “I will make you a great nation.”

But the promise does not catch Abraham’s attention.

God resumes: “And I will bless you.” Abraham still does not commit.

God continues: “I will make your name great,” Still no response.

It is only after God promises, “And you shall be a blessing,” do Abraham and Sarah start packing.

They leave their home in southern Turkey and settle in Israel.

I was recently listening to my mentor, Rabbi Ehrenkranz, of blessed memory, on tape musing about why it took that final promise for Abraham to accept the challenge.

“This is my favorite passage in the Torah,” he shares.

“Because I think that each one of us wants to be a blessing. When we walk into a room, we want everyone to welcome us someone they want to be with. We want to be acknowledged that our lives mean something. Every one of us can be that too!”

In this week’s Torah portion, there are narratives, which make the story of Abraham and Sarah as fresh today as then.

They remind us that each one of us is descended from immigrants. Some of those who came to this country, arrived out of desperation. Some like Abraham and Sarah emigrated to embrace new possibilities.

And each time we moved, in some way we echoed God’s commandment to “go forth” to a new Promised Land.

We are the products of those ancestors. In spite of the many challenges we face these days, over the past 250 years, this country has provided us with the safest haven for the longest period in our history.

And the benefits have been mutual.

And therein lies another prediction contained in this week’s Torah portion.

God tells Abraham, “And I will bless those who bless you.”

Indeed, while the United States has been kind to the Jewish people, Jews have excelled and have elevated this country in return. We have positively contributed in many areas, including science, the arts, education, political involvement and community service.

Per capita, Jewish people support charitable organizations at a higher rate than almost any other measurable ethnic or religious group in this country.

A Hebrew word that I think best defines the Jewish journey is “Sulam”- “a ladder.”

The word Sulam, comes from the biblical story of Jacob’s ladder and it challenges us, as individuals, families and groups to “climb” every day of our lives.

And in so doing, we become better people. We bring meaning to our lives. We uplift humanity.

Friends, these are times of great apprehension. Many on all sides of the political spectrum are espousing debunked theories and tropes that malign or stereotype Jews. 

Yet, one of the most encouraging signs this week in the aftermath of tirades by a cadre of sports and entertainment personalities, is the response this week by the vast majority of Americans.

They have declared in so many ways that there is no room in this country for haters – whether they focus their attention on Jews, African Americans or others who speak, pray and love in God’s image.

Indeed, each of us is descended from those who came to this country with open hearts and a desire to contribute. 

It is upon that imperative of change and growth, which begins this week with Abraham and Sarah, that this country is based.

The Talmud teaches that when a child strays, it is incumbent upon us to love them even more. Let us, therefore, not recoil or become cynical during these challenging times. Rather, let us interact and contribute even more.

God promised Abraham 4,000 years ago, “And you shall be a blessing.” Let us continue to follow that path.

Let us therefore as families, as citizens and community members continue to bless this country. For this country has been a blessing to us.

I have faith on this, the first anniversary of my American citizenship, days after I cast my vote here for the first time, that this is still a good country.

This country was not established only upon the values of the Founding Fathers, but also upon those of our mothers, fathers and grandparents, who came to America with hopes and dreams that have made us, and this entire country, stronger.

As the Torah inspires us to consider this week, blessings can be a two-way street. For perhaps it has been our destiny since the time of Abraham and Sarah to share the Jewish vision with others.

Who are the Abrahams and Sarahs of your story? For indeed, upon their shoulders we have blessed this country. 

And we have been blessed in return.

Shabbat Shalom, v'kol tuv.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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