Parshat Lekh Lekha
8 Heshvan 5768
October 20, 2007
In every generation, Jews suffer from the anxiety of being different. It is a challenge to see the world differently from the vast majority of other people and even harder to do things differently. Abraham, the founder of our faith, most certainly suffered from this quandary and one has a tremendous sense that the prophets, generations later, also spent a good deal of their time and energy, spiritual and physical, attempting to contend with the competing interests which tugged at the heartstrings of their people to attract their attention.
In this week\’s haftarah, Isaiah is forced at one moment to chide his people for falling prey to the idolatrous tendencies of their neighbors, adopting ways and beliefs that were alien to their own native ideals, while in his very next breath, he is compelled to offer them God\’s encouragement so that they will not feel abandoned as they face the challenges ahead of them: \”But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, Seed of Abraham My friend – You whom I drew from the ends of the earth and called from its far corners (mei-atzileha), to whom I said: You are My servant; I chose you, I have not rejected you – Fear not, for I am with you, be not frightened, for I am your God; I strengthen you and I help you, I uphold you with My victorious right hand.\” (41:8-9 NJPS translation)
God addresses the people directly, offering them encouragement to meet the challenges ahead of them because they are the \”servants\” of God, seed of God\’s \”friend\”, Abraham. They should face the world knowing that they, as Israelites – Jews are not alone. They are not rejected and consequently have no need to search elsewhere because God is with them.
This Jewish challenge of facing the world often seems like a very lonely one. The following midrash takes the above quoted verses from Isaiah and relates them directly to the life story of Abraham. Why? Perhaps, because his life as an individual, his confrontation with life\’s vicissitudes might serve as a paradigm and a source of strength for Jews in every generation: \’But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, Seed of Abraham My friend, you whom I drew from the far corners.\’ (41, 8) – [This refers to Abram whom I drew] from Mesopotamia and its country towns; \’And called thee from its nobles (meiatzileha)\’ – I summoned thee from amongst its distinguished citizens. \’I have chosen you and not cast you away\’ – I chose you when thou were Abram, and did not cast thee away when thou became Abraham. \’Fear not,for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God (verse 10). (Genesis Rabbah 44:3 Theodore Albeck ed. p. 426)
Abraham\’s mission required enormous strength. He had to confront the world with new ideas that often challenged the consensus. One can only sense from this midrash how hard this mission was. Yet, Abraham persevered because God never abandoned him. Neither will He abandon Abraham\’s seed.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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