—No voy a ir con Abram en esta campaña enloquecida —Eshkol pisoteó sus largos y ágiles pies en el piso de mosaico de la casa de Mamre—. ¡Es un suicidio!
—¿Cómo puedes pensar en abandonarnos, Eshkol? —Mamre respondió desde lo profundo de su grueso pecho—. Quebrantarías nuestro pacto sagrado con Abram, ¿por cobardía?
Aner, el mayor de los tres, observaba el debate con creciente preocupación, y se puso de pie para interceptar Eshkol antes de que se acercara a corta distancia de Mamre.
—Vamos, vamos, Mamre —Aner afirmó en tono tranquilizador, mientras agarraba a Eshkol—, no hay necesidad de hablar tan despectivamente de nuestro hermano.
—Mamre, hemos luchado codo con codo con Abram en escaramuzas previas y pequeñas incursiones —dijo Eshkol secamente—, donde me vi amenazado personalmente y en peligro. Pero lo que Abram propone ahora es nada menos que un suicidio. Para atacar a legiones de Amrafel, luego de que ellos hubieran destruido con éxito los ejércitos combinados de Sodoma y Guemará, es simplemente una locura. Estamos hablando de enfrentar a los trabajadores y los esclavos contra los soldados profesionales de Amrafel.
—No trates de asustarme —Mamre respondió con enojo—: Soy leal a Abram hasta la muerte, y más aún al Dios de Abraham, quien visiblemente lo protege como un niño favorecido. Abram tiene que rescatar a su sobrino de Amrafel, y nosotros, sus hermanos de juramento, tenemos que ir con él. El Dios que protege y bendice a Abram continuará protegiéndonos y bendiciéndonos a nosotros también.
—Yo también creo en su Dios —explicó Eshkol—. Sin embargo, en contra de un enemigo tan formidable, bien podríamos matarnos nosotros mismos aquí en casa — nos ahorraríamos el viaje, y al Dios de Abram la molestia.
Aner se aclaró la garganta, consiguiendo la atención tanto de Mamre como de Eshkol.
—Yo también tengo miedo de una empresa tan trascendental. Sin embargo, no podemos renunciar a nuestro hermano Abram —dijo Aner.
—Por situarnos así en una posición tan imposible —Eshkol replicó—, Abram es el que nos está abandonando. No voy a desperdiciar mi vida en contra de toda razón.
—En primer lugar —Mamre levantó un dedo fornido, hablando con voz cada vez más fuerte—, Abram no nos ha pedido ayuda. En segundo lugar, Abram , nuestro gran hermano, no pensará menos de nosotros por no unirnos a él. En tercer lugar, y lo más importante – te está faltando fe. ¡Fe! Si no tienes la fe de que el Dios de Abraham , el Dios único , como Abram nos ha enseñado, que el Creador y Señor de la Tierra, pueden hacer milagros más allá de nuestra imaginación – entonces tal vez es mejor que se queden en casa . Aunque creo que eso rompería mi corazón y tal vez nuestra amistad —Mamre se sentó pesadamente, mirando a sus huéspedes.
Eshkol estaba sin habla. Tenía la boca abierta por las declaraciones de Mamre. Se sentó con aire taciturno. Después de unos momentos de silencio incómodo se explicó:
—Puede ser cierto que el miedo es mayor que mi fe. Sin embargo, no puedo vivir con mi amistad siendo interrogada. Sólo necesito un poco de esperanza más tangible – algo concreto que la razón esté por encima de la inquietud.
La confesión de Eshkol fue recibida con un silencio incómodo.
—Entonces, permítanme sugerir una idea que me acabas de inspirar —Aner rompió el silencio—, que me anima y que puede darte la prueba concreta que necesitas. Amrafel acaba de reconquistar y saquear toda la llanura de nuestros vecinos ricos de Sodoma y Guemará. Si por algún milagro el Dios de Abraham colocara a Amrafel en nuestras manos, los tesoros de la guerra irían más allá de lo que hemos visto.
—Esta es sin duda una meta más tangible —Eshkol dijo con más entusiasmo—, aunque igualmente suicida.
—El botín sería nuestro por convención —añadió Mamre—, y sería realmente monumental. Aunque eso no es lo que finalmente me atrae, y estoy seguro de que tiene poco atractivo para Abram.
—Estamos de acuerdo entonces —el mayor Aner miró significativamente al delgado Eshkol—, que estamos juntos en esto y tenemos como condición explícita que una parte justa del botín es nuestra.
Eshkol miró pensativamente Aner y luego a Mamre. Tenía un miedo mortal de atacar a las legiones de Amrafel. La imagen de enfrentarse al ejército de Amrafel hizo temblar sus piernas y dar vuelta su estómago. Pero no podía hacer frente a la posibilidad de ser tildado de cobarde. Tal marca sería su ruina. Y la idea de decepcionar a Mamre, y lo que es peor , al santo Abram, era más de lo que podía soportar. ¿Cómo podía abandonar a sus amigos, sus hermanos de juramento? Siempre habían estado ahí para él, especialmente Abram. Abram era muy amable, gentil y sabio, sin embargo, tan fuerte, firme y valiente. Él sabía en su corazón que seguiría Abram hasta los confines de la tierra.
El viejo Aner tenía razón. La idea del botín era una buena distracción y disminuía el temor. Y Mamre también tenía razón. El Dios de Abraham había hecho milagros para Abram contra todo pronóstico. En realidad, era poderoso.
—Yo estoy con vosotros —Eshkol declaró emocionado—. Me equivoqué al sembrar la duda, incluso en nuestra amistad.
Mamre dejó salir una lágrima de sus ojos.
—Mi querido Eshkol —Mamre casi gritó mientras agarraba el antebrazo de Eshkol—, siento haber cuestionado tu amistad. Esta será una gran aventura.
En ese mismo momento, como por inspiración divina, Abram entró a la casa de Mamre.
Aner fue el primero en darle la bienvenida y rápidamente empujó a Abram dentro del abrazo de Eshkol y Mamre.
—¡Salve Abram! —Aner exclamó—: ¡Príncipe de Dios!
—¡Salve Abram! ¡Príncipe de Dios ! —Eshkol y Mamre respondieron.
—Estamos contigo en todos sus angustias. ¡Sé fuerte y valiente! —cantó Aner .
—Estamos contigo en todas sus angustias —Eshkol y Mamre respondieron al unísono—. ¡Sé fuerte y valiente!
“Reyes pueden ser jueces de la tierra, pero los sabios son los jueces de los reyes.” -Ibn Gabirol
Yo era un niño en Caracas, Venezuela, cuando me encontré con el rabino Ovadia Yosef, entonces Gran Rabino de Israel. En mi mente joven comprendí que el era un rollo de Torá ambulante. Había visto algunos rollos de Torá antes. Contenían nuestra antigua tradición escrita. Ellos eran sagrados. Les reverenciamos. Aquí había una versión humana, con brazos y piernas, ojos, oídos, una boca que derramó palabras de Torá y una poderosa mente enciclopédica que contenía y compartía un océano de Torá.
Algo tiene que me ha tocado en ese día que aún debo llevar tales recuerdos de tres décadas y media más tarde.
Dios le dice a Abraham que va a ser una bendición para otros. El Netziv, en Génesis 12:02, explica que las bendiciones de Abraham fueron especialmente eficaces y potentes. Fue buscado por príncipes y reyes por su consejo y bendición. El Netziv relaciona esto con el dicho talmúdico que cuando uno está enfermo, se debe buscar el “Chacham” (sabio). No sólo debe uno buscar las bendiciones potentes del “Chacham”, pero tal vez más importante, uno debe seguir su consejo.
Que tengamos la suerte de conectar con sabios y benditos.
En recuerdo de Rab Ovadia Yosef. El pueblo de Israel han perdido un gran sabio.
“Kings may be judges of the earth, but wise men are the judges of kings.” -Ibn Gabirol
I was a schoolboy in Caracas, Venezuela, when I met Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, then Chief Rabbi of Israel. In my young mind I understood he was a walking Torah scroll. I had seen some Torah scrolls previously. They contained our ancient written tradition. They were sacred. We revered them. Here was a human version, with arms and legs, eyes, ears, a mouth that poured forth words of Torah and a powerful, encyclopedic mind that contained and spread forth an ocean’s worth of Torah.
Something must have touched me on that day that I should still carry such memories three and half decades later.
God tells Abraham that he will be a blessing to others. The Netziv, on Genesis 12:2, explains that the blessings of Abraham were particularly effective and powerful. He was sought out by princes and kings for his council and blessing. The Netziv relates this to the Talmudic dictum that when one is sick, they should seek out the “Chacham” (sage/wise one). Not only should one seek the potent blessings of the “Chacham”, but perhaps more significantly, one should follow their advice.
May we have the good fortune of connecting with wise, blessed people.
In memory of Harav Ovadia Yosef. The people of Israel have lost a great sage.
“Each blade of grass has its spot on earth whence it draws its life, its strength; and so is man rooted to the land from which he draws his faith together with his life.” -Joseph Conrad
Our Matriarch Sarah dies and Abraham spends a veritable fortune to buy a plot to bury his wife. The Torah goes into painstaking detail as to the negotiations, the back and forth, the language each party used and the final sale price (400 shekel, the equivalent back then to buying a high-rise apartment building in Hong Kong).
It is curious the amount of time the text spends on Abraham’s purchase of land in Israel, his determination to buy the land at all costs and his refusal to accept it as a gift. The Ibn Ezra (on Genesis 23:19) suggests an answer.
He offers that there is something special, something unique about the land of Israel. He explains that out of all of the land on the planet, out of all of the countries in the world, Israel is the best place to be buried. It is the ideal resting place for the dead.
He adds one other comment. It is also the best place for the living.
In memory of my grandmother, Mrs. Zahava Rosenthal, who died last week in New York and was buried in her ancestral plot, in Haifa, Israel. Attached are links to the eulogy I gave (original Hebrew or English translation).
Our Matriarch Sarah is considered to have been one of the most beautiful women to have ever lived. Her beauty was so extraordinary, that even into her eighties monarchs sought to possess her. Her husband Abraham, fearful of being assassinated on account of his wife, by men that would covet her, came up with the subterfuge of pretending she was his sister. This did forestall any murderous intentions, but let the kings claim her with limited trouble.
God intervenes directly, protects Sarah from the paws of amorous rulers, and arranges for Sarah to be returned to Abraham untouched. Avimelech, the King of Grar (the second monarch, after Pharaoh of Egypt, to go through the frustration of claiming Sarah, only to have to give her back to Abraham), bestows a gift upon Sarah (“ksut einayim”), translated as “a covering for the eyes.” There are multiple interpretations of what this means.
The Ibn Ezra (to Genesis 20:27) explains that it was some unique type of headdress, which on one hand covered Sarah more, so that it would be harder for men to gaze upon her beauty, but on the other hand was a sign of prestige, signaling to others that she was a noble woman.
Ibn Ezra further theorizes that Avimelech’s extraordinary gift included something (it’s not clear to me if it’s an object, a protective force of slaves, a law and/or a press release) that allowed Sarah to drop the pretense of being Abraham’s sister, and made public the fact that they are married and that she is not to be pursued. Now, Abraham’s existence and presence as her husband would be Sarah’s defense against inappropriate interest in her.
I’ll refrain from any further wishes or comments, as the last time I wrote on this subject, I got some heated responses. Everyone draw their own conclusions.
To Shoshi Taragin and Gidon Kupietzky on their engagement. Mazal Tov to them and their families!
“If a man happens to find himself, he has a mansion which he can inhabit with dignity all the days of his life.”-James A. Michener
Gravitas, Pietas, Dignitas and Virtus are the classic Roman virtues whose Latin names have survived to English and many other languages since. Both gravitas and dignitas underscore the fact that the more serious or successful a person becomes, the weightier they become (and I don’t mean pounds-wise, though there is certainly a literary connection).
Ibn Ezra (to Genesis 13:2) brings our attention to the antecedent to that concept from the Hebrew language and specifically from the story of Abraham.
“And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the South. And Abram was very heavy in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” Genesis 13:1-2
Ibn Ezra explains that to be weighed down with money, with livestock, etc. leads to honor. According to him, the term for honor (kavod in Hebrew) is derived from the word heavy (kaved). Likewise, the opposite of honor, disgrace (kalon) stems from the word light (kal).
So when someone calls another a lightweight, small fry, inconsequential, you now know that it stems from the Hebrew terms of light and disgraced. Likewise, heavy-hitters, big shots, heavy-duty (kaved) are all deserving of honor (kavod), because of their personal gravitas.
May we only be drawn by the gravitational pull of worthy heavyweights.
On the birth of my newest niece, Chana, to Dr. Elisha and JJ Kahen.
“The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand.”
Frank Herbert (1920 – 1986)
About four millennia ago, the world was polytheistic. There was an ingrained, widely held belief that there was a multiplicity of gods. A god of the sun, of the river, of rain, of fertility, major gods, minor gods, gods in human form, gods with animal characteristics, gods of gold, of silver, of stone, of clay. Whatever the human imagination could construct, the human spirit could believe in.
In preparation for redeeming the Hebrew nation from the bondage of Egypt, God names each of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in His announcement to Moses. The Ohr Hachayim (Exodus 6:3) states that it was in the merit of each of these great founders of the Israelite line that the Jewish nation was released from slavery. The Ohr Hachayim explains what the greatness of each Patriarch was. In explaining the greatness of Abraham, he claims that it was for one reason alone: Abraham’s discovery of God.
The Ohr Hachayim declares that it’s no big deal to believe in God when you are taught so from childhood. To have the belief in God as part of your upbringing, culture and social reality is good and proper, but doesn’t compare to the challenge of someone who had to figure it out for themselves. Someone who can look at a pagan world, at a world consumed by materialism, self-worship and the worship of strange gods (movie stars, athletes, money, etc.) and can still find and reveal the divine in this world is worthy of redemption for himself, his progeny and those around him.
May we rediscover God every day.
To the first blessing of the Silent Prayer, where we actually bless God, the God of our Patriarchs, the Shield of Abraham.
“Our character…is an omen of our destiny, and the more integrity we have and keep, the simpler and nobler that destiny is likely to be.”
-George Santayana (1863 – 1952)
The people of ancient Sodom were reportedly a highly unsavory crew. God, despite Abraham’s pleas, decides to literally wipe the city off the map. One man and his family however, are destined to be saved. Lot, nephew of Abraham, is the only half-decent man in the entire metropolis. His wife and two unmarried daughters are absconded out of the city by an angelic task force.
However, according to the Ohr Hachayim (Genesis 19:1) Lot was not necessarily deserving of the destined salvation. He claims that the first purpose of the angels’ visit to Sodom was to create a merit, a reason, a justification for Lot to be rescued from the impending doom. Lot does achieve that merit, by graciously hosting the visiting angels. By offering his hospitality in an inhospitable city, by showing kindness where cruelty surrounded him, Lot earned deliverance. If Lot had not lived up to this Abrahamic heritage, he would not have survived Sodom. However, God first had to give Lot the opportunity, the chance to perform this good, even heroic deed in order to save himself.
Lot grabbed the chance God gave him with both hands and thereby merited salvation and the destiny in store for him. He had no way of knowing, of course, that his hospitality was a direct cause of the predestined rescue.
Destiny does await us and opportunities to achieve it surround us. May we realize the chances God gives us to do good, in order to reap the rewards.
To all the Alyn bikers, for their predestined and amazing completion of the ride. You are inspiring.
“You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt;
as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear;
as young as your hope, as old as your despair.”
– General Douglas MacArthur
The Wise Men of Marvel Comics, in their marketing wisdom, subtitled their superhero Daredevil, “The Man Without Fear.” Now Daredevil was not particularly powerful. He couldn’t fly. He didn’t have super-strength, was as fragile as any other mortal and had no special powers. His only unusual ability was that he had an internal radar/sonar that let him know what was going on around him. This was particularly useful to him, as besides not having conventional superpowers, Daredevil was also legally blind.
Despite his limited super-abilities, the character of Daredevil was truly fearless. He tackled armies of goons, the biggest crime-lords in the city, and of course powerful super-villains. All he was armed with was his billy-club, his radar-sense, his fighting and athletic prowess and his faith.
The Ohr Hachayim talks about another man with no fear. Our Patriarch Abraham. Armed with just his faith in God, Abraham leaves his home, his country, his people and ventures forth to an unknown destination. According to the Ohr Hachayim (Genesis 12:3), it was this faith, this fearlessness, that made Abraham blessed.
Not only was Abraham blessed, but he was perhaps the most blessed of all mortals. His blessing would be eternally powerful. Those who bless him and his spiritual descendants are in turn blessed, and the descendants likewise carry this power to bless. It only depends on one thing. Faith. And to achieve that faith, we need to let go of fear.
May we achieve faith, fearlessness and blessing and follow some of the footsteps of Abraham (or Daredevil).
To some of the fearless women in my life:
To Tamara, for her fearless and successful recruiting mission to England (she is now the Assistant Director of Midreshet Tzvia – some of you may also recognize her inspiration in this week’s story).
To my mother, for yet another move to a strange new land – Geneva!
To my grandmother, for a quick recovery from her hospitalization – please pray for Zahava bat Sa’ada Tichye.
God had spoken with Abram before. This time, though, Abram smelled menace in the air. The Divine Will exerted its force on Abram and led him to a clearing in the forest, on top of one of the mountains that ran through the length of the land of Canaan. The clearing was bare except for a light carpet of thistles that had fallen from the tall pines surrounding the clearing. A light chill in the night air reminded Abram that winter had not yet released its grasp of the early spring.
“Fear not, Abram,” resonated God’s voice through the clearing, “I shall be a shield for you, and your reward shall indeed be great.”
At first Abram could not respond. God’s presence always overwhelmed him. He needed to calm his thoughts and feelings. After some moments of meditation, he built up the gall to say what was on his mind.
“Lord God, what shall you bestow upon me? I continue childless, while Eliezer of Damascus is my heir apparent. Behold, you have given me no seed, and one of my household shall inherit me. And my nephew Lot, in whom I had placed some hope, has left my path.”
“That one shall not inherit you” responded God, “but one that shall venture forth from your own loins – he shall inherit you.”
A great wind lifted Abram up over the roof of the forest, and carried him high above the cedars and pine trees below. He had a vision of himself even older than he was now, with a child in his care. The child looked remarkably like himself.
Abram felt himself flying through the cool spring night, and was filled with both wonder and fear at the experience.
“Gaze upon the sky and count the stars if you can,” God challenged Abram, “so too shall be the numbers of your progeny.”
Abram gazed upon the countless sparkling lights in the clear night. He gasped at the import of what God was telling him. It took him a few moments to accept that from a single old man, a multitude of humanity would emerge. He believed it, and in God’s ability to make it so.
In the early hours of the morning, the wind set Abram back in the clearing where he had started from, where the conversation continued.
“I am the Lord that brought you out of the furnace of Kasdim, to give you this land to inherit,” God explained.
Abram was then given a view of the full length and breadth of the land of Canaan. From the snow peaked Hermon Mountain in the north, to the sandy beaches of the south with its dazzling coral reef on the shores of the Reed Sea. He saw the lush forests of the Galilee, teeming with wildlife. The rugged hills of the East beside the Jordan River, ripe with vineyards he could almost taste. The fertile plains of the West, where the ground flowered its produce with joy. The rough desert of the Negev where life found a way. And the mesmerizing Great Sea hugging the western coast. Abram wondered how all the terrains and climates of the world were represented in Canaan, in what he knew was a relatively small area.
However, once again sensing the dread in the forest clearing, he asked:
“Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit?” Almost immediately he regretted his outspokenness.
For a moment, there was complete silence. Even the surrounding birds seemed to hold their breath to see what the response would be.
Then God answered, with a voice different than before, like that of a somber judge: “Assemble for me a heifer of three years, and a goat of three years, and a ram of three years, and a turtledove and a young pigeon. Then shall I instruct and answer you.”
Abram spent the rest of the day tracking down the list of animals. He was surprised by what seemed like eagerness to be caught on the part of the animals. The ram had calmly walked up to Abram and started to lick his palm. Abram found two goats together and had to keep chasing one away, while he led his choice back to the clearing. Once he had spotted the birds, they flew towards him, landing on his outstretched arms. He built a simple altar of stones, and methodically sacrificed each of the animals by cutting their necks with his sharpened blade.
Then, as per God’s instructions, he split the carcasses of the heifer, the goat and the ram. He formed a path out of the parts, placing the front part of the animals to his right and the back parts on his left. However, he did not split the bodies of the birds. These he placed on either side of the path, the dove on the right and the pigeon on the left.
When Abram had finished the placement of the parts, he stood up, wiped the sweat off his brow, and looked into the afternoon sun. He saw a bird in the distance, approaching his mountain rapidly. It was an eagle, by far the largest Abram had ever seen. It beat its wings mightily as if pursued by Satan himself. Part of the fear Abram had been feeling materialized. He grabbed his staff in one hand and his blade in the other. His staff would assist him in the physical battle he was certain was approaching. His blade, so recently used in his religious sacrifices, would aid him in the spiritual battle he knew was a part of this struggle.
For a moment, the eagle disappeared from Abram’s view. He heard the wind of the eagle’s passage through the trees to his side. He ran to the opposite side of the clearing, to get a better view of the bird when it emerged from the trees and into the clearing. But the eagle outsmarted him. The bird appeared from the trees just a few paces from him, screeching like one of Hell’s minions. Abram ducked. The eagle’s talons tore into the tree behind Abram and ripped through it, leaving deep gauges in the tree. The eagle made its way to the path of the parts. Abram quickly followed him.
They reached the parts at the same time and faced each other. The eagle was the size of a man.
“I am here to destroy your path,” shrieked the beast with an inhuman voice, “let me go about my work and I will let you be.”
“No,” stated Abram, with more confidence than he felt, “this is a part of my destiny and I must proceed with it.”
“You fool,” laughed the eagle, “you do not even know your destiny, yet you would fight for it? I tell you it is filled with such sorrows and horror that you can not imagine. Your children will be sinners and will be preyed upon by the nations of the world.”
“And I say to you, yet again – nay, you vile spirit! I will teach my descendants to be faithful, a light onto the nations. Begone!” Abram charged the beast raising both his weapons.
The eagle deflected the blows with his wings. A scuffle ensued, spreading about the carefully placed parts of the path. The eagle distracted Abram by shaking his wing in front of him and then striking a gauging blow with his talon from underneath. Abram was able to parry the attack with his staff, and then with all his might he thrust his sword through the wing and into the torso of the beast.
The eagle disengaged from Abram with a shrill cry. “We are both right, my poor Abram. Your children shall be a beacon to the masses, but they will also suffer like no nation on the earth. Only in their faith and their clinging to God will their souls be saved.”
Without warning, the eagle then took flight and screamed out of sight, never to be seen again by man.
Abram straightened the parts that were disturbed during the fight. The setting sun tinted the horizon a dark red as it dipped into the Great Sea. Suddenly a terrible weariness overwhelmed Abram. The full horror of the darkness he had been expecting descended upon him and he found himself in the realm of the spirits.
A voice that could only be God’s spoke to him:
“Know surely that your descendants shall become strangers in a strange land. The people shall enslave and afflict them for four hundred years,” God declared ominously. “But the enslavers I shall also judge, and then your children will be freed, and with great wealth!”
A vision of a great desert kingdom appeared to Abram. He saw thousands upon thousands of people performing hard labor. Pulling and building and dying, all for the egos of demented rulers that considered themselves demi-gods. Constructing great monuments to death, while draining life from all around them. Abram saw his descendants struggling to keep their identity amidst the tyrannical pressures of their oppressors. He saw the appearance of one named Moses, in whom a major event of creation – the acceptance of God’s Law, would come to pass. He would forge and lead his people from the crucible of Egypt.
The flow and paths of history then became as the threads of a tapestry. The tapestry was infinitely wide, extending from the beginning of time until its end. The threads were the lives and struggles of humanity, and he watched and followed the paths they weaved. The threads were of all colors, some brighter than others. They danced around each other, fighting and clashing through the rhythm of history. Many were cut short. More gave birth to new threads. And a few inspired multitudes and made the whole tapestry brighter.
Abram then started to focus on particular scenes of the tapestry. He saw the birth of his twelve great-grandchildren that would establish the tribes of Israel. He witnessed the subjugation of their descendants by Pharaoh, and their miraculous exodus to the desert. He experienced the conquest of the land, led by Moses’ disciple, Joshua. However, the glory of the conquest would be short-lived. The Children of Israel would forsake their heritage, leaving God and succumbing to the domination of its neighbors. Abram searched for the fate of his other relatives and progeny. Lot, his nephew, who had not lived up to his expectations would sire two nations. They would not be friendly to Israel. Yet a spark of holiness would be distilled from his line, and form an integral part in Israel’s and the world’s redemption.
His concubine’s son, Ishmael, would found a line that would cover more territory and more nations than any other. The divine message would be altered, yet they would be within an arm’s length of true faith and holiness. A grandson, Esav, through sheer might and willpower, would lay the foundation to one of the strongest and most influential of empires on earth. Based in Rome, their materialism and religiosity would change the world.
But only Jacob and his progeny would remain true to Abram’s path, and to them he returned his attention.
He perceived the constant subjugations, exiles and miseries of Israel as the ebb and flow of history. Brief periods of peace and tranquility would allow them to catch their breath before the next test.
God interrupted Abram’s thoughts: “They need not suffer in this world.”
“What is the other option?”
“The errant souls would be consigned to the netherworld.”
“I don’t understand.”
“There are two paths, Abram. The first, the one I have shown you, your progeny, all those that follow your way, shall suffer. They shall suffer torment and misery and persecution as a whole, as a nation, whether any one individual is guilty of sin or not. In a nation, one is responsible for the other. A brother bears the burden of his brother though it not be of his own making. The second path does not have the bonds of nationhood, brotherhood or fellowship. Each soul will rise or fall solely on its own merit. However, the soul that falls shall have none to raise him. His soul shall suffer forever.
With that word, God caused the tapestry to roll itself up and Abram witnessed infinity concentrating into a single point. He finally understood that God was not bound by the strictures of time. God was removed from time, as a painter is removed from his canvas. Though one’s destiny may be predetermined and known to God, it did not remove the individual’s free will.
“Lord God, either choice leads to eternal pain.”
“You perceive the truth, Abram. But the pain of exile and subjugation is endurable. The minions of Hell on the other hand will show no mercy to the fallen individual, to those that have none to raise them.”
“You have cast a great burden upon me. I fear that to decide on the fate of unborn millions upon millions is more than I can carry.”
“You must decide, Abram. Yours is a great responsibility. You will choose wisely. But you must choose. I know your fears. You are afraid that the good will suffer with the bad, that justice will not seem evident and that your line will be swept up and disappear forever.”
“That is my fear. Do I choose certain eternal damnation for many, or do I risk all by allowing the entire nation to go into exile?”
“Fear not! By my life, I promise you this. Your descendants shall never be completely lost in exile. They will suffer. They will suffer more than any other people. But there shall always be a remnant. They will follow the path of the just, and the whole world shall be changed because of it.”
Abram spent the entire day in agonized thought. He asked God to see the great tapestry once again, to try to understand the consequences of exile. This time he started from the end of the tapestry and worked his way backwards. He saw the final redemption, four millennia hence. The social convulsions that would precede the coming of the Redeemer. The rebirth of the nation in its land after its long two thousand year exile. The wars that would engulf the world with weapons too horrible to even dream of. He cried at the calculated destruction of one third of his people. He saw the senseless slaughter. Then he saw it all over again. The pattern repeated itself throughout time. Sometimes it was worse, other times it was merely unspeakable.
The Israelite people would find a home among host nations. They would appear safe and warm in their homes of exile. Once the comfort seeped into their bones, someone reminded them that they did not belong. This was demonstrated forcefully and fatally. But a remnant always lived on.
He felt the majesty of the Second Temple and its heart-wrenching destruction that started the two-thousand year exile. He cheered the bravery of the Macabbees in their struggle for independence. He saw the brief seventy year exile of the First Temple and the drama of Queen Esther in the Persian Empire.
He was overwhelmed by the site of Solomon’s Temple and the presence of God in it. He was amazed by the will of David, the man that would found the royal line. He looked more closely to follow his adventures and was awed that a man could suffer so, yet remain so strong in his faith. David never gave up. He would make himself a vessel for God, and would thereby fulfill one of the more important missions in the tapestry. His line would remain true until the end of days.
He had pity for Saul in his struggle with kingship and wept for the loss of Samson. He was surprised by the role of some women. He saw the leadership of Deborah against the army of Yavin and the bravery of Yael as she killed the great General Sisra.
Then he saw a wondrous sight. The time was shortly after Joshua’s conquest of the land. He saw a left-handed man, leading an army of lefties in a charge against a force ten times its size. And they were singing with joy and faith.
“Who is that, my Lord?”
“That is Ehud, an assassin.”
And Abram looked on as the threads told their story, and as they moved in unexpected yet critical ways.
“Lord God,” he stated with greater confidence than he had felt in some time, “I believe that exile will not be as hopeless as I feared. This is the right course and the one that we must take. God save us.”
* * * * * *
Genesis Chapter 15
There is a midrashic source that states that at the Covenant of the Parts (Genesis, Chapter 15) God gave Abram the choice of a history of Exile for the Children of Israel or eternal damnation for the souls of the sinners. In the process God showed Abram all of history, so that he could make an informed decision. He chose Exile.