Choosing the Road Less Traveled- A Vort for Lech Lecha dedicated to our Brothers and Sisters in Israel

Princeton university professor Walter Kaufmann described a condition where people are afraid of making decisions.  He called it Decidaphobia.  One would think that a regular person might have this disorder but not Avraham Avinu.  However chazal tell us (Tanchuma Vayeira) that Jewish history was changed forever by a decision Avraham was unsure about.  Following Avraham’s sojourn in Mamre, the Torah describes the covenant that Hashem makes with him.  At the conclusion Avraham gives himself and all his family and followers a bris milah, a circumcision.  However, chazal tell us that Avraham was unsure whether to go through with it.  As a result, he went to speak to Mamre, the ancient Canaanite ruler of where he was living.  It is was Mamre that encouraged Avraham to go through with the command he was given and give himself a bris milah.

One is astonished.  Why would Avrham avinu not be sure whether to follow G-d’s command?  We don’t usually find Avraham doubting Hashem!  Why by this command to give himself a milah would he be unsure what to do?  Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook (Midbar Shur – Drush 21) explained  that the answer to this question lies in another midrash.  The meidrash (Bereishis Raba 47-48)  tells us that Avraham was afraid to do the milah for one reason.  Not that it would hurt him or his family, but because it would make him different.  It would separate him from the rest of society.  When one creates a physical covenant that is foreign to others it tends to make you somewhat unapproachable.  Indeed, the midrash recounts that Avraham told G-d that he was worried that people would not easily follow him after the bris.  Beforehand, Avraham was known as the av hamon goyim, the father of all nations – he was a universal leader.  After the bris, he would no longer be the universal leader to all mankind he once was but be the leader of the Hebrews alone.  Said Rav Kook, it was this change that scared Avraham – losing universal approval and becoming a sectarian Jew.  The equivalent of most moving away from being a leader of a pluralistic social justice movement to being solely the father of the Jewish people.  That is why he went to Mamre.  He asked him whether he should give up on his place as moral leader of the nations to follow G-d down a sectarian path.    Said Rav Kook, Mamre told Avraham that he must not look to his universal stature as important any longer.  Rather, the time had come to become primarily the father of his son Yitzchak and founder of the Jewish nation.  To make Jewish continuity his utmost mission and give up on universal acceptance.  This decision changed Jewish history.  By following Mamre’s advice at that moment, Avraham, although it was hard for him, ensured there would be a unique nation separate from the rest of the world.  A nation that, at times, would have to do things that flew in the face of society.

In these last few weeks, the Jewish people have been faced with the same choice as Avraham Avinu.  Like Avraham our hearts are pained when we see the world so turn on us.  There is no care for Jews murdered in cold blood, no even-handedness in media coverage of Israel.  Open anti-Semitism is expressed by leaders and accepted by those silently listening.  Like Avraham, at times we want to stop acting in our interests and the interests of Jewish people in order to seek that acceptance we so want.  But Mamre’s advice is as true today as it was then.  A Jew is not defined by the approval or endorsement of society.  A Jew is defined by their bris, their internal covenant with G-d and the Torah.  At times we must abandon the natural Jewish desire for love of our fellow man in order to ensure Jewish survival.  There is no way that the world will magically wake up and feel bad for us.  All the explanations and rationality in the world will not put an end to age-old antisemitism.  Like Avraham before us, as scared and unsure of the future as we might be, we must renew our bris with Hashem.  To proudly express our joy at being sectarian Jews that follow their tradition and to confidently state our divinely given right to possess and protect our homeland.  Avraham’s decision resulted in exactly what he was afraid of.  It made him different.  Even unapproachable to some.  But our history has shown that it was the right decision.  Following G-d instead of following what people say is always the right decision.  Although our current struggle as a people is difficult, painful, and even traumatic, the brave decision of our forefather, Avraham, in Mamre is our only solution.

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