THE ABRAHAM GENE
Rabbi David Zauderer
Guess what, folks? It's that time of year again! The time of year when we celebrate the birth and life of one of the most important men in the history of the world.
Guess what, folks? It's that time of year again! The time of year when we celebrate the birth and life of one of the most important men in the history of the world. A man whose entire life was devoted to helping the rest of mankind.
A man who preached love and kindness wherever he went. And a man who, even now, thousands of years after his death, continues to inspire devoted followers across the globe to have faith in the Lord, and to live a G-dly existence.
I was driving to a doctor recently, when I saw the perfect billboard ó a billboard that describes this great man perfectly: HE WAS BORN IN A STABLE. HE NEVER WENT TO COLLEGE. HE NEVER HELD POLITICAL OFFICE. YET NOBODY INFLUENCED THE HISTORY OF MANKIND MORE THAN THIS ONE SINGLE MAN.
Yes, the one man who has given more to our civilization than anyone else was Abraham. The first Jew on earth to recognize the one G-d and to publicize His name, spreading monotheism and absolute values and morals across the entire world. Without Abrahamís courageous and daring undertaking, seeking out the Truth of the one G-d in a world full of paganism and hedonism, none of the other monotheistic religions would be here today. (Okay, so maybe he wasnít born in a stable.)
And this is the season ó the weeks following the festival of Sukkot ó when we read publicly from the Torah the portions that describe Abrahamís life and his devotion to G-d and to making the world a better place.
WHO WAS ABRAHAM AND WHO ARE WE?
All of us descend from that one great man, and, as such, we all have a little bit of Abraham inside us. It is therefore important to know and understand just what made this great person tick; what was the stuff that Abraham was made of that enabled him to see the truth through all the idolatry that was then prevalent in the world.
We will thus have a better understanding of just who we are, and how we can use this great legacy that Abraham bequeathed to us, in order to help us see through a lot of the falsehood and "idolatry" of our own times.
I would venture to say that we can sum up the essence of this great man, and what he gave to all of us, in just two short Hebrew words. These two short words were the very first words that G-d spoke to Abraham, when He commanded him in this weekís Torah portion to leave his hometown on a spiritual journey that would culminate in the creation of a new nation. G-d told Abraham: "Lech lecha ó Go for yourself" from your land, from your relatives, and from your fatherís house to the land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1).
Every person is greatly affected in the way he thinks, dresses and acts, by his family upbringing, the local community, and the prevailing culture in society at large. This is an undeniable fact, whether we like it or not. We lead our lives, to a great extent, the way our families led their lives before us, and we often think about issues as important as religion and morals the way the society around us has led us to think. (Today we would call it the media influence.)
So that even when we are confronted with an issue in which we might feel, deep down, one way, we often tend to echo the conventional wisdom of whatever is popular to think at the time, and we go in that direction.
What G-d told Abraham was, that in order for you to follow Me and do the right thing, sometimes it means that you will have to "leave" the influence of your prevailing culture, and of your local community, and even of your fatherís house. (Remember, Abrahamís dad Terach was an idol worshipper.) Then come the key words: "Go for yourself."
Think for yourself. Follow what you believe to be right ó even if thatís not exactly the way youíre used to, or even if itís not so popular.
This was the essence of Abrahamís greatness, what made him run ó and what has kept all of us, his descendants, around and kicking for all these years.
For the past 3,000 years, the Jewish people, by and large, have always stuck to the Torah with its unchanging and timeless values and truths. We have never, nor will never, subscribe to "what everyone is saying" so long as we feel in our hearts that it goes against what G-d would want us to believe.
And all this was the legacy of one man, the man who influenced the history of mankind more than anyone else, by standing up for the truth when the entire world was living a life of falsehood and immorality.
A CASE AGAINST MARRAIGE
Today, as back in Abrahamís day, we are constantly being confronted with all types of false ideologies, which are products of an immoral and almost perverse society in which anything goes. And today, more than ever before, we need to find within ourselves that little bit of Abraham ó that legacy that enables us to "go for ourselves" in order to counter these false ideas, and to stay with the truth of the Torah as we know it.
A case in point: Everybody knows that the institution of marriage is falling apart. The statistics show that at least half of all marriages today will end in divorce. More and more babies are being born out of wedlock to single mothers who desperately try to raise their children without the father. And same-sex marriages are gaining more respectability in our culture ó all of which serve to destroy the beautiful, sanctified, and vital institution of marriage.
So what does our culture come up with as a solution? It has been said that we live in a disposable generation. If it breaks, donít bother fixing it. Get a new one. Donít bother working it out ó get a divorce and try again.
Or, worse, instead of discarding the old one, the thinkers of our society will just broaden the definition of marriage, so that it now includes single parents who cohabit, and same-sex partners, etc.
In other words, if marriage as we know it is failing, thatís no problem. Just rewrite and reshape marriage in such a way that the statistics wonít look all that bad.
Hereís a quote I read recently in The New York Times that I think says it all: "It may be time to think about this in terms of unions rather than marriages," said Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University. "The line between married and single is getting blurred, as more people cohabit. Most of the increase in births outside marriage is in births to cohabiting white mothers. I think the big question, as we go forward, is whether we are going to extend to cohabitors the benefits and responsibilities of marriages, which is the Scandinavian and French solution, or whether weíre going to try to keep a sharp line between married and not-married."
To Abraham and those who follow in his ways, this might seem laughable. Yet it emanates from the mouths of professors and "scholars".
It is precisely at times like these that we need to bring out that Abraham gene in full force and think for ourselves, so as not to blindly follow the conventional wisdom that would distort and demolish that hallowed and holy institution which has kept our world together, and which has been the only proven vehicle through which true values and morals can be transmitted effectively to the next generation.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
I believe that the Torah, our beloved repository of timeless and absolute values, says it best in a verse which is also found in this weekís Torah portion. G-d blesses Abraham and tells him, "And all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:3).
What G-d says to Abraham is that if you stick to the truth at all times, you will be able to transmit this beautiful, monotheistic value system to all your children and descendants, and to the rest of the world as well. (Which he did, I might add, as you can read all about in Thomas Cahillís "The Gifts of the Jews," among other historical works.)
But G-d inserts one caveat ó and it is a crucial one. The nations of the world will only be able to partake of Abrahamís blessing and legacy, and lead moral and meaningful lives, if they are "families". That means that if the basic unit of children living together with parents who are married to each other as a family unit is intact. So it all depends on the family.
And today, we are unfortunately witnessing the pain and misery of so many children and adults who are the products of broken homes and broken marriages, which can only result in the further moral breakdown of society as a whole.
Go for yourself, G-d tells us. Donít follow everything you read in the newspapers or that you grew up believing. Stick with me and youíll be okay.
Abraham did it, and thatís why all of us are still Jewish today ó and proud of it. And thatís something to celebrate. Happy holidays.
Rabbi David Zauderer is a card-carrying member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel.