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CAN YOU BECOME YOUR OWN PERSON?

CAN YOU BECOME YOUR OWN PERSON?

Thursday, 4 December, 2014 - 12:36 pm

The local Jewish Federation charity had never received a donation from the city’s banker, a very wealthy Jew, so the director made a phone call.

“Our records show you make $800,000 a year, yet you haven’t given a penny to charity,” the director began. “Wouldn’t you like to help the Jewish community?”
 
The banker replied, “Did your research show that my mother is ill, with extremely expensive medical bills?”
 
“Um, no,” mumbled the director.
 
“Or that my brother is blind and unemployed? Or that my sister’s husband died, leaving her broke with seven kids?”
 
“I … I … I had no idea.”
 
“So,” said the banker, “if I don’t give them any money, why would I give any to you?”
 
In this week's Torah portion of Lech Lecha a new faith was born: Judaism. The Jewish people emerge on the stage of humanity.
 
“G-d said to Abraham: ‘Leave your land, your birthplace and your father's house and go to the land I will show you.’‫ I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you. Those who curse you, I will curse. All the families of the earth will be blessed by you.”
 
What is the meaning of the last words of the verse, “and you will  be a blessing"?
 
This, says the Talmud, means that at the conclusion of the blessing, only Abraham would be mentioned, not Isaac or Jacob. Indeed, while the opening blessing of the Amidah mentions Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, its conclusion is: “Blessed are you G-d, shield of Abraham."
 
We do not make any mention of G-d being the shield of Isaac and Jacob. The grand finale has only space for Abraham. This seems very strange. Was Abraham afraid to share the spotlight with his son and grandson. Isaac and Jacob?
 
You know the story:
 
A father visits his son’s Sunday Hebrew school near their Temple.
 
“David, how is it going,” the father asks.
 
“Dad,” he says, “it’s great. I’m really learning a lot.”
 
“David, that’s wonderful. Let me ask you a question: Who broke the tablets?”
 
David’s face tensed up. “Dad, I did not do it… I don’t know who did it. I promise you, I never broke the tablets.”
 
The father was angry. He ran to the classroom and addressed his son’s teacher, Mr. Cohen. “Mr. Cohen, what kind of teacher are you? I ask my son who broke the tablets and he says that he didn’t do it!
This is outrageous.”
 
Mr. Cohen responds: “Sir, I know your boy now for seven months. If he says he didn’t do it—then he didn’t do it!”
 
The father, who is now furious, runs into the principal’s office. “Mr. Klein. This Hebrew school is a disgrace. You ought to be embarrassed with your institution. I ask my son who broke the tablets and he tells me that he did not do it. I ask his teacher, what is going on in this school, and he tells me that if my son said he did not do it, then he did not do it. Mr. Klein! Is this the type of school you are running?”
 
And the principle responds:
 
“Sir, I understand how upset you must be about this whole broken tablets thing. Let me assure you right now that we will compensate you for those broken tablets. Just give me a receipt… I apologize for what happened."
 
Abraham, in stark contrast to Isaac and Jacob, grew up in an idol worshipping home. He had no background or education. He had to discover truth all on his own. Abraham was a rebel; what he discovered was not fed to him as a child. Rather, he had to smash the idols of his parents and discover his own G-d and purpose in life. Isaac and Jacob enjoyed great parents and grandparents to teach them Monotheism; Abraham had to forge his own path. And it is this reality that has returned to us now in the era before Moshiach.
 
For much of our history, our sacred tradition has been passed down from generation to generation, in an unbroken chain. Fathers and mothers taught their children Yiddishkeit, Judaism, and the children, in turn, transmitted the gift of Torah and Mitzvot to their children. Through thick and thin, they maintained this unbreakable golden chain over millennia.
 
But in the last centuries all of that changed. Particularly in recent years, the chain has been interrupted. At various points over the last 250 years, Jewish parents decided that what was taught to them as children need not be transmitted to the next generation. There were better, more exciting, more promising options for the Jewish future. Today, most Jewish children don’t receive a Jewish education.
 
This can be depressing. Hence, G-d comes to Abraham and says to him: Jewish history began with you and it will reach its apex with you! While in the earlier stages of Jewish history, there were the various models of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob where most kids were raised with Judaism—at the end of exile, the primary model will be that of Abraham: Jews will find the courage to discover the living G-d of Israel on their own! They will find the confidence to rebel against the status quo and the way they might have been raised, and discover their inner Jewish soul, inner Jewish park, and the truth and majesty of their faith through their own efforts.
 
Indeed, in recent years the Jewish Nation has seen a massive movement of Jews searching for spiritual meaning and returning to their roots and heritage. Today more than ever Abraham’s trademark of self-discovery, and man in search of   G-d, is alive and ever vibrant. Today, we have not one Abraham who discovered G-d, but rather tens of thousands. How lucky you are to embrace the Abrahamic legacy of mustering the courage to “smash the idols” that society often creates and remain true to your inner voice, to your inner identity, to the voice of G-d in you telling you “Leave your land, your birthplace and the home of your father and go to the land I will show you.”
 
This is the great challenge and great opportunity of our time. G-d wanted that in our generation, before Moshiach comes, most Jews should be like Abraham—discovering G-d on their own, which always creates a far deeper and more meaningful relationship than when it is just handed down by parents. In fact the Zohar states that Moshiach is going to turn even fine, holy and righteous Jews to discover their own personal and original relationships with G-d.
 
Today, friends, is Abraham’s moment. It's time to take responsibility for your life, to become your own man or woman, to forge your path, and have the courage to break any “idol” that is obstructing your full expression as a human being and as a Jew. The herd mentality will not work for much longer. Our youth crave and yearn to be Abrahams. Thus, they must be shown the way of how to discover G-d within their own hearts, their own souls, and their own experiences.
 
Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky
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