A Man of ConvictionOctober 3, 2013 - 5:00 am
“While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth.”—Genesis 11:28
The Torah portion for this week is Noach, from the name of the main character, Noah. It is from Genesis 6:9 –11:32, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 54:1–55:5.
Last year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, an interesting image made its way around the Internet. The black-and-white image wouldn’t have been particularly memorable if it weren’t for the circle and words scrawled above it. The picture, taken in Hamburg, Germany, in 1936 during a ship launching, portrays a crowd of people with their arms raised in the notorious gesture meaning, “Heil Hitler!” The circle calls our attention to one man. His arms are folded and he wears a look of utter contempt. Above the circle are the words: “Be this guy.” In a sea of evil conspirators, August Landmesser was a man of conviction who refused to conform.
At the end of this week’s Torah reading we are introduced to Abraham. We are given little information about him and his family, but verse 28 points out that his brother, Haran, had died in Ur. The Sages give us the following background information that fills in some gaps and provides us with a powerful lesson.
According to Jewish tradition, Abraham had badly misbehaved. When his father took a break from the family-owned idol shop, Abraham, already a believer in God, was left in charge. Seizing the opportunity, Abraham acted quickly. He destroyed every single idol in the shop – except for one. Abraham placed a stick in the hand of the only surviving idol. When his father returned and exploded upon seeing the destroyed merchandise, Abraham calmly pointed to the only idol standing and said: “He did it!”
The brazen stunt didn’t go over well. Terah, Abraham’s father, brought him to Nimrod, King of Ur, for punishment. Abraham adamantly refused to bow to any idol and so he was cast into a furnace. Miraculously, not a hair was singed and Abraham emerged untouched from the flames.
After seeing this, Haran also renounced idolatry. He, too, was punished and thrown into the furnace, only there were no miracles for Haran and he died. The Sages explain that while Abraham merited a miracle because of his moral integrity, Haran saw the incident as a duel between Abraham and Nimrod. He was only interested in being on the winning side. The world loves a winner, but God loves a person of conviction.
Friends, we are living in times when God is looking for men and women of conviction. Israel needs friends who will support her, people who will see the truth under the blankets of lies. We need people like August Landmesser who are willing to stand up for what they believe in.
Be that guy.