Taking it to the StreetsOctober 10, 2013 - 5:00 am
“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”—Genesis 17:7
The Torah portion for this week, Lech Lecha, which means “go to yourself,” is from Genesis 12:1–17:27, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 40:27–41:16.
In this week’s Torah reading we learn that Abram, or as he was now called Abraham, was chosen by God for a unique mission that would greatly shape the world. God created a covenant between Himself and Abraham and all of Abraham’s descendants until the end of time.
The Sages ask: Why Abraham?
Why was Abraham chosen for this lofty position? Indeed, as the Sages point out, Abraham was not the first to discover the one, true God. In fact, Noah’s son and grandsons — Shem and Eber — were fully aware of God and even opened up an academy for the study of monotheism and ethics. Why weren’t they, who preceded Abraham, chosen instead?
The Sages explain that Shem and Eber only taught a few select individuals who would approach them and ask to be taught. Abraham, in contrast, took his teachings to the streets. Literally. Abraham pitched his tent near a busy ancient intersection and set up an inn. There he would offer free food, drinks, a place to sleep, and words about life and God. It was Abraham’s concern for other people and his desire to share the truth with them that made him the perfect man for God’s great mission. Only a person who focused on those around him would be suitable as a messenger of God.
The following story illustrates this point even further. According to Jewish tradition, Elijah the prophet miraculously appeared to a certain rabbi shortly after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The rabbi had gone to the holy site in order to pray. Elijah asked, “My son, why did you go into this ruin?” The rabbi answered, “To pray.” Elijah scolded him and said, “You should have prayed on the road.”
What is the meaning of this story and why would Elijah consider prayers on the road as more powerful than praying at the holiest place on earth? The Sages explain that Elijah was teaching the rabbi that while it was noble to pray on the holy Temple grounds, it is more important to bring holiness to all grounds.
Abraham’s life was all about kindness. He brought ideas of morality, ethics, and godliness into real life where people could encounter them first-hand. Like Abraham, we must also reach out to others with kindness and compassion. While prayer and study are important and praiseworthy, we need to take the ideals that we learn in our churches and synagogues and take them into the streets. We must feed the hungry and clothe the poor, help a stranger, and be compassionate to our own family members.
In this way we will be God’s partners in spreading His light and perfecting the world.