Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Abraham’s Journey: Reflections on the Founding Life of the Patriarch

Abraham’s Journey: Reflections on the Founding Life of the Patriarch, are a series of essays from various sources, culled by the editors of this series from the writings of the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

Like many Jewish commentators, the Rav views Abraham as a Jewish archetype.  One reason is that Abraham adopted monotheism and was bound to the Torah well before it was given.  There is a Jewish side to Abraham, one that was concerned with his Jewish progeny and the mitzvoth.  The Rav also sees the other side of Abraham, his universal approach and appeal.  He will become a father of many nations, not just the Jewish nation and his ideas will move beyond the Jewish people.  As such, his impact is felt everywhere.  Importantly for Jews, the essential tension in Judaism between its parochial and religious goals, and its universal messages play out in Abraham’s life, utterances, and actions.

The Rav says: “The Jew is a member of humanity.  G-d’s command ‘to be fertile and multiply; fill the land and conquer it, dominate the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every beast that walks on land’ is addressed to non-Jew and Jew.  As human beings, Jews are duty bound to contribute to the general welfare regardless of the treatment of them by society.”

Then the other side.  Jews are bound by G-d's covenant.  The Rav says: “The covenantal commitment creates an existential tension, because the Jew has a commitment the non-Jew does not understand.”  So Jews must obey the universal element of Judaism, it commitment to justice, peace, and equality, while also following in the way of “an elected community” which started with Abraham's call from HaShem.

In this work the Rav lays out one of the fundamental conflicts and challenges to modern Jewish people: both how to belong and diverge from society. Abraham is a great jumping off point for this speculation, as both the first Jew and the first ethical monotheist.  He is the first to encounter this timeless struggle.

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