Rabbi Dr. David Frankel, Senior Lecturer in Bible at The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, discusses our forefather Abraham’s ability to stand up and to be different. How is Abraham, who forged his own unique path, a model of non-conformity for people today?
Full transcription below:
Parashat Lech Lecha introduces us to the pivotal character of Abraham, who is considered the father of the Jewish people. The rabbis discuss the question as to what is so unique about Abraham that makes him merit this important position of the father of our nation. The rabbis discussed different possibilities. One possibility is based on the verse, “והאמן בה‘ ויחשבה לו צדקה” that Abraham trusted, had faith in God and that was considered his righteousness or merit. In this view, Abraham is the great man of faith and therefore the father of our people.
Another view is based on a passage in Genesis 26 which says “עקב אשר שמע אברהם בקלי Because Abraham, heeded my voice.” Abraham is thus seen as the great, obedient and loyal servant of God. Obedience is the great quality that makes Abraham the father of our people.
However, there is a third opinion, which is that of Rabbi Yehudah. Rabbi Yehudah notes the verse in our parasha, which says that Abraham was the עברי, Abraham the Hebrew. What does this mean, the עברי (the Hebrew)? And Rabbi Yehudah explains the entire world on one hand and Abraham on the other hand. In other words, Abraham was able to distinguish himself by taking a unique stand in the world of paganism and idolatry.
That ability to stand up and to be different is what makes Abraham the father of our people. I believe that this is a lesson for all of us because conformism, the need to be part and to conform to others is something natural and something legitimate. Yet we are sometimes called upon to have the courage, the not easy courage, to be different, to be unique, to stand where no one else stands, and to forge our own unique path. This is the great quality of Abraham the עברי, Abraham the Hebrew, the one who stands alone, the one who stands and forges his unique path. And this is the challenge to each and every one of us.
David Frankel has served as a senior Bibile lecturer at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies since 1992. He earned his PhD at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the direction of Prof. Moshe Weinfeld. His publications include “The Murmuring Stories of the Priestly School: and “The Land of Canaan and the Destiny of Israel.” From 1991 to 1996, Rabbi Dr. Frankel was rabbi of Congregation Shevet Achim in Gilo, Jerusalem.