This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Lech-Lecha (5768)
This week we read about Abraham, the father of Judaism.
This story is, at first glance, very confusing and a bit disappointing. Abraham did no miracles, delivered no impressive sermons, promised no everlasting salvation or bliss and didn't even have a following.
Nothing like the founders, saints or heroes of the other religions.
In fact when I read this first book of the Bible after leaving University as an almost totally assimilated Jew, it so perplexed me that it triggered off a quest for truth that changed my life.
I realized that I knew nothing about even the basics of Judaism; its founders, and began searching until finally I found the answer, and become an 'observant' Jew.
Perhaps the best way to explain what exactly it was that I 'found' is by the following personal story.
Some ten years after I became religious and five years after I moved to Israel (over thirty years ago at the time of this writing). I was riding on a bus in Tel Aviv on my way to the place where I learned Torah (called a Kollel) and struck up a conversation with the man who happened to be sitting along side me.
He was a clean shaven, older fellow, perhaps in his early seventies, wearing a yarmulke and seemed very willing to talk, as though he had a lot to say.
The conversation was pleasant and somewhere in the course of it he mentioned that he had some sort of a degree from some University in Berlin whereupon I told him that I had a Bachelors degree in Philosophy.
He smiled and said, "Ahhh, philosophy! Philosophy? Tell me did you ever learn a philosopher called Martin Buber?" (an existentialist, secular, modern, Jewish philosopher)
When I replied that I had read a bit of him and didn't really enjoy it he said he had an interesting story to tell me and he began speaking.
"When I was a young college man in Germany I attended one of Professor Buber's lectures. It was a lecture not connected to the University if I remember. In any case he lectured about Chassidim and the Chassidic Masters which is something I really wanted to know more about. The man was a brilliant speaker, a captivating storyteller and he kept the crowd literally spellbound for well over an hour.
"Anyway, after the lecture everyone gave him a standing ovation but as I rose to my feet to join them the person sitting next to me, probably figuring that I was an observant Jew because I kept my hat on my head, pulled on my coat and said with a wink,
"'Don't get so excited young man. I'm not sure that the Professor even married a Jewish woman.'
"I was aghast. How could he say such an awful thing! I couldn't believe my ears. 'Don't worry' he continued calmly 'It's not Loshon Hara (slander) he's proud of it, just go up there and ask him.'
"So I approached the podium where the Professor was surrounded by admirers, and as soon as everyone left, came as close as possible and asked in the quietist voice I could muster up.'Professor, thank you for the excellent lecture. I really enjoyed it. But tell me…. Is it true that you really do not keep the commandments? Someone told me this. Is it true?'
"He looked at me with wise, all-knowing eyes and said with a tone of mercy in his voice,
"'My young friend, there are many levels of religious awareness and observance; in general there is the mundane Judaism of Moses which depends on the written word and corporeal commandments and there is the pure Judaism of Abraham; a pristine, unhindered philosophical elevation of intellect to truth. That is my Judaism. The level of Abraham'
"I looked at him in shock and said, 'Why it is the opposite of all the Chassidic masters you just spoke of! And if you ask me it is nothing but pristine unhindered egotism!'
"'You are young.' He answered in the calmest tone he could muster. "When you are older and have some experience perhaps you will understand.' And he turned away.
"Well," my neighbor continued, turning his eyes from mine, "I graduated University and a few years later came the war. I saw a lot of death and destruction, a lot. I went through the camps. Saw my parents and my three brothers and four sisters get killed before my eyes. I saw what it meant to be a Jew in the holocaust. I was there for four years and it was like a million years of hell.
"But then, one day it was over. You probably have to get off soon, right? I'll make it short. (The fact is I was supposed to get off two stops ago and by the time he finished I had missed five stops).
"It took me a year or so to get normal enough to function. Then my uncle, my father's brother in America wrote and invited me to come live with his family so I moved to Los Angeles. He helped me out, got me good job and I began saving money to move to Israel.
"Then one day what do I see in some Jewish paper there in Los Angeles? An ad saying that Martin Buber was going to speak in some lecture hall not far from where I was. Martin Buber of all people!
"I bought a ticket and went there. There he was, the same man, aged a bit, with the same stories and the same philosophical conclusions. I waited till he finished, the applause died down and people started leaving, walked up to him on the stage, shook his hand and said. 'Professor Buber, do you remember me?' He shook his head, apologized and said 'no' and I continued,
"'Well, about fifteen years ago in Berlin I asked you why you don't observe the Torah and you answered that I would understand when I got older and had experience. Do you remember?
"'Maybe, vaguely' he answered, I don't. But what are you trying to say?'
"Well," I said, "I want you to know, professor, that I have aged very many years since then. I've seen things you never saw and experienced indescribable horrors you can't even imagine. And I can tell you that, without a doubt you are completely wrong!! There is no such thing as Judaism without commandments. That isn't the Judaism of Abraham or anyone else.
"You know what he said? He just looked at me and said, 'You do your Judaism and I'll do mine!'
"I looked back at him and replied, 'Right! You do your Judaism, and I'll do G-d's."
This is what I discovered. Abraham was the founder of Judaism because he realized that G-d, the Creator, is making everything constantly, including all the spiritual gods and heavens worshiped by everyone else and he wanted to do things G-d's way.
He was devoted totally to the Creator even if there was nothing in it for him personally; and even if it meant he would lose all he had.
Just like the man that sat next to me in my story.
In the holocaust he saw how Judaism brought only pain and suffering and any normal person would run from it. But nevertheless he chose it. He chose the Creator's way…. together will all its commandments; completely above all logic and 'philosophy' .
Luckily I didn't have to suffer as he, or Abraham, did in order to realize this, probably because of their merits and suffering, but nevertheless I realized it and soon the entire world; Jews and gentiles alike will realize it as well.
That is why G-d changed Avram's name to Avrhaham (17:5); to make him the "father of myriads of nations". (According to Kabala Abraham corresponded to and represents G-d's Love (Chesed) in the creation.)
Namely that through Moshiach (may he be revealed speedily) all mankind will come to worship only the Creator; the G-d of Abraham, according to the Torah He revealed at Sinai (seven Noahide Commandments for the gentiles).
Then G-d will give the Jews all ten lands He promised to Abraham (15:19) and the entire world will be filled with the awareness that G-d is ONE....and that every detail of creation is a miracle designed to show the love of the Creator with ……
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