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Parshat Lech-Lecha (5761)
Avraham was the first Jew. He is called ‘Avinu’ (lit. Our father), because we inherited our ‘Jewishness’ from him and only from him we can learn what a Jew really is.
In the beginning of this week’s section G-d tells Avraham (at that time his name was Avram) to go out of his Land, his birthplace, and the house of his father, in other words; out of the categories of Nation, race and religion.
That is why till this very day Judaism is none of these three. We can see that Judiasm is not a nationality; the Jews have been without a homeland or any common land for almost 2000 years and never the less they still exist and even identify themselves as Jews. Even today, with the existence of the so-called ‘State of Israel’ the majority of Jews (and about 25% of those born in Israel) don’t live in Israel because Judaism is not a nationality.
Judaism is also not a race, Jews from Yemen, from Russia, from Morocco, and from England, just to name a few, have almost no common racial or character traits, yet they all call themselves Jews.
Judaism is not even a religion in the normal sense of the word. Religion is part of life, for the religious a very important part, but a part nonetheless. Judaism, is the opposite; life is just part of Judaism, that is why so many millions of Jews throughout the ages willfully parted with their lives in order not to be separated from their Judaism.
The reason for all this is that Avraham went out of his land, birthplace, and father’s home and made a special covenant with G-d which separated him and all the Jews after him, from the rest of the world. All the other peoples in the world are part of the Creation (and therefore can be defined by Religion, Race and Nationality). The Jews, however are part of the CREATOR, and therefore, just as G-d cannot be defined, so also they defy all definition.
But the main accomplishment of Avraham, his connection with G-d, was not in order that he be different but rather that he became the source of blessing for the world; for the non-Jews as well.
That is why his name was changed from Avram ‘Exalted Father’, to ‘The father of many nations’ thus making Jewish blessings available to all mankind.
Like the story about the fourth Rebbe of Chabad, Rebbe Shmuel; once he stopped his carriage in a non-Jewish village in the middle of a long trip and when he exited the carriage all the villagers actually bowed down to him. Those accompanying him were amazed; non-Jewish townsmen bowing to a Jew?! The Rebbe calmly turned to them and explained, "Why are you surprised? Didn’t HaShem say to Avraham "And you will be a blessing’"!
A much more exciting story is told of the current Lubavitcher Rebbe. Several years before the fall of Communism the Rebbe began predicting its demise. He even told one Chabad Chassid, Professor Yirmiahu Branover, to prepare a housing development in Jerusalem for the new flow of immigrants.
He sited 1991 as the year of visible miracles and, lo and behold, against all odds and all the experts, it happened just as the Rebbe foretold. The Iron Curtain quietly opened and hundreds of thousands of Jews poured out without a shot being fired or even one single protest march.
Now, among the nations demanding freedom was a small country wedged between Italy, Austria and Croatia called Slovenia. But when it did so, Communist Yugoslavia immediately responded by declaring war.
The situation was bleak for the new fledgling state. The massive Yugoslavian army was planning an air and ground attack replete with chemical warfare tanks and missiles to crush their frail adversary.
But the salvation for Slovenia was to come from a totally unexpected place. It so happened that in Toronto Canada lived a Slovenian Jew called Marian Furlan. He was married to a girl from Israel and one night the desperate Slovenian government contacted him through their Canadian ambassador hoping that perhaps his wife could secure arms or ammunition through some Israeli connection. He replied that although he could not help them in that area, perhaps he could get, a blessing from the Lubavitch Rebbe.
Marian and his wife were not observant Jews but had begun to attend Torah classes in the in the Toronto Chabad House and it was there that they heard about the Rebbe.
They had heard that the Rebbe does miracles, and they knew that nothing short of a miracle would save Slovenia. So they put two and two together and volunteered to ask the Rebbe for help.
The plan was that they would travel to the Rebbe and deliver two impassioned letters for help; one from the Slovenian ambassador and the other from the pastor of the Slovenian Church in Toronto. The pastor included in his plea a request to the Rebbe that he save Slovenia from Communism just as Moses saved the Jews from the evil nation of Amalek when they left the imprisonment of Egypt.
When they finally arrived at the Rebbe’s headquarters it was June 7, 1991 at 4 PM Slovenian time. The Rebbe heard the story accepted the letters and gave his blessing to Slovenia that the fighting should cease and that there would be peace and prosperity. (According to one report he asked for the first name of the Prime Minister and father’s name in order to bless him as well.)
At the time the Rebbe was blessing Yugoslavian Jets were already in the air only minutes away from the Capitol of Slovenia when suddenly they received an order to return to home base.
Unexplainably the Yugoslav government requested a cease-fire and granted independence to Slovenia. The date was Sunday June 7 shortly after 4 p.m.; the Rebbe’s blessing saved an entire nation of non-Jews. Shortly thereafter Slovenia printed a booklet in honor of their newly gained statehood and on and the last page it reads
"A Slovenian Jew personally delivered to New York a number of letters from the Slovene community to the World Jewish Leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson, and on the very day he blessed the Slovenian nation hostilities ended."
This is the legacy that Avraham passed on to the generations of Jews after him and this is the true meaning of what it means that we are G-d’s ‘Chosen People’. We are chosen to bring blessing, peace, and meaning into the world.
And it all depends on each and every one of us identifying with the G-d of Avraham.
May it all happen soon with the arrival of.....
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