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Parshat Lech-Lecha (5763)
This week we are introduced to the founder and ‘Father’ of Judaism: Abraham. But at first glance it’s not understood exactly what he founded.
The religion of Abraham seemingly has very little in common with the Judaism we know today. In fact it doesn't seem to be much of a religion at all. He left no writings, sayings, commandments or even rituals (save circumcision). All he did was follow orders and do whatever G-d told him to do.
Even more; the Torah tells us that there were righteous people before him such as Chanoch (Gen. 5:24), Methusela (see Rashi on Gen. 7:4) and, of course, Noah.
What was special about Abraham?
We can answer this with a story that occurred some 30 years ago.
David Solomon was what you would call a self-made man. He lived in Manhattan and had built himself up from almost nothing with his own 'two hands'. Today was a multi-millionaire with several factories, had substantial holdings on Wall Street and knew exactly how loud money 'talks'.
Of course there was no place in his life for Judaism and no time for anything except business ... and family.
The most precious of all his possessions was his eighteen year old daughter. She was the apple of his eye. Her picture was on his desk and every wall of his office. He dreamed of the day that she would marry and he would see grandchildren. He even had a special fund saved up to buy her a new house and whatever she needed. And that day would soon be here.
He was sitting in his office when the phone rang. 'Mr. Solomon?" asked an official sounding voice on the other end of the line.
'Have you got a daughter by the name of Sarah Solomon?
Again he answered yes.
"This is a police officer speaking from County hospital. You'd better get down here fast, Mr. Solomon. Your daughter has been in a pretty severe automobile accident."
Mr. Solomon asked a few questions to make sure it wasn't a prank, slammed the phone down grabbed his keys and raced out of the office.
It was a nightmare. She was in critical condition. In a coma. Wires and instruments were attached to every part of her body. The doctors said that it was impossible to operate until her condition stabilized.
He stood there weeping. What could he do? His wife arrived and she too burst out in tears.
The next few days were almost without sleep. They waited in the hall for some news from the doctors. Perhaps she opened her eyes? Perhaps there would be some improvement?
But the only message of hope he received was his father's suggestion that he consult with the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
"He's the only one that can help" his father said. "I have friends that he did big miracles for. If anyone can help you he can. Just go, get an appointment and get to see him.
David's emotions began flipping. At first he was excited; there was hope! But then he became disappointed .. in himself. What? I, Dovid Solomon, a normal, successful, normal American businessman going to Rabbis? And who ever heard of Rabbis doing miracles? Rabbis give speeches and are, at best, communal leaders….what do Rabbis have to do with healing people.
But maybe this was something different? After all, this was a respected Jewish Rabbi. He even heard that he was a great leader, a serious person. He was uncertain.
Then suddenly he was afraid. "I don't do any commandments. I don’t even own a yarmulke! How can I go to this Rabbi? I'll be so ashamed."
But then his confidence returned. He remembered his money. "I'll give a big donation and the Rabbi will certainly hear what I have to say."
Dovid got directions, jumped in his car and drove down to the Rebbe's headquarters in Brooklyn to arrange a private meeting (called 'Yechidut'). There he learned that usually people had to wait for even months but because of the urgency that evening he was given precedence and that evening, many hours later, he was standing before the Rebbe in the Rebbe’s office room.
"Rebbe!" He began to cry. "My daughter had a terrible accident. She is in critical condition. Rebbe, can you save her? Here, here is a check for fifty thousand dollars! For your institutions."
The Rebbe just looked at him without seeming to notice the check and said. "If you want to save your daughter you must begin to observe Shabbat."
"Shabbat? You mean not drive or turn on lights and those things on Saturday? Rebbe," he replied "I can't promise such a thing. I'm a very busy man and I'm not a religious Jew. Here!" he took out his checkbook put it on the Rebbe's desk and began writing, "Here. One hundred thousand dollars! Please, Rebbe, please add this to the first check. Just save my daughter."
The Rebbe looked at him even more intently and said. "Mr. Solomon I am here to help you. That money might help my institutions but if you want to help your daughter keep the Sabbath."
"Rebbe, here!" Said Solomon as he signed his name to another check and placed it before the Rebbe. "It's an open check. Write what you want. Take what you need, just save her!!" He was really crying now. Looking deeply into the Rebbe's eyes for some hope.
"G-d is responsible for her healing." the Rebbe replied. "You must appeal to Him. I can only help with prayer but you must also do your part”. "At least keep the Sabbath. Then your daughter will be healthy and you will even see grandchildren from her."
Mr. Solomon gathered up his checks. Said he would think about it, shook the Rebbe's hand and left closing the door after him. He waited around for a while outside the door hoping that the Rebbe would call him back. But he didn't and Solomon returned to the hospital empty handed.
That night he couldn't sleep. The meeting with the Rebbe made a deep impression on him. The Rebbe's face danced before his eyes saying "I am here to help you, not to help my projects. Keep Shabbat". It was the first time in his life he met a man that was not interested in his own personal profit.
Meanwhile Sarah's condition deteriorated.
"Nu" He said to his wife. This Shabbat we won't drive or turn on any lights. I mean we'll be staying in the hospital anyway so we have nowhere to go. And I think I remember how my father used to make Kiddush; we can at least begin to do what Rabbi Shneerson said."
That Sunday there was some improvement and the next Sunday she opened her eyes for the first time in a month.
Mr. Solomon became a 'Shomer Shabbos' Jew and his daughter Sarah not only became completely healed, she eventually got married and had several children. Just as the Rebbe said.
This answers our question.
Most religions are a sort of investment propositions; invest energy and time according to us and reap profits in heaven and on earth.
So it was with all the other righteous people before Abraham; they were spiritual people but they were interested in benefiting themselves.
But Abraham wasn't interested in himself; only in doing what the Creator wants. And he was the first to reveal that the Creator wants us to perfect His creation.
So Abraham was the first man after Adam that devoted himself totally to fulfilling the purpose of creation; to make this world into heaven on earth.
That is the foundation of Judaism.
We see that Moses was similar. He thought only of what G-d wanted and not at all for himself as Maimonides explains (Yesodi HaTorah 8:1)
And that will be the essence of Moshiach; the ‘Messiah that Jews have been awaiting for thousands of years. His only concern will be improving the entire creation by bringing Jews to Torah and Gentiles to the Noahide Commandments; something like what Mr. Solomon in our story saw in the Rebbe.
Abraham is called the ‘Father’ of Judaism because he inherited this trait to all Jews; even those who convert to Judaism, in all generations.
May we all utilize the legacy of Abraham and do all we can; even one more good deed, word or even thought, to bring....
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