Categorized | D'var Torah

Abraham continued to face his challenges

Posted on 26 October 2017 by admin

In Parashat Lech Lecha, Avram, whose name will be changed to Abraham, becomes the central figure in the Torah’s narrative when God tells him to go forth to the land of God’s choosing. God promises Avram wealth, land and children; all he has to do is accept that God is God. Our rabbis tell us multiple stories of Avram’s realization that there’s one God and now God is talking with him and guiding him. He would have been excited to go! He had no way to know that following God would lead to such difficulty.
He arrives in Canaan only to find that there was a famine in the land … a disappointment, maybe, but manageable. After some time in Egypt, his nephew Lot gets kidnapped. Avram gets a small army together and rescues him, but this is not a quiet life. And in spite of God’s promises, Avram and Sarai have still not been blessed with any children yet. Avram must be thinking — I did what I was supposed to, so what’s going on? This isn’t the way it was supposed to happen.
Then, adding insult to injury, when making another covenant with Avram, God calmly explains: “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years… As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; You shall be buried at a ripe old age.” (Genesis 15:13) That’s right — Avram is told that he will live a long and healthy life, but his descendants — they get to look forward to generations of slavery.
Following God hasn’t led Avram to a life of ease. It’s been one challenge after another. And if that’s not enough, the portion concludes with another covenant between God and Avram. This time, after his name is changed, Abraham is told that he has to circumcise himself at the age of 99 — along with Ishmael, and his entire household. So, when God tries to reassure Abraham that he and Sarah will still have a child together when Sarah can clearly no longer have a child, Abraham falls on his face laughing. He responds, “O that Ishmael might live by Your favor!” (Genesis 17:18), or in other words, “That’s a good one, God.”
Is it any wonder that Abraham is laughing at God? Our rabbis talk about how Abraham was tested. He doesn’t have commandments to follow, except for circumcision. Instead, he gets tests. Time and again, promise after promise, Abraham was tested. He was tested by nature, he was tested by society, he was tested by family, and he was tested by God.
Abraham’s laughter and response to God demonstrates that even Abraham can doubt. Even for Abraham, life can be overwhelming. And when God comes with one more reassurance that Abraham no longer believes to be reality, the promise of Sarah having a child — he would have been justified in yelling at God. Instead, he laughs. And when God tells him again that it will happen, he listens and follows through with the circumcision.
This is why Abraham is such a good role model. In spite of the anger or despair, in spite of the hopelessness that he may have felt, he gets up every day, affirms the life he has been given, and faces the challenges that await. And because God knows this, God says that Abraham shall be a blessing. He shall be a blessing, not because of the challenges that he faced, but because he continued to face them, appreciating life all the while. That’s inspiration for us all.
Charlie Cytron-Walker is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville.


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