Natanya and Rabbi and Program Director for Bridges for Hope – Gesharim LeTikva
Why Did God Reveal Himself to Abraham?
Several years ago, a synagogue member asked me: Why did Abraham plead so much with God to help the foreign people of Sodom, yet didn’t even bother to plead with him to save his beloved son Isaac in the Akeda?
I have struggled with this puzzling question for many years.
Although I haven’t yet found an answer that completely satisfies me, I begin my thinking with the premise that our Torah portion is not about the blind obedience of Abraham, who lived in a time and a culture in which human sacrifice was possible. On the contrary, I believe our parasha is about a new educational perception with a new set of values.
Our Torah portion opens with the verse (Genesis 18:1): “And the Lord appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day.”
One theological question that our sages have been asking for centuries, arising from reading the opening verse, is: Why was Abraham so deserving of God’s revelation to him? In other words, why was Abraham in particular chosen by God to found The Hebrew nation in the land of Israel?
Rashi (Rabbi Solomon Ben Isaac, France, 1040-1105), provides us with two explanations:
- Abraham was chosen by God for the mitzvah of Bikur Holim (visiting the sick). Abraham was in the third day of recovering from his own circumcision, and God was visiting him.
- Abraham was chosen by God for the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, audacious hospitality. Although Abraham was in the process of recovering from his circumcision, he still wanted to perform this mitzvah. God wanted to help Abraham so instead of Abraham going out to look for guests, God brought guests (the three angels) to Abraham.
Rabbi Ovadia Sforno (Italy 1475 – 1550) stated that the reason for the revelation was that Abraham was the first person who was deemed worthy to carry out circumcision both on his own flesh and on his son’s flesh.
In our Torah portion there is another verse (Genesis 18:19):
“For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.”
We can summarize by saying that there are at least three possible reasons for Abraham being chosen:
- Abraham’s ‘audacious hospitality’ – his willingness to help others, even when he himself is in physical pain.
- Abraham’s values – he will educate his children and future generations that the way of God is the way of justice and righteousness.
- Abraham is willing to enter himself and his children into a covenant (Brit) with God.
- And maybe God had mercy on Abraham because of his circumcision.
We do not know for certain the reason why God chose Abraham. Maybe it was the combination of all the above-mentioned explanations. I believe that we can learn from our Torah portion that we should always be in a process of searching for our values and good qualities, to improve ourselves, since we are both the descendents and students of Abraham.
This journey of deepening our Jewish consciousness will help us to achieve precious moments of spirituality and elation. When we pray, we try to reach God through dialogue, and when we hear the reading of the Torah we are hearing the voice of God speaking to each one of us. Revelation is not something random and coincidental, but the opposite, the result of a process of continually improving ourselves, doing good deeds and learning the ways of God.
I hope that we all continue the traditions and the teachings of Abraham and Sarah, to keep the covenant with God, to do justice and righteousness, to help the needy in our midst, and to search for the spiritual, in Israel and in the whole world.
We are sharing the sermon through the courtesy of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. We are immensely grateful to the WUPJ.