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One was Abraham... Parshat Lech L’cha

10/29/2020 12:23:55 PM

Oct29

 

Avraham in white on a hill at sunset/sunrise

Four thousand years ago, there was a guy named Avraham (Abraham).

Four thousand years ago... Hammurabi was a century away. The Phaistos Disc, the world’s oldest, weirdest archeological find, whose languages and even purpose are still a mystery, was yet to be made on Crete. There were still mammoths in the Arctic.

And yet humans had been writing for a thousand years. Empires were rising and falling, cultures being born and vanishing into the sands. Trade, warfare, city-states, agriculture, animal husbandry, mining and even bread baking and cheese-making were already well known as was brickmaking, astronomy and tower building. Bronze was the metal of tools, weapons and ornamentation. Regional cults and gods, human-animal totems and sagas of legendary heroes and gods gave order to what must have been a fragile human existence.

Amid this misty age of god-kings and mythology, one figure emerges. Did people know who Abraham was in his lifetime? He deliberately chose to live on the fringes of empires, wandering in the wastelands on the crossroads of the great trade routes with his wife Sarah, building altars from stones, not bricks, and always on a journey to places on no map, describing borders of a civilization yet to be.

His emergence into history occurs in this week’s Parsha in the days, says the Torah, of the great kings Amraphel of Shinar, Arioch of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer of Elam, and Tidal of Goiim who swept down on the vassal-states of ancient Canaan and seized captives and goods.

One of these was Abraham’s nephew, Lot. Abraham does not hesitate. Reckoning nothing with kings or power, he and his small force ambushes the kings at night and drives them out of the region in a devastating surprise attack. All of the captives are rescued and the grateful rulers fete their rescuer in the valley of the Kings at Salem -- Jerusalem itself. The priest-king, Melchizedek blesses Abraham and the gathered rulers proclaim him their lord protector and his G-d to be supreme.

But Abraham wants nothing to do with empires or alliances or politics at all. He refuses all spoils and heads back to the deserts and wastelands where he and Sarah resume their work of creating a community: of taking in the exiled, the lost, the alone to forge a new kind of connection: a connection based not on tribe or power, not on a god who must be served through conquest and offerings, but a G-d who dwells in the human heart: a G-d who calls upon us not to be perfect but to perfect the
world.

This momentary intersection with history shows something meaningful. To the people of that time, and maybe for centuries afterwards, the names of those ancient kings were as recognizable and famous as names like Napoleon, Caesar, Ivan the Terrible. Abraham was the obscure outrider who stormed out of the desert to rout the powerful god-kings and then vanish from the stage.

But over the ages this perception flipped. Now, eons later, we recognize in Avraham a new way of being human. And the god-kings and their followers? Still with us. But as human evolution slowly unfolds we are less and less interested in them and their noisy fanfare and weapons. We are more interested in men and women of spirit, of discovery, of science and of healing: and Avraham, who dared to look beyond the idols and the hierarchies, was the prototype of them all.

G-d’s message to Avraham: get moving. And that is what he and Sarah and his descendants have done, growing in consciousness, compassion, awareness and creativity. We must remember that though we of Israel are Avraham’s familial line, so are the children of Ishmael, the children of Lot, the children of Esau. Avraham is the parent of all who look into the heavens and the human heart and are filled with awe, wonder and reverence. That line is where our destiny lies and that parentage is the one we cling to as we make our way forward.

Wed, April 14 2021 2 Iyyar 5781