And Hashem took Abraham outside and said, gaze toward the heavens and count the stars if you are able! And He said to him, so shall your offspring be!”(Genesis:15:5) With those words, the Torah tells us G-d’s promise,”Jews will be like the stars.”
Something is troubling. Why was is it necessary for Hashem to take a field trip with Abraham in order to impress upon him the vastness of the universe? At the time Abraham was 100 years old. Surely he knew that one cannot count the stars! Rashi, therefore, explains the verse on a deeper level.
Abraham had been told by soothsayers and astrologers that he and Sora would never bear children. Hashem however, took him outside.”Go outside of your pre-ordained destiny,”He exclaimed.”You are no longer governed by conventional predictions. I am taking you outside that realm.”
It’s quite interesting to note that Abraham’s great-grandson, Yoseph, followed literally in Abraham’s footsteps. He too ran outside. Yoseph was about to be seduced by the licentious wife of his master, Potiphar. She claimed she had a vision that a union of Yoseph and her would produce prestigious offspring. (She did not know that Yoseph would legitimately marry her daughter.) In Genesis 39:12 the Torah tells us that”Yoseph dropped his coat and ran outside”. Perhaps he was saying,”I am not governed by your visions and predictions. I must do what my faith and morality teach me. Like my forebearers Abraham and Sora, I go outside your visors.”
Reb Yoseph Chaim had studied under the Chofetz Chaim before he settled in America. He had a very long and tranquil life until tragedy struck. His son Hirschel was in a terrible car accident and the doctors feared the worst. The family did not know just how to tell the news to the aged, yet very coherent, 87-year-old father. The hospital chaplain, Rabbi Schapiro, was asked to drive the old man to the hospital and slowly break the news on the way. This would be the last time Yoseph Chaim would probably see his son alive. When he broke the terrible news, however, the Rabbi was shocked at the old man’s indifference. “Perhaps I didn’t explain the severity of the situation,”he thought. He figured that the scene at the bedside would speak for itself. It didn’t. Reb Yoseph Chaim walked up to the bedside, saw his son connected to a maze of tubes protruding from all over his body, and said to the surrounding physicians, “I guess he’s not up to talking right now. We probably should come back a little later”
The entire family was stupefied. They knew their father had an astute grasp of almost every situation, yet in this instance he could not face reality. The doctors predicted that Hirschel was not going to survive. Yet his father was not even fazed.
Reb Yoseph Chaim looked at all the shocked faces in the crowded ICU. “You doctors think you know the future? I know that Hirschel will be just fine. Let me explain. Many years ago the Chofetz Chaim wanted to make sure that his writings were understandable for the layman. He asked me to read the galleys and point out any difficult nuances. He was very appreciative of my efforts, and before I left for America he promised me, “Yoseph Chaim, if you remain a faithful Jew and Shomer Shabbos, I promise that you will have a long life filled with nachas. You will not lose any one of your children or grandchildren in your lifetime.’ Now gentlemen,” Reb Yoseph continued, “who should I believe?” Needless to say, within weeks Hirschel was out of the hospital. (Reb Yoseph lived to the ripe age of 96 and all his children and grandchildren did outlive him!)
The Jewish people are not controlled by the soothsayers of conventional wisdom. Predictions of defeat were abound when Israel’s army is outnumbered 10 to 1 and — yet we survived. The dire predictions of mass assimilation amidst despair after World War II faded into a rebirth of a Jewish community and renewed Torah education on unparalleled levels. Conventional wisdom had lost hope for our Russian brothers and sisters, yet new embers of Torah Judaism are beginning to glow out of the former bastion of atheism.
We are not ruled by conventional wisdom. Like our forefather Abraham, we Jews are just outsiders.
In honor of our children – by Reva & Sheldon Wayman & Shani & Jay Lerman
Fax-Homily — a project of the Henry & Myrtle Hirsch Foundation
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.