Why is Avraham so special? The Torah does not grant him the complimentary adjectives that it lavished upon Noach at the beginning of last week’s parsha. His willingness to die on behalf of his belief in one God at the test of the furnace of Ur Casdim is not even mentioned in the Torah text. It was only inferred by the rabbis from tradition and a reference to one word – Ur – in the text itself.
So why is Avraham the father of many nations and generations and the spiritual ancestor and guide to so many millions in the world, even thirty five centuries after his death? The rabbis of Mishna Avot have long ago provided the answer to these questions. They stated that our father Avraham was sorely tested by life and the Creator ten times and he rose greater each time from the experience.
I have often thought that the most remarkable quality of the Jewish people is not necessarily or even mainly its scholarship and its contributions to the betterment of humanity, as much as it is its resilience. This resilience is personified in the life and vicissitudes of our father Avraham. To a great extent we all pray that we not be tested too often or too severely in our lives. Yet simply being a Jew and not deserting the cause of the Jewish people at the time of its need is a significant test.
Many are the critics and enemies of Avraham. Yet he never loses his faith. His hopes for humanity and his loyalty to the values that have guided his way in life survive all of his experiences in life. That is the Jewish definition of the quality of resilience that has become the hallmark of Jewish life throughout the ages.
I have also often thought that the most difficult tests in Avraham’s life concerned members of his immediate family. Throwing one’s self into a fire for an ideal or a closely held belief is not unique to the Jewish people. Even though we may be the leader in continuous world martyrdom we are not the only ones with such a history and value.
Perhaps that is why the Torah did not choose to stress the test of Ur Casdim in its text. But, it does tell us, in painful detail, of the betrayal of Avraham and his values and life style by his ungrateful nephew, Lot. How does one deal with such a disappointment? Yet Avraham goes to war to save Lot and his wealth and it is because of Avraham alone that Lot apparently undeservedly survives the destruction of Sdom.
Avraham’s son Yishmael behaves like a wild beast in human guise. Parents may be helpless and even blameless regarding the behavior of their adult children, but the hurt that those adult children can inflict upon their parents with wrongful behavior is immeasurable. Yet Avraham does not waver, and at the end of his life he lived to see that Yishmael repented and returned.
It is the unwavering courage and tenacity of Avraham, in the face of all defeats, hurts, hostile enemies and false friends, that most impresses us about our father. This strength of constantly renewing resilience is the legacy that he has bestowed upon us, his generations and descendants.
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com