The Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation. And I will bless you. And I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those that curse you. And all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” (Bereshit/Genesis Chapter 12, Verse 1 & 2)
Each time I read or hear these verses, drawn from this week’s Parashat HaShavua of Lech Lecha, I well-up with a profound sense of pride. After all, who could imagine a more powerful and uplifting Divine Assurance than the notion of Abraham’s descendants — and specifically we, the Children of Israel — being embodiments of God’s blessings in perpetuity? I am blown-away by the idea of our very existence being a source of eternal uplift and inspiration for the entire human family. What a tremendous privilege and humbling honor.
But for many, myself included, the challenge of being a blessing is a bit daunting. So how do we as individuals — and as an entire nation — actually cultivate the gift of this unique status and become sources of Divine Favor?
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known colloquially as RaSHI, the great medieval biblical exegete insightfully points out that God pledged to Abraham that, though our progenitor would be outstripped by his spiritually elevated offspring, Isaac and Jacob (and their life partners!), any blessings that the latter ancestors brought into the world, would be credited to Abraham. And that is why in our worship services, the Avot section, which explicitly mentions Isaac and Jacob, ultimately ends with Abraham’s name alone at its conclusion. Abraham alone receives the Zechut, the merit, of being our Av, our Patriarch par-excellence. So if RaSHI is correct and Isaac and Jacob reached even higher levels of spiritual transcendence than Abraham, what made the first Hebrew so special that our Avot blessing, which is recited thrice daily, would end only with his name?
One possible answer to this query is that Abraham’s initiatives and endeavors were more radical and thus, more praiseworthy. After all, without his creative audacity and groundbreaking ideas and efforts, there would be no framework or foundation upon which to build. Isaac and Jacob, and all of us, are forever indebted to Abraham for creating the solid base upon which the future of humanity, and most especially people in search of meaning, consequence and ethical living, was erected and is sustained.
Abraham our father became the embodiment of blessing because he was brave and bold enough to take the first-steps into uncharted and unexplored terrain. He and his holy, sacred and revolutionary oeuvre will surely never be forgotten. And may we, like our great founding father, be wise enough to not only give credit where credit is due, but also continue to perpetuate his legacy of innovating, creating and blazing new spiritual frontiers.
Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose is The Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Senior Rabbinic Chair of Congregation B’nai Amoona. He is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Light.