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Home » Lech L'cha, Tragedy

Jewish Pride in Times of Despair

Submitted by on October 29, 2022 – 9:04 pmNo Comment | 738 views

When G-d told Abraham to travel from the home he had built in Haran to Israel, he and Sarah gathered their household and went. Who were the members of their household? The Torah tells us that it was Lot, their nephew, and the souls they had made in Haran.

Who were these souls? Our sages tell us that while in Haran, Abraham converted many men and Sarah converted many women to monotheism.

While in Haran, they traveled throughout the countryside and taught monotheism. Abraham wrote many manuscripts detailing his many forceful arguments. He organized mass events at which he lectured about G-d and the fallacy of paganism, and he talked to people wherever he saw them.[1]

Abraham and Sarah likely had an open home in Haran as they later would in Israel, where wayfarers were welcomed. During these visits, Abraham would surely conduct classes and discussions with the men while Sarah would talk to the women. Over the years they built hup a large following of men and women who abandoned their parents’ pagan practices and embraced monotheism.

When Abraham and Sarah prepared to depart Haran, these men and women stood to lose their mentors and inspiration. They did not want to remain behind with their families because they had more in common with Abraham and Sarah than with their pagan families. They likely also did not feel strong enough to withstand the real and social pressures that would surely be exerted upon them to return to the pagan fold.  Abraham and Sarah, therefore, took them along.

Sadly, not even one of these souls remained with Abraham and none of them became members of the Jewish people. They and their children abandoned the path that Abraham taught them.[2] This raises a simple question. If none of these people remained, why does the Torah tell us about them? If they never completed the journey, why does the Torah tell us that they began it?

The Journey
Many will tell you that the journey itself is the reward. Perfection, goes the argument, is beyond human reach. We should, therefore, not expect to become perfect. Life is about trying. We all fail and stumble but that is okay. The journey itself is the victory.

But this doesn’t apply to our question. These men and women weren’t guilty of journeying all their lives and never arriving. They were guilty of stepping of the path. Of completely abandoning montheism. So, what is the point of talking about them in the first place? What is the point of telling us that they began a journey that they failed to complete?

Response To Despair
The answer lies perhaps not so much in what these people did, but in what Abraham and Sarah did. Let’s remember that the Torah doesn’t tell us that these people went on Abraham’s journey. The Torah tells us that Abraham and Sarah took them on their journey. The Torah’s emphasis is on Abraham and Sarah.

While living in Haran, Abraham and Sarah were in a difficult spot. They had been exiled from their birthplace in Ur, Mesopotamia, because of their beliefs. It had become dangerous for Abraham to remain in Ur. Word had spread that he was a heretic to the pagan gods, and he was imprisoned. When he was released, it became clear that they had to flee for their lives. Had they remained in Mesopotamia, their lives would have been forfeit.

So, they left and traveled to Haran. They did not want to be in Haran, a place where the populace infuriated G-d with their behavior.[3] They wanted to go to Israel. But they couldn’t. Not until G-d would give them permission to enter the Holy Land. So, they waited in Haran.

What would you do if you had escaped a country because of your beliefs and found shelter in another country that was just as dangerous? Most people would hide until the opportunity arose to escape again. If they had to go out and mingle, they would conceal their beliefs. They would do all they could to blend in.

After the Holocaust many Jews sadly came to the new country and concealed their identity. They refused to risk their lives and the lives of their children. Much safer, they figured, to live in America as non-Jews than to reveal their Jewishness and risk further antisemitic attack.

Many of these survivors informed their children at a later stage, which gave these children a chance to embrace their heritage. The tragedy is that many went to their deaths without revealing their secret and these children are lost to the Jewish people.

Many of these former children feel a spiritual tug today and can’t pinpoint what it is. They suspect their parents were Jewish for one reason or another, but they can’t prove it. Cowering in the face of danger is a normal and understandable reaction, but the Torah wants us to know that it is not the Jewish way.

Respond to Darkness with Light
When Abraham and Sarah fled to Haran, they did not hide nor cower. They did not try to blend in or assimilate. On the contrary, they lived by the motto that the best defense is an aggressive offense. They went public in the most public of ways. They organized mass rallies, published books, recruited a following, and before long, established a base right in Haran.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t hide in the darkness. You are a Jew, and you stand for light. We are a light unto the nations. Not a people that seeks the cover of darkness. Not for us are the bubbles of safety. We stand with pride, and we share our message. It is not our way to proselytize. We are not in the business of recruiting people for Judaism, but we certainly don’t hide our Jewishness from the world. We don’t keep the world in the dark. On the contrary, we teach them Jewish values and G-d’s timeless lessons for all people.

Abraham and Sarah showed us the way. They blazed our trail and paved our path. They lived through their share of challenges and darkness. But they showed us how to prevail. When faced with despair, don’t cower in fear. Hold you head up high and continue to share the light. Tell the world who you are and what you stand for. Share your timeless Jewish values and they will come to respect you.

So, next time you walk down the street, take the kippah from your pocket, and wear it with pride. Don’t worry about what the neighbors think. Let them worry about what you think. Trust me, when they see you respecting yourself, they will respect you too. Next time you are in your sukkah, don’t be afraid to lift your voice in song. You are a Jew and you earned it. Next time you step out of your home, check to make sure there is a Mezuzah on your door. Let your neighbors know that you are Jewish and let them respect you for it.

We have had enough darkness. It is time to take our place in the light.[4]


[1] Maimonides, laws of Avodah Zarah chapter 1.

[2] Pirkei D’ Reb Eliezer 29.

[3] Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 11:32.

[4] This essay is based on Chaim Veshalom, Genesis 12:5 by Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapiro, the Munkatcher Rebbe.