The new Jewish year is still young. The new Parshas HaShavua cycle is but a few weeks old. It is indeed time for new beginnings.
This is part of the reason why we read about the birth of the Jewish nation and of the challenges and successes of the most important man, Avraham Avinu. Can you even begin to imagine the uphill battle he mounted – standing against the entire world and their pagan and polytheistic beliefs? One man against the world and Avraham succeeded beyond his wildest dreams – to this day most of mankind has monotheistic beliefs because of him!
The obvious connection of the haftorah to our parsha is the description of Avraham Avinu. Hashem calls him, “Avraham Ohavi, Avraham, The One Who Loved Me (Yeshaya 41:8).” Rav Yaakov Weinberg, ztl, my Rebbe and the rosh hayeshiva of Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, would often point to this pasuk as the most unique of phrases, a totally different way of portraying a tzaddik and leader of the Jewish people. No one else, not even Moshe Rabbeinu, merited being referred to in such a loving way by HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
Why did Avraham do to merit this highest of compliments? It was all due to his tireless efforts to fight for the belief in Hashem, the One G-d, Creator of the world.
Listen to a Rambam; actually, listen to two Rambams:
“Once Avraham was weaned, he, as a child, began contemplating and thinking day and night, and wondered how the world could follow a fixed path without being directed. Surely it would be impossible for it to rotate on its own! Avraham did not have a mentor, but was immersed among the foolish idolaters of Ur Casdim, where everyone, including his mother and father, served idols, as did he originally. In his heart, however, he continued to contemplate, until he realized the way of truth and understood the ways of righteousness from nature, and knew that there is a G-d who created the world, and besides whom there is no other god.
“He also knew that the whole world was erring . . . Once he achieved this, he began to reason with the inhabitants of Ur Casdim and to argue with them, saying that by serving idols they were not following the way of truth. He broke their images, and began to proclaim that it is not fitting to serve anyone other than G-d . . . Avraham also proclaimed that it was fitting to break and destroy all the figures, so that nobody will err on account of them . . .He went and gathered people together from cities and kingdoms, until he reached the land of Canaan, where he continued his proclamations . . .Since people were coming to him with questions about this matter, he would answer the people so that they would return to the way of truth, until thousands and tens of thousands came to him. These were the people of the house of Avraham. He placed this important principle in their way of thinking, wrote books, and taught it to his son Yitzchak.” (Rambam, Avoda Zara, 1:3, paraphrased)
What an amazing life Avraham lived! We don’t begin to truly appreciate what he accomplished!!
And now listen to the second Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvos, Mitzvah 3, Loving Hashem, paraphrased):
“Our Sages also said that this mitzvah includes calling out to all mankind to serve G‑d and to believe in Him. This is because when you love a person, you praise him and call out to others to draw close to him. So too, if you truly love G‑d, you will certainly spread this true knowledge that you know to as many others as possible.
“We see that this mitzvah includes spreading love for G‑d to others from the Sifri: ‘You shall love G‑d, meaning to make Him beloved among the creatures as your father Avraham did.’
“Avraham, as a result of his deep understanding of G‑d, acquired love for G‑d, as the verse [Ed: in our haftorah] testifies, ‘Avraham, who loved Me.’ This powerful love therefore caused him to call out to all mankind to believe in G‑d. So too, you shall love Him to the extent that you draw others to Him.”
This is the deep and profound depiction of who Avraham was and what he accomplished. Emunah, a strong belief in Hashem was Avraham Avinu’s trailblazing path and work.
And this is the message of the haftorah. Simply read the pesukim and translate them. They are all about basic emunah. Here’s a sample:
“Do you not know? If you have not heard? An everlasting G-d is the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth! He neither tires nor wearies; there is no fathoming His understanding. He who gives the tired strength, and to someone who has no strength, He increases strength. (Yeshaya 40:28-29)
“Who worked and did? Who calls the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, am first, and with the last ones I am He. The islands shall see and fear; the ends of the earth shall quake; they have approached and come.” (Yeshaya 41:4-5) (Based on Judaica Press Translation)
And thus, as we begin the new Jewish year, this week’s haftorah prods us to take our emunah more seriously.
All too often, the Torah-observant community does not teach or communicate an expansive and thorough philosophy of Judaism. We raise generations that may continue to be observant, but without any real comprehension of our beliefs. As a result, many secular Jews see the Torah as archaic and old-fashioned. Many don’t even bother to listen when the Torah is defended and explained. They look at observant Jews in the same way people look at Moonies passing out roses. “The Torah is not for free-thinking, rational people,” they say, and any argument for Torah is automatically fundamentally flawed. They may not be able to counter an argument, but they know that the Torah’s argument must be insane. They are close-minded when it comes to the plausibility of Torah.
What then is to be done?
We must make sure that all of our children, both boys and girls, are well grounded in basic Jewish philosophy. In our day and age, simple faith just isn’t enough to guarantee that children remain observant. It certainly isn’t enough to influence others. If children grow up with a strong understanding of our beliefs and can communicate this understanding to others, then perhaps we will gain the respect we deserve – and the next generation will be looked upon as articulate and wise. After all, the Torah is the oldest, most beautiful, and most logical religion the world has to offer. It is a tragedy that even we Jews do not always recognize this. We must make sure that, above all else, our children and young adults leave our schools armed with this knowledge and awareness.
Rav Yaakov Weinberg would always say that the most important fundamental that should be taught in schools is that of the uniqueness of the Jewish people and Jewish religion. Only then can we guarantee that our children (and ourselves) will not become swayed by arguments against Judaism. By raising a generation of proud, appreciative, philosophically educated Jews, we will have created a respectable reputation for Judaism in the process. And we will have emulated Avraham Avinu.
These are some of the happenings in this week’s haftorah.Rabbi Boruch Leff
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