To be or not to be? That is the question...No, no, no. How about to do or not to do? Or as Yoda said, "Do or do not..."
I would like to begin this blog with a biblical citation, from Genesis 12:
"Genesis 12: 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. 2I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and curse him that curses you; And all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.”
When we read these words from Genesis 12, we are automatically drawn to God's promise to make of Abraham a blessing. God will bless those who bless Abraham and curse those who curse Abraham. We all know that...we have been taught that year after year after year. This is what we call "particularism." God is singling Abraham and his descendants out from every other peoples of the Earth.
Ok, so what, right? Well, the last part of verse 3 is, in my opinion, the real message. It takes us from being the ones who are singled out and makes it universal: "All the families of the Earth shall bless themselves by you." It is as if God expects Abraham to become a blessing and then to spread the blessing out to the rest of those in the world. This takes it from "particularism" to "universalism."
This past weekend, I was blessed to spend 3 days with a wonderful group of scholars, rabbis, cantors and educators. Each of us are alumni of one of the American Jewish World Service rabbinical/Jewish professional missions to a variety of countries in the Global South. We were engaged, challenged and for many of us (myself included), we found ourselves re-energized. One of the scholars, Rabbi Ed Feinstein, taught us that although God promises Abraham to make his name great and blessed throughout the world, Abraham had a job as well. Abraham was to spread the blessing to all peoples. It is Abraham's responsibility to ensure that all people of the Earth are blessed. This is a huge responsibility - and one that Abraham does not take lightly.
I am drawn to words I wrote a couple of years ago prior to my trip to Senegal with AJWS:
Judaism cares very deeply in social justice and social action. The phrase “Tikkun Olam” has been embedded in my brain since my very first religious school class in preschool. Going out and helping others has been a part of my life and the life of my family for as long as I could remember. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons I am in rabbinical school is to be able to teach others – especially the younger generations – what it means to really live the ideal we find in our Torah: V’ahvtah L’reiacha Kamocha – “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It is this one phrase we find in our beloved Torah that has lead me on my life journey to always seeking to help others in any way I can, especially those in need.
I do intend to write more and discuss more the amazing trip I experienced last weekend as well as the trip to Senegal. However, I wanted to invite you to watch my good friend and colleague Rabbi Menachem Creditor's reflection on our trip and this week's Torah Portion: Vayesheiv:
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukah!
Rabbi Erin Boxt