Ju­daism

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

In the To­rah por­tion Hayei Sara we read about the gen­er­a­tion change in the fam­ily of our pa­tri­archs, the fam­ily that es­tab­lished the Jewish na­tion. At the be­gin­ning of the por­tion we hear in sor­row of Sarah’s death and of Abra­ham’s ef­forts to bury her in He­bron. The por­tion ends with Abra­ham’s death and burial along­side his wife, Sarah. In the mid­dle of the por­tion, we read about the ef­forts to find a wife for Isaac, to cre­ate the next gen­er­a­tion of the na­tion’s pa­tri­archs.

Eliezer, Abra­ham’s ser­vant, is tasked with find­ing a wife for Isaac. Abra­ham be­gins by warn­ing him not to find a wife from among the women of Canaan, mak­ing his ser­vant swear to this, while telling him to go to Haran, Abra­ham’s birth­place, to find a wife there.

In speak­ing to his ser­vant, Abra­ham men­tions God twice. Early com­men­ta­tors dis­cerned a change in the way Abra­ham refers to God in these in­stances. In the first one, Abra­ham refers to God as “the Lord, the God of the heaven and the God of the earth” (Ge­n­e­sis 24:3); and in the sec­ond one, Abra­ham de­scribes God’s ac­tions in the past and says, “The Lord, God of the heav­ens” (ibid. 24:7) and doesn’t add the phrase “God of the earth.”

Is this dif­fer­ence in­ten­tional? Com­men­tary of the past 2,000 years fo­cuses on ev­ery style change con­vey­ing some idea. Scrip­ture’s mes­sage can­not be re­vealed by quick and su­per­fi­cial read­ing, but only by read­ing slowly, care­fully, and with sen­si­tiv­ity. This kind of dif­fer­ence makes com­men­ta­tors won­der about the sig­nif­i­cance of the term “God of the earth.” How does God’s ruler­ship of the earth ex­press it­self?

Let us look at the words of the great com­men­ta­tor of the 11th cen­tury, Rashi:

“He said to him, ‘Now He is the God of the heaven and the God of the earth, be­cause I have made Him fa­mil­iar in the mouths of the peo­ple, but when He took me from my fa­ther’s house, He was the God of the heav­ens but not the God of the earth, be­cause mankind did not ac­knowl­edge Him, and His name was not fa­mil­iar on the earth’” (Rashi on Ge­n­e­sis 24:7).

What does Rashi teach us here? That the term “God of the earth” is not to be taken for granted. God’s ex­is­tence is ob­vi­ously not in doubt. But how much He in­flu­ences the world is based on peo­ple’s faith. When peo­ple be­lieve in God and trust in Him, only then can He be de­scribed as “God of the earth.”

We re­turn again to Abra­ham’s cen­tral mes­sage. Abra­ham did not in­no­vate the ex­is­tence of God. Monothe­ism ex­isted be­fore Abra­ham’s time. His in­no­va­tion was in un­der­stand­ing how to make God present on earth, in the re­al­ity of our lives. Abra­ham grasped – and taught oth­ers – that faith is not fo­cused on God’s strength alone but in His val­ues. If man im­ple­ments the val­ues God stands for, then God will be present on earth and can be re­ferred to as “God of the earth.”

Abra­ham’s first in­no­va­tion was that God has a spe­cific path, cer­tain val­ues. His sec­ond was the rev­e­la­tion of that path: right­eous­ness and jus­tice. Abra­ham be­lieved that God is the pin­na­cle of jus­tice and in­tegrity. There­fore, taught Abra­ham, man must walk in God’s path, ex­am­ine his own deeds, as­sess his be­hav­ior ac­cord­ing to the stan­dards of right­eous­ness and jus­tice, and es­tab­lish a so­ci­ety that is based on these val­ues.

This is the tremen­dous project Abra­ham be­gan – to make God present on earth. Isaac fol­lowed, and then Ja­cob, his 12 sons, and then gen­er­a­tions of Jews, lead­ing to ours.

The project is not yet com­plete. We are all wel­come to take part in it. ■

The term ‘God of the earth’ is not to be taken for granted

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