PARASHAT LECH LECHA CONFIRMS: WE ARE ONE
I’ve found that, among my friends, there seem to be three types of Jews: the “Jew-by-birth,” the “educated-but-distant Jew” and the “passionate Jew.”
The Jew-by-birth title is fairly straightforward, and I’m sure everyone has met one: He’s the one who will say he’s Jewish if you ask about his Goldberg-esque last name but doesn’t necessarily volunteer his religious affiliation on his own.
It’s possible he’s never been able to read Hebrew, never read a Torah portion and doesn’t belong to a synagogue. He’s Jewish because his family (or, more specifically, his mother) is Jewish, and therefore he’s a member of the Tribe by default.
Then there’s the educated-but-distant Jew – I would say I used to fall under this category. Here you have people that, either through Jewish day school, synagogue or family encounters, know a lot about their Judaic history and tradition. They can tell you why we celebrate Passover and the meanings of the objects on the Seder plate, they can recite Shabbas prayers when called upon, and they can often impress grandparents with at least a few sentences in Hebrew.
Clearly, they’re knowledgeable about their faith background, but they may lack the passion. Whether it’s the consequence of resenting Hebrew homework and waking up early for bar mitzvah services or just a lack of appetite for religious connection, they aren’t sure what they believe (or if they believe anything at all). The knowledge is there, but not the faith.
The final variety, the passionate Jew, is probably the most rare breed. In my mind, this is he who seeks out Judaism in his daily life: He communicates with G-d, studies Torah and bases his decisions on the morals of Judaism. More likely than not, he has had some formal Jewish education, but I wouldn’t say that’s an absolute; regardless, the idea is that he is a practicing and devoted Jew.
What I find to be most interesting about these three different Jews is how they think of themselves and how the rest of the Jewish community tends to categorize them. I’m sure you’ve heard someone described as at least one of the following: a “good Jew,” a “bad Jew,” a “non-practicing Jew,” a “religious Jew” or a “traditional Jew.” But what do any of those mean?
In this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, G-d calls down to Abraham, “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and you shall be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-2).”
This was the first commandment given by G-d to Abraham, who became the very first Jew. Prior to this encounter, the only information the Torah gives about Abraham is his lineage and his marriage to Sarah; only those who read the Midrash know that Abraham was devoted to G-d early in his life.
So why would the Torah fail to include this biographical story of Abraham? Clearly, he is a righteous man, but why is this part of his life left out? In response, I ask you to consider the following:
Had we known that Abraham was such a pristine follower and defender of G-d, would that then mean that G-d only revealed Himself to those leading similar lives?
In more simple terms, had I known that Abraham became the first Jew only after risking his life for G-d and devoting his life to spreading His word, would I have assumed that only such men are worthy of this Jewish title? And would I then begin to doubt G-d’s love for me, knowing I have never risked my life on His behalf?
Leaving out Abraham’s honorable beginnings makes him more relatable. G-d chose him, the husband of Sarah and the son of Terah, and told him:
“…Behold My covenant is with you, and you shall become the father of a multitude of nations…and I will establish My covenant between Me and between you and between your seed after you throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant, to be to you for a G-d and to your seed after you (Genesis 17:4-7).”
Millennia later, we too are Jewish; and there is no good Jew, bad Jew, non-practicing Jew, religious Jew or traditional Jew.
We are all Jewish. We are the descendants of Abraham; we were chosen by G-d. There is no “less religious” or “more religious.”
It matters not how you practice or what you know. It matters that you are Jewish, that I am Jewish and that we are proud to say it.
By Rachel LaVictoire / AJT Contributor
Rachel LaVictoire is a graduate of the Davis Academy and Westminster High School, recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University of St. Louis and an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta.