Noah was not destined to be the father of the Jewish people, nor the founder of our faith. Though the most righteous one in his corrupt generation, he failed to reach out and save human lives besides those of his own family. Thus, the rabbis who were aware of Noah’s disturbing limitations in the terse Biblical text turned to instructive Midrashic fancy. They suggested that Noah did warn the people while building the ark of survival to take heed and mend their ways, but to no avail. The flood itself was conceived of as an educational process to gradually awaken human repentance and transformation, averting disaster.
Abraham was chosen to begin the chain of Jewish life, learning and love, for he proved to possess, unlike Noah, that healthy dose of surging chutzpah that challenges even and particularly God when necessary. This confrontational response for the sake of heaven and earth has allowed Jews ever since to heroically transcend limiting boundaries and smash the idols of every age, of stifling and dehumanizing convention.
The thundering divine call and command to Abraham, echoing still, Lech- Lecha, to venture forth from his familial and familiar environment—physically, spiritually and psychologically—both pushed and permitted him to depart from the world he had received in order to usher in a new one. Not an easy transition, there is pain involved. Isaac was ultimately spared on the altar of the practiced pagan custom of child sacrifices, because his father dared embrace, in spite of his background and not without divine intervention, the precious yet precarious gift of life and call it holy.
The members of our first family of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, and Ishmael proved to be complex and conflicted individuals. Their very touching humanity reflects the courageous approach of our sacred literature to be faithful to reality’s truth. But the flawed humaneness of our heroes, as well as our own, becomes a noble opportunity and invitation to discover the divine potential within them, and us, to grow and change and mature.
God’s fulfilled promise was that all the members of Abraham’s fractured family facing the threat of fratricide will be blessed, each in a distinct and unique way with restored dignity and hope though with lasting historical consequences. This proud foundational legacy remains our covenantal Jewish charge and awesome human challenge to turn pain into promise, violence into vision, hurt into healing, and blemishes into blessings.
—Rabbi Israel Zoberman, Congregation Beth Chaverim.