Chayei Sarah: The Jewish Identity

One of the most profound statements by Abraham recorded in the Torah is “I am a foreigner and a resident with you.” (Genesis 23:4) and we have to understand it, not only as a gesture of Abraham’s humbleness towards his neighbors, but as a characterization of the Jew based on his relationship with the Creator, in regards to the material world. Our identity as Jews is broadly defined in the Torah as the Chosen People, and Abraham’s neighbors recognized him as the seed of the great Nation whose mission is to be God’s People: “Hear us, my lord: You are a prince of God in our midst.” (23:6)

We must consider our identity, not only as a definition by the most important Testimony ever written, but as a meaning for us as Jews. Both “foreigner” and “resident” seem to complement each other in the context of living or dwelling in a particular place, but we must see them in relation to our identity defined according to our bond with God. This bond consequently makes us foreigners in any place where God’s Presence has not been totally revealed. We are foreigners in the sense that we are entitled, and commanded by Him, to create a place for Him to dwell in the material world. In order to accomplish our mission and fulfill His Commandment, first we must become residents in the world.

As the first Jew, Abraham was recognized by his neighboring nations as the man who was with God in their midst. This recognition is essential for us to assimilate the Jewish identity. We know that we are God’s People not only because the Torah says so, but because since our origins the nations also acknowledged it. They knew that we are foreigners and residents in their midst because, after all, we are the emissaries of God among them. It sounds like we can be settlers in the land as long as we remain God’s People in the eyes of the nations. This predicament makes us reflect thoroughly in the essence of the Jewish identity.

We indeed (as it is also for the rest of the non-Jewish mortals) are temporary residents in this world, but what makes us different is our mission to be the Light for the nations, a sacred Nation because our God is sacred, and a Nation of priests who sanctify His Name with their actions. Our place is with God and this also means that, wherever we are, our lives are entitled to fulfill His Will. We do this by making the world a better place for all, according to the ways the Torah instructs us to follow. For this mission God gives us the Promised Land. We may be foreigners and residents in the midst of other nations, but we also have a Land assigned to us. In this Land we are able to develop the full potential of our identity to fulfill our mission.

We have indicated in previous commentaries that the Promised Land, besides being a specific geographic location known as the Land of Israel, also represents the individual and collective awareness of our connection with the One who gave us this Land. Possessing the Land is the direct consequence of manifesting our identity as Jews. The Torah states this fact, and also warns us countless times about the consequences of losing or despising our connection with God by the choices we make with the free will he gave us.

Our condition of foreigners and residents amid the nations also means that we do not become part of them and their ways, because our ways are defined by our relationship with God. We also have mentioned that the Canaanite nations represent negative traits and qualities that we have to conquer, defeat and subjugate in order to settle in the Promised Land. The Torah and God’s Commandments are the ways and means to overcome the potentially negative trends in human consciousness. When we accomplish that task, we are able to dwell in the awareness of God’s Love, hence living in the Promised Land here in the material world.

Ultimately, our final destiny is with the Creator and we see our passage through this world as the time to fulfill the Covenant with Him. Though we know that our spiritual destiny is to dwell with Him, we also know that our lives on Earth are bound to our mission to reveal His Presence, and proclaim His Glory. We do this by removing the illusions and fantasies of ego’s materialistic desires, along with the negative traits that have kept humankind in darkness.

We are indeed strangers and aliens in the lands of negative thoughts, emotions, feelings, passions and instincts. But all these aspects of consciousness can also recognize the positive traits and the blessings that walk hand in hand with God’s Love. If we Jews, the Abrahams of today, manifest our identity as emissaries of God’s Love in order to awaken others to the awareness of Love’s ways and attributes in the midst of material illusions, we will have accomplished our destiny as God’s People.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.
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