William Hamilton
William Hamilton

Togetherness among Abraham’s diverse descendants

Unthinkable, just a few years ago. The World’s Fair that opened this week in Dubai included an  impressive Israeli Pavilion. It features dozens of white and blue balloons, Israeli music and topography, and it invites great potential for mutual cultural and economic flourishing. Its presence on a world stage, represents one of the most prominent steps toward normalization that Israel has begun to enjoy with regional neighbors like the United Arab Emirates.

Does this mean everything looks promising? Of course not. Immense challenges remain. Some fester. But to be intentionally inattentive to such first-ever milestones, is to engage in a subtler form of boycotting.

Call it a small win. Call it a copernican shift. It is unmistakably a step forward in realizing the aspiration expressed by God at the opening of this week’s portion of Torah. God promises Abram, “All the families of the earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3). So even prior to the describing covenantal components of land and seed, our people’s purpose to be blessedly influential is made clear.

Advancing that purpose remains fraught with complications, with setbacks, and, alas, with hostility for our people and our State. Yet its important to recall that the actual lives of Abraham and Sarah are full of setbacks, military conflict, quarrels, and uncertainty. They make plenty of mistakes too. For example, the birth of Isaac is only foretold after Abraham is mistaken twice about the prospect that the covenantal line may pass through a household servant or Ishmael. What distinguishes our founding families is their recovery-capacity and their ability to hold fast to their promise.

Back in the 1950s when Israel began seeding International Development – which currently reaches into more than 140 countries around the world – Golda Meir said of many young African countries, “These new countries are impatient and they don’t want to be told what to do. We can share what we’ve learned from our mistakes and save them precious time.”

I have often wondered why the portion that introduces us to the lives of Abraham and Sarah sets them in so many different kinds of experiences. They spend time in Egypt, on the battlefield, with deep division, and struggling with a precarious future. Why? Because their descendants will have to grapple with these things too. And so do we.

Imagine yourself standing hesitantly at a classroom’s doorway. Inside your ancestors – biblical, rabbinic, medieval, and more recent – are seated on benches at tables holding sacred texts. Some look up to notice you looking on. Sensing your curiosity, they shift over to make space for you to take a seat beside them. As you do so, accepting their warm invitation, you listen and you learn. And with their support, you take care not to miss what you face.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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