At the dawn of our people’s history – four thousand years ago – two people set off on a journey. They did not know where their travels would take them. They only knew that they heard a voice, telling them that a great and blessed nation would form as a result of this journey. And, that was enough to set Abraham and Sarah off to leave the place of their birth on a journey that would change the world.
It is interesting that for our children who leave our little Tucson, they tell us opportunities for adventure and success are to be found in great cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco. Some of our children are in London, Seoul and Tokyo. Great cities all!
For our ancestors – Abraham and Sarah – they went to a small place between two great Empires (Mesopotamia and Egypt). It is still a small place –Canaan, now Israel. There they went. There were really no great dramas in their life. They longed for a child and had one. They were caught up in the dramas of the day: famines, local battles, and the destruction of the cities of the plain. But they were not heroic figures by any means. Abraham was not a king or even a prince. He was not a gallant or strong warrior. Rather, throughout their life in Canaan. They lived a rather unspectacular and quiet life.
What could it be that made them worth remembering? What did they do besides have a child, who had a child, who had twelve children who became the twelve tribes of the Jewish people?
The Genesis Journey
What made them special is that they chose to be different. Yes, when others worshiped idols, they pledged their loyalty to the one God. Our religious school children have been taught that. You all know that! But there is more to how they were different.
When their neighbors were threatened, they prayed for them and fought for them.1 Unlike those around them, they did not worship power, or desire of material gain.2 They rejected the conception of a world filled with blind clashing forces for they foreswore to their values of charity and justice. Their God was not found in the arm holding a sword or feet caring one into battle. Rather God was found in the human heart, in the relationships that truly forge families and societies. Abraham and Sarah were truly different as they discovered their encounter with God through words and a marriage contract.3 For so many who want to tell you Truth, they tell you as if it is found within the wind, an earthquake or fire, and a call to arms. Perhaps it is at select times. But mostly, it is found in the “still small voice”4 of these words set forth from this journey 4,000 years ago.
Over the centuries our people have studied these words and they have evolved.Through our leadership and our virtue, heaven has been brought down to earth.These words have sanctified our very surroundings.
We are still a small people, numbering in the tens of millions in a world of multiple billions. And yet, we have flourished not in numbers but in producing sages, philosophers, scientists, jurists, intellectuals, mystics, and poets who have transformed civilization.
Moses was told that Israel’s strength would not be found in her numbers; but in something else. Adonai did not set his affection upon you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you are the fewest of all peoples.5 We are in fact, God’s witnesses.6 We live in a world that is often unjust and violent. None of us can deny this.We see this every day of our lives it seems recently. When we see those around us worshipping the state – be it ours or Israel, when we see those who brandish weapons upon weapons and threat upon threat against other nations, it is us who need to raise our voices and speak about the dignity and the sanctity of the individuals who are suffering as a result! As God’s witnesses, we are commanded to do so.
We are the ones who must moralize power, who with the authority of the prophets must criticize the king or those who would be king.
If God created the world, then God created humans. How then can we allow human beings to destroy other humans and our world? This is no longer a philosophical point to reconcile the order of nature with the disorder of society. How can God abandon His creatures and His Creation? That is not the question. The question raised by Abraham and Sarah in their journey so long ago is, how can we abandon them? How can we stand idly by our bleeding neighbors and hemorrhaging planet?7 When neighbors were threatened, yes, Abraham prayed, and then he fought. We toocome here tonight and pray. And yet, that was not enough for Abraham. It shouldnot be enough for us.
It is not true that if evil exists God does not exist. If evil exists, then there is an emptiness that needs to be filled. Our faith expects us not to question God’s absence in that emptiness. Our faith propels us to fill that emptiness with hope, with love, with compassion.
Our faith reminds us of God’s early covenant with Abraham and Moses. God gave us something. What have we given in return? God gave us words –sometimes in a whisper8 – sometimes in a commanding voice from Sinai.9 As witnesses to those covenants we are not to abandon God. We are not to succumb to silence when we see blind cruelty in our neighborhoods. Our faith,beginning with Abraham, reaching a crescendo in the covenant at Sinai, seen in visions by our prophets as their voices cried out for the widow and the oppressed, articulated by our sages, expressed by the marches on Selma and the march on Washington in the ‘60’s, are responses to the call from God to change the world.
My friends, none of us are immune to the call. 4,000 years ago Abraham and Sarah lived a fairly quiet life. Nevertheless, there were moments of Awakening for them when they were called into action. They were not wealthy or great heroic figures. What made them different, what makes you different is in the face discord, disharmony, disenfranchisement in our world; we rise up and make a difference (like they did). We arewitness to the financial struggles of those around us, and yet, we remainsilent. We are witness to abuses of power, and yet, we recues ourselves. We arewitness to our neighbors receiving threatening calls; accused of deception andthreatening our democracy and our lives, and again we remain silent.
You, too, have heard the voice loudly or in a whisper. The voice is calling you as Jews have been called for thousands of years to not accept the world as it is; but to be called upon to ensure that it will become the way it ought to be.
1 Genesis 14
3 Genesis 15
4 I Kings19:11-13
6 Isaiah 43:10
8 I Kings19:11-13
9 Exodus 19