Genesis 12:1 – 17:27
Abraham: A Promise For The Future
This week’s Torah portion marks the beginning of the Patriarchal story in the Book of Genesis. Abraham receives God’s call to leave his home and travel to an unknown land with the assurance of God’s promise:
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing…through you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” [Gen. 12:3] And then, as Abraham arrives in the land of Canaan, God appends His promise to him saying: “I am giving this land to your descendants.” [Gen. 12:7]
But we immediately notice a problematic twist in God’s promise to Abraham: it is written in the future tense. God’s promise is not to be fulfilled in Abraham’s lifetime, but through his descendants. In fact, no sooner had Abraham been given the vision of this grand future than the reality of the present comes crashing down on him. Canaan will have to wait. There is famine in the land and Abraham is forced to migrate down to Egypt. He eventually manages to find his way back to the Promised Land only to split it with his nephew Lot whose own tribe has now grown too big. Abraham then risks losing everything, finding himself drawn into a nine-king war, trying to free Lot who had fallen captive during one of their battles. Abraham’s reality never lives up to the hopes of the oft-repeated Divine vision. Time and again God reiterates His promise of land and peoplehood; but each time the tenuous promise is threatened by yet another danger in Abraham’s way.
We find ourselves facing the same challenge as Abraham does in Torah. The dichotomy between his aspirations and his reality is ours as well. And it comes into focus for us perhaps especially when elections come around. Every presidential election cycle seems to bring up within us — reflected in the many articles and publications that spring up during these months — the yearning for a promise of what our country could be, of what our world might become. The arguing and debating between the candidates pushes us to reflect and visualize for ourselves the kind of society, the kind of nation we aspire to be, and hope for. And even though the focus of the candidates remains forever too narrow and self-serving, the voice of the Divine within moves us to dream a bigger dream, to hold a grander promise. I suspect that, with our own personal twist, this vision looks pretty close to the one here-above that Abraham also heard; that our presence be a blessing to the earth and its inhabitant, that we continue to seek peace and justice in our cities and in the world, that we uphold as guiding principles the values of compassion, inclusivity, truth and love.
Now we also have to accept that, like for Abraham, our reality will always fall short of the vision we hold, of the promise we carry — if it didn’t, it would mean that our vision wasn’t big enough to start with. But should that preclude us from continuing to dream? Perhaps in our generation more than in any other, the tenuous promise of what our nation stands for seems to be deeply threatened; there is famine in the land. But should that deter us from doing all we can to keep the vision alive? Abraham didn’t struggle to save the imperiled Divine promise time and again, just for himself. He did it for future generations. It is our duty to keep the promise of our nation alive. It is ours to manifest within our homes and our communities, within our towns and our cities. Not for ourselves, but for the generations that will follow, so that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.“