Saturday, October 16, 2010

Avraham Avinu, Ha-Yehudi Ha-Rishon

When I was nine years old, in the third grade, we were presented with our first book in Hebrew. It was called Hayehudi harishon The first Jew). It had a drawing on the cover of a family dressed like Arabs, with the children sitting on camels. This was the story of Avraham avinu, the patriarch Abraham.

This was in a Conservative  after-school Hebrew school where we learned twice a week after going to public school from 8:00 till 3:00 PM. For almost all the kids this was a real burden and they did it because their parents forced them. From the beginning I was fascinated by learning another language, an ancient tradition that I was connected to. We were chosen, we were special, and I was part of it. Of course I was well aware that we were Jewish. My granpdparents spoke Yiddish, we celebrated the major holidays and the Christians (who my parents called "the Goyim") had their own holidays. But what did it mean? Until then I had no idea. It was just a fact of life.

After learning the aleph-bet and the basic grammar we got our first book and we started learning, in our own special language, about Avraham who at the age of five, wondered who put out the light in the sky in the evening and lit it again in the morning. When one night he saw a lamp burning in a window and he thought that just as the master of the house lit the lamp,the Master of the World must light up the sun. He didn't accept the explanation that the sun itself was a god, and even less that the clay idols that his father produced had anything to do with it. He knew, there must be a God. This simple faith struck a chord in me. At the time I was much too young to put such a thought into words, but looking back, I think that it was really there.

 Later I identified with the idea of "Lech lecha" Hashem commanded Avraham to "go forth", to leave behind his homeland and his father's house and go to the "land which I will will show you". In my early teens I decided that the lifestyle of my fathers house would not be mine. The commandments of the Torah meant something real to me, without defining for myself the theological basis. When I was sixteen I read an excerpt, translated into English from Orot by Rav Kook. It changed my life. Here was a coherent, all encompassing view of what it meant to be a son of the Jewish people.It said that Torah was part of peoplehood and it all flowed from Hashem.There was an absolute unity of the universe with the Jewish people and the Land of Israel in the center and Hashem above it all.

Another interpretation says that "Lech lecha" means not to go forth, but to go into yourself, to find your inner self. That is what it meant for me as it  had meant for Avraham Avinu, Hayehudi  Harishon.