Avraham, Yitzchak and new ways of thinking

11 Cheshvan 5774/October 15, 2013

This is dedicated to the memory of my father, Avraham Atik, who passed away on 11 Cheshvan six years ago.  Like the original Avraham, he thought for himself and treated everyone with respect, with no awe before the powerful and no condescension toward people in more modest surroundings.  He was never afraid to question assumptions that others left unexamined, and never confused love and sentimentality.

I recently attended a discussion among several Manhattan rabbis dealing with the Jewish relationship to non-Jews and the world at large.  All the speakers emphasized the need to respect others and prevent our children from denigrating non-Jews.  All acknowledged the tension in Judaism between universalism and particularism.  And this was only one of many recent instances of modern observant Jews confronting this important topic.

But confronting this issue has to go beyond being nice to others and not returning to phrase “she-hem mishtachavim la-hevel va-rik” from Aleinu.    Significant aspects of Jewish thought have been influenced by long-standing beliefs that Jews are inherently superior and should hold themselves apart from the world; that Jews are inherently different — regardless of a Jew’s actions or commitment to mitzvot — and that God cares less about non-Jews..  These ideas have become assumptions that underlie many people’s religious convictions, especially in religious Zionism and (which is related) the mystical ideas that influence all strands of charedi thought.

Those of us who want to be part of a better world need to be aware of this and encourage traditional Jews to change their ways of thinking in a radical direction.  If we believe in repentance, we should have confidence that this is possible of anyone — including ourselves.  For Jews, the challenge is to commit ourselves to the convictions that what unites all human beings is more important than what divides us, and that the universe was created with love and is not a place of senseless struggle where only the strongest survive.

If Judaism has the confidence to be part of the world, we can achieve a lot of improvement and also make ourselves more secure.  If Judaism had the confidence it should that it has a message for all of humanity, what if that message appealed to even 10% of the world’s population?

Let us resolve to live with hope instead of fear and be open to loving anyone who has the same openness toward us.  Let us never believe that hatred is inherent and immovable.  Like Avraham, let us be confident that our ideals will prevail if they reflect God’s will, regardless of their popularity now.  And let the story of Yitzchak remind us that nothing evil is inevitable, and nothing good is impossible.

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2 Responses to “Avraham, Yitzchak and new ways of thinking”

  1. shira Says:

    David, what a beautiful tribute to Aba. Your words would have touched him deeply. Thank you for taking the time to write this.
    Love, Shira

  2. Yaakov Atik Says:

    David

    I was very moved by this. Thank you for this and for your wonderful tribute to Abie. I think he would have been proud.

    Love
    Yaakov

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