What is it that I find so amazing after all these years, every time I come to this pasuk?
Not only does the survival of the Jews defy the laws of nature, but the entire world is blessed through their tenacity and faith, as the brachos of Avraham Avinu transform a hostile, scary universe
From the time I began to learn Chumash, I’ve always been amazed by the first blessing given by HaKadosh Baruch Hu to Avraham Avinu in parshas Lech Lecha. With this brachah, HaKadosh Baruch Hu detaches Avraham Avinu from the rest of the world in order to make a special nation of his descendants. In our prayers we reflect upon this unique status in the blessing “Atah vechartanu,” which has so angered and provoked the nations of the world against us throughout the ages. Even some of those among our own people have viewed our “chosen-ness” as a sign of arrogance and racism. But that’s partly because they haven’t taken note of the words at the end of G-d’s blessing to Avraham: “And through you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” And in fact, we don’t always take note of those words either.
While these words indicate that Am Yisrael is a distinct, separate nation that carries HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s banner in This World, the purpose of this separation is that ultimately, all the nations of the world should benefit from this blessing. Ultimately, HaKadosh Baruch Hu is asking Avraham’s nation to return the heart of all nations to Him, as it will be in the end of days.
So what is it that I find so amazing after all these years, every time I come to this pasuk?
Contemplating the long history of friction between the Jews and the nations of the world from the vantage point of present times — even gazing over an ocean of spilled Jewish blood — one can still clearly see the light of Avraham’s influence shining upon the nations throughout history.
The story of Jewish identity over the course of thousands of years, despite the tremendous challenges and small chances of success, is a uniquely miraculous story of cultural survival. Where are the Sumerians, the Babylonians, and the Assyrians today? True, we still see a remnant of the Egyptian and Greek nations, but the people and culture of these lands has only a vague connection with the ancient nations whose names they inherited. The Jews, having survived against all odds, went on to blaze a new trail, an alternative to all the world views and religions of ancient times.
The Irish-American historian Thomas Cahill wrote, in his best-selling book The Gifts of the Jews: “The Jews gave us the Outside and the Inside — our outlook and our inner life. We can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact — new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice — are gifts of the Jews.”
So here we are, more than three thousand years since HaKadosh Baruch Hu blessed Avraham Avinu, witnessing the fruition of that prophecy. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the brachah thus:
“Through you the families of the earth shall be blessed. The more they acknowledge the truth of your life system, the more they will be blessed. But HaKadosh Baruch Hu promises Avraham that in the end, all the families of the earth shall be blessed through him, for they are all destined to base their lives upon the foundation of your life… indeed, as soon as Avraham heeded Hashem’s word and went out in isolation, he immediately tipped the scales in favor of world redemption.”
And, amazingly enough, that is not all. That is only the spiritual influence of Avraham’s Torah, destined to gradually take over the whole world. In fact, this brachah has already manifested itself in the benefits the Jewish People have bestowed in every sphere of civilization. The whole world wonders why so many Jews have won Nobel prizes in the exact sciences, and why there is scarcely any field of endeavor that has improved humanity’s welfare and does not include Jews in places of prominence, in proportions far in excess of their representation in the general population. Many explanations have been offered, but all reasons pale in comparison with the simple prophetic truth found in the pasuk: “And through you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Even those not especially fond of the Jews can’t fail to make the connection. As Arnold Toynbee wrote, quoted in Professor Paul Eidelberg’s A Jewish Philosophy of History, “I dare say that Judaism will bring a new message to the world. Looking from the outside, it seems extraordinary that twice in the course of history the Jews have allowed outsiders to run away with their religion to spread it over the world in garbled form. I am talking, of course, of early Christianity and Islam. It is something almost comic that outsiders should seize some of the essential truths of Judaism, and make a worldwide religion of them, while the Jews themselves kept their religion to themselves. Is not the real future of Jews and Judaism to spread Judaism in its authentic form rather than its Christian and Moslem forms over the whole world and human race? After all, the Jews must have a more authentic form of Jewish monotheism than the Christians or Moslems have. And is that not going to be the ultimate solution of the relations between Jews and the rest of the world?”
Just taking in a quick panorama of Jewish achievements in every field of human endeavor, in nearly every historical period, achievements that have benefited all of humanity, is astounding, giving a tiny glimpse of the extent to which Hashem’s blessing to Avraham has been fulfilled. So is it any wonder that it never ceases to amaze me?
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 784)