How do we choose a life partner or friend? What qualities do we look for in someone with whom we want to create some form of committed relationship?
Throughout the first chapters of Genesis, God searches for various partners of creation to move the world forward in a loving and positive manner. After dozens of generations of human beings inhabiting the earth, God pinpoints a single 75-year old man to build a chosen and exalted religious community. Our weekly parasha (Lech L’cha) begins:
The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 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.’
Our biblical father leaves the land of his childhood, along with his wife Sarai, to embark on a spiritual journey to a far-away land.
What separated Abraham (then Abram) from the rest of the world? Why was our biblical ancestor, Abraham, chosen by God to father a great and blessed nation?
In his essay, God’s Beloved: A Defense of Chosenness, Orthodox theologian Meir Soloveitchik explains that God fell in love with Abraham because of Abraham’s desire to establish a faithful and righteous community. Describing God’s love for humanity as parental, Soloveitchik believes that God desired to enter into a covenantal relationship with Abraham, thus making Abraham God’s own family. This concept is echoed throughout the biblical text and commentaries; the relationship between the Jewish people and God takes on a variety of familial forms: God is a loving parent to the Jewish people. On Shabbat the Shekhina, or female aspect of God, marries the children of Israel. In the Prophets, each time Israel strays from the laws and practices of God, Israel is described as a cheating harlot and God, oftentimes, as a widow.
Another reason God chose Abraham to enter into a binding relationship is because of Abraham’s actions during his youth. We learn from the midrash that as a young boy he questioned the pagan rituals of idol worship and even destroyed the idols in his own father’s shop. Abraham questions how powerful an idol must be if it can easily be destroyed into pieces.
Moreover, the parashah teaches that Abraham takes on responsibility for his nephew, Lot. Lot joins Abraham and Sarah on their journey to Canaan. Taking on an orphan demonstrates compassion, love, selflessness, and responsibility. Abraham is also known for his great sense of hospitality, inviting strangers into his tent to feed them and wash their feet.
In what ways can each of us be like Abraham and emerge into a partner God would desire to choose for holy work? In what ways can we bring these qualities into our daily life and action?