There is so much to capture our attention in this Torah portion that it’s a challenge to focus in on just one aspect. However, my attention this week was drawn to this: that for the first time Avraham is referred to as “Avraham the Hebrew (Ivri)” in Beresheit 14:13.
The root of the Hebrew word ‘ivri’ literally means ‘to cross over’ and therefore many commentators opine that he is so called at this time because to enter into Israel, he crossed the Euphrates, a major geographical demarcation line in the ancient world. In a more spiritual sense, however, we could also consider that he is called the ‘ivri’ because in contrast to the rest of the world of his time, Avraham was the only one who ‘crossed over’ into belief in One True G-d, as opposed to the worship of many gods. He stood alone against the accepted thought of his generation.
A few have suggested that Avraham’s decision to embrace monotheism and leave the rest of the world behind, so to speak, indicates his disregard for his fellow man. This is the furthest thing from the truth. When Avraham was commanded by Hashem to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s house, he was promised that “in you will all the families of the earth be blessed.” (12:4) According to Hashem’s promise, Avraham’s very separateness will actually become the source of blessing for the entire world.
This reminds us of Isaiah’s definition of the national Jewish mission — to be ‘a light unto the nations’ (Isaiah 42:6) Avraham ‘crossed over’ from polytheism to monotheism believing that eventually the rest of the world would join him. While much of the world has indeed accepted monotheism and rejected idol worship, there will yet come a time when all the peoples of the earth will join Avraham in serving the One True G-d in unity of faith and purpose. It is then that Hashem’s promise to Avraham will be truly fulfilled.
Later in Jewish history, the children of Israel cross the Red Sea in order to escape the Egyptians who are pursuing them. Forty years later, they cross the Jordan to enter into the Promised Land. In both of these events, Avraham’s descendants, like their forefather, could only attain to new material and spiritual levels after ‘crossing over’ a physical border.
In truth, Avraham’s experience is a prototype for all of us. Growth in holiness can be described as a series of “crossing over” from a self-centered way of life into a G-d centered way of life. Each ‘crossing over’ is a decision we make to choose to follow Hashem’s ways instead of our own. The sense of ‘crossing over’ conveys the understanding that we are in fact able to overcome all obstacles in our process of spiritual maturity. As Hashem said to Cain in the parsha of two weeks ago, “sin crouches at the door….but you can overcome it…”
This is the message of Avraham “the Ivri” – all his children have the ability, as he did, to “cross over” from old behaviors to new ones, from worldy ways of thinking to the Torah way of thinking, from selfishness to selflessness. Our ability to do so is our inheritance from our father Avraham.
In Tune with Torah this week = having the courage and determination to ‘cross over’ in my own life in any area where change is needed, whether in thought, word or deed.