For Palestinians, Selling Land to a Jew Is Punishable by Death

avatar by Shmuley Boteach

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas addressing the UN General Assembly on September 27, 2018. Photo: UN Photo/Cia Pak

After the barbaric story we have all followed of Jamal Khashoggi and his horrific murder at the hands of admitted Saudi agents, we can see a growing campaign on the part of Middle Eastern governments to intimidate, frighten, and ultimately neutralize prominent critics. This sometimes includes the less barbaric, but likewise criminal attempt to cut people’s reputations into pieces in order to terrify them into silence. The United States must take strong action to protect its citizens and residents from Middle Eastern governments that wish to silence them.

Unfortunately, numerous worldwide governments have failed this test, routinely apprehending the very citizens they are meant to protect before meting out brutal interrogations or extraditing them to criminal states.

During World War II, Nazi Germany dispatched secret police forces to hunt down known or suspected dissidents — a tactic aptly termed Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog) to describe the darkness that surrounded the victims’ sudden disappearance. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union earned a brutal reputation for summoning or detaining men and women only for them to then disappear forever. Argentina’s military juntas were especially notorious for their practice of putting detained citizens aboard aircraft and casting them into the sea. It is thought that between 1976 and 1983, up to 30,000 people were killed or disappeared this way, earning them one of history’s most haunting names: Los Desaparecidos — “the disappeared.” In Iran, this seems to be a problem on repeat: following riots in 199920032009, and even this year, hundreds of Iranian protesters — most of them students — were detained, with dozens yet to be so much as located.

Just last week in the Middle East, another man disappeared; this time, he was an American citizen.

A Palestinian-American whom, according to Arab-language media reports, is named Isam Jalal Akel, lives in Jerusalem and was discreetly apprehended by Palestinian Authority (PA) police. His arrest has been something of a shadow play. The Palestinian Authority did not disclose their detainment of the man to Israeli military and police commanders, as they’re required to. In a sharp break from international diplomatic protocol, even the American embassy wasn’t informed of the arrest, though the man holds an American passport.

And what was his “crime”? Doing business with a Jew. He had been involved, it is alleged, with the sale of a home in East Jerusalem to a Jewish buyer. In the morally skewed universe of the Palestinian Authority, that is, quite literally, a capital crime.

The concept of killing a man for doing business with a Jew was put into force by the Jordanians in 1948 during the kingdom’s occupation of Judea and Samaria. From there, it would be incorporated into the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)’s legal code in 1979, which enforced the penalty of execution on any of those “traitors” caught “transferring positions to the enemy.” Since then, the law has been further clarified. The term “positions,” as it turns out, refer to any sort of land or real estate. “Transferring” has been elucidated by PA President Mahmoud Abbas to include any act of “diverting,” “selling,” or even just “renting” a property. As for the “enemies,” this refers to “an enemy state or one of its subjects,” which, coming from the PLO, refers explicitly to Jews. The law has been reaffirmed by Palestinian officials on several occasions — in 1973, 1979, 1997, 2010, 2014, and 2018.

But the truth is that this kind of Jew-removal goes back farther than Abbas, the PLO, or the Jordanians: it is reminiscent of a series of laws enacted in Nazi Germany in late 1930s, to other acts of discrimination in Europe and the Arab and Muslim world for centuries.

And since Mahmoud Abbas recently assured his captive populace that “in a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands,” it seems quite clear that the Palestinian Authority is dead serious about bringing these appalling Nazi, European, and Islamic Judenrein policies back to life.

The Palestinian Authority has only twice judicially executed those convicted of selling a property to a Jew, and Mahmoud Abbas said in 2014 that although still a clear-cut capital crime, those engaged in real estate dealings with Jews would be punished with life imprisonment — with hard labor. But even as Abbas said that, official Fatah spokesman Osama al-Qawasmi noted on the record that any such “traitors are destined to die a humiliating death.”

After the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian leadership could legally kidnap those suspected of dealing with Jews. In 1996, the newly-minted PA security forces were accused by Israel of kidnapping and killing alleged land dealers. The next year, Amnesty International reported that “dozens of those suspected of selling land to Jews were arrested and … held without charge or trial.” The report noted, “Torture during prolonged incommunicado detention of this group has been systematic,” adding that “extrajudicial killings by the PA targeted those … allegedly involved in selling land to Jews.”

That year, the disappearance of 70-year-old Farid Bashiti, accused by the PA of selling property to Jews, made international headlines. His family was told by Palestinian officials that he died in a car accident, a lie that quickly came undone after he was found bludgeoned to death, with his hands cuffed and skull crushed. Farid was denied a Muslim burial, and his family was forbidden to erect a mourner’s tent.

Though the PA fraudulently denied ordering his death, the Palestinian Minister of Justice Freih Abu Middein gloated about the murder, saying that “everybody now realizes the danger of selling land to a Jew.”

Yes, fear is what they are seeking to instill. And it is up to the United States and other governments around the world to stand up to this barbaric practice.

As taken from,

Journey to Conversion

a Jewish star

I was raised in a rural Catholic family of the 1950’s. My home parish was in the orchard-rich east bay town of Mission San Jose (now part of Fremont) and was one of the original California missions. I was taught by the nuns from age five. When high school came along I commuted by bus 90 minutes each way to San Jose to be taught by the Jesuits at Bellarmine.

For a traditional Catholic the term “conversion”—which was very much a part of our religious discussion—evokes three very different experiences. There is the blinding miraculous conversion like the one that turned Saul of Tarsus into St. Paul. There is the intellectual conversion where ideas lead inexorably to a new statement of faith, such as the 19th century conversion described by Oxford’s John Henry Newman, who came to Catholicism through the force of pure reason. And finally there is the garden-variety conversion-of-convenience where the more malleable, or less religiously committed spouse in a mixed marriage takes on the religion of the partner. So what kind of conversion is mine? Unfortunately, like a lot of neat distinctions, these categories of conversion fail me when I examine my own life—mostly because my life, and my Catholic beliefs, changed dramatically after I left high school.

At age 17 I applied for, and was accepted into, the Catholic religious order called the Society of Jesus, or more familiarly, the Jesuits. My experience as a Jesuit unmade my traditional Catholicism. This may come as surprise to people unfamiliar with Jesuits. To their great credit, Jesuits have always strongly believed in the transformative power of a thorough-going education in classics, philosophy, theology, and an individual’s preferred course of study—in my case, electrical engineering. The result of the Jesuit formation is not easy to predict—it can lead individuals back into traditional religious practices, others to radically progressive practices, others to leaving the Jesuit order, or leaving Catholicism, or leaving belief-systems totally. I myself left the order several years before final ordination to the priesthood. But not until I had a transformative experience—one that has had lasting impact on me and on this very conversion process.

It was 1967. I was at St. Louis University sitting in my room on a sunny afternoon doing some assigned reading for a Philosophy of Religion course. The book was Paul Tillich’s Dynamics of Faith. Tillich was a prominent Lutheran theologian, transplanted from Germany to the United States, and a Professor at the University of Chicago until his death in 1965. In words that I have reread many times, Tillich taught me something new about the meaning of Faith. I had been taught, and always assumed, that Faith is one and the same thing as Belief; that is, a person of Faith believes what is taught. This isn’t just a Catholic assumption; it is one that is deeply ingrained into our language. To “have faith” in something is to believe in it even, perhaps, in the face of evidence to the contrary. To “keep the faith” is to hang on to the beliefs we grew up with. When I was in high school we were always warned against secular universities where we would acquire new beliefs and “lose our faith”.

Paul Tillich had quite another view. He said that Faith is not so much believing things as it is being concerned about things, specifically about issues that are beyond our day-to-day crises and joys. Faith means that we make the effort, at least sometimes, to try to extend our horizon, and look further out for meaning, for purpose, for direction. And here’s the revelation: Tillich says that the way we exercise Faith is through Belief—and Doubt. The person of Faith—that person scanning the horizon—learns from his experiences, and comes to believe some things and to doubt others. As we learn more, we believe some things we used to doubt and doubt some things we used to believe. If not, we’re not really experiencing the world. To Paul Tillich, a person of unwavering belief would no more qualify as a person of Faith than would the nihilist that doubts all things.

This came as a stunning insight to me then. Here was a form of religious Faith that worked the way that my engineering thinking worked. Some challenge (maybe the design of a circuit or maybe the direction of my life) causes me to examine, question, think, and test until I can identify the beliefs—the truths, and the doubts—the non-truths that inform my response to the challenge.

I’ve reflected on Tillich’s passage for many years and I’ve added a metaphor to it that has helped me to further internalize his insight. This metaphor is based on a very cool conjunction of meanings around the word for ‘soul’ that occurs in several early languages. In Latin and Greek, and more recently I’ve learned in Hebrew as well, the roots for the word soul or spirit also means breath, and wind. The Latin anima, the Greek pneuma, the Hebrew ruach all share these same associations—soul/breath/wind. It’s not totally surprising perhaps—breath is a kind of wind. And both breath and wind are invisible things that can be felt—hence, their association with spirit.

Now let me stir in the Tillich lesson. I believe that Faith is to the life of the soul as breathing is to the life of the body. It is the animating principle. Believing is like inhaling—taking into ourselves sustenance. Doubting is like exhaling—letting go of the material that’s no longer useful, and is, quite literally, exhausted. The person whose faith is alive ‘breathes’—absorbing and expelling, believing and doubting. No one can only inhale and survive. No one can only exhale and survive. And no one can simply stop breathing.

This insight has been a major factor in my life. But on its own it didn’t bring me to Judaism. It did however free me to go a-wandering, which I certainly have done. I reflected on it as I left the Jesuits to explore the wider world. I reflected on it again when I entered a marriage and again when that marriage ended in great pain 15 years later.

And it was firmly planted into my personality when I finally encountered Judaism. I was brought to Judaism by Barbara Bernstein, whom I met 18 years ago, rapidly fell in love with and subsequently married. So am I one of those mixed-faith marriage converts after all—a convert-of-convenience?

I’ve questioned myself about this more than once. Was I the more malleable partner? (Probably) Was I less religiously committed? (Probably not) I asked myself: “What if I had met a Lutheran woman, or a Zoroastrian, or a Scientologist? Would I have gone wherever I was tugged?”

I have an answer to this that has now become one of my beliefs (inhale). The answer is simple. I didn’t fall in love with a Lutheran or a Zoroastrian or a Scientologist. I fell in love with a Jew. At least in part what I was loving here was Jewishness, though I didn’t realize it yet. I didn’t know many Jews. Here are some of her qualities that attracted me: she is smart—not just smart as in educated, but mentally acute. She’s funny, sometimes to irreverence. She’s aggressive; she’s challenging. She’s devoted to her family and fiercely devoted to her daughter. Yet she has a devout, even sentimental streak when it comes to prayer, liturgy, and her approach to God’s power.

I came to understand later that much of what I love about Barbara are qualities shared among many Jews. I started meeting lots of them. First I met her terrific almost-four-year-old daughter—later our mutual daughter. Then I met her family, her extended family, her friends. Then her former rabbi, Arnold Jacob Wolf. Then we joined a wonderful chavurah (group of friends) of families with young children, which has been a major part of our Jewish life for over a decade. Finally, as the children moved up through religious school, we blended into this larger temple community.

What I found is that Am Israel (the People of Israel) has many of the same qualities I found in Barbara. As a people, Jews are educated, canny, funny, blunt, aggressive, challenging, devoted to family, devoted to ritual. (Note well: I still think Barbara is the best of the lot).

And there’s another thing. Judaism, at least the Reform Judaism that I know, allows me to spiritually ‘breathe’, as I’ve discussed it here. Belief? Fine. Doubt? Fine. Not all religions are as tolerant of differing beliefs as Judaism is. In fact, as I understand it, our mandate as Reform Jews requires us to remember that Faith equals Concern, and that our experience of life requires us to continually evaluate our relation to God, our relation to one another, our very Jewishness.

This tolerance for a diversity of beliefs is widely affirmed by Reform Jews. But is it authentically Jewish? Some people say this is just Reform Judaism with its anything-goes attitude. My sense of it is that Judaism, from start to finish, is more sketchy than concrete.

Case in point: this year Barbara and I have taken Rabbi Kushner’s Hebrew class. It’s been a wonderful experience. From class one we’ve been immersed in the Hebrew Torah. Going very slowly and with lots of help, we’ve been able to look at short but crucial passages and I’ve been continually surprised. The Hebrew Bible is much different from any translation I’ve seen. Unexpectedly, it says far less than the translation.

Let me give just one example—the famous scene when Jacob wrestles the angel. Is it a good angel, a bad angel, maybe Esau’s guardian angel? The Torah says none of this. In just 6 Hebrew words the Torah says, roughly: “And Jacob remained alone and a man wrestled with him until the coming of dawn.” No angel, just ish, man. And the word wrestle could be “raise dust with”, “roll in the dust with”, “embrace”, “get in a dust-up with”. There’s plenty of blanks to fill in here.

Everything about the Hebrew Torah I’ve seen has been indistinct, shadowy, elliptical, suggestive—as if specificity itself was an idol to be shunned. Of course, the ultimate example of ellipticity in Judaism is the very name of God himself. He’s usually only referred to by his attributes. Even the tetragrammaton, the yud-heh-vav-heh, is a construction. Pronounced as it’s spelled, it’s voiceless and comes out not unlike the sound of breathing. Even though everything in our human consciousness craves specifics, the Torah tells us God’s name is not for hearing, his face is not for seeing lest we die, and maybe we can just barely survive seeing his afterglow once he’s passed.

Would a religion that forbids concrete representations of spiritual beings go on to require concrete representations of specific beliefs? Or would it instead tolerate, in fact require, that our collective beliefs and practices be vague, to be filled in only by the living of our individual lives. We return full circle. Judaism—our Judaism—is a religion that requires spiritual breathing, a life of faith that sometimes believes, sometimes doubts, but always learns.

So what kind of a convert am I? I’m not a convert with a miraculous vision. I think these are very rare, and then are hard to distinguish from psychosis. And I’m not, like Newman, a convert of the intellect, although I’m interested in the intellectual side to religion.

I think I’m the most typical kind of convert. I’m among the converts who somehow, sometime, find that they have settled into a community that they recognize and that recognizes them, a community that they appreciate, with whom they share values, where they can raise children, that allows them to spiritually breathe. This folding into the community is a slow and gentle process. Then one day you realize that the actual conversion, the t’shuvah (the turning) has happened long since.

John Tibbetts, a software architect, is a member of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.

As taken from,

Si quieres, puedes ¿es cierto? – Las enseñanzas del judaísmo sobre la fuerza de voluntad

Si quieres, puedes

por Alex Corcias

Si partimos de la premisa de que todos tenemos las herramientas para enfrentar los desafíos de nuestras vidas, cabe preguntar ¿Por qué uno puede sentirse agotado, frustrado y desgastado al llevar su vida?

A través de la historia hemos visto que personas sin recursos, sin educación previa, han logrado revolucionar modelos de pensamientos, industrias enteras e incluso naciones. El poder de la voluntad es muy grande. La persona que tiene voluntad consigue la solución a cualquier problema. La persona que tiene voluntad está convencida de que encontrará un camino para salir victorioso en su emprendimiento. Él sabe que, si no hay un camino, él deberá construirlo. Siendo así, me pregunto, ¿por qué la gente anda por la vida con cara de desánimo? ¿Por qué la vida resulta tan pesada y difícil para tanta gente? ¿Por qué hay tanta gente que vive resignada a la mediocridad? Creo que la respuesta es obvia: ¡falta de voluntad!

El poder de la fuerza de voluntad

Cuando hablamos de voluntad nos referimos a la fuerza de voluntad. Una facultad del alma con la que se decide actuar en un determinado sentido. La fuerza de voluntad es la capacidad de uno para dirigir sus propias acciones con libertad. Yo no sé a ustedes, pero a mí esto me suena como un arma de potencia atómica. ¡Cada persona tiene consigo una fuerza que le permite dirigir sus acciones con libertad!

El poder que tiene la fuerza de voluntad es impresionante. Una persona puede vencer sus más bajos instintos gracias a la fuerza de voluntad. Una persona puede salir de una terrible depresión gracias a la fuerza de voluntad. Una persona puede deshacerse de adicciones y malos hábitos gracias a su fuerza de voluntad. Una persona que aprende a despertar su fuerza de voluntad es capaz enfrentarse a sus miedos, es capaz de atreverse a hacer cosas que consideraba imposibles, es capaz de actuar y avanzar a pesar de la incertidumbre y la crítica. El poder de la fuerza de voluntad es indetenible.

La primera vez que la Torá expresa esta idea ocurre en medio de un relato muy interesante. Los primeros hermanos en la historia de la humanidad, Caín y Evel preparan una ofrenda de sus posesiones a Dios. Caín, el mayor, ofrece de primero. Y Evel, el menor, ofrece de segundo. Dios recibe con amor la ofrenda de Evel la cual era de lo mejor de su ganado, pero no recibe la ofrenda de Caín por ser de menor calidad. Esta decepción genera en Caín sentimientos de ira y depresión. Dios intenta consolar a Caín diciéndole:

¿Por qué estás iracundo y por qué está decaído tu semblante? ¿Acaso no sabes que si haces el bien obtendrás fuerzas? Pero si no haces el bien, tu enemigo estará esperándote en la puerta para acabar contigo. Eso sí, tú puedes gobernarlo.[1]

La Torá nos enseña de forma clarísima (pues el propio Dios se lo dice a Caín) que uno puede dominar a su enemigo interno. Esos sentimientos de ira y tristeza que gobernaron a Caín, y que son letales para cualquier persona, no son invencibles, uno tiene la fuerza para vencerlos.

¿Conoces a tu enemigo?

Dios le dice a Caín Tú puedes gobernarlo, refiriéndose a un enemigo interno, al causante de su pecado. ¿Quién es ese enemigo? ¿Podemos tratar de definir las cualidades y armas que usa ese archienemigo o “instinto del mal” del que tanto se habla? Tratemos de entender quién es el enemigo, desde una perspectiva psicológica. En el mundo del coaching y la psicología se habla de que la mente de una persona puede ser su peor enemigo o su mejor amigo, la pregunta es ¿de qué depende?

Hablaremos más en próximos artículos. Para comenzar a abordar este fascinante tema debemos entender la naturaleza de la mente humana. Quizás para algunos será un poco incomodo escuchar esto, pero debemos ser sinceros. Tu mente no está diseñada para hacerte feliz ni para proveerte de creatividad, riquezas, amor o realización personal. Esas maravillas serán el resultado de un extraordinario trabajo personal, de una definición clara de tu propósito individual en la vida, de la internalización de ese propósito y de la capacidad para asociar todas las áreas de tu vida a ese propósito y generar cooperación. Tu mente, per se, solamente busca protegerte. La mente humana está diseñada para proteger a la persona de cualquier peligro que pueda representar una amenaza para su supervivencia. Para lograr esta protección, el hombre fue dotado de un sistema de alarma super sofisticado, capaz de detectar de forma instintiva cualquier indicio de peligro. No solamente eso, sino que, una vez detectado el posible peligro, ese mismo sistema activa una especie de alarma generalizada en todo el organismo que pone a éste en alerta y lo predispone a reaccionar frente al peligro. Esto incluye la segregación de hormonas relacionadas con la tensión y reacción acelerada de los músculos (como la adrenalina y el cortisol). Además, este estado de alerta suprime gran parte de las actividades que no sean indispensables para sobrevivir —como por ejemplo la digestión— pasándolas a un segundo plano. Adicionalmente, coloca los cinco sentidos en óptimo funcionamiento y lleva grandes cantidades de hormonas y de sangre a las piernas —para correr— y a las manos —para defenderse—. Todo un mecanismo de defensa que abarca prácticamente todo el organismo de una persona y que se pone en acción incluso antes de que uno pueda siquiera pensarlo. Por eso es un mecanismo instintivo.

Resulta, pues, que el primer freno u obstáculo al cual nos enfrentamos todos es el miedo. El miedo a lo desconocido, a lo nuevo, al cambio, incluso a algo mejor. El miedo es la herramienta de nuestra propia mente tratando de resguardarnos de cualquier posible peligro o amenaza. La pregunta es ¿una persona puede lograr aprender algo nuevo si se deja llevar por su “miedo protector? ¡Por supuesto que no! Ningún avance personal o social puede darse mientras el miedo sea el actor principal. Vemos que el miedo es un agente paralizador ante cualquier elemento desconocido, por lo tanto la primera batalla que uno debe librar para avanzar y crecer en cualquier area de su vida es actuar a pesar del miedo. Para eso hace falta muchísima fuerza, esa fuerza que llamamos voluntad.

Dedicado para la pronta y total recuperación de Aló bat Hanna. Y en memoria de la Sra. Rajel bat Perla z”l.


[1] Basado en Bereshit 4:3-7 según Rashi, Ramban y Sforno.

Según tomado de,

Abraham Promueve el Monoteísmo y Libra la Primera Guerra Mundial

por Rav Avi Geller

La señal decía “Tienda de Ídolos de Teraj”. Marta se acercó al joven detrás del mostrador con aprehensión. (“¿Cómo va el negocio?”. “¡Gracias a los Dioses!”) El vendedor no era el astuto Teraj quien hubiera tomado hasta tu último dinar por una bendición de tu ídolo favorito. Ese día era un día de fiesta en el templo, por lo que Teraj dejó a su hijo Abram cuidando el negocio.

“¡He traído un suntuoso sacrificio al dios Baal!”, dijo Marta.

Sorprendentemente, Abram no estaba ansioso de recibir su ofrenda. “Dígame Sra. ¿Cuántos años tiene?”, preguntó él.

“Acabo de cumplir 45”, respondió ella.

Abram continuó: “Entonces déjeme informarle que ayer este sagrado ídolo era sólo un árbol. Lo cortamos, utilizamos la mitad como leña y la otra mitad se convirtió en este ídolo. ¡¿Realmente tiene usted respeto por un ídolo que es menor que usted?!”.

Su argumento le hizo sentido a Marta, que en realidad no entendía bien la teología del servicio a los ídolos. “En ese caso, ¿Por qué no le das mi ofrenda a un ídolo que consideres honorable?”, murmuró ella apresurándose a abandonar la tienda.

Abram, que había llegado a creer en un solo Dios a través del razonamiento intelectual, tuvo de repente una idea brillante. Por muchos años, había tratado sin éxito de convencer a su familia de lo absurdo de la idolatría. Ahora, esta era su oportunidad.

Tomó un hacha y cortó en pedazos cada uno de los ídolos de la tienda de Teraj. Dejando al más grande de ellos intacto, tomó el hacha, la puso en la mano del ídolo y colocó la ofrenda de Marta en frente del mismo.

Cuando Teraj y su familia regresaron del templo, encontraron la tienda en ruinas. “¡Abram!”, gritó Teraj, ¿Por qué no cuidaste el negocio? ¿Quién destruyó todos mis dioses?”.

“Padre, ¿acaso no ves lo que ocurrió?”, dijo Abram. “Una mujer trajo un sacrificio y todos los ídolos empezaron a pelear para decidir quién debía recibirlo. ¡El ídolo más grande le pegó a todos los demás!”.

Teraj estaba atónito. Enfurecido gritó, “¡Abram! ¡Es obvio que tú hiciste todo esto! ¡Los ídolos sólo son madera y piedra!”.

“Que tus oídos escuchen las palabras que pronuncia tu boca”, dijo Abram. “Si sólo son de madera y piedra, ¿Cómo puedes adorarlos?”. (Adaptado del Midrash)

* * *

Oponiéndose a la Idolatría

La parashá Lej Leja es la historia del primer judío: Abram. (Su nombre cambió posteriormente a Abraham). La Torá cuenta de su nacimiento y luego salta a su primera profecía cuando tenía 75 años.

De acuerdo al Midrash (tradición oral), Abram fue sentenciado a muerte al nacer por el déspota rey Nimrod, después de que Nimrod fue advertido por sus astrónomos que Abram estaba destinado a generarle problemas al rey. El padre de Abram salvó su vida y lo escondió en un calabozo, donde permaneció toda su infancia.

Al dejar el calabozo siendo ya un adulto joven, Abram estaba fascinado por la belleza del mundo (algo que la mayoría de la gente tiende a dar por hecho después de haber visto el mundo durante toda su infancia). Con su gran intelecto, Abram preguntó, “¿Quién hizo todo esto? ¿Con qué propósito lo hizo?”. Los ídolos no podían dar una respuesta satisfactoria.

Maimónides explica que originalmente toda la humanidad sabía que había un Dios, especialmente los hijos de Noaj que milagrosamente sobrevivieron al Diluvio. Su error fue que ellos sintieron que era imposible relacionarse con un “Dios invisible”. Su estrategia fue tener buena relación con Sus sirvientes a los que ellos sí podían percibir (tales como el sol) y a través de eso ellos serían capaces de relacionarse con Dios. Sin embargo, con el paso de las generaciones, la gente se olvidó de la intención original y empezaron a adorar al sirviente. (Los japoneses aún creen que su Emperador es descendiente del sol).

Los paganos tenían muchas deidades porque ellos atribuían los diversos poderes a dioses diferentes – por ejemplo, el dios de la lluvia, del viento, del sol, de la luna, etcétera. Todos ellos debían estar calmados si querías tener paz y quietud.

Cuando Abram vio por primera vez al sol, pensó que él debía ser el amo. Luego el sol se puso y pensó que la luna debía ser la importante. Eventualmente, se dio cuenta que debía existir un Creador invisible (“¡Una rueda no puede girar sola!”) Abram fue capaz de percibir la unidad que conectaba a todos los diversos poderes. Él observó la cadena alimenticia, los patrones del clima, la fotosíntesis y las relaciones simbióticas entre los animales y concluyó que todo estaba interconectado. Todo esto apuntaba a un “Diseñador Supremo”. (En esa época eso era herejía.)

Abram posteriormente preguntó la siguiente pregunta lógica: “¿Cómo quiere el Creador que vivamos? ¡Debe existir un propósito para el mundo!”.

Abram razonó que debemos emular al Creador. Tal como Dios provee a las personas de aire, comida y vestimenta, así también nosotros debemos hacer actos de bondad por los demás seres humanos.

El Midrash continúa: Cuando Abram destruyó los ídolos, Teraj sintió que era su deber patriótico llevar a su hijo donde el rey. “Su Alteza, mi pobre hijo necesita ser “reeducado”. Él cree en un Dios invisible que supuestamente creó el mundo”.

Nimrod se volvió hacia Abram y le dijo: “Mi querido niño, yo soy el que creó el mundo”.

Abram: “¡En se caso, demuéstrame tu gran poder apagando al sol!”.

Nimrod: “Tengo un método mejor para probarlo. Se llama la “prueba de fuego”, te voy a tirar a un horno ¡y vamos a ver si te quemas! Si no te quemas, entonces yo no soy dios”. (Similar a la “prueba de agua” – es decir, “¡Vamos a ver si te ahogas!”).

Abram salió del horno sin una quemadura. Nimrod lo echó del reino.

Los sabios cuentan que el hermano de Abram, Harán, también era sospechoso de herejía. Él decidió ir a la segura. “Si Abram sale vivo, entonces yo estoy de su lado. Y si no, estoy del lado de Nimrod”.

Entonces, cuando Abram salió vivo, su hermano Harán dijo que él era leal a su hermano Abram. Pero cuando tiraron a Harán al horno, él se desintegró por el fuego y el calor. (La lección es que los milagros sólo le ocurren a aquellos que tienen fe – ¡y que no los esperan!).

Todo lo anterior está sugerido en el verso, “Y Harán murió en frente de Teraj su padre (es decir, como resultado de las acusaciones de su padre) en Ur Casdim (literalmente en el “fuego” de Caldea)” (Génesis 11:28).

Los sabios dicen que las “acciones de los ancestros son patrones para los hijos”. El libro de Génesis registra la plantación de la semilla del pueblo judío, basada en las acciones de los patriarcas y matriarcas. En los libros posteriores de la Torá, la semilla crece hasta convertirse en una nación única. Continuaremos viendo los paralelos entre las vidas de nuestros ancestros y la historia de sus descendientes.

* * *

Vete Tú

Dios le ordena a Abram: “Vete Tú, de tu tierra, de tu lugar de nacimiento y de la casa de tu padre” (Génesis 12:1). Pero el orden de las palabras en el verso parece estar al revés. En orden de cercanía, el primer lugar que uno abandona al viajar lejos es la casa de los padres. Luego la persona deja su ciudad (su lugar de nacimiento) y finalmente su país.

Aquí el orden está a la inversa, porque no se está refiriendo a un abandono físico sino a un quiebre filosófico. El mandamiento de Dios es que Abram deje atrás todas las influencias del pasado y empiece una nueva vida, empezando por las bases. Dios le dice que se distancie de las influencias de su país, e incluso aquellas de su lugar de nacimiento y finalmente, lo más difícil de todo, de las influencias de la casa de sus padres. (Escuchado del Rabino Noaj Weinberg).

* * *

Grandeza Futura

“Te convertiré en una gran nación. Te bendeciré y haré que se engrandezca tu nombre” (Génesis 12:2). Generalmente, alguien que es nómade y que viaja constantemente no amasa gran fortuna, ni construye una familia grande, ni se hace famoso. Dios le promete a Abram, que, a pesar del hecho de que se le pide que viaje lejos (y que en esos días el “clan familiar” proveía los únicos medios de protección contra ataques), él será el fundador de una gran nación, que logrará tener mucha riqueza y ser famoso mundialmente (Rashi).

La bendición continúa hasta hoy en día, cuando los judíos rezan tres veces al día al “Dios de Abraham”.

* * *

“E Invocó el Nombre de Dios” (Génesis 12:8)

En cualquier lugar que Abram se encontraba, él construía un altar e invitaba a la población local a “invocar el nombre de Dios” – es decir, él enseñaba sobre la existencia de un Dios (¿Seminario Discovery?).

Abram llevó junto con él las “almas que hizo en Jarán” (Génesis 12:5). Donde quiera que Abram iba, se sentía impulsado a “establecer relación” con otras almas y enseñarles sobre Dios y sobre Su servicio. ¡Abram fue el primer profesional judío de tiempo completo, dedicado a acercar a las personas al servicio de Dios!

* * *

La Hambruna

La segunda prueba de Abram fue la hambruna que golpeó a Canaan tan pronto como él se asentó ahí. Abram decidió bajar a Egipto y en el camino se dio cuenta que su esposa Sara presentaba un problema (en ese momento su nombre era Sarai). Los egipcios eran conocidos por tener un código de “moralidad” muy peculiar, ellos nunca pensarían estar con una mujer casada, entonces simplemente eliminaban a su esposo ¡y así ella ya no estaba casada!

El plan de Abram fue afirmar que Sara era su hermana soltera, en cuyo caso los egipcios iban a ofertar por su mano. Abram pensó que él podía subir el precio lo suficientemente alto como para que nadie pudiera pagar por ella y durante ese tiempo ellos “serán buenos conmigo por tu mérito” (Génesis 12:13) – es decir, que ellos le darían regalos (Rashi).

Lo que Abram no tomó en cuenta fue el Faraón, que inmediatamente tomó a Sara en base a “toma primero y paga después”. El Faraón luego procedió a hacer muy rico a Abram.

Pregunta: ¿Por qué Abram fue a Egipto después de que Dios le ordenó que fuera a Canaan? Al parecer no todos los de Canaan iban a Egipto. ¿Estaba Abram realmente interesado en los regalos que recibiría por su esposa?

Respuesta: Tal como hemos aprendido, la meta principal de Abram, era enseñar al mundo sobre Dios. Cuando llegó a Canaan, construyó altares y proclamó la unicidad de Dios públicamente. Mucha gente acudió a escuchar sus clases y como resultado, cambiaron su estilo de vida. Sin embargo, una vez que comenzó la hambruna, a pesar de que todavía había algo de comida disponible, la gente pasaba todo su tiempo tratando de encontrar medios para subsistir y no tenían tiempo para asistir a clases. Abram decidió que en Egipto, donde había más abundancia de comida, el público asistiría más a sus clases, especialmente si tenía una hermana disponible para matrimonio. ¡En otras palabras, los “Regalos” aumentarían la asistencia a sus clases! (Rabino Avigdor Miller).

* * *

En el Palacio del Faraón

Sarai fue llevada al palacio del Faraón, pero cada vez que él trataba de acercarse a ella, un ángel lo agredía físicamente. El ángel recibía órdenes directamente de Sarai. Cuando el Faraón se dio cuenta de lo que estaba pasando, mandó a llamar a Abram y le exigió saber por qué no le informó que Sarai era su esposa. “Ciertamente entiendo por qué no le dijiste a los otros, ¡pero podías haber confiado en mí!”, dijo el Faraón.

No encontramos ninguna respuesta de parte de Abram (por razones obvias) y el Faraón escoltó a Abram y Sarai fuera de la ciudad.

Encontramos aquí un patrón recurrente. El patriarca está viviendo en Israel; luego tiene que bajar a Egipto debido a la hambruna y los egipcios lo tratan mal. Los egipcios son golpeados con plagas y el patriarca se va con gran riqueza. Tal como dijimos, “las acciones de los ancestros son un patrón para sus hijos”. Años después, Yaakov iba a bajar a Egipto por causa de la hambruna. Los egipcios iban a esclavizar a sus hijos, Dios iba a mandar plagas a los egipcios y los judíos iban a salir con mucha riqueza (Najmánides).

El Midrash dice que durante su estadía en el palacio, Sarai abrió una “filial femenina” de los programas de acercamiento a Dios y empezó a dar clases a las mujeres de la casa del Faraón. Sus palabras tuvieron un profundo efecto en la hija del Faraón Hagar, quien decidió que ser la sirvienta de la casa de Abram ¡era mejor que se la princesa en el palacio del Faraón! Hagar se unió a la fiesta y se convirtió en la primera discípula de Sara. Aquí vemos el primer ejemplo de fuerza y poder de las matriarcas judías.

* * *

Primera Oportunidad Perdida – Lot

Un subtítulo a esta parashá bien podría ser “Oportunidades Perdidas” dado que encontramos tres ejemplos de grandes personas que tenían el potencial de alcanzar grandes alturas – pero que finalmente no lo lograron.

El primer ejemplo es Lot, el sobrino de Abram. Los sabios enseñan que Abram, fue muy cuidadoso en no tomar nada de otros, que su ganado y sus cabras viajaban amordazados para que no pastaran en los campos de otros.

Los pastores de Lot no actuaban de igual manera y no hacían nada para prevenir que el ganado de Lot pastara en los campos de otros. Cuando los pastores de Abram los reprendieron, ellos simplemente contestaron, “Dios le prometió la tierra a Abram, y Lot es su único heredero, entonces, ¡de todas maneras le pertenece!” (La tierra, de hecho, había sido prometida a Abram en el futuro, pero todavía no era suya).

Abram le habló a Lot y le sugirió que separaran sus caminos. En vez de suplicar por permanecer cerca de su tío y maestro, Lot estuvo de acuerdo y eligió a la infame Sodoma como su nueva ciudad de residencia. Este es el primer ejemplo de un gran potencial que se perdió. Lot conscientemente intentó continuar con el trabajo de Abram en Sodoma, sin embargo, inconscientemente estaba interesado en la recompensa física de Sodoma.

* * *

La Primera Guerra Mundial

La Torá describe la “primera guerra mundial” registrada entre los 4 y los 5 reyes. Los reyes eran tan decadentes que ellos sólo querían disfrutar la vida sin molestarse en gobernar sus tierras. Entonces, le pagaron al Emperador Kadorlaomer para que dirigiera las tierras por ellos. Cuando él empezó a cobrar impuestos excesivos, disminuyó nuevamente su diversión y se rebelaron. En la guerra resultante, los 4 reyes derrotaron a los 5. Sodoma fue conquistada y Lot junto con ellos.

El “sobreviviente”, Og el gigante (que de acuerdo a la tradición sobrevivió al gran Diluvio, al colgarse a una parte externa del Arca), le comunicó a Abram que Lot había sido capturado. Og pretendía que Abram muriera en la batalla para así poder casarse con Sarai. Abram corrió a librar una batalla y salvó exitosamente a su sobrino.

* * *

Segunda Oportunidad Perdida – Shem

La Torá presenta a Malkitzedek, el rey de Shalem, quien de acuerdo a la tradición no era otro que Shem, el hijo de Noaj y el rey de Jerusalem. Rashi señala que la Tierra de Israel fue originalmente destinada a los descendientes de Shem, sin embargo los Canaanitas (descendientes de Jam, el hijo de Noaj) la conquistaron.

A pesar de que la mayoría de la humanidad se había hundido en la idolatría, aún había algunos pocos lugares donde permanecía el monoteísmo. Shem era sacerdote del “Señor de lo Alto” y Abram le dio un diezmo (10 por ciento) del botín de guerra. Shem había recibido la bendición de Noaj – que la presencia de Dios residiera en sus tiendas – lo que significaba que él empezaría una nación especial que sería una luz para el mundo.

Sin embargo, Shem perdió su oportunidad cuando corrió a conocer al victorioso Abram con pan y vino, y proclamó, “¡Bendito es Abram para el Dios Supremo! Y bendito es el Dios Supremo que te concedió la victoria frente a tus enemigos” (Génesis 14:19).

¿En qué se equivocó Shem? Trata de imaginar a un victorioso general que acaba de ganar una guerra mundial (Pershing, Eisenhower, Shwartzkop), volviendo a casa en un desfile. Ahora imagina a un gran rabino jasídico con miles de seguidores llegando a una ciudad donde viven muchos de sus discípulos. ¡Qué bienvenida recibiría! Ahora imagina a un filántropo billonario llegando a la bienvenida de sus beneficiarios. ¡Ciertamente extenderían la alfombra roja!

Ahora imagina a todos ellos en uno. ¡Un individuo que recién ganó una guerra mundial sin ayuda y que había ganado el respeto de miles de discípulos y que es rico y dona fondos a miles de personas! ¡Ese era Abram, nuestro patriarca! Shem estaba tan impresionado por su grandeza que exclamó, “Bendito es Abram”, antes de bendecir a Dios. Momentáneamente se olvidó de Dios, a pesar de que inmediatamente corrigió su error y dijo, “Bendito es el Dios Supremo”.

Maimónides escribe que la grandeza de los patriarcas y matriarcas era que nunca separaron sus mentes de Dios, ni siquiera por un momento, incluso cuando realizaban los actos más mundanos. Dado que Shem se olvidó de Dios, perdió la oportunidad y no pudo ser el fundador de la familia. En vez, Abram, descendiente de Shem, se convertiría en el patriarca. (Rabino Avigdor Miller)

* * *

Pacto Entre las Partes

Dios hizo un pacto con Abram, prometiéndole una gran recompensa. Él tendría hijos tan numerosos como las estrellas en el cielo y heredaría la Tierra de Israel. Abram creyó que él tendría hijos a pesar de que Sarai era físicamente incapaz de dar a luz.

Sin embargo, cuando pensó en la Tierra de Israel, Abram se cuestionó, “¿Cómo sabré que la heredaré?”. Como Abram expresó duda, Dios decretó, “Tus hijos serán extraños (extranjeros que serán discriminados), se convertirán en esclavos (incluso en condiciones humanitarias), y será causa de sufrimiento (condiciones inhumanas) por 400 años”. (Génesis 11:13)

Se le dijo a Abram que tomara tres becerros, cabras y carneros (además de pájaros) y que cortara los animales por la mitad y caminara entre las partes como símbolo del trato. El fuego de Dios también pasó entre las partes. El concepto de que Dios firme un contrato con un hombre es impactante.

Pregunta: Pero, ¿los judíos sólo estuvieron en Egipto por 210 años?

Respuesta: Los sabios explican que la cuenta regresiva empieza con el nacimiento de Itzjak, cuando éramos extranjeros en la tierra de Canaan y continúa con la esclavitud en Egipto. Todo junto suma 400 años.

* * *

El Pecado de los Emoreos

Dios explicó por qué los judíos no podían heredar la tierra de forma inmediata. Los pecados de los Emoreos (un subgrupo de Canaanitas) todavía no se habían completado (Génesis 15:16). Esto nos dice que Dios no castiga inmediatamente, sino que le da a las personas la oportunidad de arrepentirse. Cuando llenan el vaso, ¡entonces son eliminados de la faz de la tierra! (Rashi).

Los judíos nunca han llenado el vaso, porque cada año en Iom Kipur, se limpia la pizarra y se empieza de nuevo. Ese es uno de los secretos de la sobrevivencia judía, independiente de los abrumadores obstáculos.

* * *

Tercera Oportunidad Perdida – Hagar

Hagar era una gran mujer. Dejó el palacio del Faraón para convertirse en la sirvienta de Sarai. Sara apreciaba la grandeza de Hagar y después de 10 años sin tener hijos desde que se mudaron a Canaan, ella le sugirió a Abram que se casara con Hagar. La idea era que dado que Hagar estaba subordinada a Sarai, el hijo sería criado por su concubina (una forma de maternidad reemplazada) tal como si fuera el hijo de Sarai.

Cuando Hagar quedó embarazada, empezó a despreciar a Sarai, diciendo: “Sarai estuvo casada con Abram por tanto tiempo y no pudo quedar embarazada. ¡Parece que ella no es tan grande como aparenta ser!”.

Sarai culpó a Abram por este cambio de actitud, que arruinó todos sus planes, porque Hagar ya no actuaba como subordinada de Sarai. El Rabino S.R. Hirsch explica que realmente fue culpa de Abram, a pesar de que no fue intencional. Después de unirse al hombre que tomó la máxima decisión de libre albedrío de relacionarse con Dios, Hagar no podía verse a sí misma como una sirvienta.

Sarai “castigó” a su sirvienta (no le permitió ir a sus clases, explica el Rabino S. Wolbe), entonces Hagar se escapó al desierto. Tres diferentes ángeles se le aparecieron (una evento común en la casa de Abram) y le dijeron que volviera donde Sara. Luego le prometieron que su hijo sería como un “burro indomable”. Eso representó para Hagar la libertad, entonces volvió donde Sara.

La Torá describe al hijo de Hagar, Ishmael, como “Su mano contra todo y todo contra él” (Génesis 16:12). La traducción aramea de Onkelos explica que “él se iba a topar con toda la humanidad y toda la humanidad se iba a topar con él” (cf. OPEC). El pozo en el cual se le aparecieron los ángeles a Hagar se convirtió en un lugar santo e Itzjak frecuentemente rezaba ahí (ver Génesis 24:62).

* * *


Dios cambió el nombre de Abram a Abraham, lo que significa “Padre de todas las naciones” (incluyendo a todos los futuros conversos) y le ordenó que se circuncidara así como también a sus hijos, sirvientes hombres y a todos los futuros hijos a la edad de 8 días. Este es el primer mandamiento que se le dio a Abraham para todas las generaciones y el segundo pacto de Dios con Abraham.

Pregunta: ¿Por qué el símbolo del pacto con Dios está específicamente en el órgano reproductor?


(A) Dado que la necesidad sexual es el impulso más fuerte que tiene el hombre, él debe purificarlo y utilizarlo sólo de acuerdo al pacto con Dios.

(B) Dado que es la fuente de todos los hijos, simboliza el hecho de que este pacto está hecho también con todas las futuras generaciones. Uno habría pensado que esta práctica “barbárica” de cirugía electiva en un infante sería la primera mitzvá abandonada por los secularistas modernos – y sin embargo, la mayoría de los judíos en el mundo continúa con esta práctica. Es nuestra conexión eterna con Dios, con el pueblo judío y con Abraham, el primer judío y padre de nuestra nación.

Según tomado de,

Religion, Science Clash as Archaeologists Restore Ancient Jewish Catacomb in Rome


Also, in a development likely to surprise Jews everywhere, the study of the site has led archaeologists to a new theory about how and where the menorah became a symbol of the Jewish people.

Mussolini and the Jews

The catacomb, housing some 4,000 burials on two floors, was in use between the 2nd and 5th centuries C.E., the archaeologists say, though some experts believe it may have been built even earlier. It is located in northern modern Rome, beneath the grounds of Villa Torlonia, a 19th-century neoclassical villa with vast gardens once owned by the aristocratic family of the same name.

During the Fascist period, the villa was rented by none other than Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, as his residence in the city.

The underground city of the dead was rediscovered in 1919 during construction work on the estate, but it has since lain mostly abandoned and easy prey to looters, researchers say.

“Most of the tombs had been smashed open and looted, with the bones strewn around the floor, and anyone who went in could walk on them and crush them,” says Yuval Baruch, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority leading the restoration project.

The Torlonia catacombYouTube

In general, Christian catacombs may be better known than Jewish ones because they have been well preserved by the Catholic Church as burial spots of martyrs and early places of worship. But Jews used catacombs too. There are at least six such cemeteries in Rome alone, says Daniela Rossi, the archaeologist overseeing the project on behalf of the Italian Culture Ministry.

In fact, some researchers have concluded that the Jewish catacombs in the city predate the Christian ones, and that it was the Jews who first introduced this burial method to ancient Rome.

As in most of these underground cemeteries, the dead of Villa Torlonia were buried in loculi – rows of niches carved into the soft tufa stone and then sealed with plaster. The cover would often be inscribed with the name of the deceased as well as prayers or invocations.

Those who could afford it were buried in larger chapels with arched niches, known as arcosolia, whose walls and ceilings were elegantly decorated with Jewish motifs such as menorahs and the Ark of the Covenant, or symbolic fruits like the pomegranate and the etrog.

Already in 2005, the Italian Culture Ministry had approved the 1.4-million-euro restoration plan for the catacomb, but then the experts ran into an impasse. Because Italian law recognizes and respects Jewish burial customs, archaeologists could not begin work on the site with all those bones lying around, Rossi explains.

Jewish religious law prohibits removing or damaging bones from a burial, even if done for scientific purposes. In Israel, this has led to frequent clashes between ultra-Orthodox Jews and archaeologists whenever ancient Jewish graves are dug up.

To preserve this treasure, archaeologists had to make concessions to Jewish religious sensitivities, Rossi says.

Jacopo Brogioni, Courtesy Yuval Baruch archive

Between a rock and a hard place

Over the last year, Italian authorities allowed Atra Kadisha – a small ultra-Orthodox group that took upon itself to protect Jewish graves wherever they might be – to collect the human remains at Villa Torlonia and reseal them in the loculi.

Bones, and the DNA they contain, can help date a site or answer questions like where people came from, what illnesses they suffered from and what they ate. The decision to surrender this scientific treasure trove angered many experts, dozens of whom signed petitions to the Culture Ministry asking for the reburials to be stopped.

On Thursday, as the Italian-Israeli team presented the project at a conference in Jerusalem, one angry archaeologist interrupted the talk by shouting that his colleagues had behaved unethically.

“It breaks my heart that people who have nothing to do with archaeology were allowed to do such enormous damage to antiquities,” the dissenting researcher, Amos Kloner from Bar Ilan University, later told Haaretz. “Atra Kadisha doesn’t care about archaeological findings. They are an extremist religious group that should not be backed by archaeologists.”

The Italians only agreed to allow the ultra-Orthodox in “because they were afraid of being accused of anti-Semitism,” Kloner suggests.

Jacopo Brogioni, Courtesy Yuval Baruch archive

Scholars from around the world wrote time and again to the Italian authorities beseeching them to stop the works and allow a task force of international experts to inspect the site, says Leonard Rutgers, an archaeologist from Utrecht University and a longtime researcher of Jewish catacombs in Rome.

“The Italians never let us in, which is even more worrying, because if there is no problem with your work then you should have nothing to hide,” Rutgers says. Before letting a minority group barge in and do “irreversible damage” to antiquities, there should have been a broader debate involving researchers and religious figures to discuss how to respect the human remains without losing anything of historical value, he says.

Rutgers further cautioned that the catacomb is extremely fragile and opening it to the public could lead to further damage.

On the other hand, Yuval Baruch, who explains that the Israel Antiquities Authority joined the project following the protests, reports that the Israelis were positively impressed when they inspected the site during the reburial work last year.

“From what we saw, they worked together with experts in conservation and did a very precise work of archaeological restoration,” he said. “We don’t think that salvaging the bones did any damage to research beyond, of course, preventing research on the bones themselves.”

“We were between a rock and a hard place, between the demands of the Orthodox and the scientific community,” Rossi told Haaretz on the sidelines of the conference. “I am not ashamed of the compromise we made. Certainly, it’s a loss for science, because we couldn’t bring in the anthropologists to study the bones, but this is a price we had to pay for not losing the entire monument.”

With Atra Kadisha’s religious work completed, the restorers will begin work next month on conserving the frescoes and preparing the site for visitors. The plan is to open the catacomb sometime next year. Funding is still being sought for a small museum to be built above ground to showcase important finds, Rossi said.

Shalom shalom

The preliminary work has meanwhile turned up new discoveries, such as the only Hebrew inscription found in the catacomb. Most of the writing in the cemetery is in Greek – the lingua franca of early diaspora Jews and Hellenistic-era Israel – and some is in Latin.

Actually, the new-found Hebrew text was first noticed by one of the rabbis working in the catacomb, Rossi says.

The text is fragmentary but is believed to spell out “Clodius shalom shalom” –  likely the equivalent of a rest-in-peace blessing for a man named Clodius.

Jacopo Brogioni, Courtesy Yuval Baruch archive

Archaeologists also found a beautifully preserved oil lamp decorated with the Christogram – a symbol of Christ formed by the Greek letters ‘chi’ and ‘rho’ – which suggests the catacomb was used by early Christians in Rome as well.

The fact that local Jews had typically Latin names such as Clodius, and that Christian symbols were found, indicates the extent to which the cultures living side by side in Rome influenced each other, Rossi concludes. “There was a lot more coexistence and commingling than we think,” she says.

The sheer number of burials in Villa Torlonia and in other Jewish catacombs in the city also attests to the size of the local community, Rossi says.

The first Jews arrived in Rome during the second century B.C.E., and many more came –voluntarily or as captives – following the abortive Jewish Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 C.E. Most of the Jews settled in Trastevere, a neighborhood on the River Tiber, and were generally artisans or traders.

Catacombs with their tightly-packed shelves were usually used by the lower classes, who couldn’t afford to buy a plot in a fancy open-air pagan necropolis. But the rich decorations in some of the larger tombs in Villa Torlonia show that at least some of Rome’s Jews had achieved a modicum of wealth, Rossi says.

“We don’t know exactly how many Jews there were, but it must have been a fairly large community with a stratified society, as was the rest of Roman society,” she says.

Jacopo Brogioni, Courtesy Yuval Baruch archive

Where does the menorah come from?

The restoration at Villa Torlonia has also given researchers an opportunity to study more closely the catacomb’s frescoes, especially the nearly ubiquitous depictions of the menorah, the seven-armed candelabrum that was one of the treasures the Romans seized from the Temple.

Their conclusions were presented at the conference in Jerusalem and suggest that we need to rethink the origins of the menorah as a symbol of the Jewish people, says Baruch, the Israeli archaeologist.

There are less than a dozen depictions of the menorah in Israel that date to before the destruction of the Temple, and these are usually found in a discreet location, such as a water well, or in a context connected to the Cohanim, the priests of the Temple. This makes sense because at the time the menorah was locked up in the Temple and visible only to the priests, Baruch says.

After the Temple was destroyed, the menorah was prominently depicted on the primary Arch of Titus, which the emperor Domitian built in Rome (in fact, two were built) to celebrate the Roman triumph over rebellious Judea. The original menorah, looted from the Temple, was displayed in the Temple of Peace built nearby by the emperor Vespasian along with other trophies of Rome’s wars.

Most historians believe the menorah itself was melted down during the barbarian invasions of Italy in the 5th century C.E., but the bas-relief on the arch has endured to this day.

“Suddenly anyone could go and copy it, and the depiction on the arch became the prototype of all menorahs,” Baruch says.

Initially used in the Jewish catacombs of Rome as a symbol of death and mourning for the destruction of the Temple, only later did the menorah acquire a broader national significance, appearing in synagogues and Jewish buildings across Israel and the diaspora, he says.

“Ironically, it seems that the menorah as a symbol of the Jewish people did not originate in Israel, but in Rome,” the archaeologist concludes.

Jacopo Brogioni, Courtesy Yuval Baruch archive

by Ariel David

As taken from,

Huge if True: The Archaeological Case for Goliath

Caravaggio - David with the Head of Goliath

Is the story of the Philistine champion Goliath a distant memory of an event that took place in the 11th century B.C.E. or a fable by priests conspiring in Jerusalem 400 years later?

Some 3,000 years ago, the Israelites and Philistines faced off on opposite sides of Elah Valley. Throughout 40 days of stalemate, every day, a gigantic warrior named Goliath stepped forward from the Philistines’ ranks and shouted his challenge: to fight him in single combat. The Israelites quailed and held back, until a shepherd boy named David arose and, armed with naught but a slingshot, triumphed.

So goes the biblical narrative (1 Samuel 17:4), which has been immortalized in popular culture since the day it was written, becoming a symbol of the weak prevailing over the powerful.

True history is made up not of stones or words but of people. Was there ever a mighty warrior named Goliath who challenged the Israelites in the 11th century B.C.E.? Is the story based on distant memory from 3,000 years ago, or much later fabrication?

One argument in favor of the historical narrative is that Bronze Age societies commonly employed single combats as proxies for the clash of two armies, to determine the outcome of a war. Evidence of that is legion. Another is that names are among the easiest things to pass down in oral tradition. But the most crucial argument is that the biblical description of Goliath’s armor fits archaeological discoveries from his very era. And now new archaeological evidence from Philistine Gath obliquely supports the case that the biblical narrative reflects historical realities, albeit through a prism, and was not pure 7th century B.C.E. wishful thinking.

Now let us meet the narrative’s antagonist, Goliath.

A champion named Goliath

As the two armies confronted each other across the valley, a huge figure armed to the hilt stepped forward through the ranks of the Philistine army:

“A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath” (1 Samuel 17:4).

Goliath’s birthplace was the city of Gath, the largest city of the Philistine Axis lords (1 Samuel 16:17-18).  In 2017, archaeologists digging in the ancient Philistine capital discovered an inscription on a small sherd of pottery, found lying on a floor of a house dating to the 9th century B.C.E.

The inscription contained the name WLT (Semitic languages were and are generally written without vowels).

This was the second example of Philistine writing found in Gath: In 2005 the excavators found a similar inscription, with the name ‘ALWT.

Linguists explain that the etymology of the names ‘ALWT and WLT is similar to that of the name Goliath. The fragments were subsequently dubbed the “Goliath sherds”.

If nothing else, these inscriptions prove that people with names very similar to Goliath lived in Gath during the early Iron Age.

Warrior of the Bronze Age

The Bible gives a very detailed description of Goliath’s arms and armor.

He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze… on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back”.  (1 Samuel 17: 4-7)

This description in the account of Samuel 17:4-7 and 53 has generated two approaches, one treating the narrative as the distant memory of a mostly factual event that happened in the 11th century B.C.E., and another that suspects the event was fabricated by priests in Jerusalem, conspiring to create their own version of history.

The biblical description of Goliath’s arms and armor is accurate for his time: bronze helmet, a coat of bronze mail, bronze greaves, scimitar (curved sword with convex cutting edge) and a bronze spear.

Warriors arrayed in this way were called champions; they were at the front of the field and often led the attack. Homer calls them promachoi, meaning first-men. We recognize them from the warrior vase found at Mycenae, as well on the Egyptian reliefs at Medinet Habu from 1174 B.C.E. years ago, depicting an invasion by the “Sea People”.

The Medinet Habu reliefs depict some Sea People warriors with feathered headdress, and bearing swords, round shields and spears, whom the Egyptian texts among the reliefs identify as Philistines, Tjekker, and Danuna – peoples from the Aegean. Other Sea People depicted with round caps were called the Tursha, and yet others with horned helmets were called the Sherden – other Aegean tribes.

As for Goliath, his helmet evidently did not protect his forehead. Although he is called a Philistine, his helmet sounds like it more closely resembled either the horned helmets worn by the Sherden, or the round caps of the Tursha in the Medinet Habu reliefs.

Moving on: what about Goliath’s greaves? Depictions of Egyptian and Near Eastern Bronze Age warriors show them bare-legged. But greaves were definitely part of the panoply Mycenaean warriors bore in the 13th century B.C.E. and later. The Warrior Vase of Mycenae depicts the spearman with greaves. Bronze greaves have been found in tombs in Greece and Cyprus.

However, the shirt of scale armor that Goliath was purported to have was not thought to be within the Mycenaean panoply. Their soldiers were wrapped in wide bronze bands connected by hinges, protecting their bodies from neck to groin. A superb example of the Mycenaean armor was found in Dendra, a Bronze Age site in Greece. Scale armor had been thought to have gone out of use before the Mycenaean heyday, around 1400 B.C.E. But in 2006, bronze scale armor was discovered in a Mycenaean palace on the island of Salamis.

Now, if the story had been 7th or 6th century B.C.E. fiction, written hundreds of years after the event, the author would have had no idea how warriors had been garbed in the earlier Bronze Age. Skeptics supporting  the narrative of fiction argue that the story of Goliath dresses him like Greek “hoplites,” heavily-armed soldiers who were deployed from the 7th to 5th century B.C.E.

One weakness in that hypothesis is that hoplites used neither scale armor nor shieldbearers, as Goliath was said to have had. So whoever wrote the story, Goliath wasn’t based on a hoplite.

On the other hand, if Goliath was real, he lived a century or more after the Mycenaean era and could have chosen to emulate their ancient style.

In summary, the Philistines have Aegean origins, like the Mycenaeans; the champion Goliath could have picked arms and armor as he saw fit, mixing styles of the Aegeanized warriors: headgear from one, greaves from another, and so on.

Bronze Age war by proxy

Not only does the description of Goliath’s arms and armor fit the archaeological evidence of Bronze Age warriors. So does his challenge:

“This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other. On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified” (1 Samuel 17:10-11)

War by proxy was a common practice in the Bronze Age, to spare the bloody cost of armies clashing. The peoples assumed their gods would intervene on their behalf (and when they didn’t, they assumed the gods were peeved at them). Examples abound.

The Egyptian warrior Sinuhe, who may or may not have existed around 4,000 years ago, tells of his one-on-one battle with a powerful enemy: “When he charged me, I shot him, my arrow sticking in his neck. He screamed; he fell on his nose; I slew him with his ax” (lines 137-140 in Lichheim 1996:79).

Another account of single combat occurs in the Babylonian Epic Enuma Elish, in which the god’s champion, Marduk, set out to crush Tiamat (who was either a creator goddess or a monstrous embodiment of terrible chaos, depending which ancient source you ask):

He made the bow, appointed it his weapon. He mounted the arrow, set it on the string… with raging fire he covered his body” (lines 35-40 in Foster 1993:373).

Perhaps the most famous example of war by proxy is the duel between Paris and Menelaus in Homer´s Iliad (3.340-382): they stood champions for their armies, but the gods meddled. The outcome got messy.

Conspiracy in Jerusalem

So the narrative of two champions standing in for their armies makes sense, but skeptics query, among other things, when the story was written down for the first time: in real time, or centuries later.

Another skeptic argument relies on the paucity of epigraphic material from early periods of Israel and Judah: 3,000 years ago literacy was rare to nonexistent, they argue. There is no evidence of Hebrew scribes in Jerusalem capable of writing history before King Hezekiah’s time, the 6th and 7th centuries B.C.E., the skeptics say. Ergo, the Goliath story had to have been written in the 6th-7th centuries B.C.E., some 300 or 400 years after the event.

It is true that no Hebrew inscriptions have been found from the 11th -12th  centuries B.C.E., when Goliath may have lived. It is also true that Hebrew inscriptions, ostraca, seals and graffiti that can be dated to the late 8th century B.C.E. or earlier, are scarce, much fewer than the number known from later periods.   But there is evidence starting in the 9th century B.C.E., not long after Goliath: for instance the Mesha Inscription (a.k.a. the Moabite Stone); the Tel Dan stele with its Aramaic inscription; and the prophetic account presented in the Deir Alla text (a prophetic inscription relating visions of the seer of the gods Baalam) from the 9th or 8th century B.C.E.

So the story of Goliath may have been written in real time or shortly after. It didn’t have to wait for centuries.

To sum up, Goliath seems to have worn contemporary Bronze Age gear, scribes did exist shortly after his time and possibly within it, and the biblical descriptions suit other ancient texts referring to armies led by champions, rather than as the impersonal institutions of later texts.

Finally, there is testimony of 12th and 11th century warfare from the ancient Near East itself:  battles between champions instead of armies, the mutilation of enemy corpses, shouting matches between warriors, weeping as a sign of manhood – these and many other things are not scribal inventions of the 7th century B.C.E. but well-attested realities of late Bronze Age life. And Goliath’s arms and armor are not much like those of a 5th century Greek hoplite as some suggest. The accurate description of a Bronze Age warrior’s equipment opens up the possibility that a memory was handed down over several centuries, embellished to be sure, but with a core of truth.

As taken from,

Why did God choose Abraham?

Illustrative. Journey of the Family of Abraham, by Grechetto (Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione), 1650-1650. (Google Art Project, Wikimedia Commons)

How do you know what difference you’re supposed make in your home, your community, and the world at large?

Why did God choose Abraham?

At the beginning of Parashat Lech Lecha, it seems that God’s command to Abraham comes out of the blue: “Go forth from your land, and from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” We don’t know anything about Abraham except his lineage, which was just described at the end of the last parasha. The question becomes even stronger when we compare this to the beginning of Parashat Noah, when we hear very clearly why Noah is chosen to build the ark and survive the flood: “Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generation; Noah walked with God.”

The Midrash famously describes how Abraham as a young child recognized the Divine, and even tried to convince his father of the falsehood of idolatry, breaking his idols and placing a hammer in the hand of one of the idols to highlight how silly it is to think that the idols have power. However, in the simple reading of the Torah, there is no mention of this. So why was Abraham chosen?

Furthermore, at the end of all the lists of the generations from Noah through Abraham at the end of Parashat Noah, we find a detail that is often overlooked. Terach, Abraham’s father, had actually set out from Ur Kasdim to travel to Cana’an, but after reaching Haran, the family stayed there. Why did Terach leave Ur Kasdim and set out for Cana’an? And why did he stop the journey?

All of this leads to a fascinating possibility: perhaps Hashem called many different people to the mission of “lech lecha,” of leaving their homes and families and following Hashem to a new place. Most of them probably did not hear the call, or ignored it because it seemed too difficult. Maybe Terach himself heard this call and set out for Cana’an, but for some reason stopped the journey and never made it. Perhaps what makes Abraham the chosen one is that he heeded the call, set out, and actually achieved the goal, reaching the land of Cana’an. This is Abraham’s first test — the willingness to heed the call. He goes on to many more challenges after his “aliyah” — trouble making a living as he encounters a famine, the challenge of Sarah’s being taken by Pharaoh, the war as he fights to redeem his nephew Lot from captivity — Abraham had a tough aliyah! But he remained in the land despite adversity, following God and His plan.

The message to each of us is to listen for God’s call — to try to discern what we are meant to do in a particular situation, and in our lives in general, and to follow through and complete that calling, becoming closer to Hashem, and making a difference in our homes, communities and the world at large. What made Abraham the chosen one is that he chose to follow God.

As taken from,


¿Di-s es Religioso?

Estudios recientes muestran que, el 80- 90 % de los habitantes de USA dicen creer en Di-s, pero el

40-50 %  declara no practicar religión alguna.

Ciertamente, si Di-s es Todopoderoso e infinito, y la religión es un compendio de leyes y rituales y una lista de cosas que uno debe ó no hacer, se hace difícil describir a Di-s como “religioso”. Tampoco pareciera que ser religioso acercará a la persona a Di-s. Si Él trasciende toda limitación y definición, ¿por qué la forma de acercarnos a Di-s debe ser el imponer más restricciones y axiomas a nuestras ya finitas y pesarosas vidas?

De todas formas, esta paradoja no está confinada únicamente al aspecto religioso- espiritual de la experiencia humana. A lo largo de la historia, cuando una persona deseaba escapar de los límites de lo mundano y frívolo, lo lograba a través de subyugarse a un estructurado y rígido código de conducta.

Mi ejemplo preferido para esto es la disciplina de la música. Hay una cierta cantidad de notas en la escala musical, y ninguno – ni siquiera el más grande de los músicos- pude crear una nueva nota o abstraerse de alguna. Quien desee ejecutar o componer música debe conformarse con este sistema absoluto e inmutable.

Más aún, sometiéndose a esta estructura, el músico creará una pieza de música que conmoverá la parte más profunda del corazón de la persona- ese sitio que no puede ser descrito, y mucho menos, definido. Usando esa fórmula precisa y matemática, el músico creará algo que transportará a quién la escuche a un lugar mucho más elevado de los confines y ataduras del diario vivir, muy por encima de las estructuras de la física y la matemática.

Imagine, entonces, una disciplina musical cuyas leyes hayan sido dictadas por el Inventor y Creador de la vida- Aquél que posee el conocimiento íntimo de cada fuerza, cada vulnerabilidad, cada potencial y cada sensibilidad.

La única pregunta que resta es: ¿Por qué tantas leyes? ¿Por qué esta disciplina dicta cómo debemos despertarnos y cómo debemos dormir, y virtualmente todo lo que entretanto hacemos?

Porque la vida misma en toda su infinita complejidad, es nuestro instrumento de conexión con Di-s. Cada “escala” en su “registro” debe ser aprovechada para alcanzar la conexión óptima.

Ya que la música es nuestra metáfora, no podemos dejar de citar la famosa anécdota en la que el Archiduque Ferdinand de Austria, según se dice, le dijo a Mozart: “Hermosa música, pero demasiadas notas”. A lo que el compositor respondió: “Si, su majestad, pero ni una más de las necesarias”.

Según tomado de,

God and Natural Disasters: God is not a “What,” or a “When,” and not even a “Who”

Part Two

by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo

ויאמר אלהים לנח קץ כל בשר בא לפני כי מלאה הארץ חמס מפניהם והנני משחיתם את הארץ

“And God said to Noah: The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth has become full of robbery because of them, and behold I am destroying them from the earth.”

[Bereshit 6:13]

In the last chapter, I suggested that from an authentic Jewish point of view, it is a mistake to hold humankind or the Jewish people responsible for natural disasters—such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes or fires—due to religious or moral failures. Though some disasters may indeed be due to human failure, it is in fact irresponsible and dangerous to make human beings responsible for every disaster, since it reflects the same mistake the friends of the biblical Iyov (Job) made when they assumed that he must have sinned. For them it was obvious that he was at fault; otherwise, why would so many terrible afflictions have befallen him? Iyov, however, insisted that he had not sinned and challenged God as to why he had been made to endure such terrible miseries, since he was innocent! God responded that He knew this to be true but confronted Iyov with a question that speaks to the core of the matter: Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? [1] In other words: Since when is the human being really the measure of all things? The universe, with its black holes, baby universes and millions of stars clearly indicates that God’s reason for creating the universe surpasses by far the argument that all this was just created for the sake of humanity. That people suffer and natural disasters take place may have to do with matters that go to the very foundation of all existence and have nothing to do with peoples’ religious or moral failures.

Do terrible tragedies that afflict the innocent raise the question of whether it is more honest to deny God’s existence? Does all the pain in this world not make a strong case for such a proposition? Is the constant attempt to justify God’s existence, by way of apologetics, not a farce, and futile?

An attitude such as this, however, is guilty of erroneous reasoning. It assumes, as do the “pro-God” apologists, that God needs to fit the picture we have of Him, or would like to have of Him: a good God. However, by making God good by our standards, we are essentially making God into an idol, one Who fulfills our needs. That is surely not the Jewish God. While He shares with us certain qualities, He is far more than that. He does not belong to any category with which we can identify.

It seems that God is not the type of “good God” we always speak about and want to believe in. His goodness may apply only to the fact that He is good in and of Himself. He possesses goodness, but it is a truth known only to Him and has no bearing on human beings.

The Atheist’s Solution

This argument is not apologetic but an admission of our limited understanding. Atheism is no solution. It is an escape, which ultimately only increases the problem. To argue that all of existence is accidental requires more belief than believing that there is a Creator, and a purpose to all existence. The believer is a greater skeptic than the atheist. The difference is that believers admit their limitations while atheists do not. “The writers against religion, whilst they oppose every system, are wisely careful never to set up any of their own,” said Edmund Burke.[2]

This idea is supported by a well-known passage in the Talmud[3] discussing the case of shiluach haken–the obligation to send away a mother bird before taking her young.[4] In an unusually harsh statement, the Sages forbid one to say that compassion is the reason for this law, and they declare that such a person “is to be silenced.” It is not mercy behind this law, says the Talmud, but the unknowable Divine Will. Ultimately, we do not know why things are the way they are. God cannot be scrutinized.

The problem of creating God in our image is not a new one. Moshe asks God to reveal His name to him before he conveys the message to the Jews that He will redeem them from Egyptian bondage. God refuses to do so, and His answer is astonishing: “I will be Whoever I will be.” I am not a “what,” or a “when.” I am not even a “who.” There is no term you can use to describe Me. Any attempt to give Me an image is a serious violation of My very being. Any conclusive explanation of My deeds is idol worship. I permit you to describe Me in human terms only as long as you know that any such description will ultimately break down. No word can ever contain Me.

When disasters befall humankind, they may very well have no correlation with people’s behavior. They may simply be part of God’s cosmic plan, perhaps alluding to other divine aspects that are totally beyond us and known only to God. As long as we do not know why God created the universe, including so many other worlds, we cannot say for sure whether every calamity is a result of our shortcomings. Some may be, and some may not be. We should never deny the ever-present possibility that various divine factors are at work.

The Joy of Life

The joy of life, which is so much a part of Jewish tradition, focuses on the fact that from a divine perspective, things could actually be much worse. Despite God’s impenetrable nature and thoughts, He shared some of His “good” qualities with humanity, informing us that our existence has great meaning, though we will never know what that consists of. It is this aspect that is celebrated by Jewish tradition and beckons us to understand that despite all the pain, it is for the most part possible to enjoy life, to attain simchat chayim!

The claim that people are responsible for every disaster is a burden we may not be able to bear. It is an attitude of hopelessness that may lead us to give up and see God only as a vengeful God with Whom we cannot have a relationship. It would be better to reason, as does Søren Kierkegaard, that God sometimes applies His “teleological suspension of the ethical”[5] so as to achieve His goals within the universe—not only because we have a philosophical need to see God in terms of His total Otherness, but because it may be closer to the truth. Theodicy as a means of claiming that God can be justified in human terms is a form of idol worship.

Over the years, Jewish worship has adopted an attitude of mipnei chato’enu galinu me’artzenu (because of our sins we have been exiled from our land), which has developed into a form of pessimism that is not loyal to the teachings of our Jewish tradition. It pretends that humans are superhuman; it is dangerous and religiously unhealthy.

This approach has infiltrated and dominates too many of our daily prayers, which should be replaced with prayers about God whose exalted greatness is inscrutable but worthy of our worship.

Whether or not a devastating fire, or any other natural disaster, is an expression of divine displeasure we do not know. Nor will it ever be known, until we will again be blessed with prophets.


What it should evoke in us is a feeling of deep humility. It should serve as a wake-up call, that all our boasting, our arrogance, our claiming that we know it all and that one day all of nature will be under our control is one of the most pathetic dreams we have ever entertained. One storm, such as those that in recent history hit the United States and other countries, can bring all of the world’s population to its knees.

No doubt we should treat each disaster as if it was a warning, a call for repentance, for humility, and even more a call to help wherever we can. The dangerous apathy of many of us in the wake of such terrible tragedy is perhaps the most devastating expression of human failure.

We must be fully aware that calamities are perhaps part of God’s cosmic plan far beyond human behavior. And we are not to be blamed. This is an important message to send to our young people, lest they despair under the yoke of religious pessimism. Better a God Who is incomprehensible than a God Who unremittingly causes us to feel that all catastrophes are our fault. Believing the latter is un-Jewish.


[1] Iyov 38:4.

[2] Edmund Burke, The Works of Edmund Burke: With a Memoir, Volume 1 (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1860), xii.

[3] Berachot 33b.

[4] Devarim 22:6-7.

[5] Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, eds. C. Stephen Evans and Sylvia Walsh, trans. by Sylvia Walsh (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 46-58.

As taken from,

Four Dimensions of the Journey

by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Within the first words that God addresses to the bearer of a new covenant, there are already hints as to the nature of the heroism he would come to embody. The multi-layered command “Lech lecha – go forth” contains the seeds of Abraham’s ultimate vocation.

Rashi, following an ancient exegetic tradition, translates the phrase as “Journey for yourself.”[1] According to him, God is saying “Travel for your own benefit and good. There I will make you into a great nation; here you will not have the merit of having children.” Sometimes we have to give up our past in order to acquire a future. In his first words to Abraham, God was already intimating that what seems like a sacrifice is, in the long run, not so. Abraham was about to say goodbye to the things that mean most to us – land, birthplace and parental home, the places where we belong. He was about to make a journey from the familiar to the unfamiliar, a leap into the unknown. To be able to make that leap involves trust – in Abraham’s case, trust not in visible power but in the voice of the invisible God. At the end of it, however, Abraham would discover that he had achieved something he could not have done otherwise. He would give birth to a new nation whose greatness consisted precisely in the ability to live by that voice and create something new in the history of mankind. “Go for yourself ” – believe in what you can become.

Another interpretation, more midrashic, takes the phrase to mean “Go with yourself ” – meaning, by travelling from place to place you will extend your influence not over one land but many:

When the Holy One said to Abraham, “Leave your land, your birthplace and your father’s house…” what did Abraham resemble? A jar of scent with a tight-fitting lid put away in a corner so that its fragrance could not go forth. As soon as it was moved from that place and opened, its fragrance began to spread. So the Holy One said to Abraham, “Abraham, many good deeds are in you. Travel about from place to place, so that the greatness of your name will go forth in My world.”[2]

Abraham was commanded to leave his place in order to testify to the existence of a God not bounded by place – Creator and Sovereign of the entire universe. Abraham and Sarah were to be like perfume, leaving a trace of their presence wherever they went. Implicit in this midrash is the idea that the fate of the first Jews already prefigured that of their descendants[3] who would be scattered throughout the world in order to spread knowledge of God throughout the world. Unusually, exile is seen here not as punishment but as a necessary corollary of a faith that sees God everywhere. Lech lecha means “Go with yourself” – your beliefs, your way of life, your faith.

A third interpretation, this time more mystical, takes the phrase to mean, “Go to yourself.” The Jewish journey, said R. David of Lelov, is a journey to the root of the soul.[4] In the words of R. Zushya of Hanipol, “When I get to heaven, they will not ask me, why were you not Moses? They will ask me, Zushya, why were you not Zushya?”[5] Abraham was being asked to leave behind all the things that make us someone else – for it is only by taking a long and lonely journey that we discover who we truly are. “Go to yourself.”

There is, however, a fourth interpretation: “Go by yourself.” Only a person willing to stand alone, singular and unique, can worship the God who is alone, singular and unique. Only one able to leave behind the natural sources of identity – home, family, culture and society – can encounter God who stands above and beyond nature. A journey into the unknown is one of the greatest possible expressions of freedom. God wanted Abraham and his children to be a living example of what it is to serve the God of freedom, in freedom, for the sake of freedom.

Lech Lecha means: Leave behind you all that makes human beings predictable, unfree, delimited. Leave behind the social forces, the familial pressures, the circumstances of your birth. Abraham’s children were summoned to be the people that defied the laws of nature because they refused to define themselves as the products of nature. That is not to say that economic or biological or psychological forces have no part to play in human behaviour. They do. But with sufficient imagination, determination, discipline and courage we can rise above them. Abraham did. So, at most times, did his children.

Those who live within the laws of history are subject to the laws of history. Whatever is natural, said Maimonides, is subject to disintegration and decline. That is what has happened to virtually every civilisation that has appeared on the world’s stage. Abraham, however, was to become the father of an am olam, an eternal people, that would neither decay nor decline, a people willing to stand outside the laws of nature. What for other nations are innate – land, home, family – in Judaism are subjects of religious command. They have to be striven for. They involve a journey. They are not given at the outset, nor can they be taken for granted. Abraham was to leave behind the things that make most people and peoples what they are, and lay the foundations for a land, a Jewish home and a family structure, responsive not to economic forces, biological drives and psychological conflicts but to the word and will of God.

Lech Lecha in this sense means being prepared to take an often lonely journey: “Go by yourself.” To be a child of Abraham is to have the courage to be different, to challenge the idols of the age, whatever the idols and whichever the age. In an era of polytheism, it meant seeing the universe as the product of a single creative will – and therefore not meaningless but coherent and meaningful. In an era of slavery it meant refusing to accept the status quo in the name of God, but instead challenging it in the name of God. When power was worshipped, it meant constructing a society that cared for the powerless, the widow, orphan and stranger. During centuries in which the mass of mankind was sunk in ignorance, it meant honouring education as the key to human dignity and creating schools to provide universal literacy. When war was the test of manhood, it meant striving for peace. In ages of radical individualism like today, it means knowing that we are not what we own but what we share; not what we buy but what we give; that there is something higher than appetite and desire – namely the call that comes to us, as it came to Abraham, from outside ourselves, summoning us to make a contribution to the world.

“Jews,” wrote Andrew Marr, “really have been different; they have enriched the world and challenged it.”[6] It is that courage to travel alone if necessary, to be different, to swim against the tide, to speak in an age of relativism of the absolutes of human dignity under the sovereignty of God, that was born in the words Lech Lecha. To be a Jew is to be willing to hear the still, small voice of eternity urging us to travel, move, go on ahead, continuing Abraham’s journey toward that unknown destination at the far horizon of hope.

Shabbat Shalom


[1] Rashi, 12:1.

[2] Bereishit Rabbah 39:2.

[3] On the principle, “What happened to the fathers is a portent of what would happen to the children,” see for example, Nahmanides, commentary to Genesis 12:6. On Nahmanides’ use of this principle throughout his commentary, see Ezra-Tzion Melamed, Mefarshei Hamikra (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1975), vol. 2, 950–53.

[4] R. David of Lelov, Pninei Ha-Hassidut (Jerusalem, 1987), vol. 1, p88.

[5] R. Ephraim Lundschitz, Kli Yakar to Bereishit, 12:1.

[6] Andrew Marr, The Observer, 14 May 2000.

As taken from,