The late Abbie Hoffman, a Jewish radical of the 60's generation, described being Jewish in the following manner: “I see Judaism as a way of life. Sticking up for the underdog. Being an outsider. A critic of society. The kid in the corner that says the emperor has no clothes on. The Prophet.” (Tikkun, July-August 1989)
The Compassionate One called our people, “My firstborn child,” and from the perspective of Abbie Hoffman, this “child” is also the honest and spunky “kid in the corner that says the emperor has no clothes on.” Abbie Hoffman did not have the benefit of a Torah education which would have made him aware of the Torah’s path to “tikun olam” – the repair of the world; nevertheless, he sensed in his soul that the Jewish people had the courage and strength to be an “outsider” in a corrupt and unjust world. This courage and strength is rooted in the legacy of our forefathers and foremothers, and a source for this idea can be found in the prophecy of the Gentile Prophet Balaam, when he viewed our people camping in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. Through his prophecy, Balaam became aware of the unique and separate role of this people, and he proclaimed:
“I see it from the summit of the rocks, and from the hills do I view it; this is a people that will dwell apart and not be reckoned among the nations.” (Numbers 23:9).
He viewed them from “the summit of the rocks and from the hills.” According to Midrash Tanchuma, the "rocks" are a metaphor for our Patriarchs (Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov), and the "hills" are a metaphor for our Matriarchs (Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah). Based on the Midrash, Rashi explains that Balaam was looking at their roots – the source of their strength.
The above verse can therefore be understood in the following manner: Through the strength that they get from their Patriarchs and Matriarchs, they have the courage to dwell apart and not be reckoned among the nations.
Our forefathers and foremothers were willing to take a separate path in a world which had lost its way. In this spirit, the Book of Genesis (14:13) refers to our forefather Avraham as the “Ivri” – the Hebrew. This word can also mean, “on the other side”; thus, the Midrash offers the following comment on Avraham being an Ivri:
"Rabbi Yehudah says: All the world was on one side, but he was on the 'other side." (Genesis Rabbah 42:8)
As we have begun to discuss in previous letters, this separation is for the sake of a universal goal. The people of the covenant that would emerge from the courageous forefathers and foremothers were given the responsibility to develop a model society which could be a source of inspiration and blessing for all the nations. To accomplish this goal, however, the people of the covenant must not abandon their mission by assimilating among the nations. This is why their assignment is to “dwell apart and not be reckoned among the nations.” In this way, they will become a model nation that will develop into a source of inspiration and blessing for all the nations. As the Compassionate One proclaimed regarding this model nation, “Through it all the nations of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 18:18).
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Comments:
1. The Midrash cites these additional reasons why Avraham was called the “Ivri”: Rabbi Nehemiah said that he was called Ivri because he was a descendant of Evare (the righteous great-grandson of Shem, the son of Noah). The other sages said that he was called Ivri because he was from the other side of the Euphrates River, and because he spoke Ivris – Hebrew. (Genesis Rabbah 42:8)
2. For a discussion on the radical steps of Avraham’s path, review Letter 14 of this series titled, “The Steps of Our Path.” It appears in the archive on our website. The following is a direct link: