Look in the mirror. Within your face do you see the features of any relatives? We are often told that we resemble loved ones. What is even more striking is to hear that you or I might effect mannerisms of someone living one or two generations ago. When I hear such a comment I feel a closeness; and strangely -it is comforting to mirror someone in the family, whether known or unknown.
This week we gain a greater sense of the personal identity of our shared father, Abraham. While comfortably seated in his own home he becomes aware of people journeying towards him. Sensitive to the extremes of travel through the Negev desert he leaves his own comfort behind and runs out to bring strangers into his own shelter. Offering them water, food and rest he transforms strangers into individuals. Now possessing a sense of dignity, a sense of belonging, a sense of being appreciated these travelers are much more than homeless people who have nowhere else to go. For those who might have perished our first Jewish ancestor is a lifeline.
Even as they depart, Abraham challenges the Ultimate Holy One. He calls out to God in response to the plight of potential good people in Sodom and Amorrah, teaching God that it is unfair to stereotype all people of one community; allowing good people to be destroyed along with evil. In contemporary political terms Abraham would be saying that ‘collateral damage’ is completely unacceptable. Within one moment Avraham moves from the immediate concern of helping people journeying close to his own home to the overwhelming need of caring for vulnerable strangers who dwell far away. While it is necessary to protect ourselves from possible terrorists, such need does not permit threats against those who are weak, hungry, thirsty and seeking shelter from hostile forces.
On this very day you, I, and our fellow Americans are being asked the ultimate question of humanity. We Jews are being asked the same question which we have asked dozens of times throughout our own journeys.
Who will step forward to welcome a traveling stranger such that he or she not perish in the wilderness? Torah readings are intended not only to be taught but to change our very souls and to change the world. It is up to us to bring shalom into the here-and-now.
From one descendant of Abraham to another-from one man who sees the face of Abraham in yours and the faces of others; whose face resembles yours and the faces of all those in jeopardy.