Avraham Burg

Emulate Our Ancestors

By Alana Alpert

  • Print
  • Share Share

In his commentary on Chayei Sarah, Avrum Burg reflects on the life and nature of the Father of the Jewish people, Avraham. Burg points out that Avraham is not only pious and loving to God, but concerned for people of other nations. In addition to cultivating his divine relationship, he also wants to engage with others as a person of warmth, fairness, and integrity. We witness this commitment over the last several parshiyot, from his welcoming of the angels to his purchasing of Maarat HaMachpela in this week’s parsha.

Nowhere is this more visible than in Avraham’s confrontation with God regarding the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Midrash Tanhuma, reflecting on parshat Chayei Sarah, tells a beautiful midrash. Discussing the importance of kavanah, mindfulness or intention during prayer, the rabbis declare that Abraham is the highest exemplar. They say, “…And nobody inclined their mind and heart like our Father Abraham”. The rabbis continue on to bring an amazing example of Abraham’s mindful and heartfelt prayer: they point to Abraham challenging God. When God tells Abraham that he is going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness, Abraham fights for the innocent, claiming that there must be some number of righteous people within the city’s gates. He asks: “Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?… Far be it from you to do a thing like that!… Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”

One way of understanding this midrash is to see that not only are Avraham’s actions informed by his view of the world, of justice and fairness, but they also inform his relationship with God. This integrated relationship with God and the world is what defines Avraham’s greatness.

So, how can we learn to pray like Avraham?

In Masechet Brachot, R. Hiyya bar Abba says: “A person should always pray in a place that has windows” Why do we need to pray in a place that has windows? Obviously because we need to look outside. But more than that, we need to pray in a place that has windows because true prayer is not just introspection; it requires engagement with what is beyond the synagogue’s walls.

Avraham and Sarah’s place of burial (and subsequently the place of burial of all of the patriarchs and most matriarchs) has become a place of prayer. Sadly, over the last decades it has also become a place that does not follow Abraham’s integrated model of both heavenly and earthly loving engagement. As a rabbinical school student studying in Israel, I feel that this parsha challenges me to open a window, and look at what is going on in Hebron today. I am blessed to be a part of “Project Hayei Sarah”, a group of rabbinical students, rabbis, Jewish educators and lay leaders who have spent time in Hebron and are grappling with the difficult realities we encountered there.

Avrum Burg writes that parshat Chayei Sarah is really about life and not about death. In that spirit, I wonder, what if we chose to emulate our ancestors in life instead of guarding them in death? This week of Hayei Sarah, let us honor the memory of Abraham as he was at his best in life: speaking up for the innocent, fighting for justice. May we find what true prayer requires of us: the strength to look at what is going on around us, and the chutzpah to demand that things be different. May we open a window: l’kaveyn daateynu, educate ourselves about the situation in Hebron, v’lkaveyn leebenu, open our hearts to the suffering in the holy city of Hebron. May we find that opening that window will do more than challenge us to ask hard questions, but that it will bring in air and light, and hope for a better future for all of us.

Ken yehi ratzon.

Alana Alpert is a community organizer and rabbinical student at Hebrew College.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: chayei sarah, avraham, sarah

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.