Torah Readers Reflections

Family and Career

Abraham showed us through the stories told in the Torah how an investment in family can provide us with an amazing legacy
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It is common knowledge everywhere in the world that a person has a career and most people also have a family life to contend with and balance with the work life. Although family life is very important, an investment in the family often comes at the expense of a successful career. Quite often it is through a person's work that they manage to influence the world around them and gain friendships and notoriety, an investment in family life often comes at the expense of achieving this.

The Torah stories about Avraham our father direct us to an interesting point of view on this subject, but as an introduction, we must emphasize what we often forget. The Torah chooses which stories to tell us and which not. Abraham, our father lived 175 years and we get to meet him through only a few stories - a snapshot of different periods of his life. It is likely that the stories that the Torah chose to tell bring to light the highlights of Abraham's life, possibly the most important events that marked his life.

Abraham, our father is one of the most influential people in humanity. He is the person that the three monotheistic religions see as their patriarch and has provided these religions with the common path that defines them. Understanding the stories of Abraham in depth can teach us what made his character so significant and allow us to follow his path.

The stories in the Torah about our father Avraham can be roughly divided into three categories:

  1. Stories about God's work (prophecies, sacrifices and fulfillment of God's command)

  2. Stories that reflect leadership, virtues, doing kindness and courageously keeping one's own path.

  3. Stories about family conduct in complex situations.

In the category of family stories, many stories appear: the quarrel between Abraham's shepherds and his nephew Lot's shepherds, Sarah's jealousy, Sarah's laughter and the lie that followed, the gap between Ishmael and Isaac and Ishmael's expulsion, the double story (Pharaoh and Avimelech) about the famine, the migration to a new place and the way of survival built on a false story of a brother and sister relationships and finally he bought a grave plot for Sarah (which turns into an exhausting haggling) and marrying another wife after Sarah's death.

In the first two categories we can see the greatness of Abraham our father, his strong faith and the unique and righteous way in which he appears in the world. The third category (family stories) seems redundant. It does not add anything to Abraham's uniqueness in the world, and perhaps on the contrary, lowers his stature to that of an ordinary person facing the difficulties of life. There is an excess of personal details here that are not unusual throughout history and could have been replaced with more important details that would teach us a little more about Abraham's character. (It could be argued that all of these are required for the plot, but it is important to remember how many "holes" in the plot there are in the story of Abraham).

Why, then, does the Torah tell us so much about Abraham’s family life?

It seems that the Torah wants to teach us how Abraham really became one of the most influential figures in the world. Abraham fought a heroic war against four kings, he gathered around him multitudes of people and created significant echoes in every field in which he dealt - morally, religiously as well as economically and politically. However, Abraham's historical influence did not happen through all these. The influence of Abraham on all of humanity was through the establishment of a strong family that would be a partner in his path and continue it. 

In Abraham's family there were difficult struggles (as in many other families). Abraham's dealings with the family's challenges are not full of stories of heroism or extraordinary virtues. Abraham conducted himself with his family out of a great belief that in small steps, sometimes difficult but consistent and full of faith, he would build a family that would bring good news to the world, he believed that the great change begins from within his home. In special verses in the chapter, God testifies to why he chose Abraham to lead, why he is sure that it is "worth" to invest in Abraham with the certainty that he will truly bring good news to the world.

"וה' אָמָ֑ר הַֽמְכַסֶּ֤ה אֲנִי֙ מֵֽאַבְרָהָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֲנִ֥י עֹשֶֽׂה: וְאַ֨בְרָהָ֔ם הָי֧וֹ יִֽהְיֶ֛ה לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל וְעָצ֑וּם וְנִ֨בְרְכוּ־ב֔וֹ כֹּ֖ל גּוֹיֵ֥י הָאָֽרֶץ: כִּ֣י יְדַעְתִּ֗יו לְמַעַן֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצַוֶּ֜ה אֶת־בָּנָ֤יו וְאֶת־בֵּיתוֹ֙ אַחֲרָ֔יו וְשָֽׁמְרוּ֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ ה' לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט..." (יח, 17)

Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

The Torah turns the tables upside down, it teaches us that the great stories about Abraham were all-in-all a tool and a way to build a special family - an honest family that repays kindness and worships God. This family is therefore an example to the world and shows us that it is worth investing your best efforts in your family, even if it sometimes seems less glamorous than work and more often than not is full of heavy daily struggles.

 Rabbi Matan Schneweis is married to HoHodaya, they have 5 children,and  live on Kibbutz Tirat Zvi . Matan serves as the kibbutz rabbi and as a social worker at the pre-military preparatory school, in the settlement of Mishkiot in the Jordan Valley. Hodaya works as an educational director at a pre-military seminary for girls "Neta" in Beit Shean



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