24 Nov, 2017 | 6 Kislev, 5778

My kind of man

Thursday, 26 October 2017 | 6 Heshvan, 5778

I was asked two probing questions this week which relate to the charismatic founder of the Jewish people – Abraham. Firstly someone asked who my models and role models for leadership are. I replied that of the biblical figures, Abraham was definitely my hero. Secondly, when speaking to our bar mitzvah boy Walter Minc and his parents they asked if the superlative leader, Abraham, had any flaws.

My answer to both questions is linked. Abraham is my biblical hero and cynosure. I admire Abraham for his courage and determination. He is a pilgrim spirit: willing to venture where others fear to tread, prepared to forego a comfortable lifestyle for a challenging life, unafraid to stand up for what he believes in, undaunted by intimidation and aggression. So he leaves his home and familiarity to strike out into the wilderness at God’s command; circumcises himself at the risk of ridicule; pursues a coalition army to rescue his kidnapped nephew, Lot; carries out a covenant with a mysterious God.

I love Abraham for his compassionate leadership: he puts people first even if it means keeping God waiting. He knows that God values kindness (chesed) over ideology – hence he interrupts his conversation with God to welcome the tired strangers at his tent door. He takes on the cause of a violent and immoral people (Sodom) because he believes in the power of a few good men. Abraham is my exemplar because he is committed, not only to his own but to the other: He cares for and madly loves his wife, Sarah and children but also cares acutely for others. He is a devoted father, he is father to many peoples; he is the world’s first global leader.

WhiIe I deeply admire Abraham for his passion and compassion it is his flawed humanity that challenges and touches me most. He makes mistakes – the Ramban accuses him of faulty judgement in leaving for Egypt and passing off his wife Sarah as his sister albeit out of fear for his life. His behaviour with Hagar and Ishmael is somewhat questionable, his willingness to sacrifice Isaac is perplexing. The Torah presents our heroes with feet of clay not to diminish them but to inspire us with their awesome humanity. It reminds us, in the words of Michael Fox, not to confuse excellence with perfection: “Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business”. Abraham was a model of excellence. He’s my man...

Shabbat Shalom - Rabbi Ralph