How I Met Avraham Avinu [Abraham our father]
On Parashat Lekh Lekha
I remember standing with Avraham Avinu on the corner of Davison and Courtland, I must have been four years old. It was summer, hot that day in Detroit. There was a Texaco station on that corner, and he was standing in the doorway of the gas station. I was walking with my aunt towards our house. Abraham motioned us to come into the station, “red pop?” he offered.
I recognized him from playing in the alley next to the gas station. When I met him that day, he took my face in his hands, called me a mazik (a very well behaved young gentleman, always polite and does what he is told).
Later, as we were walking home, I asked my aunt, “Who was that man?” “Avraham Avinu,” she said, “standing in the opening of his tent.” I was four years old and I took her literally. I had just met Abraham our father at the Texaco station, doing what he was known for: welcoming strangers, practicing kindness.
In this week’s reading, we encounter Abraham as Avram; note the difference in name, signifying the father of one nation, in Genesis 16:15 the nation that will issue from Ishmael. His name also means exalted father; he is exalted because his soul was rooted in the highest Godliness. God will invest Avram with the fatherhood of Ishmael and Isaac, and the children of Ishmael and Isaac, and when Avram becomes Avraham, the extra syllable signifies he would become father to many nations (Genesis 17:5). We are descended from Isaac, and the Arab peoples we imagine, are descended from Ishmael. We will spend much of our future trying to find our way back to each other. It begins with respecting our daddy.
I have met Avraham Avinu many times. Once he welcomed us into his tent in the Sinai by lamplight, rubbing sandalwood oil on my daughter’s tired legs. I met him again in the old market where he served me sweetened tea, green and minty. He gave me eagle feathers to pluck my instrument. Once he peeled oranges for us by the sea. Another time he called me on his cell phone to offer a ride to the airport. “Anything I can do,” said Avraham Avinu, as if it was his motto, his purpose, which it was.
Our future depends on remembering him. We will have to be him. We will have to work this quality of kindness, the quality of compassion as he once did effortlessly and naturally. We will have to work it consciously and intentionally, because we have come a long way from our Sources and the return will have to be self-reflective and intentional, a return in spite of ourselves in spite of our detractors. But we have a good model in Avraham Avinu, and he is everywhere among us, around us, within us.
james stone goodman