I don’t know if we’ll have a president when this piece appears, though I can say with confidence that our fingernails are all considerably closer to the skin than they were a few days ago.
So I thought momentarily to remove ourselves from the fate of our nation and take us back in time and speak about our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, their influence on the world, and the meaning of their lives to the Jewish people.
Certainly no literary characters in the history of the world have had a greater influence than these two. In recent years, we’ve begun hearing about the “Abrahamic Religions,” a reference to the three world religions that owe their origins to our founding couple.
Christianity’s claim to Abraham and Sarah comes through Isaac and focuses on the fact that Christianity’s origin lies in the Jewish religious and historical tradition. The opening of the Christian Bible traces Jesus’s origins back to King David, but, obviously, King David’s origins reach back to the founding couple. Christianity claims over 1.5 billion adherents.
Islam’s tie to Abraham actually flows through his concubine, Hagar, who gave birth to Ishmael. In the Hebrew Bible, Hagar and Ishmael leave the Abraham family (they’re asked to leave, actually, not a good moment for Abraham and Sarah, who do the expelling) and, through divine intervention, end up in Egypt. A prophecy tells Hagar that her son will be the leader of a nation, but doesn’t say more than that.
Muhammad claims that Ishmael’s nation is the Muslim nation, and proceeds, in the seventh century, to birth a major world religion that now claims well over a billion followers.
Sikhism is an interesting addition to the pantheon of world religions claiming Abrahamic origins, a religious group founded in the Punjab region of India in the 15th century. Sikhism contains elements of Hinduism and Islam. To the extent that that synthesis exists, Sikhism, too, is, in part at least, an Abrahamic religion. There are some 30 million Sikhs in the world, and, though that number is dwarfed by the Christian and Muslim population, keep in mind that we Jews claim no more than 15.5 million adherents.
We Jews, of course, also claim Abraham and Sarah as our own, and see the development of the Jewish people as emerging from them.
There is much to say about them, and the meaning of their lives, but I’ll limit myself here to a few random points.
- They receive their mission to relocate from essentially Iraq to Canaan in their golden years. Sarah was 65 and Abraham 75 when they picked up and changed addresses.This is not the usual time in life to begin a new adventure, much less an adventure that will lead to four world religions.We can all take a lesson from that: Life’s adventures do not cease when Medicare begins. Our ability to be creative and productive is limited only to our own will.
- Abraham and Sarah have a child quite late in life.Sarah’s around 91 and Abraham around 101.Now if you’re thinking I’m going to follow up #1 above with the suggestion that we can bear children late in life, well, no.That ain’t going to happen.Biblical miracles are hard to come by, and anyway, who wants to change diapers into their nineties and hundreds?
- Prior to Abraham and Sarah, God made a covenant with Noah, and hence with the entire earth.With Abraham and Sarah, God’s new covenant narrows it focus to them and their descendants.That covenant, which Jews hold as a precious possession, is the framework for our relationship with God. We struggle with the idea of covenant and with the God who made it with us, but as Jews we insist on its reality.
Well, I guess if you’ve gotten this far, you may return to fretting (or not, depending of what’s happened at the time you’re reading this) about the presidency.