|Newsletter November 10, 2011 - 13 Cheshvon 5772|
|In early 18th century England, George Psalmanazar fooled practically everyone with his outrageous tales of the imaginary land of Formosa. Nothing seems to be excluded from his book, lending it a convincing verisimilitude; child sacrifice, superstitions, weapons, musical instruments, and food. The very barbarities in the book's details seemed to prove that it was a truthful account of a distant land. Even the great Dr. Samuel Johnson was fooled. It took a master of imaginary travel, Jonathan Swift, to mock Psalmanazar. I wonder whether the Abraham who negotiated with Abimelech would have been duped into Adventures in Formosa:|
"At that time, Abimelech and Phicol, general of his legion, said to Abraham, 'The Lord is with you in all that you do. Now swear to me here by the Lord that you will not deal falsely with me nor with my child nor with my grandchild; according to the kindness that I have done with you, do with me, and with the land in which you have sojourned.' And Abraham said, 'I will swear.' Then Abraham disputed with Abimelech regarding the well of water that Abimelech's servants had seized. Abimelech said, 'I do not know who did this thing; furthermore, you have never told me, moreover I myself have heard nothing of it except for today' (Genesis 21:22-26)." Swift would have laughed at Abimelech's attempt to describe his Formosa, a place of "I myself have heard nothing of it except for today." It seems as if the usually astute Abraham chose to be influenced by "'The Lord is with you in all that you do," and trust all that Abimelech claimed, laying the groundwork for a thousand years of unresolvable conflict between the Philistines and Israel all the way till David and, the Formosan-type character, Goliath. Our's is not the first generation to make a deal with a liar. Yet, it is only as a result of this story that Abraham achieves his reputation as the paradigm of kindness, and truly begins to spread his universal vision: "He planted an Eshel in Beer-sheba, and there he proclaimed the Name of God, Lord of the Universe (21:33)." This was not a tale of a man being fooled, but of rising to new heights.
I find it fascinating that Abimelech wants a multigenerational covenant immediately after Abraham exiles his son Yishmael from his home. Abimelech hears what Abraham does to a son for the sake of Isaac, and he wonders about Abraham's commitment to his previous friends. Will he push all away for the sake of Isaac? Is this son the only person who matters? Abraham's major victory over the Four Kings is fresh in everyone's memory. Abimelech feels sufficiently threatened to bring the general of his legion to this meeting. He speaks for all who wonder about the "new" Abraham. Are you going to war against all who live inconsistently with your vision for Isaac? Are we back to you lying or fighting whenever you feel that, "There is no fear of the Lord in this place (20:11)?"
"I will swear," says Abraham, even when I know that I cannot trust you, even when you do not live with fear of God. I am not at war with the rest of the world. I will fight only to protect what is mine.
Abraham speaks to all the centuries of nations that accuse him of being at war with the rest of the world. He constructed an Eshel, an inn open to all directions, welcoming all into his tent with kindness and generosity. Abraham is at peace with the world even when others may live with different values. He articulates his vision of God; One, Unified, Universal.
Abraham's children are still accused of being at war with the world. Abimelech's finger is still pointed in detailed accusations of barbarities. Israel is warmongering. Israel destabilizes the Middle East. Israel is a military and political liability to the United States. This vision of Israel is the Formosa of the 21st Century, one that has fooled far too many. It is this Formosa that has prevented the world from hearing the universal message of Israel, welcoming, generous, and at peace with the world.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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