Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron (Gershon Elinson/Flash90) (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Cave of the Patriarchs

You, too, can have a strong influence among those around you, and in fact, the less you compromise on your own principles, the more influence you will have!  

This week’s Torah portion is Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1–17:27). In it we read about God’s calling to Abraham, the struggles of Hagar, Sara, and Lot, the covenant of circumcision, and much more!

Long before the Jewish people were known as the “Jews,” we were known as the Ivrim – the “Hebrews.” This early national identification originates in this week’s reading where it says, “…Abraham, the Hebrew (Ha’ivri).” This is the only place in all of Scripture where Abraham is called an Ivri, yet the name stuck!

What does Ivri mean? What does it represent?

Our Sages teach us that Ivri means “separation” and “distinction.” As our sages put it: “The entire world was on one side of the river and Abraham was on the other side.” This was meant to be taken both literally and figuratively. Literally, because Abraham came from over the Euphrates River to the land of Israel. Figuratively, because the whole world believed in idolatry and paganism, while Abraham fearlessly stood along “on the other side” in his belief in monotheism. Abraham didn’t care that he was different. He didn’t care that he was the only one to attend synagogue services in Ur and Charan where he lived. He was simply focused on doing the right thing. Nothing else, and no one else, mattered. An Ivri – ready and willing to go at it alone on “the other side” of the “river.”

But Abraham, although at a higher spiritual level, did not isolate himself. He decided to roll up his sleeves and get down to business! He went out and influenced others to drop their idolatrous ways and accept the one and only God.

Making a Difference in the World

This, by the way, was the difference between Abraham and Noah. Abraham went out and tried to make a difference in the world, teaching anyone he could about God. Noah, on the other hand, was righteous, but only between himself and his family. He made no effort to influence others to change their ways. Had he done so…he may have been able to prevent the flood!

Notice, however, that Abraham was able to influence so many people without compromising his principles! He influenced everyone with whom he came into contact. What we have to learn from this is that we must do our best to influence those around us too….without compromising our values, no matter how “isolated” we may be.

Count Yourself In!

Whether you’re Jewish or not, you may very well be an Ivri. If those around you are not living life the way they should be, and yet you keep faithful to your principles, you’re an Ivri – a follower of Abraham.

You, too, can have a strong influence among those around you, and in fact, the less you compromise on your own principles, the more influence you will have! People respect those who live with set principles and values. Be sure to count yourself as an Ivri!

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel