The Jewish Condition & the Human Condition
Abraham is a living legend in his own lifetime. He is revered by his contemporaries, who address him as a “Prince of G-d in our midst.” Abraham, with true spiritual humility, describes himself to the local people as “A stranger and a resident amongst you.” This statement made by Abraham is strange and puzzling. How could one possibly be both a stranger and a resident?
A person can either be a green card holder/ resident or citizen of the US, or a stranger dwelling here on a temporary visa. You can’t be both, it’s either or.
Rabbi Soloveitchik, with typical genius, sheds light on this seemingly contradictory and enigmatic statement made by Abraham (that he is both a stranger and a resident in his non-Jewish milieu).
The Rav teaches us that Abraham is making a statement here about the very essence of the Jewish condition writ large. To be a traditional Jew entails being on the one hand a loyal, loving and contributing citizen (in our case of the United States, our political home), but also to lead a spiritually distinct way of life, the way of the Torah.
In other words, Abraham is telling us in this week’s parasha, that as Jews who live outside Israel we are insiders-outsiders, we are spiritual “strangers” and political “residents.” Such is the complicated magnificence and duality of the exilic Jewish condition.
In addition to that, Abraham’s statement that he is both a “stranger and a resident” also carries a universal resonance and streak pertaining to the human condition writ large, above and beyond the particular specifics of the Jewish mode of existence.
To be a spiritual person means to reside in this world, to be steeped and invested in it – familially, socially, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, financially and politically, but it also entails living with acute consciousness of the relative brevity of human existence, a mere handful of decades. To be spiritual is to be a worldly person who also carries a glimmer of eternity in his consciousness and existential outlook. To be a person who also occasionally bids a blissful reprieve to the frantic pace of modern life, in order to ponder, to observe, to thank, to sing, and to love.
To be a spiritual descendant of Abraham thus entails striving to cultivate that ever-elusive balance between Judaism and universalism, and between our worldly passions and commitments on the one hand, and our soul’s profoundest longings on the other hand.