Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger
Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger

A Return Visit's Kiddush Hashem

Visiting countries that treated our parents and grandparents with great inhumanity elicited passionate debate during the previous century. Many believed that a personal visit expressed a degree of comfort with one's host and hat is offensive to those who suffered and to their surviving families. To be sure there were large numbers who were driven to visit, in order to keep atrocities part of human consciousness, or simply to satisfy an insatiable curiosity to see the context of one's roots and many a family story. Yet for so many the debate took the form of a personal dilemma having to choose between the acute pain of horrid memories and the honor that can be given to "kever avos"

Without at all intending to discuss the issue conclusively there is a passage in parshas Lech Lecho which adds to this conversation.

Avraham and Sarah return to Israel after their brief and frightening famine driven exile to Egypt, take the exact same route back and even stopping at the very same lodges. That is how the sages, quoted by Rashi, interpret the text (13:3), "And he went to his journeys from the south up to Beis El…." Rashi further quotes that Avraham was either modeling for us appropriate loyalty to places where one has been served well or appropriate concern to pay back loans, in this case loans that he had incurred as a poor and hungry nomad.

Some commentaries find that the idea of paying back one debts to be elemental and undeserving of any attention in the records of Avraham and Sarah. Indeed they would argue that stressing the simple repayment of loans, mandatory behavior which is expected of all, demeans the lessons that Avos have to teach us.  As a result it has been suggested that Avraham had a "theological debt" to address (see Tuvcha Yabiyu). Surely, as Avraham uprooted himself yet another time at his G-d's seemingly meaningless bidding, his mission must have come under scrutiny by all that had contact with him. It stands to reason that Avraham and Sarah and ultimately Hashem Himself may have been the subject of many a cynical or skeptical wink and a nod

It follows that Avraham who would not miss an opportunity to bring respect to Hashem, returned to all those who questioned his beliefs on the way down. Avraham now a wealthy man could tell how he had been visibly protected by Hashem in Egypt and his faith had been rewarded.

This is not unlike the visit of the Ponevesher Rav to the Arch of Titus, simply to be able to create the vision of a vibrant Jew standing next to the silent stone record of what was once a great empire. In similar fashion we were all inspired many years ago by Anatole Sharansky, who came as a member of Knesset to stand in the cell in which he suffered solitary confinement for years.

This is the magnitude of the kiddush Hashem that Avraham wished to shape as he traveled back to Israel "to his journeys". Perhaps we too have been granted that opportunity or will be granted it, to be mekadesh shem shamnayim with a return visit that will demonstrate Hashem's concern for His people and their mission.

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