There is a very interesting Medrash connected to this week’s reading. The Medrash tells us that after Avraham circumcised himself, many people came to convert and join the Jewish People. The Bais HaLevi, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l of Brisk, asks: isn’t this contradictory? The pain of circumcision should have people running away, not rushing to join.
What they saw, says the Bais HaLevi, wasn’t the circumcision itself, but the enduring nature of the Covenant of Avraham. Once a person is born into or has joined the Jewish People, he or she is always a Jew, and can steer his or her children into that same people for generations. Our people is like a nation without borders, and that concept was very compelling.
This week on CNN there was an article about “New Jews,” who are “building Jewish identities” without “the pressures that come with fitting into religious, political and social molds.” On the one hand, I find it very sad that people would imagine that they can create a sustainable model for Jewish identity — or, indeed, have something distinctly Jewish and worth handing off to the next generation — by attaching Jewish symbols to their own personal causes and interests.
But, on the other hand, it does express a desire to affiliate, a desire to be part of the Jewish people and the Jewish future. The Jewish spark still burns inside, and it is our job to help the “new” Jews to reattach themselves to the Covenant of Avraham, in the good, old path of Avraham.