Birth of a Covenant

God tells Abram to leave the comforts of home and go out to repair himself--and the entire world.

The history of the world does not begin well.



At the climax of the seven days of creation, God createshuman beings--the first and only creatures endowedwith freedom and agency. God could have chosen tocreate a world in which obedience was a given, inwhich the Creator decrees and creatures simply do asthey are told. But God chooses instead to take agamble, and to create as the pinnacle of creation abeing endowed with the enduring possibility offlouting God's will.

Beings who do good because theyhave no other choice don't seem to interest God verymuch; beings who choose to serve God and do the rightwhile fully conscious of their capacity (and evenpropensity) to do evil are divinely significant. Godcreates a world in which, God hopes, human beings willfreely choose to do the right by loving each other--andGod.

The first book of the Bible might well be titled,"Genesis, or the Book of Divine Disappointment." Godcreates Adam and Eve and gives them everything they couldpossibly want, except for permission to eat the fruitof one tree (Genesis 2:17). Adam and Eve disobey, andthe consequences are well known. After departingEden, they start a family. Soon, the very first nuclear family explodesinto violence, as one brother kills another. Theearth becomes more densely populated, but God's dismayonly builds. Again and again, human beings disappointGod by pursuing pleasure on the one hand (Gen. 6:1-4)and power on the other (Gen. 11:1-9). What they failto pursue is what God values--the good, the just, andthe holy.

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In this week's Torah portion, the story takes aninteresting turn. God seems to decide that ratherthan work with humanity as a whole (He has not exactlymet with resounding success up to this point), He willset aside one particular people--one particularperson, actually--and assign him and his descendants the task ofintroducing goodness into the world. Enter Abram, whobecomes the father of the eternal covenant between Godand the Jewish people. Put simply, the covenant isabout a group of human beings who agree to share God'sdream of building a world in which human dignity isreal and the presence of God is manifest. The worldto which God and Israel aspire is a world in whichhuman beings give highest priority to love and compassion rather thanto hedonism and power.

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