Abraham’s Courage
Abraham’s nephew, Lot, was taken captive by an alliance of four kings who were were battling another alliance of five kings.
The Torah relates that a fugitive came and reported to Abraham that his nephew had been taken captive. The Torah here describes at this point as Abraham as an Ivri-Hebrew.
The question has been raised why the Torah first describes Abraham as an Ivri at this point? Abraham’s name had been mentioned many times previously without identifying him as an Ivri.
The answer lies in Abraham’s courage to fight a formidable enemy, the alliance of these four kings, almost singlehandedly.  What motivated Abraham to risk his life to save Lot against all odds was his identity as an Ivri.
We must now seek to understand what, precisely, the word Ivri means and how it accounts for Abraham’s courage?
The Midrash apparently was interested in addressing this question: it cited three opinions as to why Abraham was called an Ivri.
According to Rabbi Yehudah, the title Ivri means the “other side.” The Midrash continues: “The entire world was on one side and Abraham was on the other side.”
This, commentators explain, refers to Abraham’s iconoclastic stance. At a time and place where the entire world worshipped idols, Abraham worshipped only the one G‑d and defied the conventions of the entire world.
The same Abraham who risked his life to spread monotheism also had the courage to fight against a mighty alliance of four kings to save the life of Lot.
His determination to spread monotheism to a resistant world and his efforts to save Lot derived from the same source: Abraham’s ideology and belief system. These were not impulsive reactions or driven by emotion.
This understanding is hinted in the name of the author of this opinion, Rabbi Yehudah. This name, which is the source word for the name “Jew,” according to the Talmud, connotes repudiation of idolatry and acknowledgment that there is but one G‑d.
Rabbi Yehudah, we may suggest, was channeling his own soul’s name in his appreciation of Abraham’s uniqueness. Rabbi Yehudah saw Abraham’s embrace of pure monotheism, and therefore his dedication to spreading it, as the basis for all his actions.
When a person believes in one G‑d, he or she is actually declaring that there is nothing else in the world that has true power. There is no real obstacle to standing up against the entire world populated by those who live a vacuous and false life. Truth trumps power. Abraham, the first Jew, had nothing to fear.
The Previous Rebbe, when interrogated by Soviet authorities for his “counter-revolutionary” activity in the former Soviet Union, was threatened with a pistol, which the agents said had made many a prisoner speak.
The Rebbe’s fearless reply to them was that “this toy could only frighten one who has one world and many g-ds. I have but one G‑d and two worlds; I have nothing to fear.”
In short, according to Rabbi Yehudah, it was the courage of Abraham’s convictions that empowered him to stand up to the entire world in spreading monotheism and to fight insurmountable odds to save a life.
According to Rabbi Nechemia, the sobriquet Ivri suggests that Abraham was descended of Eiver, a great-grandson of Noach. Eiver was one of the most righteous of Noach’s descendants, as well as a great prophet. It was Abraham who inherited his righteousness and followed in his footsteps.
According to Rabbi Nechemia, Abraham’s dedication to saving Lot was a trait connected to his pedigree. His devotion to rescuing Lot was inherited one. He carried the genes of Eiver which bequeathed to him a sense of righteousness. Rabbi Nechemia maintained that, while conviction and ideology certainly played a central role in Abraham’s life, his courage and self-sacrifice were based primarily on his passion and love for G‑d, humanity and, of course, his family.
Rabbi Nechemia seemed to place much emphasis on hereditary virtues. Indeed, the Midrash (Shemos Rabbah) quotes Rabbi Nechemia:
“The Holy One blessed be He said that Israel’s actions are not adequate for their Redemption; it is the merit of the elders that will redeem them.”
Rabbi Nechemia places great emphasis on the merits and virtues we inherit from our forebears.
There is yet a third view in the Midrash concerning the meaning of the word Ivri.
Location, Location, Location!
According to the Sages, the moniker Ivri refers both to Abraham’s origination on the other side of the river and that he spoke the Hebrew language.
This third approach places the emphasis on the influence of his environment. When we breathe morally and spiritually unpolluted air, we can acquire those positive traits by osmosis.
However, this approach can be problematic. There is no disagreement about the fact that Abraham grew up in a thoroughly pagan environment. His parents and all his peers were idol worshippers. How then could the Sages imply that Abraham’s virtue was derived from his originating on the other side of the river?
The Midrash anticipated this question and therefore added the caveat that he spoke Hebrew.
What was unique about the people of that area was that despite their idolatrous ways they had a redeeming quality; they spoke Hebrew, the Holy Tongue.
If we remember the story we just read last week, the people who built the Tower of Babel all spoke one language. That language, Rashi states, citing a Talmudic and Midrashic source, was the Holy Tongue, or Hebrew. When G‑d confounded their plan and scattered them they all began to speak different languages.
Apparently, the people of Ur Kasdim, Abraham’s birthplace, retained the original language with some of its felicitous characteristics.
What was so unique about Hebrew?
The Holy Tongue
Hebrew was the language with which G‑d created the world and the language of Torah. According to Maimonides, the Holy Tongue is devoid of impure verbiage. All negative or degrading words are expressed euphemistically.
Abraham thus grew up in an environment in which the means of communication – the primary characteristic of humanity – was devoid of negative speech, and moreover, was G‑d’s “own” language. And it was this feature of Abraham’s environmental influence that endowed Abraham with a heightened measure of refinement.
While the other inhabitants of Ur Kasdim did not respond in the same way to that environmental influence, his peers nevertheless exhibited a greater degree of kindness and sensitivity than those of other areas, in which the adulterated languages were spoken.
The proof of this was Abraham’s insistence that Eliezer go to his birthplace to find a wife for Isaac. When Eliezer found Rivkah, he knew she was the one Abraham sought because of her refined and kind nature.
Thus, according to the Sages, what motivated Abraham to risk his life to save Lot can be found in all three definitions of Ivri.  It was not just Abraham’s deeply held convictions and ideology, nor only his passion for others, but also by his ability to absorb the positive elements of his environment and then create a new, positive environment.
We are All Ivrim!
Abraham was the progenitor of the Jewish people who were entrusted with the mission to make the world a “dwelling place” for G‑d. The Midrash states that until Abraham’s arrival onto the world’s scene, it was shrouded in darkness. With his appearance it started to get light.
We are now at the end time of Abraham’s initiative to bringing light into the world. As the Rebbe emphasized repeatedly, we are the last generation of exile and will be the first generation of Redemption.
The special connection we have with Abraham is based on the statement in the Sefer Yetzirah: “The end is wedged in the beginning and the beginning in the end.” This means that there is a tighter connection between the beginning of a process and its culmination than with any other point in between.
Accordingly, we must take the events surrounding Abraham’s life and apply them to our own efforts at making the finishing touches to the process of bringing light to the world.
We too have to harness the three qualities associated with Ivri.
The first is expressing our convictions that there is nothing true other than G‑d. We are in an even better position than Abraham to assert this belief. We now stand on the cusp of the Redemption; a time when the entire world will recognize that there is but one G‑d. It is a far cry from the days of Abraham, who was forced to stand on one side of the divide while the entire world stood on the other side.
We also have to apply the second distinction of being an Ivri by searching beneath the surface of our personalities to discover the passion for G‑d and others that is in our spiritual DNA, bequeathed to us by our forebears.
Here too, we are even more fortunate than Abraham. Unlike Abraham, who had few forebears from whom he could inherit positive traits, we are blessed by thousands of years of holy and righteous ancestors, many of whom gave their lives for the love of G‑d, Torah and Israel. Through our predecessors we have become enriched with incredible spiritual treasures which we must now attempt to appreciate and unleash.
And, unlike Abraham, whose entire environment was limited to the people in his birthplace who still spoke Hebrew, we are blessed with world-wide communities numbering in the hundreds of thousands, made up of committed Jews who devote their lives to learning Torah and praying.
We have indeed saturated the world with positive energy and created the most positive G‑dly environment in history.
It has been said that the two words eved ivri-Hebrew servant add up numerically to 358, the same gematria value as Moshiach. This suggests that when we become dedicated to the three aforementioned ideals associated with Ivri, we hasten the Redemption through Moshiach.
We are eminently ready for the culmination of the venture Abraham started 3,800 years ago, to illuminate the entire world with Divine light with Moshiach ushering in the Final Redemption.