How the Genesis story of Abraham is the blue-print for Jewish history

Chris Gallimore/UnsplashThe Sea of Galilee, in Israel

G-d has told Abram to make a clean break. His birth place, relatives and home life are not the future of humanity. Abram is to look inwards and then leave Mesopotamia for ever. According to Jewish tradition Abram was born 1948 years after Creation, and his abandoning of his beginnings is one of 10 trials imposed on him by G-d.

Abram was 75 and Sarai was 65 when, having achieved status and prosperity, they were forced by G-d to leave security in order to establish the Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel), which G-d chose to grant to the Jewish people as their eternal patrimony.

Moreover, Abram and Sarai were to do this alone. Abram is called an Ivri [Hebrew], meaning 'someone who comes from the other side'. The Jewish people whom he would father were not to belong to the general culture, but would always be 'a people who walk alone'. Popularity, G-d is saying, may be pleasant, but it is ultimately a snare.

The Jewish people have been around for 3,800 years and it is a future leader of the Jewish people, Joshua, who based himself on this promise to Abram when he wrote the second part of the blessing that observant Jews say after meals:

We give thanks to You, Lord our G-d. because You gave our forefathers as a heritage a desirable, good and spacious land ...'

Abram was born 1948 years after Creation. In Jewish tradition we make the link: In 1948 CE the State of Israel was eventually recreated, 30 years after the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

In 1917, the future first Chief Rabbi of Israel in modern times, Rav Avraham Kook, happened to be in London, having been stranded in Switzerland as a result of WWI. Rav Kook was appointed as a temporary rabbi to the congregation in London, on the strict understanding that he would return unhindered to Eretz Israel when war was over.

Soon after his arrival in London, Rav Kook had to battle Jews who were working to undermine the Jewish people's hopes of national rebirth in Eretz Israel. In a public notice in response to what he called 'this national treachery', Rav Kook harshly condemned all those 'who tear apart the Jewish soul'.

'The entire debate whether it is our national or our religious heritage that preserves and sustains us as Jews is a bitter mockery. The perfection of 'You are one and Your Name is one, and who is like Your nation, Israel, one nation in the land' is indivisible.'

Rav Kook's statement described the cruel injustices perpetrated by the nations towards the Jewish people over the centuries.

Rav Kook in London demanded that the nations atone for their terrible crimes by returning Eretz Israel to the Jewish people and help establish an independent Jewish state. His letter was read in all British synagogues after the reading of the Torah and made a deep impression.

Rav Kook then sent an additional letter urging the members of all British synagogues immediately to request that the British government 'aid us in our demand to return to our holy land, as our eternal national home.'

After the Balfour Declaration was passed on November 2nd 2017 the Jewish leaders held a large celebratory banquet in London, at which Rav Kook spoke:

'I come not only to thank the British nation, but even more, to congratulate it for the privilege of making this declaration. The Jewish nation is the scholar among the nations, the people of the Book, a nation of prophets, and it is a great honour for any nation to aid it. I bless the British nation for having extended such honourable aid to the people of the Torah, so that they may return to their land and renew their homeland....'

And later he wrote:

'This sequence of events began with the immigration of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov and the Vilna Gaon to Eretz Israel [in the 18th century]. They were followed by the awakening of the Hibbat Zion movement and the establishment of the first communities. The Zionism founded by Herzl, the settling of the land by the pioneers of the 2nd Aliyah [1904-14], the Balfour Declaration and the affirmation of the mandate in San Remo by the League of Nations [1920] - these are the latest developments.

Taken individually, each event may be explained in a rational manner. But when they are viewed together, we may discern a wondrous chain of complementary links created and guided by a Divine hand.'

Rav Kook became the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel under the British Mandate, from 1921 until his death in 1935.


On November 4th, last Shabbat, when Jews all over the world read the story of Abraham in synagogues all over the UK, the following prayer by Chief Rabbi Mirvis was read out to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which had been put in motion by Rav Kook's endeavours 100 years earlier, following in the footsteps of our father, Abraham:

'Heavenly Father, Rock and Redeemer of Israel, on this day we come before You in a spirit of thanksgiving and supplication.

'Since the dawn of time, You have graciously bestowed ceaseless blessings upon Your people. In every generation, when enemies have sought to destroy us Your lovingkindness and Your miracles have brought us salvation and redeemed us.

'In this spirit, one hundred years ago, You blessed the British Government with the wisdom and understanding to declare its support for the establishment of a Jewish state in accordance with Your Divine will, as it is written: 'Through me, kings reign and leaders decree justly' (Proverbs 8: 15).

'That historic support heralded a century in which the dream of living, working and declaring Your praise in the land of our forebears became a reality. It paved the way for a State in which we study, celebrate and cherish your precious Torah, in all of its boundless beauty, more than in any other place or at an other times, as it is written: 'For out of of Zion shall go forth the Torah and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem' (Isaiah 2:3).

'Almighty G-d of Abraham and Sarah, who faithfully fulfilled Your commandment to settle in Your holy land, since our exile, you have heard the prayers of our ancestors in every generation, who never lost hope in the dream of a return to Zion in joy. Just as You answered our prayers to live as a free people in our own land, we now beseech You to hear our prayers to live in amity and harmony with our neighbours under the tabernacle of Your peace, as it is written; 'No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders.' (Isaiah 60:18).

Lord, full of compassion, we pray that You remember the souls of all those who have given their lives for the sake of the State and to whom we owe an eternal debt of gratitude.

May we be worthy to see the words of Your prophets fulfilled, a time when You 'will judge between the nations and settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more.' (Isaiah 2:4).'

And so we can see the link from G-d through Abram (who later became Abraham), through the Jewish people, through the 4 empires who tried to destroy us, through the fortuitous presence in London of Rav Abraham Kook, who didn't even know English when he arrived, and was later appointed by the British as first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of their mandated territory, which was finally given back to the Jewish people in 1948, the same year as the year after creation – according to Jewish tradition – in which our forefather – Abraham himself – was born.

Dr Irene Lancaster is a Jewish academic, author and translator who has established university courses on Jewish history, Jewish studies and the Hebrew Bible. She lives in Greater Manchester and is chair of the Broughton Park Dialogue Group which just celebrated its ninth anniversary.