How are we Jews looked upon by the rest of the world?

There is a verse in this week’s Torah reading that casts important light on the subject:

I will remember My covenant with Jacob
and also my covenant with Isaac
and also My covenant with Abraham I will remember… 1

There is a puzzling nuance in this verse. Remembering is mentioned in connection with Abraham and Jacob, but not with Isaac. It only says and also My covenant with Isaac, but “remember” is not used. And the obvious question is, why?

Quoting the Midrash, the great Biblical commentator Rashi offers a powerful insight.

Why does G‑d use the term “remembering” for Abraham and Jacob but not when he speaks of Isaac? Because in the case of Isaac, “remembering” is not necessary. For the ashes of Isaac always appear before Me, gathered up, and placed on the Altar.

Isaac was meant to be a burnt offering in the famous story of the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac.2 He was already on the altar, about to be sacrificed, and only at the eleventh hour did G‑d reveal to Abraham that it was a test of faith. So whether it is the ashes of the ram that was eventually offered up in his stead, or it is the act of martyrdom that Isaac was prepared for, either way, those symbolic “ashes on the altar” remain forever in the consciousness of the Almighty and He doesn’t need any other “reminders.”

Thus taught Rashi. And the message today?

Let me share with you and elaborate on an idea I once heard from the late Rabbi David Hollander,3 a prominent rabbi from the United States and a master of the pulpit, who was a frequent visitor to our community.

What does Abraham represent? Abraham was the paragon of chesed, the prince of kindness and compassion. His tent was open on all four sides, so that visitors from any direction could find their way to him. He fed every stranger that passed through with abundant hospitality. Even when he was recuperating from surgery after his circumcision, he still ran around feeding his visitors a lavish banquet. 4

The Children of Abraham inherited those same genes.

And Jews are, as a whole, the most charitable group on earth. Look at our communal giving, our aged care homes, our schools, and our welfare institutions.

And yet, some refuse to acknowledge this reality. As far as they are concerned, Jews are all greedy Shylocks and moneylenders, and for too many years the Oxford English Dictionary refused to amend its horribly offensive definition of a Jew as a “grasping or extortionate money lender or usurer, or a trader who drives hard bargains or deals craftily.”

And how often do we hear the accusation that “Jews only look after their own?” What a big lie that is! I wish Jewish philanthropists gave to Jewish charities what they give to non-Jewish charities. I remember talking to one of the main fundraisers for the New York Jewish Federation some years ago. He was boasting of how he had managed to solicit a $2 million donation from a Jewish businessman and was so proud of his achievement. Until the next morning when he opened the New York Times and read that the same Jew had just donated $9 million to Columbia University! And it happens all the time.

And so, G‑d tells us in the verse, you won’t remember Abraham? You, the world, will refuse to acknowledge all the unparalleled generosity of my Jews? Don’t worry, I will remember.

Likewise, when it comes to Jacob. What does Jacob represent? Torah. Scholarship. Academic achievement. Jacob was a sincere student in the tent of Torah.5 For 22 years he studied in the pre-Sinai Yeshivah of Shem and Eber. And the children of Jacob became known as the People of the Book for good reason. Despite the ignorance around the world, we can be gratified that there are more people studying Torah today than at any time in our history.

And our scholastic achievements in other realms, in science and technology for example, are remarkable. We all know that the number of Jewish Nobel Prize winners is totally disproportionate to our population. Jews, who make up roughly 0.2% of the world’s population, account for 23% of the world’s Nobel Prize winners! But does the world acknowledge these scholars, these brilliant professors, and researchers as Jews?

Albert Einstein once said, “If my theory of relativity is proven correct, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.”6

So again, the Almighty says, have no fear. I will remember My covenant with Jacob. If the world insists on turning a blind eye to Jacob, if they “forget” your academic contribution, I will remember Jacob and what he stands for.

But Isaac? Isaac represents the martyr. Isaac was the son nearly sacrificed on the altar. Isaac’s symbolic ashes stand before My eyes every single day, says G‑d. Is there a need for a special remembrance for what Isaac represents?

Isaac the Martyr the world does acknowledge. Indeed, the world reaffirms his status of victimhood every single day.

The ashes of Auschwitz are still simmering! European anti-Semitism is at its highest since World War II, and in the United States it has risen exponentially. In Paris it is dangerous to walk in the streets as an identifiable Jew. They don’t play baseball in France, but French rabbis tell their students to wear baseball caps over their yarmulkes when they go outside.

Does a week go by that Israel is not subjected to terror by Hamas or Hezbollah, or their lone wolves, or threats of annihilation from Teheran? Is there an Israeli family that hasn’t lost a father, son, brother, or family member in its wars of self-defense, or in terror atrocities?

When it comes to Isaac, the martyr, the sacrificial lamb, no reminders are necessary. Because the world doesn’t let us escape or forget our victim status. And that’s why we don’t need a special reminder from G‑d, and in our verse, Isaac needs no mention of “remembrance.” Because every single day, Isaac’s ashes are gathered up on the altar and stand as a perennial remembrance before our eyes.

But despite the world, we will continue to be the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We will continue to do chesed and tzedakah and to be the loving, generous, descendants of our compassionate founding father Abraham. And we will continue to be the children of Jacob, the People of the Book, the students of Torah and the wise and understanding nation our parents and grandparents taught us to be.

And despite those who seek to impose martyrdom upon us, we will teach our children and raise them with a sense of Jewish pride that doesn’t crumble at every act of terrorism, racism, or Jew–hatred. We will ensure that our children grow up feeling, not frightened, but faithful; not crushed but courageous; not victimized but victorious and proud to be the children of Abraham, Jacob … and Isaac!