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“You Didn’t Build That!” – “We Built That!”

Posted by Rabbi Ron Symons on October 16, 2015

Who Started Your Journey?

The political theater of the 2016 election has made me nostalgic for an earlier time: the 2012 election. You might remember that President Obama made the comment in Roanoke, VA, “You didn’t build that.” He intended to point out that every generation builds on the successes of previous generations.  The Republicans countered with the phrase, “We built that!” Not only did the phrases become a part of the campaign rhetoric all the way through November, but they offer us a moment to stop and think.

How much do we really owe to the generations that came before us?

Is it OK for us to claim self-made success while standing on the shoulders of giants without acknowledging them?

If you were to just open up the book of Genesis to chapter 12 and begin reading this week’s Torah portion, you might think that Avram (Abraham’s original name), often referred to as the first Jew, had no help from generations past. The chapter begins, “Adonai spoke to of Avram, “Lech l’cha, go forth from your land, from your fathers house, from your birthplace to a land that I will show you.””  Did it all begin there? If we read the rabbinic interpretation (midrash) of Avram’s spiritual beginnings, when he was left all alone in his father’s idol shop and broke the idols out of passion for his monotheistic beliefs, we might think that Avram was a self made spiritual man. “I built that!” could have been his rhetoric.

However, when you read the end of chapter 11, the end of last week’s portion, you learn that Avram’s father, Terach (the idol shop owner) began the journey 600 miles before Avram was ever called.  That’s right; Terach took his family including Avram and Sarai (Sarah’s original name) from Ur (on the Persian Gulf) to Haran (in modern day Turkey). They traveled a well-marked highway to Haran with no explanation. The point is that long before Avram answered his call to go, his father started him on his journey.

How easy we forget. It was our elementary school teachers who taught us the foundations of good work habits. It was our parents who gave us opportunity. It was the generations before us who established the organizations that we serve. It was our grandparents or their parents… who started the journey to America.  And we stand on their shoulders.

Even the Torah sometimes overlooks the generation that started us on our journey.  We all have multiple Terach’s in our lives.  Each one deserves the acknowledgment, “You built that!  And now I stand on your shoulders.”

(You can read the whole Torah portion Lech L’cha in Genesis 12:1-17:27)

(Image originally found at Creative Learning Ideas Website)

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