and George Washington,
the Father of Our Country
In May of this year Fellowship In Prayer co-sponsored the annual Table of Abraham luncheon, which amongst other things celebrates the towering figure of the patriarch Abraham, from whom Islam, Christianity and Judaism claim the origins of their heritage. For that lunch I was invited to prepare some welcoming comments and I have incorporated some of those words into my quarterly letter. The lunch took place in the dining room at Princeton Theological Seminary, which itself is located only a few hundred yards from the historic site of the Battle of Princeton.
In 1776 General George Washington met with mixed fortunes. In the Spring he defeated the British at the battle of Bunker Hill and routed them from the Boston Common. Later that year he totally got it wrong and experienced humiliating defeats in New York and Brooklyn. By the end of the year he was short on arms, supplies and money. His army was deserting, so he attempted one last desperate gamble. He crossed the Delaware entered Trenton on New Year’s Day and soundly defeated the garrison there. A couple of days later, he marched up Princeton Pike and on January 3, 1777 won a decisive victory at the Battle of Princeton.
Nice story you may say, but why do we need a limey (slang for an Englishman)—a Jewish one at that—telling us about American history, which he probably picked up from one reading of David McCullough’s 1776 (I did) and furthermore, what does it have to do with Abraham?
I guess a loose connection could be made between Abraham being the father of monotheism and George Washington being the father of our country. But there is a deeper connection that is found in the letter President George Washington wrote to the Jewish congregation of Touro, Rhode Island in August 1790; the Jewish community originally wrote to the President, "Deprived as we have been of the individual rights of free citizens; we now behold a Government erected by the majesty of the people, whose basis is philanthropy, mutual confidence and public virtue."
Washington seems to have been deeply touched by their letter. To assure the Jewish community that America would always be open to them, he responded:
May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit safely under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.
He then goes on to describe the type of society he hoped would develop in the United States "a government . . . which gives bigotry no sanction, persecution no assistance, and requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”
Three times a day Jews invoke the G-d of Abraham and ask for his protection, "King, Helper, Savior, Shield: Blessed are you our G-d, Shield of Abraham."
Within Christians, Muslims and Jews as indeed within all humanity, a small spark of Abraham resides . . . George Washington understood this and created a society that allowed that spark to shine
From the little I understand of Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, Abraham is associated with the divine attribute known as chesed, literally translated as loving-kindness. Perhaps, we owe it to ourselves to more closely investigate the common source of our traditions, it appears that they were once united within the soul of a single individual, whose life is not associated with accumulating power and wealth, but rather with a higher ideal.
As we mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11, perhaps we should reflect on our cultural chasm and ask why events like 9/11 occur. Have we so far removed ourselves from the source of our soul, the aspect of our essence that is common to all of us? How can we re-connect and realize the great destiny that Abraham intended for all his children?