IF A SCHLEMIEL is a person who goes through life spilling soup on people and a schlemozzle is the one it keeps getting spilled on, then Abraham was a schlemozzle. It all began when God told him to go to the land of Canaan, where he promised to make him the father of a great nation, and he went.
The first thing that happened was that his brother-in-law Lot took over the rich bottomland, and Abraham was left with the scrub country around Dead Man's Gulch. The second thing was that the prospective father of a great nation found out his wife couldn't have babies. The third thing was that when, as a special present on his hundredth birthday, God arranged for his wife, Sarah, to have a son anyway, it wasn't long before he told Abraham to go up into the hills and sacrifice him. It's true that at the last minute God stepped in and said he'd only wanted to see if the old man's money was where his mouth was, but from that day forward Abraham had a habit of breaking into tears at odd moments, and his relationship with his son Isaac was never close.
In spite of everything, however, he never stopped having faith that God was going to keep his promise about making him the father of a great nation. Night after night, it was the dream he rode to sleep on—the glittering cities, the up-to-date armies, the curly-bearded kings. There was a group photograph he had taken not long before he died. It was a bar mitzvah, and they were all there down to the last poor relation. They weren't a great nation yet by a long shot, but you'd never know it from the way Abraham sits enthroned there in his velvet yarmulke with several great-grandchildren on his lap and soup on his tie.
Even through his thick lenses, you can read the look of faith in his eye, and more than all the kosher meals, the ethical culture societies, the shaved heads of the women, the achievements of Maimonides, Einstein, Kissinger, it was that look that God loved him for and had chosen him for in the first place.
"They will all be winners, God willing. Even the losers will be winners. They'll all get their names up in lights," say the old schlemozzle's eyes.
"Someday—who knows when?—I'll be talking about my son, the Light of the World."
Genesis 12-18; 22
- Originally published in Peculiar Treasures