Lekh Lekha II - THE STAMP ON A COIN
THE STAMP ON A COIN of a nation expresses the character and the highest aspirations of the people it represents. This is one way a nation publicizes its most cherished ideals and beliefs to its own citizens as well as to the rest of the world.
The ancient Romans, for example, engraved on their coins an eagle with outstretched wings and powerful talons poised to strike its prey. This proclaimed an insatiable ambition to conquer and rule the world. Nazi Germany had a similar design on the coins which were struck during the Hitler era.
On American coins there are two inscriptions. On one side, there is the legend, "In God We Trust," and on the other, "E Pluribus Unum" -- "Out of many, one." There is also a design of a sheaf of grain, plus a picture of a great American President or of Miss Liberty.
The inscription "In God We Trust" is seli-explanatory. It simply affirms the historic fact that America was built on faith in God and on religious freedom.
"E Pluribus Unum" represents the ideal of unity in divesity. Our country has grown great and powerful by the toil, sacrifice and genius of many races and creeds who came from all parts of the globe. It also symbolizes the unity of the fifty states that comprise the United States of America.
The sheaf of grain expresses the willingness of the people of this great land to feed the hungry and help the needy, here and abroad. The magnanimity of America is well known throughout the world.
The head of Miss Liberty speaks volumes for itself. In a world of Iron Curtains and dictatorships, Miss Liberty symbolizes true democracy and freedom. The only Curtain we know of in this country, is the one that closes the voting booth when we cast our ballot for the candidate of our choice on Election Day. Last Tuesday when I entered the voting booth I had a wonderful feeling. God bless Miss Liberty! Long may she adorn the coins of "the land of the free and the home of the brave!"
Our sages tell us that Abraham exercised the rights and prerogatives of an independent ruler. He had an army of his own which he used in time of war to champion the cause of justice and mercy. He also coined his own money. When he bought the meorat hamachpelah -- the burial plot from Ephron and Hitite, he paid 400 shekels of silver that came from his own mine. The Torah declares that it was over la'socher , that this money was accepted by all the merchants and tradesmen of that day.
Now what kind of a coin did Abraham issue! What did he inscribe on both sides! The rabbis offer the following description: Zoken uzekenah mitzad eehad. On one side of the coin there was the image of an old man and an old woman, and bachur ubetulah mitzad sheni , and "on the other side that of a youth and a maiden" (Baba Kama 97b).
This unusual design which appeared on the coin of Abraham is very meaningful, and preaches a sermon to us all. It addresses itself to the bachur ubetulah -- to the builders of the future--to the man and woman of tomorrow. It urges them not to break with the wisdom of the past, nor to dissociate from the traditions of the zaken uzekenah --of the elders who preceded them.
No human being can claim that he is a completely independent entity. Each of us represents the total experience of those who came before us; and we, in turn, will add a little something to that experience and hand it over to those who will come after us. We are but a small link in an endless chain; and it our duty to be a true and loyal link in that chain.
If one looks only on one side of the coin, one sees only the bachur ubetulah --vigorous and enthusiastic youth moving steadily ahead. To them the future belongs; they will inherit the earth. But when the coin is turned there is the image of the zaken-uzekenah --the parents and grandparents or some unknown ancestors who are responsible for a great share of the progress that is now being made. Without them the world would still be in the jungle or in the cave.
This, in brief, is the message of Abraham's coin. It urges that there must be no gap between the old and the young. We are of the same metal and design, the products of the same history and tradition.
When the enthusiasm and energy of youth is blended with the wisdom and piety of the past, they will forge the Jewish personality of the future. The products of such a mizug will be Jewish men and women who are physically strong, mentally sound and spiritually alert.