Playing victim is when we attribute our failures to forces beyond our control, to other people or to circumstances that we can do nothing about; we complain, we blame, and we give up. It's something many of us are guilty of at one point or another, and it can even often be justified. But even when there is a good reason to point fingers and throw in the towel, most of us eventually pick up the pieces, dust ourselves off, and move on with our lives.
Abraham may have been the first person with an outright excuse to play the victim card. His mission in life was to promote the concept of One G-d. Others before him knew of G-d and even believed in Him, but Abraham was the first to share this belief with others, encouraging anyone he encountered to renounce idolatry and only worship the One G-d.
He did so at great cost to himself. He was persecuted, banished from home, sentenced to death, and would have in fact been executed had there not been a miraculous intervention on his behalf. The lesson often drawn from the life of Abraham is that we must not allow challenges and obstacles to get in the way of what we truly believe. We must completely throw our entire selves into the mission, come hell or high water.
And that’s a good lesson. But there is more to Abraham than simply a guy who was firm in his beliefs and was willing to suffer for them.
Being prepared to suffer for your beliefs is admirable, but even more admirable is living with your beliefs. Many religions idealize martyrdom for the sake of a greater purpose, and to be sure, Judaism has that aspect as well, but only as a last resort. We don’t romanticize the loss of life, though we are prepared to give our lives as a statement of our faith.
Abraham did not want to be executed, since it would have prevented him from continuing to pursue his mission — bringing G-d to every corner of the universe. Had he lost his life in the process, he would have been hailed as a martyr, but his mission would have been curtailed. Was he prepared to pay the ultimate price? Absolutely. But he did everything in his power to avoid ending up in that situation.
He did not play victim because it would not have gotten him anywhere. He didn’t complain and he didn’t point fingers. He simply picked himself up after each bout, and just kept doing what he believed in. He may have been battered at first, but the more he did it, the stronger he got and the fewer beatings he took, so to speak.
Sure, he could have retired at some point and said that he did all he could. But that would have defeated the purpose. He refused to be kept down, he refused to be restrained, and as a result he managed to bring awareness of G-d to places previously unreachable.
We inherited this spirit from our forefather, and with each passing generation the Jewish people get better at it. The Jewish people have had good times and better times. And there have been times of terrible suffering. Yet even when things look bleak and we feel—rightfully—that the entire world is against us, giving up is not in our DNA. Abraham didn’t do it, and we certainly won't.
Our goal is to make the world a bright place for all, to be a light unto the nations, and our mission had certainly seen ups and downs over time. But one thing is for sure, playing victim is not in our cards. Ever.