The Life and Times of Abraham

Young Abraham

 

 

 

 

 

Young Abraham contemplates smashing his father’s idols.

By Rabbi Moshe Weiner, excerpted from The Divine Code

[Looking back in Abraham’s lineage, the Torah explains that he was a descendant of Enosh, the grandson of Adam.]

What was the mistake of Enosh and his generation? In his days, mankind made a great mistake, and the wise men of that generation gave thoughtless and spiritually erroneous advice. They said that since G-d created the stars and the planets with which to control the world, and He put them in the heavens and treated them with honor, making them servants who minister before Him, it is therefore proper to praise them, glorify them, and treat them with honor. These people also said that it is the will of G-d that mankind should honor and make great those whom He magnified and honored, just as a king desires that the servants who stand before him will be honored, for doing so is an expression of honor to the king

Once they thought this, they began to build places of worship for the stars and to offer sacrifices to them. They would praise and glorify them with words, and prostrate themselves before them, because by doing so, they would – according to their false conception – be fulfilling the will of G-d.

This was the essence of the worship of false gods, and this was the reasoning of those who worshiped them, and the explanation they gave. They did not say that there is no other god except for this star they were worshiping. This is what Jeremiah conveyed (Jer. 10:7-8): “Who would not fear You [G-d], O King of the nations? For [kingship] benefits You, for among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, [it is known that] there is none like You. But in one concept they are foolish and stupid; the vain [idols] which they teach are but wood.” This means that all people knew that G-d alone exists, but it was from their mistake and their foolishness that they said that this vanity of theirs (the concept of independent intermediaries and the worship of idols) was G-d’s will.

After many years passed, there arose people – false prophets – who told the people that G-d had commanded them to say: Serve this star – or all the stars – sacrifice to it, offer libations to it, build a temple for it and make an image of it so that all people – including the women, the children, and the common people – could bow to it.

A false prophet would inform them of a form that he had conceived, and tell them that this is the image of the particular star, claiming that this was revealed to him in a prophetic vision. In this manner, the people began to make images in temples, under trees, and on the tops of mountains and hills. People would gather together and bow down to the images, and the false prophets would say: “This image is the source of benefit or harm. It is appropriate to serve it and fear it.” Their priests would tell them: “This service will enable you to multiply and be successful. Do this and this, or do not do this and this.”

Subsequently, other deceivers arose and declared that a specific star, sphere or angel had spoken to them and commanded them: “Serve me in this manner.” The false prophet would then relate a mode of service, telling them: “Do this, and do not do this.”

Thus, these practices spread throughout the world. People would serve images with strange practices – one more distorted than the other – offer sacrifices to them, and bow down to them. As the years passed, G-d’s glorious and awesome Name was forgotten by the entire population. It was no longer part of their speech or thought, and they no longer knew Him.

Therefore, all the common and uneducated people and their children eventually knew only the images of wood or stone which they were trained from their childhood to bow down to and serve, and in whose name they swore, and in whose temples they worshiped.

The wise men among them would think that there was no G-d other than the stars and spheres for whose sake, and in resemblance of which, they had made these images. The True G-d was not recognized or known by anyone in the world, with the exception of a few individuals: for example, Enoch, Methuselah, Noah, Shem and Eber. [1]

The world continued in this fashion until the pillar of the world –Abraham the Hebrew [2] – was born.

After this mighty man Abraham was weaned, he began to explore and think. Though he was a child, he began to think incessantly throughout the day and night, wondering: “How is it possible for the celestial firmament to continue to revolve without having anyone controlling it? Who is causing it to revolve? Surely it does not cause itself to revolve!”

He had no teacher, nor was there anyone to inform him. Rather, he was mired in Ur Kasdim among the foolish idolaters. His father, mother, and all the people around him were idol worshipers, and he would worship with them. However, his heart was exploring and gaining understanding. Ultimately, he appreciated the way of truth and understood the path of righteousness through his accurate comprehension. He realized that there is One G-d who controls the celestial sphere and Who created everything, and that there is no other G-d among all the other entities. He knew that the entire world was making a mistake in worshiping creations. What caused them to err was their service of the stars and images, which made them lose awareness of the truth.

Abraham was forty years old when he became fully aware of his Creator. When he recognized and knew Him, he began to formulate the replies to the inhabitants of Ur Kasdim and debate with them, telling them that they were not following a proper path.

He broke their idols and began to teach the people that it is fitting to serve only the G-d of the universe, and to Him alone is it fitting to bow down, sacrifice, and offer libations, so that the people of future generations would learn to recognize Him. Conversely, he realized that it is fitting to destroy and break all idolatrous images, lest people err and think that there is no One G-d, but rather only these images.

When he overcame them through the strength of his arguments, the king, Nimrod, desired to kill him, but he was saved through a miracle, and he left for Ĥaran. There, he began to call in a loud voice to all the people and inform that there is one G-d in the entire world, and it is proper to serve only Him. He would go out and call to the people, gathering them in city after city and country after country, until he finally arrived in the land of Canaan – proclaiming G-d’s true existence the entire time, as it states (Genesis 21:33): “and there he proclaimed the Name of G-d, G-d of the universe.” When the people would gather around him and ask him about his statements, he would explain them to each individual according to the person’s understanding, until they turned to the path of truth. Ultimately, thousands and tens of thousands gathered around him and he planted in their hearts this great fundamental principle.[3]

This established the context for the future Messianic Era and the World to Come, when the occupation of the whole world will be solely to know G-d, [4] as it says (Zephaniah 3:9), “For then I [G-d] will turn the people to a pure language, so that all will call upon the Name of G-d to serve Him with one purpose.” And all will know that G-d alone exists, and that there is no other divinity aside from Him that is fitting to rely upon. Rather, all will depend on G-d alone, as the prophet says (Zechariah 14:9), “G-d will be King over the entire earth; in that day G-d will be One and His Name One.” This means that even His Name will be One and exclusive in the mouths of all, and there will be no belief in any other existence, even as an [imagined] intermediary to G-d, as it says (Deuteronomy 4:39), “You shall know this day and take to your heart that the L-rd [alone] is G-d, in the heavens above and on the earth below – there is no other!”

Footnotes:

[1] Noah entered the ark with his family (his wife Na’ama, his sons Japeth, Shem and Ĥam, and their wives). Eber, a descendant of Shem (Gen. 10:25), was a prophet who taught knowledge of G-d.

[2] The word “Hebrew” (Ivri in Gen. 14:13) identified Abraham as a descendant of Eber; alternatively, it literally means “from over,” since he came to the land of Canaan from over the Euphrates River.

[3] Abraham also taught them the Seven Noahide Commandments, which he and the members of his own household were careful to fulfill. But from the time of the passing of Abraham until the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, aside from the family of his grandson Jacob, we only find mention of righteous individuals, rather than entire communities. It seems that for most of the thousands of “people of the house of Abraham” whom he and his wife Sarah attracted, the couple’s exceptional kindness was a temporary counterbalance to the attraction and temptation of the general idolatrous culture.

[4] Rambam, Laws of Kings 12:5.

Related content: UNA Course 2, Lesson 6

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