“Abraham: The Founder of the Idea of Monotheism as well as an Ethical Person”
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
At the end of this week’s parashah, after the story of Noah and the Tower of Babel, we have a little bit of information about Abraham. It is written in the Torah: “Abram and Nahor took to themselves wives, the name of Abram’s wife being Sarai and that of Nahor’s wife Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren, she had no child. Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah came to 205 years; and Terah died in Haran.” (Bereshit 11:29-32)
This is all that we know about our patriarch Abraham. In next week’s parashah, Parashat Lech Lecha, we will read about God’s order to Abraham to leave the land where he was and go to the place he will show him.
Many commentators try to understand why God chose Abraham to be the founder of the Hebrews. We don’t have any clue in this week’s or next week’s parashah. There is missing information about Abraham’s past. For this reason, many Midrashim and commentators try to close the gap we have between these two parashot. Most of them explain that Abraham discovered the uniqueness of God, he founded the idea of monotheism, and for this reason, God chose him and approached him and no another person.
For example, Rambam (Maimonides) wrote in the Mishneh Torah, in Avoda Zara 1:3:
“After this mighty man 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 sphere 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 was one God who controlled the sphere, that He created everything, and that there is no other God among all the other entities. He knew that the entire world was making a mistake. 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 aware of his Creator.”
According to Rambam, Abraham started to observe the world and tried to understand how it worked. Thinking and asking many questions, he concluded that there must be someone powerful behind everything. Through thinking alone, Abraham discovered God, the creator of the world. When Abraham reached that conclusion, God approached him and ordered him, “Lech Lecha,” as the first command.
However, we can also understand that the Torah has not told us anything about Abraham’s past because it wants to teach us just about Abraham’s contribution after he was chosen. The Torah wants to show us Abraham’s ethical behavior and not his theology.
From the different stories about Abraham we find in the Torah, we can learn that Abraham is known for his hospitality, his concern for justice, and his compassion for the vulnerable. Maybe the Torah doesn’t tell us about his theological thoughts because it wants to encourage us to follow his acts of righteousness and deeds of justice. God demands ethical behavior from us more than theological thoughts. We don’t know almost anything about Abraham before he was chosen. However, we can learn about his good qualities and deeds through his life after he was chosen by God.
Usually, our patriarch Abraham is known as a founder of the idea of monotheism. We should also remember that he was known as an ethical person.
May we be inspired by his lessons, his thoughts, and his deeds.