Lech Lecha – Abraham’s Credentials
Abraham is the founding father of Judaism. I occasionally encounter heated discussions of whether Abraham was the first Jew. The argument would play out similarly if the subject matter were different. Was the father of Christianity a Christian although Christianity didn’t yet exist as a religion? Was Moses Mendelssohn a Reform Jew although it was only his followers who established the reformation?
Technically, Judaism was established as a religion only later, at Mt. Sinai. Abraham had founded a legacy of belief and obedience to the One God in heaven. His family carried that legacy for a few generations before being established as a nation in Egypt. It was that nation, descended from Abraham, which was singled out to live by the commandments of the Torah. It is not wrong, therefore, to contend that Abraham was the first Jew, since he planted the seed and formed the roots of this mystical tree, although he was technically not a Jew..
Abraham was a unique individual. If Abraham lived today we would either see him as crazy or a spiritual guru. In reality he was a mentch of the highest order. He was a man of deep integrity and conviction who marched to the beat of the Lord’s drum, without deviating or taking his own interests into account. His kindness was altruistic; there was no self gain or glory in Abraham’s mind. He performed his tasks with simplicity and humility, never demanding or complaining about his fate.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks paints a striking contrast between Abraham and his predecessors. For the first 2000 years of the world’s existence as we know it there was a failing in humanity, a failing particularly in the realm of responsibility. Among all the characters who appear in the Torah’s narrative, those who played the most significant roles in the development of civilization, there was none who put God’s priorities before their own until Abraham.
When Abraham was but a young man, living in a society plagued by hubris and self promotion, an attempt was made to establish the human legacy as the dominant power of the universe. The Tower of Babel was, at its core, a glorification of human achievement and importance. Abraham, in his final and greatest test, was willing to give up all that gave him immortality and legacy if that was the will of God. Abraham was willing to give up his one son from his life partner Sarah, the long awaited son of his old age, the son through whom all of his life’s work would be perpetuated. All of this was dismissed in a moment in submission to God’s will. Unlike his society Abraham lived an existence of total devotion to God.
Ten generations earlier the star character was Noah. Noah stood out in his generation as a righteous man, one who toed God’s line despite living in a society where corruption was rampant and everyone pursued self gratification. While Noah is glorified for holding the fort in that trying time, he failed to make an impression on his society. His family alone was saved in the ark and he did not succeed in influencing others to be better. He lived and the