Religion of Avraham
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s Parsha, Lech Lecha, introduces us to one of the most important figures in history, our father Avraham. He was raised at a time when virtually the entire world lost congizance of Hashem and was hopelessly steeped in idol worship. Avraham was not the beneficiary of an education rooted in true principles. As Rambam points out, his parents were idolaters and he was raised to worship with them. However, he had a great mind and a fearless, independent spirit. He began thinking about religious matters at the precocious age of three. He inquired and reasoned by day and night until he recognized the utter falsehood of idolatry. In the course of his investigations, he came to a recognition of the Supreme Being, the Creator of the Universe, who, alone, was worthy of man’s worship.
Avraham was not content to keep his findings to himself. He was disturbed that the rest of mankind was steeped in such tragic error. He could not just sit back and do nothing. He felt obligated to expose falsehood and teach truth. In doing so, he embodied the supreme Jewish virtue of chesed. We have a responsibility to alleviate the suffering of our fellow humans. Most people think of this in terms of offering relief to those in physical distress. Thus, we render assistance to victims of wars or calamities and offer support to those who suffer from illness. Avraham Avinu took chesed to a new level. He provided for people’s physical needs such as food and lodging, but his main goal was to save people from the evil of idolatry. He regarded the health of the body as a means to perfection of the soul. What is the good of saving a person physically if he is dying spiritually? After all, man was created to recognize the true G-d of reality and to refine his nature by emulating His perfect ways. To deprive a person of vital knowledge which is essential to his spiritual well -being, and in effect allowing him to die is an expression of cruelty.
Avraham , thus, embarked on the task of saving mankind from the futility of idolatry. This required supreme wisdom, dedication, and super human courage. He set up debates with the theologians of the times and overpowered them with his brilliant arguments. Though his preferred method was logical argumentation, he was fully aware of the emotional resistances of some of the people he dealt with. In his youth, he had experienced the same emotions, but had analyzed and freed himself from them. Thus, after engaging in debates and disproving the false claims of the idolaters, he would smash the idols. He realized that sometimes people are very emotionally attached to certain objects which they have deified. When that happens, reason is not always enough to affect their emotions and physical destruction of the revered object is necessary. This illustrates the tremendous extent to which Avraham went and the great risks he took to purify the World from the spiritual disease of idolatry. The Rambam says that the entire purpose of the Torah and all its commandments is to uproot idolatry from the World. It is only then that the goals of creation, which we pray for on Rosh Hashana, to perfect the World with the kingdom of Hashem, can be realized.
When Avraham had achieved these heroic goals and had won over a significant following, Hashem appeared to him and revealed His plans for the future. Avraham would become the father not only of the Jewish people, but of all mankind. He commanded Avraham to leave his birth place and father’s house and travel to the land “I will show you.” Avraham accepted the Divine mission and began the journey which would culminate on Sinai with the emergency of the Jewish people and their acceptance of Hashem’s Torah. Our task is to be the children of Avraham by emulating His wisdom, rejecting idolatry, and committing to saving the World from false religion. As Jews, we must always ask, are we practicing the religion of Avraham Avinu?