Avraham’s Search For G-d
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s parsha, Lech Lecha, introduces us to a highly consequential figure in Jewish and world history, Avraham Avinu. This is not to overlook or minimize the contributions of other great figures such as Moshe Rabbenu, who led the Jews out of Egypt and brought down the Torah from Mount Sinai. But remember that, without Avraham’s groundbreaking activities, there would not have been a framework for Moshe’s achievements.
Avraham was a unique innovator. Raised by idol-worshipping parents, he went along with their religious ways. The entire world at that time was immersed in the worship of wood and stone.
What saved Avraham was his own mind. Hashem has endowed man with a divine soul that enables us to use reason to arrive at a knowledge of reality. According to Rambam, Avraham was a prodigious thinker who contemplated profound spiritual matters by day and by night. He was the quintessential searcher seeking to understand whence the world had emerged and the nature of the “power” that kept it going.
The Rambam states that Avraham began his quest for the true G-d at the precocious age of 3 and made his discovery when he reached 40. This may strike us as a very long period to decide to become a believer. Usually the religious transformations of spiritual people take place much more quickly. Typically, such people report that they undergo some profound experience that causes them to “see the light.”
The fact that Avraham tarried for 37 years until he made up his mind says a great deal about him. The Rabbis exhort judges (in Pirkei Avot) to be “deliberate in judgment.” They should not rely on instinctive conclusions, but only on the result of unhurried deliberations. Does this apply to the realm of religious choices?
Avraham believed that it did. He thought through all the issues pertaining to theological truths slowly and carefully. This clearly indicates that he wasn’t following the inclinations of his heart or waiting for certain emotions to overwhelm him. He did not experience a dramatic religious “conversion.”
Rather, he employed his profound intelligence in the study of nature and arrived at the irrefutable conclusion that the world had to have a Creator Who existed eternally, outside of space and time incorporeal, and Who was unlike any being in the universe He had created.
Having discovered the G-d of reality, Avraham did not keep it to himself, but regarded it as his responsibility to share this knowledge with all of mankind. He realized that, as long as they were steeped in the worship of physical objects, they could never recognize and extol Hashem, the actual, not the imaginary, Deity.
Avraham went forth to become the teacher, not the preacher, of mankind, seeking to explain the error of idolatry to them and introducing them to the one G-d, Hashem, the Creator of heaven and earth.
Is it possible to change the deeply seated beliefs of a long established religious order? Avraham was optimistic that, with proper rational instruction, people could renounce the false convictions that they had unwittingly accepted out of convention.
Perhaps this sense of confidence stemmed from his personal experience, in which he was forced to evaluate the veracity of the doctrines he had been raised to follow. Avraham manifested the courage to use his mind and to live by the logical conclusions he had arrived at.
This gave him a unique insight into the reasons why idolatrous people adopted and clung to their religious beliefs.He understood the mentality of the idolater and how to undo the attachment to mistaken religious practices.
The heritage of Avraham Avinu is of great relevance to Jews today. Our task is to make known and to glorify the Name of Hashem for our fellow Jews and all of mankind. This requires a great deal of knowledge and clarity about the profound ideas of Torah. “You shall safeguard and perform them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of peoples, who shall hear all these decrees and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation!” May we have the merit to attain this exalted ideal.
In this time of social isolation, we should seek ways to avoid boredom by staying occupied with meaningful activity. The world of virtual reality allows us to stay in touch with friends and attend all kinds of classes available online.
But that can only take you so far. Comes Shabbat and Yom Tov, and you need books, especially on the parsha. I personally recommend Eternally Yours on Genesis http://bit.ly/EY-Genesis and Exodus http://bit.ly/EY-Exodus, and my newest one on Numbers http://bit.ly/EY-Numbers2. They are easy to read, interesting, and thought-provoking conversation starters. I am especially interested in your feedback and hope you can write a brief review and post it on Amazon.