Abraham is now regarded as one of the most influential people in all of history. The world’s three largest monotheistic religions – in fact possibly monotheism itself – found their beginnings with him. Over 3 billion people in the modern world cite Avraham as the “father” of their religion. (From Encyclopedia.com, Entry: Abraham)
We find scattered through world history individuals who made huge and lasting impacts on science, the humanities, and intellectual thought. But Avraham Avinu, the first Jew, impacted the world so powerfully, that his ideas and actions are as alive, relevant and morally compelling as when he first expressed them in 1800 BCE!
To introduce this week’s featured Morasha shiur on Avraham Avinu, we quote from Rabbi Avraham Edelstein’s important essay, Avraham Avinu: The Man of Science Transcends Himself and recommend it be read in its entirety.
Rav Hutner once said, “Everyone wants to talk about the Chofetz Chaim after he became the Chofetz Chaim. But what is more important is to understand how the Chofetz Chaim grew to be that way to begin with.” The same is true of the Avos. Avram ben Terach was not born Avraham Avinu. He had to work incredibly hard on himself to become that way. Below is some of that story.
Discovering G-d through nature
Both Jewish and non-Jewish historians recognize that the great contribution of the Jews to the world was monotheism, an achievement that not only transformed subsequent history but can be regarded as the greatest single contribution from whatever source since human culture emerged from the Stone Age. By teaching this concept, Avraham Avinu forever changed the way in which we would relate not only to G-d, but also to man.
By the time our Parsha starts to tell us about Avraham Avinu, 75 years of his life have already passed. At this stage, Avraham Avinu already had an advanced relationship with G-d. How did he get there?
Avraham Avinu discovered G-d by looking at nature. Described by the Alter of Slobodka as the first and perhaps the greatest of the philosophers, Avraham did not take anything for granted. Avraham began his G-d search at the age of 3, but it took him another 37 years of total absorption and thought to reach a mature understanding of and relationship with G-d. It was only then that Avraham was finally willing to give up all idol-worship. It took another 35 years for him to be ready for G-d’s command at the beginning of our parsha, Lech Lecha.
As exalted as Avraham became, his basic conclusions are very accessible to mortals like ourselves. Everywhere Avraham looked he saw incredible order, demanding a higher intelligence overseeing and guiding the whole process. Whether the starting point is physics, biology, astronomy or any exploration of the world of nature, all will lead us back to G-d. It was Rav Hirsch who said: “Two revelations are given to us, Nature and the תורה.”
The Maharal calls the world of nature a ladder which we can climb to reach the higher realms of Torah.
Why the discovery of G-d was unusual
Despite the fact that the world is, as Rav Elchanan Wasserman tells us, biased in favor of seeing G-d, Avraham’s achievements are still remarkable to an extreme. The world that Avraham was born into had become completely idolatrous. One thin line of Monotheism remained: Chanoch, Noach, and Shem to Ever; but these people lived and died with their secret. Meanwhile, the idolaters were able to show tangible results for their efforts by tuning into real intermediaries used by G-d. And so, Avraham Avinu himself was given the best education in idolatry of the time. Brilliant as he was, his own book of idolatry stretched to 400 chapters!! It required enormous courage and a radical breakthrough for Avraham to see the world through different eyes.
Secondly, Avraham Avinu took his understanding to profound new depths. In the end, he reconstructed for himself the whole of creation, including the higher spiritual realms. His legacy to us is the great Kabbalistic work, the Sefer Hayetzirah, which explains how the letters of the Hebrew alphabet were used by G-d to create the world. Avraham Avinu was able to trace any object back up its spiritual trajectory. He was able to understand, as Adam HaRishon once did, how the word actually sustains the physical reality it produces. Man is a whole universe, an עולם קטן made up of all 22 letters, whose every action has cosmic implications.
To read Rabbi Edelstein’s full essay, please see: Avraham Avinu: The Man of Science Transcends Himself.
Click here to download the free Morasha shiur on Avraham Avinu: The Great Progenitor.