Parashat Lech Lecha: Abraham, monotheism – and what next?

Was Abraham the first monotheist? Apparently not.

By
November 10, 2016 14:48
3 minute read.
Painting by Yoram Raanan

Painting by Yoram Raanan. (photo credit: YORAM RAANAN)

In this week’s parasha of Lech Lecha, Abraham is chosen by God to be the first patriarch of the Jewish nation, at the age of 75. Why was he chosen? What do we actually know about Abraham our Patriarch? Jewish tradition tells us about a boy who gazed up at the sky, looked at the stars and asked himself, “Who made all this?” Later, he looked at people and asked himself, “What is the right way to behave?” He saw people suffering, and their pain touched his heart, so he asked “Why?” He was a child searching for answers to every question.

But the environment in which Abraham was raised did not provide him with the answers he was looking for. He got answers full of myths about gods battling one another; he was told that many powers administer the world, and therefore he should not search for justice anywhere. Abraham was not persuaded.

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One day, he experienced enlightenment: There is one, omnipotent God Who leads the entire world.

He understood this essence, internalized it, and never abandoned it for a moment. He also taught it to his friends, which threatened the local rulers.

“One day,” they feared, “people will stop believing that the rulers’ power is divine.” This threat led them to throwing Abraham into a furnace. God saved him, and he escaped with his family to another city, and there he was given a mission: "Go forth from your land... to the land that I will show you.... And I will make you into a great nation....” (Genesis 12:1-2).

Was Abraham the first monotheist? Apparently not.

He was indeed considered the father of monotheism, but he was not the first. Our sages told of people who preceded Abraham who also believed in one god.

Archeological research also proves the existence of faith in one god among the nations of the region. And yet, only Abraham merited being considered the founder of monotheism. Why is this? In what way was he unique? Abraham took this one step further. He understood that only one God exists. And he understood that this one God has a clear path. He understood that if God has a specific path, this must hold some message for us humans. He understood that faith demands action, as the Torah describes: “...because he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of the Lord to perform righteousness and justice” (ibid. 18:19).

Abraham discovered the secret that made faith influential on the life of man. After years of searching, trial and error, he understood that faith that does not obligate proper behavior is empty. Faith obligates a human message, not tremendous monuments or glorious structures but a message that can be passed on, something that can be done by hand, a word that can be spoken, a smile.

Abraham understood that man is a significant creature with the power to change the world. He believed in this and, wherever he went, he called out in God’s name, taught and spread the message, with complete faith that every small human act carries great significance.

Abraham walked among idol worshipers and slowly gathered around him those who felt that idol worship was insufficient for their souls. He found people who agreed with the concept of monotheism. But he remained alone in his belief in the power of action.

One day, God promised, you will have a son. And from that son, an entire nation will come that will walk in your path. And Abraham? “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him as righteousness” (ibid. 15:6). And Abraham continued to believe.

The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.


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