121. God is Forgotten and Rediscovered
Avodas Kochavim 1:2
As we discussed, the earliest idolators worshipped heavenly bodies as ministers to God, mistakenly thinking that this honored God Himself. After many years, false prophets arose and told the people that God commanded them to serve a certain star or stars, sacrificing to it, offering libations to it, building temples to it, and making images of it so that everyone could bow down to it. The false prophet would tell the people of a form he conceived, telling them that it was the image of the star in question, which was revealed to him in a prophetic vision. This is how people began making graven images. The people would gather together and bow down to these images and the false prophets would tell them that image has the ability to assist and to harm. The priests of the idols would tell them that serving the idol leads to success and prosperity. Competing charlatans would declare that they had been contacted by a different star, planet or angel, with instructions for some other form of service. In this way, idolatry spread throughout the world with the practitioners of different cults one-upping each other. The idea that the bodies were God’s messengers was jettisoned and God Himself was eventually forgotten by mankind. It reached the point that all people knew were the images of wood or stone that they were trained to serve from childhood.
The wise men among the people thought that there was no God other than the stars and planets for which they had made the graven images. God was remembered by very few individuals: Chanoch, Methuselah, Noah, Shem, and Ever. This was how things were until Abraham was born.
Avodas Kochavim 1:3
After Abraham was weaned, he began to investigate. Despite his young age, he began to contemplate how the world could turn constantly without anyone controlling it. There was no one to teach him about God; all he had in Ur Kasdim were ignorant idolators, including his own parents. But Abraham was always investigating. He eventually realized that there was only one God, Who had created and controlled everything. The entire world was making a mistake by serving the stars and graven images.
Abraham was 40 years old when he came to recognize God. He began to engage the inhabitants of Ur Kasdim in theological debates. He broke their idols and taught the people that it is only appropriate to serve God, so that future generations would know Him. The idols should be destroyed to prevent people from erring in this matter. When Abraham had success in drawing people to the service of God, the king decided to kill him. Abraham was saved through a miracle, after which he left for Charan. There, he began to call loudly to the people, informing them that there is just one God, Whom it is appropriate to serve. He did this from city to city, and from country to country, until he reached the land of Canaan, as per Genesis 21:33, “There he called in the name Hashem, the eternal God.”
The people would gather around and ask Abraham about God. He would explain to each person according to their ability to understand until they turned to the true path. Ultimately, tens of thousands became his disciples. Abraham also taught his son Isaac, who succeeded him in his role as teacher. Isaac taught his son Jacob, who succeeded him. Jacob taught his sons and, of them, appointed Levi as spiritual leader. Jacob also commanded that Levi’s role as spiritual leader would be retained by his descendants. When the Jews ended up staying in Egypt, they learned from the Egyptians’ deeds and started emulating their worship of the stars – except for the tribe of Levi. The Levites held fast to the laws taught by the Forefathers and never worshipped idols.
The lesson that Abraham had taught would have been forgotten and the Jews would have returned to the errors of idolatry had it not been for God's love. In order to maintain the promise that He made to Abraham, He sent Moses to redeem them from Egypt. God crowned the Jews with His mitzvos and taught them the way to serve Him, as well as the judgment for those who stray after idolatry.