Avraham’s Discovery

בראשית פרק יב, א

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ה֙' אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ:

God said to Avram, “Go, for yourself, from your country, from your birthplace, from your father’s home, to the land which I will show you....” (Bereishit 12:1) 

Parashat Lech Lecha begins with God’s command to Avraham (Avram) to leave behind everything with which he is familiar and to set out for an unknown destination. The Torah, however, does not tell us why God chose Avraham. What was special about him? Why was he destined to become the first of the patriarchs, the founder of a nation? Who was Avraham? What were his accomplishments? What would his resume look like? Regarding all these questions, the Torah is silent.

Midrashic literature ably fills in these gaps, recounting Avraham’s trials and tribulations, his lonely explorations and his eventual discovery of God.[1] While we have no question about the authenticity of our Oral Tradition, we might well ask: If the stories of Avraham’s youth are to be taken literally, why does the Torah itself not share them with us?[2] Why was it left to our sages to inform us of Avraham’s past? While these questions could be posed about any section of midrash, in this instance the complete lack of explanation of Avraham’s special status leaves us with no apparent reason for God’s decision to reveal Himself – to this particular man, or to any man. Why is this information found exclusively in the Oral Tradition?

Let us consider the picture of Avraham that is painted by our sages: Avraham was born into a world of polytheism. His father, Terach, is described as a sculptor and purveyor of idols. When Avraham is asked to mind the store, he engages the customers in theological debate.

בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת נח פרשה לח סימן יג

תרח עובד צלמים היה, חד זמן נפיק לאתר, הושיב לאברהם מוכר תחתיו, הוה אתי בר אינש בעי דיזבן והוה א"ל בר כמה שנין את, והוה א"ל בר חמשין או שיתין, והוה א"ל ווי ליה לההוא גברא דהוה בר שיתין, ובעי למסגד לבר יומי, והוה מתבייש והולך לו, חד זמן אתא חד איתתא טעינה בידה חדא פינך דסולת, אמרה ליה הא לך קרב קודמיהון, קם נסיב בוקלסא בידיה, ותבריהון לכולהון פסיליא, ויהב בוקלסא בידא דרבה דהוה ביניהון, כיון דאתא אבוה א"ל מאן עביד להון כדין, א"ל מה נכפר מינך אתת חדא איתתא טעינה לה חדא פינך דסולת, ואמרת לי הא לך קריב קודמיהון, קריבת לקדמיהון הוה דין אמר אנא איכול קדמאי, ודין אמר אנא איכול קדמאי, קם הדין רבה דהוה ביניהון נסב בוקלסא ותברינון, א"ל מה אתה מפלה בי, וידעין אנון, א"ל ולא ישמעו אזניך מה שפיך אומר.

Terach was a manufacturer of idols. He once went away and left Avraham to sell them in his place. A man entered and wished to buy one.

“How old are you?” Avraham asked him.

“Fifty years,” was the reply.

“Woe to such a man!” [Avraham] exclaimed. “You are fifty years old and would worship a day-old object!”

At this, [the man] became ashamed and departed.

On another occasion, a woman came in with a plateful of flour and requested of him, “Take this and offer it to [the idols].”

[Avraham] took a stick, broke [all the idols], and put the stick in the hand of the largest.

When his father returned, he demanded, “What have you done to them?”

“I cannot conceal it from you,” [Avraham] replied. “A woman came with a plateful of fine meal and requested that I offer it to them. One idol claimed, ‘I must eat first,’ while another claimed, ‘I must eat first.’ Thereupon the largest arose, took the stick, and broke the others.”

“Why do you make sport of me?” [Terach] cried out. “Have they any knowledge?”

“Do your ears hear what your mouth is saying?” [Avraham] retorted.

(Bereishit Rabbah 38:13)

Avraham’s challenge is a theological one which undoubtedly was the result of many long hours of painstaking inquiry and analysis. We are told that Avraham considered the various forms of worship which were extant in his region, rejecting one after the other through the use of critical thinking. Through the application of pure logic, Avraham concluded that the world must have had a beginning:

בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת לך לך פרשה לט: ג

ויאמר ה' אל אברם, רבי ברכיה פתח (שם /שיר השירים ח'/ ח) אחות לנו קטנה ושדים אין לה וגו', אחות לנו קטנה זה אברהם שאיחה את כל באי העולם, בר קפרא אמר כזה שהוא מאחה את הקרע, קטנה שעד שהוא קטן היה מסגל מצות ומעשים טובים, ושדים אין לה, לא הניקוהו לא למצות ומעשים טובים,

“We have a little sister, and she has no breasts” (Shir HaShirim 8:8). [This hints to Avraham:] “Little” — even as a young person he stored up pious acts and good deeds. “She has no breasts” — no breasts suckled him. (Bereishit Rabbah 39:3)

בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת ויגש פרשה צה

ומהיכן למד אברהם את התורה, רבן שמעון אומר נעשו שתי כליותיו כשתי כדים של מים והיו נובעות תורה.

From where did Avraham learn Torah? Said Rabbi Shimon (bar Yochai), “His two kidneys became like pitchers of water, from which Torah gushed forth.” (Ibid. 95:3)

These obscure midrashim describe Avraham’s theological development, stressing that he arrived at his conclusions on his own; he had no teacher. He reasoned that there must be some great force that created and sustains this world; there must be a First Cause, there must be a God. After shattering his father’s idols, Avraham argued with Terach, “If you recognize that the idols do not have the power to help or harm one another, how can you possibly base all of your dreams, hopes, and aspirations on the power of these impotent stones?”

Avraham was persecuted for his beliefs. Nimrod, a wicked tyrant, attempted to persuade Avraham to worship idols, or the forces of nature — anything concrete.

בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת נח פרשה לח סימן יג

נסביה ומסריה לנמרוד, א"ל נסגוד לנורא, א"ל אברהם ונסגוד למיא דמטפין נורא, א"ל נמרוד נסגוד למיא, א"ל אם כן נסגוד לעננא דטעין מיא, א"ל נסגוד לעננא א"ל אם כן נסגוד לרוחא דמבדר עננא, א"ל נסגוד לרוחא א"ל ונסגוד לבר אינשא דסביל רוחא, א"ל מילין את משתעי אני איני משתחוה אלא לאור, הרי אני משליכך בתוכו, ויבא אלוה שאתה משתחוה לו ויצילך הימנו, הוה תמן הרן קאים פלוג, אמר מה נפשך אם נצח אברהם אנא אמר מן דאברהם אנא ואם נצח נמרוד אנא אמר דנמרוד אנא, כיון שירד אברהם לכבשן האש וניצול, אמרין ליה דמאן את, אמר להון מן אברהם אנא, נטלוהו והשליכוהו לאור ונחמרו בני מעיו, ויצא ומת על פני תרח אביו, הה"ד [בראשית יא] וימת הרן על פני תרח וגו'.

Thereupon [Terach] seized [Avraham] and delivered him to Nimrod. “Let us worship the fire!” [Nimrod] proposed.

“Let us rather worship water, which extinguishes the fire,” replied [Avraham].

“Then let us worship water!”

“Let us rather worship the clouds which bear the water.”

“Then let us worship the clouds!”

“Let us rather worship the winds which disperse the clouds.”

“Then let us worship the wind!”

“Let us rather worship human beings, who withstand the wind.”

“You are just bandying words,” [Nimrod] exclaimed. “We will worship naught but the fire. Behold, I will cast you into it, and let your God whom you adore come and save you from it.”

(Ibid. 38:13)

With each suggestion, Avraham forces Nimrod to recognize that the object of his worship can be reduced to a previous form or vanquished by something more powerful. This dialogue illustrates Avraham’s underlying philosophical position: There must be a First Cause – an all-powerful and perfect God.

Avraham was unwilling to back down, even when facing the most powerful man of his time. Avraham had no illusions about the dangerous ground he was treading, and the midrashic account of his confrontation with Nimrod illustrates Avraham’s heroism: He was willing to sacrifice everything for the ideas and ideals in which he had come to believe. Eventually, Nimrod cast Avraham into the fire, but Avraham was saved; miraculously, he escaped from the furnace unscathed.[3] Why does the Torah omit these impressive stories of religious searching and discovery, persecution and heroism? Surely the image of Avraham withstanding the torments of his persecutor would have served as an important example for future generations.

Apparently, God preferred to begin Avraham’s story with revelation: God speaks to Avraham, commands him, and the structure of the biblical narrative implies that nothing that came before this revelation is relevant:

בראשית פרק יב, א

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ה֙' אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ:

God said to Avram, “Go for yourself from your country, from your birthplace, from your father’s home, to the land which I will show you....”

For all of Avraham’s genius, his decisions and behavior are based on logic — wonderful logic, compelling logic, but nevertheless human logic. There are limits to the human mind, to man’s understanding. When man analyzes the world around him, he is limited by his subjectivity.[4] Did Avraham know that he was right? All the logic he could muster pointed in the direction of the truth of his conclusions. Clearly, he must have felt with every fiber of his being that he had uncovered the truth, that he had found God. Avraham was so convinced of the merit of his argument that he was literally prepared to die defending it. He was not satisfied with merely embracing his new weltanschauung himself; he endeavored to teach and inspire others to follow the same path. In the midrash, Avraham is described as a spiritual giant who arrives at a conclusion based on careful, compelling logic, a man who is so intellectually honest that he is willing to die for his convictions. But could he know with complete certainty that he was, indeed, correct?

Perhaps now we can understand why the Torah starts the saga of Avraham with revelation. The Torah is not a history book; it is a document which describes the covenant between God and His people, between the People and their God. A covenant of this kind, a commitment of this kind, can only be based on revelation. Human logic has its limits; revelation goes beyond logic. The Torah is replete with commandments, yet such commandments can only exist if there is a command. Revelation is the vehicle through which God commands us_.

Let us consider: When Avraham chose to be thrown into the furnace rather than renounce his belief, did he know that this was the right choice? Before God spoke to him, did Avraham know the proper response for each situation, or was he merely drawing the most logical conclusions he was capable of reaching? In hindsight, we know that each and every one of Avraham’s decisions was correct; Avraham was so spiritually sensitive that he was able to discern God’s will; this is the reason our sages recorded and preserved the account of Avraham’s early life in midrashic literature. The belief in monotheism is eminently logical, and Avraham’s behavior was heroic. However, in the absence of a Divine command — of any Divine communication — Avraham’s behavior took on a subjective cast. Although he was correct, the story of the Jewish people begins only with the revelation.

בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת לך לך פרשה לט:א

משל לאחד שהיה עובר ממקום למקום, וראה בירה אחת דולקת אמר תאמר שהבירה זו בלא מנהיג, הציץ עליו בעל הבירה, אמר לו אני הוא בעל הבירה, כך לפי שהיה אבינו אברהם אומר תאמר שהעולם הזה בלא מנהיג, הציץ עליו הקדוש ברוך הוא ואמר לו אני הוא בעל העולם, … הוי ויאמר ה' אל אברם.

[Avraham] may be compared to a man who was traveling from place to place when he saw a building in flames. “Is it possible that the building lacks a person to look after it?” he wondered. The owner of the building looked out and said, “I am the owner of the building.”

Similarly, because our father Avraham said, “Is it conceivable that the world is without a guide?” the Holy One, blessed be He, looked out and said to him, “I am the Guide, the Sovereign of the Universe”.… Hence, “God said to Avram, ‘Go for yourself from your country, from your birthplace, from your father’s home, to the land which I will show you....’ ”

(Bereishit Rabbah 39:1)

Avraham believed in God — a God who is involved in human history, a God who controls human destiny. What led Avraham to his discovery? Perhaps the Torah wishes to teach us that belief in One God is ultimately such a simple concept that anyone, even a three year old child, can conceive of it.[5] Spiritual greatness, however, does not exist in a vacuum, and the text of the Torah hints at the source of Avraham’s inspiration: None other than his pagan father, Terach.

There is something unique about Terach:

בראשית פרק יא, כד-כו

וַיְחִ֣י נָח֔וֹר תֵּ֥שַׁע וְעֶשְׂרִ֖ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֖וֹלֶד אֶת־תָּֽרַח: וַיְחִ֣י נָח֗וֹר אַחֲרֵי֙ הוֹלִיד֣וֹ אֶת־תֶּ֔רַח תְּשַֽׁע־עֶשְׂרֵ֥ה שָׁנָ֖ה וּמְאַ֣ת שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בָּנִ֖ים וּבָנֽוֹת: וַֽיְחִי־תֶ֖רַח שִׁבְעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֙וֹלֶד֙ אֶת־אַבְרָ֔ם אֶת־נָח֖וֹר וְאֶת־הָרָֽן:

Nachor lived twenty-nine years, and fathered Terach. Nachor lived after he fathered Terach 119 years, and fathered [more] sons and daughters. And Terach lived seventy years, and fathered Avram, Nachor, and Haran. (Bereishit 11:24–26)

Terach, son of Nachor, named one of his sons after his father. He is the first person recorded in the Torah to do so. And so, every day of Avraham’s youth, when he looked at his brother Nachor he was reminded of his roots, and of his father’s roots. Perhaps this is what started Avraham wondering about the origins of other things. This approach, taken to its extreme, eventually led Avraham to break out of the pagan mindset and to embrace monotheism.

If this is so, we might be tempted to ascribe to Terach the nascent belief in One God. However, Terach was unable to take the idea to its conclusion; apparently, Terach was “derailed” somewhere along the way. Another instance of this same phenomenon is to be found at the end of Parashat Noach:

בראשית פרק יא, לא

וַיִּקַּ֨ח תֶּ֜רַח אֶת־אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֗וֹ וְאֶת־ל֤וֹט בֶּן־הָרָן֙ בֶּן־בְּנ֔וֹ וְאֵת֙ שָׂרַ֣י כַּלָּת֔וֹ אֵ֖שֶׁת אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֑וֹ וַיֵּצְא֨וּ אִתָּ֜ם מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֗ים לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ עַד־חָרָ֖ן וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם:

Terach took Avram, his son, and Lot the son of Haran (his son’s son), and Sarai, his daughter-in-law (his son Avram’s wife), and they went out with them from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan. They came to Charan and dwelt there. (Ibid., 31)

Terach was on his way to Canaan — the Land of Israel — but he never arrived. Instead, he settled in Charan. Terach knew that he must leave the place of his birth, his homeland, his people; he knew that his destination was the Land of Israel. But he never quite accomplished his mission. The revelation with which our parashah opens commands Avraham, in a sense, to continue what his father began but did not complete.

בראשית פרק יב, א

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ה֙' אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ:

God said to Avram, “Go, for yourself, from your country, from your birthplace, from your father’s home, to the land which I will show you....”

Based on logic, Avraham understood that there must be something beyond logic, something beyond nature. Avraham sought an elusive, higher wisdom. God’s revelation was his answer — confirmation that Avraham’s logical conclusions were correct. Both the medium and the message were revelation: The fact that God communicated directly with man, as well as the content of that communication, shaped Avraham’s personal destiny.[6]

The closing section of the parashah is equally instructive, for it is here that Avraham is given the commandment of circumcision:

בראשית פרק יז, ט-יב

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֔ם וְאַתָּ֖ה אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֣י תִשְׁמֹ֑ר אַתָּ֛ה וְזַרְעֲךָ֥ אַֽחֲרֶ֖יךָ לְדֹרֹתָֽם: זֹ֣את בְּרִיתִ֞י אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּשְׁמְר֗וּ בֵּינִי֙ וּבֵ֣ינֵיכֶ֔ם וּבֵ֥ין זַרְעֲךָ֖ אַחֲרֶ֑יךָ הִמּ֥וֹל לָכֶ֖ם כָּל־זָכָֽר: וּנְמַלְתֶּ֕ם אֵ֖ת בְּשַׂ֣ר עָרְלַתְכֶ֑ם וְהָיָה֙ לְא֣וֹת בְּרִ֔ית בֵּינִ֖י וּבֵינֵיכֶֽם: וּבֶן־שְׁמֹנַ֣ת יָמִ֗ים יִמּ֥וֹל לָכֶ֛ם כָּל־זָכָ֖ר לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶ֑ם יְלִ֣יד בָּ֔יִת וּמִקְנַת־כֶּ֙סֶף֙ מִכֹּ֣ל בֶּן־נֵכָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹ֥א מִֽזַּרְעֲךָ֖ הֽוּא:

The Almighty said to Avraham, “You shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout the generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep between Me and you, and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. Every eight-day-old male shall be circumcised among you, every male child for all generations, whether he is born in your house or bought with money from any stranger who is not of your descendants.”

(Bereishit 17:9–12)

The basic message of circumcision is that nature is not enough; nature is not perfect. Man can and must “improve” nature. Circumcision is a symbolic declaration that man can rise above nature, that we strive to go beyond nature by controlling sexuality. As a concept, though, circumcision could only be the result of revelation. It is the next step, the step beyond the logical conclusions of which man is capable; we may say that it is the meta-logical conclusion that Terach and his generation were unable to find. After Avraham’s lonely, logical search led him to realize that there was something beyond human logic, beyond the forces of nature, God revealed Himself to Avraham, specifically with the commandment of circumcision – precisely because this commandment, above all others, allows us to go beyond nature, to rise above nature in a way that could never have been possible through human logic alone.

[1] See Talmud Bavli Shabbat Shabbat 156a, which discusses Avraham’s mastery of astrology. Also see Rambam’s statement, cited in note 2, below, that Avraham worshiped idols.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף קנו עמוד א

וְאַף רַב סָבַר, אֵין מַזָּל לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, דַּאָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה, אָמַר רַב, מִנַּיִן שֶׁאֵין מַזָּל לְיִשְׂרָאֵל? שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, (בראשית טו) "וַיּוֹצֵא אוֹתוֹ הַחוּצָה", אָמַר אַבְרָהָם לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, (שם) "בֶּן בֵּיתִי יוֹרֵשׁ אוֹתִי". אָמַר לוֹ, לָאו, כִּי אִם אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִמֵּעֶיךְ. אָמַר לְפָנָיו, רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, נִסְתַּכַּלְתִּי בְאִצְטַגְנִינוּת שֶׁלִי, וְאֵינִי רָאוּי לְהוֹלִיד בֵּן. אָמַר לוֹ, צֵא מֵאִצְטַגְנִינוּת שֶׁלְךָ - שֶׁאֵין מַזָּל לְיִשְׂרָאֵל…

“Rav, too, holds that Israel is immune from planetary influence. For Rav Yehudah said in Rav's name: ‘How do we know that Israel is immune from planetary influence? Because it is said, “…and he brought him out.” Avraham pleaded before the Holy One, blessed be He, “Sovereign of the Universe! A member of my household (staff) will be my heir.” “Not so,” He replied, “but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels.” “Sovereign of the Universe!” cried [Avraham], “I have looked at my constellation and find that I am not fated to beget a child.” “Go out of [i.e., cease] your constellation [gazing], for Israel is free from planetary influence…”

[2] Even Rambam, who is usually a staid and consistent rationalist, cites these midrashim in the Mishneh Torah, Laws of Avodah Zarah (Idolatry), Chapter 1:2,3.

רמב"ם הלכות עבודה זרה פרק א

הלכה ב…-  ועל דרך זה היה העולם הולך ומתגלגל עד שנולד עמודו של עולם והוא אברהם אבינו.

הלכה ג - כיון שנגמל איתן זה התחיל לשוטט בדעתו והוא קטן והתחיל לחשוב ביום ובלילה והיה תמיה היאך אפשר שיהיה הגלגל הזה נוהג תמיד ולא יהיה לו מנהיג ומי יסבב אותו, כי אי אפשר שיסבב את עצמו, ולא היה לו מלמד ולא מודיע דבר אלא מושקע באור כשדים בין עובדי כוכבים הטפשים ואביו ואמו וכל העם עובדי כוכבים והוא עובד עמהם ולבו משוטט ומבין עד שהשיג דרך האמת והבין קו הצדק מתבונתו הנכונה, וידע שיש שם אלוה אחד והוא מנהיג הגלגל והוא ברא הכל ואין בכל הנמצא אלוה חוץ ממנו, וידע שכל העולם טועים ודבר שגרם להם לטעות זה שעובדים את הכוכבים ואת הצורות עד שאבד האמת מדעתם, ובן ארבעים שנה הכיר אברהם את בוראו, כיון שהכיר וידע התחיל להשיב תשובות על בני אור כשדים ולערוך דין עמהם ולומר שאין זו דרך האמת שאתם הולכים בה ושיבר הצלמים והתחיל להודיע לעם שאין ראוי לעבוד אלא לאלוה העולם ולו ראוי להשתחוות ולהקריב ולנסך כדי שיכירוהו כל הברואים הבאים, וראוי לאבד ולשבר כל הצורות כדי שלא יטעו בהן כל העם כמו אלו שהם מדמים שאין שם אלוה אלא אלו. כיון שגבר עליהם בראיותיו בקש המלך להורגו ונעשה לו נס ויצא לחרן, והתחיל לעמוד ולקרוא בקול גדול לכל העולם ולהודיעם שיש שם אלוה אחד לכל העולם ולו ראוי לעבוד, והיה מהלך וקורא ומקבץ העם מעיר לעיר ומממלכה לממלכה עד שהגיע לארץ כנען והוא קורא שנאמר ויקרא שם בשם ה' אל עולם, וכיון שהיו העם מתקבצין אליו ושואלין לו על דבריו היה מודיע לכל אחד ואחד כפי דעתו עד שיחזירהו לדרך האמת עד שנתקבצו אליו אלפים ורבבות והם אנשי בית אברהם ושתל בלבם העיקר הגדול הזה וחבר בו ספרים והודיעו ליצחק בנו,…

(1:2)…The world continued in this fashion until the pillar of the world - the Patriarch Avraham - was born. (1:3) After this great man was weaned, he began to explore and to think. Though he was a child, he began to think [incessantly], throughout the day and night, wondering: How is it possible for the sphere to continue to revolve without having anyone controlling it? Who is causing it to revolve? Surely, it does not cause itself to revolve.

He had no teacher, nor was there anyone to inform him. Rather, he was mired in Ur Kasdim among the foolish idolaters. His father, mother, and all the people [around him] were idol worshipers, and he would worship with them. [However,] his heart was exploring and [gaining] understanding. Ultimately, he appreciated the way of truth and understood the path of righteousness through his accurate comprehension. He realized that there is one God who controls the sphere, that He created everything, and that there is no other God among all the other entities. He knew that the entire world was mistaken. What caused them to err was their worship of the stars and graven images, which made them lose awareness of the truth. Avraham was forty years old when he became aware of his Creator. When he recognized and knew Him, he began to formulate replies to the inhabitants of Ur Kasdim and debate with them, telling them that they were not following a proper path. He broke their idols and began to teach the people that it is fitting to serve only the Master of the Universe. To Him [alone] is it fitting to bow down, sacrifice, and offer libations, so that the people of future [generations] would recognize Him. [Conversely,] it is fitting to destroy and break all the images, lest all the people err concerning them, like those people who thought that there are no other gods besides these [images]. When he overcame them through the strength of his arguments, the king desired to kill him. He was [saved through] a miracle and left for Charan. [There,] he began to call in a loud voice to all people and inform them that there is one God in the entire world and it is proper to serve Him. He would go out and call to the people, gathering them in city after city and country after country, until he came to the land of Canaan - proclaiming [God's existence the entire time] - as [Bereishit 21:33] states: "And He called there in the name of the Lord, the eternal God." When the people would gather around him and ask him about his statements, he would explain to each one of them according to their understanding, until they turned to the path of truth. Ultimately, thousands and myriads gathered around him. These are the men of the house of Avraham. He planted in their hearts this great fundamental principle, composed texts about it, and taught it to Yitzchak, his son.

[3] This may be the meaning of the verse in which God forges a covenant with Avraham and his descendants (Bereishit 15:7), as it is rendered in the translation of the Targum [Pseudo]Yonatan.

בראשית פרק טו:ז

וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֵלָ֑יו אֲנִ֣י ה֗' אֲשֶׁ֤ר הוֹצֵאתִ֙יךָ֙ מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֔ים לָ֧תֶת לְךָ֛ אֶת־הָאָ֥רֶץ הַזֹּ֖את לְרִשְׁתָּֽהּ:

כתר יונתן בראשית פרשת לך לך פרק טו פסוק ז

ויאמר לו אני יי שהוצאתיך מכבשן האש של כשדים לתת לך את הארץ הזאת לרִשׁתה:

“And He said to him, ‘I am God who brought you out of the fiery furnace [the Aramaic word for fire is ur] of Kasdim, to give you this land to inherit it.’”

[4] See Kuzari 4:27.

ספר הכוזרי - מאמר רביעי

(כז) אמר החבר: יפה אמרת מלך הכוזרים וכחך לאלוה זוהי האמת וזוהי האמונה באמת ועזיבת כל מותר ויתכן כי העיון הזה שמצאנו בספר יצירה היה עיונו של אברהם אבינו שעה שכבר נתבררו לו אחדות האלוה ורבונותו אך טרם זכה להתגלות אולם לאחר שזכה להתגלות עזב את כל ההקשים ולא בקש מעם האלוה כי אם להיות לו לרצון אחרי אשר למדו האלוה מה הוא הרצון במה ישג ובאיזה מקום וכבר דרשו החכמים על מאמר הכתוב ויוצא אותו החוצה צא מאצטגנינות שלך כלומר עזב חכמת הכוכבים וכל חכמת טבע מספקת וכל ספר אפלטון על נביא אחד בדורו של מרינוס שאמר על פי חזון שהיה אליו מאת האלוה לפילוסוף אחד שהשתדל מאד לזכות להתגלות האלוה על ידי עיון בפילוסופיה לא בדרך הזאת תגיע אלי כי אם על ידי אותם ששמתים מתוכים ביני ובין יצירי רצונו לומר הנביאים וחקי האמת וכבר נרמז ענין זה בספר יצירה בסוד ספירת העשרה ספירה זו הסכם עליה במזרח ובמערב אם כי אין לכך יסוד בחכמה טבעית ולא הכרעה מצד הקש שכלי כי אם סוד אלוהי בלבד הלא הוא אמרו עשר ספירות בלימה בלם פיך מלדבר בלם לבך מלהרהר ואם רץ לבך שוב למקום שלכך נאמר רצוא ושוב ועל דבר זה נכרתה ברית ומדתן עשר שאין להן סוף נעוץ סופן בתחלתן ותחלתן בסופן כשלהבת קשורה בגחלת דע וחשב וצור שהיוצר אחד ואין בלעדיו ולפני אחד מה אתה סופר וחתימת הספר היא וכשהבין אברהם אבינו וצר (וחקק וצרף ויצר) וחקר וחשב ועלתה בידו נגלה עליו אדון הכל וקראו אוהבי וכרת לו ברית בין עשר אצבעות ידיו והוא ברית לשון ובין עשר אצבעות רגליו והוא ברית מילה וקרא עליו בטרם אצרך בבטן ידעתיך:

[5] See Kovetz Maamarim of Rav Elchanan Wasserman, p. 11–16.

[6] The progression of Avraham’s spiritual growth is described in the Zohar, Bereishit 80a.