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The Righteousness of Avraham

By: Rav Avigdor Meyerowitz

The verse from Sefer Nehemiah that we say every day in davening  - "You are the Lord G-d, Who chose Avram, took him out of Ur Kasdim and made his name Avraham"[1] - captures the election of Avraham by Hashem  to be his chosen one for the start of a new era of spreading the idea of One G-d amongst humanity. What's peculiar though is that there is no mention of the qualities and attributes of Avraham that made him deserving of Hashem's choice. Prior to the Flood in last week's parsha, the Torah mentions at least twice the righteousness of Noach that made him worthy of being singled out from amongst the rest of civilization to save himself, his family and the animal kingdom.

The Rambam in the first chapter of the Laws of Idol Worship where he gives a lengthy overview of the history of idol worship describes in detail the life of Avraham Avinu from a young age and how he brought the message of One G-d to the world:

The world continued in this fashion until the pillar of the world - the Patriarch Abraham - was born.

After this mighty man was weaned, he began to explore and 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 was one God who controlled 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 making a mistake. What caused them to err was their service of the stars and images, which made them lose awareness of the truth.

Abraham 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 God of the world. 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 [Genesis 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 [them] 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 Abraham.

This fantastic description of the early stages of Avraham's life merely compounds the question as to why there is no mention of it in the Torah itself.

This question was raised by many of the classic commentators[2] each giving their own original answers and thoughts on this peculiar omission.

I would like to share with you the brief words of the Sfat Emet on this issue. He claims, based on the Zohar, that the fact that Avraham Avinu was able to hear the word of G-d, that, in itself, is the praise of Avraham. The words "Lech Lecha", continues the Sfat Emet, are said by Hashem all the time and to everyone, but only Avraham was the one to hear and to accept upon himself.[3] Avraham chose G-d!

According to the Sfat Emet, Hashem is constantly communicating with each and every one of us, the question is - are we listening? The difficulty we have hearing the voice of Hashem is because we expect it to be verbal, loud and clear and addressed to us. However Hashem communicates with us in the totality of his revelation in the world, nor necessarily through speech. A careful look again at the above quoted Rambam indicates that Avraham achieved his level based on his own perception of the reality of the world he lived in and not because G-d "spoke to him in his ears".

The words of Hashem are ongoing and eternal. They are not only to be heard, but to be seen, felt, experienced and interpreted by us all. May we merit to follow in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu and "hear" the words of Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom.


[1] Nehemiah 9;7

[2] Ramban, Abarbanel, Akeidat Yitzchak and Maharal amongst others, see also Nehama Leibowitz in her book "Studies In Bereishit" for a discussion of the Ramban's answer and her own suggestion.

[3] Sfat Emet 5632


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