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Abraham, Our Father

Abraham, Our Father

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Avrohom Ovinu (Abraham Our Father) was born at a time when idolatry ruled everywhere. Even his own father Terah was an idolater, who, in fact, made a thriving business of selling idols of various sizes and various materials. (Under Abraham's influence Terah, eventually turned over a new leaf and died a G-d fearing man.)

At the age of three, as our sages tell us (Nedarim 32a), Abraham recognized that there was, is, and will be but one G-d, the creator of heaven and earth. Abraham dedicated his whole life to spreading the knowledge of G-d. G-d was one and only in the heavens (on earth no as yet knew Him, except Abraham), and Abraham was the one and only man on earth who knew G-d and worshipped Him. Abraham was known as "Ho-Ivri" - "the Hebrew," which also means "the-one-on-the-other-side" - because all the world was on one side, and he alone was on the other. But soon the "G-d of Abraham" came to be known by more and more people. Every man who left Abraham's tent, and every woman who left Sarah's tent, had learned something about G-d, and went away blessing the "G-d of Abraham." Even to this day, when we address ourselves to G-d in our Shemone-esrei prayer three times daily, we pray to the "G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac and the G-d of Jacob," and conclude the first of the eighteen (actually, nineteen) benedictions with "Blessed . . . the Shield of Abraham." Only then follows the second benediction "Blessed . . . Who revives the Dead." This emphasis on the "G-d of Abraham" is an everlasting tribute to our father Abraham and the fulfillment of G-d's promise to him, "I shall make thy name great." This also emphasizes that the Jewish idea of G-d is unique and exceptional and quite different from the idea of G-d held by all other nations of the world. Although many nations of the world have abandoned idolatry as it was practiced in days of old, and also speak of G-d the Creator, or of One G-d, and the like, it is not the "G-d of Abraham" that they worship, but their own idea of G-d, which is radically different from ours. The difference is deep-rooted, and it can best be seen in the different way of life of the Jew and the gentile.

From our father Abraham we inherited not only true ideas but also wonderful character traits. As we can see from what the Torah tells us about the life of Abraham, and from what we learn from our Sages of the Talmud and Midrash, Abraham was the embodiment of the highest qualities of character. One of them was the quality of loving kindness which was boundless in him. He loved all people, even total strangers. His love of people expressed itself in many ways, not least in hospitality, which he practiced daily to perfection. The story of the three angels who came to him disguised as wayfarers, is well known. Here he was, a man of ninety-nine years, in pain (it being the third day after his circumcision), on an unusually hot day, sitting outside the entrance to his tent, looking out for wayfarers. Our Sages tell us that G-d wanted to spare him trouble, and therefore made that day exceptionally hot, so that no wayfarers would venture out. But seeing how upset Abraham was at not being able to practice hospitality, G-d sent him the three angels disguised as men. Abraham was so happy to see the strangers that he forgot his old age, his pain and the heat of the day. He ran to meet them; he ran to prepare a sumptuous meal for them. Though he had many servants ready to do his bidding, Abraham himself fetched water for them to wash their feet, and he and Sarah personally attended to the meal.

Abraham was a man of few words, but of many good deeds. His actions always exceeded his promises. The Torah tells us that he offered the visitors only "a little water" and "a morsel of bread," but he gave them plenty of water not only to drink, but also to wash their feet, and prepared a banquet for them. Our Sages have noted this as an example of a wonderful quality which we should emulate. (Babba Metzia 87a.)

Abraham was a peace-loving man; he hated strife. When his shepherds quarreled with Lot's (his nephew) shepherds because the latter did not respect other peoples' pastures, Abraham decided to separate from his nephew. He offered Lot the choicest pastures, but insisted that they separate. However, when Lot was captured in an invasion, the peace loving Abraham took up arms in hot pursuit after the raiders. He freed Lot and the other captives, including the king of Sodom, as well as their property. According to the rules of war in those days, Abraham became lord and master of the captives as well as of their property, which he had saved at the risk of his own life. But he refused to take as much as "a shoe-string" for himself.

As for humility, the Torah recognizes only one person who was more humble than Abraham; that was Moshe Rabbenu (and perhaps also his brother Aaron). Abraham was not just a chieftain, like many other chieftains that lived in that part of the world; he was the greatest prince of them all. Kings and princes sought his friendship and advice. The exalted Pharaoh the "god-king" of Egypt, the powerful Abimelech king of the Philistines, the mighty Hittite princes, all recognized Abraham as a Divine leader and prophet. Yet Abraham considered himself an ordinary mortal. "I am but dust and ashes," he said.

Abraham's place in the world, and the high regard in which he was held, can be seen from the following Talmudic statement: "On the day that Abraham our Father passed away, all the heads of the nations of the world stood in a line (in the manner of mourners) and lamented: 'Woe to the world, whose leader is gone! Woe to the ship, whose captain is lost!"' (B.B. 91a).

Abraham prayed to G-d whenever he was in need (Tanhuma, Beshalach), but he made it a rule to pray to G-d every morning. Thus, Abraham is the father of our Morning Prayer, while his son Isaac introduced Afternoon Prayer, and Jacob-Evening Prayer (Ber. 26b).

One of Abraham's wonderful qualities was the eagerness and speed with which he carried out G-d's commands. We have already noted the speed with which he carried out the Mitzvah of Hachnosas Orchim (hospitality to wayfarers). Even more impressive is the speed with which he carried out G-d's command to offer his beloved son Isaac to G-d. He "rose early in the morning," he himself saddled his donkey, he himself cleft the fire-wood. This eagerness to carry out G-d's command, setting aside all personal feeling, is the most remarkable aspect of the Akedah (Binding of Isaac), as the author of the Tanya points out, more remarkable than the actual fulfillment of the command itself. From him our Sages took note and established the great principle, "The scrupulous do the Mitzvoth immediately" (Yoma 28b). It is not enough to fulfill G-d's commandments; we must do so at the first opportunity, with eagerness and alacrity.

Abraham never questioned G-d's ways, even when things seemed quite the opposite of what he might have expected. For example, G-d had told him to leave his birthplace and father's home, promising to make him great and blessed. Yet, as soon as he came to the land of Canaan, there was a great famine. It seemed that instead of bringing a blessing to the land, he brought a famine there. Moreover, Abraham himself suffered privation, derision and persecution. But he never questioned G-d's promises, realizing that it must all be a test of his faith in G-d.

Again, when G-d told Abraham, then ninety-nine years old, to circumcise himself and thus attain perfection of body as well as of soul, Abraham might have asked several questions, such as: If circumcision is necessary for my perfection, why was I not born circumcised? And why wait until I am such an old man? But Abraham did not question G-d's wisdom.

Similarly, G-d had blessed him with a son in his old age, and promised that through Isaac he would become the father of a great Jewish nation. But, before Isaac was yet married, G-d commanded Abraham to offer his beloved son as a burnt-offering to G-d! Did Abraham utter any protest? Did he ask any question? Not a word. On the contrary. He carried out G-d's command with eagerness, and only at the last moment did he learn that it was just one more test (the last of ten). This is what is called "whole-heartedness with G-d": When the heart is full of the love of G-d and of complete faith in Him, there is no room for doubts and questions.

With all his searching mind and extraordinary wisdom, Abraham submitted himself to G-d, wholeheartedly and completely. He showed us the true way of serving G-d, with love and reverence; he was truly a "lover of G-d" (Isaiah 41:8) as well as truly "G-d-fearing" (Gen. 22:12) .

Just as Abraham chose G-d, so did G-d choose Abraham and made an everlasting covenant with him and his children, the Jewish people. Said G-d to Abraham: "My Name was not known to My creatures, until you made Me known to them. I shall regard you as My partner in the creation of the world" (Gen. R. 43) . We, the children of Abraham, are the members of the everlasting Covenant and partnership which G-d made with Abraham our Father.

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Discussion (8)
June 9, 2014
Did Avraham not amad with G-d the destruction of S’dom?
Bereishith 18:16-33
J
North Carolina
May 10, 2014
Abraham did not protest
Abraham could not protest. It was Isaac the one who had to be burnt,
Isaac was to loose the greatest thing he had, his life.
Abraham was to give away 50% of his offspring; Isaac was to give away 100% of his body to please his father's belief.
God ordered Abraham, He did not talked to Isaac.
Isaac acted out of his freewill; he decided to follow his father's comand. He beieved in his father's Word. He was to give away a body which belogs to his father's god. Isaac was to loose something which was not his, his body.
leon roiter
barranquilla
May 8, 2014
this is the best. it can't be purchased in paper? i will contact Kehot. Thanks
Anonymous
October 9, 2013
Isaac was 37 years old
Isaac gave his life for his father's belief.
Isaac did not come down from mount moriah.
Isaac was not present at his mother's shive.
Isaac could have been sent to Hebrón.
Isaac did not accompany Eliezer to look for a wife.
Abraham was ordered to kill his second son, Abraham was not strong enought to tie his son against his will.
The Word used is akeda not sacrifice. Who was put to test: The father or the one who was to give the only thing he had, his life.
leon roiter
barranquilla
September 16, 2013
best article
Thanks for everything!
Anonymous
October 4, 2012
Was Adam not the first person to know of G-D's existence. Then how is it others around him did not know or we're made aware?
Michael
London Uk
June 25, 2011
GJ
this is the best website ever
WIERD AL
November 24, 2008
this is really helpful!
thanks to you i have no more problems about my projects...thanx...
joylet