One elegant idea, developed by a child some 3,800 years ago, has transformed the world forever. That child was the patriarch Abraham, and his big idea, on closer inspection, seems more akin to ecology than to ethical monotheism.

So what's the big idea? And how did he come to it?

According to tradition, Abraham was born in 1813 BCE in the ancient Iraqi town of Ur Kasdim. As a young child in a pagan culture, he practiced idolatry and prayed to the sun, believing it to have created the heavens and the earth. But something didn't quite click. Whenever the sun set, it was out of the picture and the moon and stars dominated the night sky. Realizing the sun's limitations he prayed to the moon. With time he realized that neither is the ultimate answer, and so he came to the conclusion that there must be one Creator with unlimited power and knowledge.

Abraham was absolutely convinced that the prevailing pagan beliefs were wrong. He set about sharing his findings with everyone he met and successfully persuaded thousands to drop paganism in favor of his "heretical" views. Although popular with the public, Abraham was spurned by both family and the ruling class for bucking the system. After narrowly escaping martyrdom for refusing to deify the emperor, Abraham was forced to flee the country.

Only after all this does Genesis pick up the plot with Abraham's call to the Promised Land and the subsequent history of his descendants, both Jews and Gentiles.

Such is the story. But is it really so simple? If it were you that discovered that the sun and moon aren't the ultimate answer to life's questions, would you desert your family, wage war on the government, and risk martyrdom? So what that the sun and moon don't run the world? Is that a reason to go fanatic?

Let's step back and look at Abraham's quest as a logical problem. He was seeking some entity capable of creating and controlling the world as a whole. With nothing more than the world itself to go by, he had to work by inference. Knowing that everything that happens, happens for a reason, Abraham set out to discover that reason. Put another way, he set out to identify that being responsible for the existence of... well, you name it: Matter, energy, motion, and life on the grandest scale imaginable. A theory of everything, if you will.

No wonder, then, that he started by worshipping the sun. It is huge, powerful, and immensely influential. It is our preeminent source of light and heat. It drives the hydrological cycle and makes the plants grow and the animals thrive. It sets the days and seasons.

Today, we can overlook the sun. There are countless thousands of people who wake up indoors, take elevators down to subways, commute to skyscrapers they access from underground, and return home at the end of the day after shopping, dining and taking in a show, all without stepping outside. But back then, who knows, maybe it was a no brainer to see the sun as the creator of all.

But the sun has its limits. The moon rules the night. The stars, the tides, biorhythms, moods, all seem quite independent of the sun. If the moon can act where the sun cannot, it shows a certain greatness above and beyond the sun itself. So Abraham worshipped the moon.

Now he could have stopped right there, like the rest of his compatriots. Each heavenly body with its own sphere of influence. Radiate and reflect, give and take, positive and negative, masculine and feminine, duality works fine for many cultures and faiths. But not for Abraham. He recognized duality, yet he suspected an underlying unity. But why?

The sun and the moon have a special relationship. While different as night and day (in light, in heat, in motion, in phases, and in seasons), they nevertheless share two remarkable qualities. First, they are exactly the same angular (or apparent) size, even though the sun is huge and far and the moon is small and close. Second, their paths intersect every once in a while resulting in spectacular eclipses. Whoever has witnessed a total solar eclipse knows the awe and wonder this majestic event evokes. It was obvious to Abraham that the coordination of the sun and the moon was not mere chance event.

Abraham understood a most basic principle of human logic, that everything that happens, happens for a reason. The very fact that solar and lunar sizes and motions are coordinated is itself a something, albeit an abstract something, which requires an explanation. The sun and moon should be viewed as an orderly system with a suitable cause.

Now the question was, what could the cause of this systemic property be? Could the two-part, sun-moon system originate in a duality or other plurality, say pantheon, of forces? Remember that Abraham had no clue about monotheism at the time. He addressed his question first using the pagan cognitive tools that were his heritage. Well, he must have thought, if it were the case that some divine plurality created the system, what was coordinating the parts of that higher plurality? And if nothing was coordinating the higher plurality, then how did their coordination come to be? Abraham wasn't ready to drop cause and effect. Ascribing the natural system to a supernatural system only pushes off the coordination issue. Abraham concluded that there had to be ultimately one factor unifying the sun-moon system. But what was it?

One possibility was that the control was within the system. That would mean, in effect, that the sun and the moon were coordinating themselves. But that did not seem feasible because seeing their individual orbits and properties, it was clear that the sun was not controlling the moon and the moon was not controlling the sun. Therefore the control must be some factor which is not the sun and not the moon. Perhaps it was the earth, but that could not be because the earth was itself integrated systematically with the sun and the moon, for after all, that's why Abraham worshipped them originally. The stars and planets too had their regular, integrated motions and specific roles in the grand scheme of things, so they were not the organizing force.

Clearly, whatever that force or being was, had to have two properties. It had to be external to the parts of the system, and it had to be more powerful than them, to keep all the parts in systemic order. Given that the system under consideration was now not just the sun and the moon but indeed the heavens and the earth as a whole, being external to it all implied being transcendent, and being more powerful than it all meant being omnipotent.

Abraham's little idea grew from a child's musings to a rational approach to nature as a whole, to a firm faith in a first cause so well established that most of the world's inhabitants pride themselves in Abraham and his legacy of ethical monotheism.

Let us hope and pray that all Abraham's children take to heart Abraham's message of ethical monotheism. Both the ethical and the monotheism. Both the Divine unity, and the human.

Realistically speaking, as the world looks today, that would take a miracle, compared to which the bringing of Moshiach looks easy. Abraham was one alone, yet he changed the world. Perhaps we can do the same. My advice is this. For Abraham's sake, don't do a random act of kindness. Do a premeditated one.