Rabbi Dr Zvi Aviner
Ó copyrights 2022
THEFT-3/What is Special About Abraham’s Faith?
Ten Generations apart
After the Fall of the Tower of Babel, the people dispersed all over Earth,
speaking different languages, having no more a sense of brotherhood.
The new leaders tried to emulate King Nimrod and build their own
social tower of dictatorship where few elites sit at the top and control many
subordinates and masses of people underneath them.
But whereas Nimrod’s Tower and his social hierarchy
were based on voluntary work of young people
attracted on their own to join the common project,
the new leaders based their power on oppressive arm force,
first oppressing their own people then invading other nations to
conquer their territories, capture their inhabitants for
slavery and laving heavy taxes on the subdued nations.
During the ten generations between Noah and Abraham,
a new way of accumulating wealth was introduced to the world,
namely: by erecting Empires.
ten generations after Noah, when Abraham was born,
humanity sled into THEFT in A LARGE, NEW SCALE.
In other words:
While in Noah’s time THEFT was done by Tubal Cain’s gangues,
on individual level, attacking and robbing people on the street
and in their home,
in the new society THEFT was committed on a large scale,
by armies invading other nations to rob and abduct,
becoming wealthy on account of others.
HUMANITY forgot Noah’s tradition. He was still alive,
yet old and obsolete. No one remembered his teaching.
In addition to THEFT, the generation was also plagued with
IDOLATRY, ADULTERY, BLOODSHED.
Abraham was born into a pagan family.
His father, Terach, was a priest of idolatry
who made his living by carving out wood statues
and selling them in his store.
As a young boy, Abraham helped his father in the store,
but instead of complying with the norm, like anyone else,
Abraham’s sensitive soul caused him to stand out against
his father and against the general trend,
a drastic step that cost him to lose his homeland
and be driven out into exile.
The question is: How accurate is this description by Moses
of a society that lived more than a thousand years before him?
He wrote the Torah at the Exodus in 1450 BC,
while he speaks on the society that lived a thousand years earlier!
Was he accurate?
To answer that,
let’s read from Karen Armstrong’s book: “Fields of Blood,” 2014,
where she describes that period in human history.
Her description is based on archeology and other objective findings,
without any reference to the Bible.
It is the best objective description of Abraham’s society
derived by sources outside the Bible. Here is what She writes:
“The world’s first civilization was the federation of city-states in Mesopotamia. This fertile land was first settled in massive way around 4500 BCE. The settlers dig irrigation canals and ditches between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and used bricks for their homes, city walls and towers.”
Let’s note that here she concurs with Moses
Who emphasizes the new technology of making strong bricks
as a major factor in building the Tower of Babel.
Karen Armstrong continues:
“The first ruler who built a wall around the city to defend it from strong looters was Gilgamesh, the king of the Uruk, at 2750 BCE. He was an oppressive, cruel tyrant whose people complained bitterly about his unscrupulous exploitation of them. He forced the peasants of the city and their young men to work in the fields and build the wall. The society composed of many poor, spoiled peasants who worked for the few privileged ones, who took most of the agricultural products for themselves.
“This rigid social hierarchy is symbolized by the ziggurats, the giant stepped temples-towers that ‘reached the sky’ where the workers remained locked at the bottom and the exalted aristocrats set at the apex (like Nimrod.)
“Gilgamesh also commissioned an army to invade other cities for the loot. He died in such a raid. His religion supported the oppressive hierarchy (in which “minor gods” worked the fields for the benefits of the “superior gods”.) Gilgamesh’ model of society was based on INTERNAL THEFT as well as EXTERNAL one.”
Here Karen Armstrong emphasizes THEFT as a major passion of the time, concurring with Moses.
Karen Armstrong continues:
THEFT by War
“Gilgamesh’s wall is good evidence of WARS between CITY-STATES for ORGANIZED THEFT. From him onwards in history, raiding other cities became the “only noble way to acquire scares resources. War became a noble occupation of the aristocrats, justified by morality and religion. The quickest way to accumulate wealth was to invade other cities or nations, grab their territories and abduct their peoples for manual hard work.’ Forced Slavery was instituted.”
“The Aryans discovered that the easiest way to replace lost animals was to STEAL cattle of a nearby village…”
“Aryans saw warfare superior to the tedious life in the cities…
“The Aryan religion gave supreme sanction to what was essentially ORGANIZED VIOLENCE and THEFT. Their mythology said that all cattle, the measure of wealth in those days, belonged to the Aryans and that others have no right to those resources…
“Like Gilgamesh, the Aryans would always seek honor, glory, prestige and fame in battle…
“The Aryan rituals and mythology glorified ORGANIZED THEFT and VIOLENCE…”
Karen Armstrong gives us a good objective description
of Abraham’s time, empathizing repeatedly that
the new society was based on the new passion of
ORGANIZED THEFT conducted by armies and empires.
As we’ve said,
unlike Noah’s time, this new THEFT was done on a large scale,
by invading armies, by nations invading one another
to grab territories and abducting their people to
forced slavery, thereby create wealth.
This trend continued to dominate human history
till after WWII and the establishing of the United Nations.
Again, we are struck by the historical accuracy of Moses account,
that matches perfectly well what we know from science and archeology.
It reminds us the accuracy of Moses’ account of the history of Earth
In Genesis Chapter One, that is perfectly match what we know from science.
Let’s focus now on Abraham.
What was his special contribution to our faith?
Abraham discovered G-d on his own. His faith evolved in several steps
which we are going to follow now.
The first step that Abraham took to discover G-d
was related to his sensitive soul as an artist the son of an artist.
Abraham was fascinated by the beauty of Nature.
He was struck by the beauty of the blue sky,
by the changing shape of the clouds,
by the gorgeous lakes, mountains and trees,
by the colorful flower and the beauty exhibited
in th animal kingdom.
That appreciation of beauty in Nature led Abraham to conclude
that this world, this “castle,” was surely created
by a BUILDER-ARCHITECT who is a great ARTIST!
We, in the 21 century, can fully concur with such a sentiment.
We too are struck by beauty of Planet Earth,
Seeing it on our screens as viewed from Space.
We too are fascinated by the beautiful, thin blue atmosphere
that surrounds Planet Earth. And it is so delicate, so fragile,
which makes us realize how crucial it is for us
to preserve the health of that thin, beautiful envelop
and keep it clean and unpolluted, lest it is destroyed
and disappear, leaving us to the mercy of cold Space.
We too, like Abraham,
are fascinated by the beauty of Nature,
watching the Cosmos by our telescopes,
struck by the beauty of near and far away galaxies,
swirling around black holes, moving away from each other
by enormous speed, leaving behind them cosmic dust
and shiny gas clouds , studded by myriad stars
and remnants of exploded novae.
And like Abraham, we too wonder:
Aren’t we seeing here the masterpiece work
of the CREATOR – ARCHITECT?
Moreover, while Abraham could see only the beauty of nature,
we in the 21th century can also see the fingerprints
of the enormous wisdom of the CREATOR in Nature.
We see the information embedded in DNA and RNA,
found even in the most basic life forms,
such as algae and bacteria.
And like Abraham we ask, isn’t this a sign
of the CREATOR’S work?
We realize how extraordinary it is, that
the dispersion of galaxies in Space is made in such a way
that it would promotes life on this Planet, Earth,
in a specific safety zone away from our Sun!
Isn’t this the fingerprint of the CREATOR’s work?
We see CREATOR’’s work
in every step of the evolution, where the old Darvin’s theories
of progress by random mutations and natural adaptation
have failed to explain even the development of one new protein,
how much the development of new species!
We see, by our science, the sudden explosion of life forms
appearing on Earth in the Cambrian period,
that fits well Moses’ account of the Fifth Day,
which can’t be explained by random mutations
and natural selection, and we wonder:
aren’t we seeing the fingerprints of the CREATOR-ARCHITECT?
many scientists are now calling to put back
the so-called “G-d Hypothesis” into our study of Nature
But Abraham took one more step
above the mere recognition of a CREATOR-ARCHITECT.
Abraham also said:
This CREATOR, must also OWN his artwork.
He OWNS Nature, by the virtue of making it!
By the right of an artist to own his work!
Abraham got that notion of the artist’ right to own his artwork
from his father Terach, who sold his man – made statues in his shop.
The story goes like this –
When Abraham helped his father in the shop,
he asked his father: “What right do we have to sell these gods?”
Hs father said:
“Since we made them, we have the right of selling them!”
Abraham sked: “if so, do we have the right to destroy them?”
His father raised his brows, but answered:
“Yes, since we’ve made them, we have also the right to destroy them!”
One day, when Abraham was left alone in the shop,
He took a big stick and destroyed all the idols in the store
apart from the biggest one. Then he placed the stick into
the hands of that big idol.
When his father returned and saw the devastation in the store
He asked Abraham what had happened? And Abraham said:
“In your absence, the big fellow there took the stick
And broke all the other idols to pieces!”
So when his father became angry, Abraham said:
“Haven’t you said that we have the right to sell them
And to break them?”
From this “childish” funny story, we see how Abraham
grew up with the notion of the artisan’s right to OWN his artwork,
a major step in the developing of his faith.
But Abraham did not stop here.
When he grew older, he took the next step OF FAITH and said:
if Earth belongs to the CREATOR
only He may allocate land to the nations at his discretion.
ORGENIZE THEFT of one nation against another
Is therefore a violation of G-d OWNERSHIP!
Capturing people for slavery is therefore a crime
against the CREATOR’S OWNERSHIP!
One person can’t own another person,
since only the CREATOR who made us
can own us!
And so is stealing property from one another.
Whatever we make, is still the property of
the CREATOR who made everything!
As we can imagine,
this new preaching put Abraham in direct opposition
to the rulers of his city, for which Abraham and his brother Haran
were condemned to be burn by fire.
Abraham’s message is still relevant to our time,
where human trafficking subject at least 30 m people
around the globe to forced labor and slavery.
The victims, mostly young females,
are not sold in the open market in chains,
yet they are sold by their poor parents
or captured by unscrupulous gangues
who take advantage of the victim’s helplessness
We see the human trafficking in sex shops,
sweatshops, diamond fields, in child-soldiers, in agriculture
and other demeaning human services.
Yes, slavery is very much with us today,
despite of Abraham’s teaching 4,000 tears ago!
At the age of 58, Abraham met Noah
who taught him Genesis and the Seven Commandments.
He learned from Noah about G-d’s Names
as they appear in Genesis Chapter One,
and about the Garden of Eden and the Story of the Flood.
Abraham then combined his notion of G-d with Noah’s teaching
and referred to G-d as
“YHVH, the Supreme El,
who OWNS Heavens and Earth” (Genesis 14: 22)
Later he realized that this was not enough,
That it is more important to recognize G-d as our personal G-d
rather than the OWNER OF HEAVENS AND EARTH
So, he called G-d as My Master, My Owner, AaDoNai, (Genesis 15:2)
a name that would replace all other Names in our prayers.
By this new Name Abraham declared that he is a slave only to G-d,
Never to any human being.
To symbolize his new stance as a slave of G-d
Abraham received a new Commandment, Circumcision,
Which is “the emblem of our Master in our Flesh.”
Henceforth Abraham became the first martyr for Noah.
When he and his brother Haran were thrown to the oven in the city of Ur
Haran perished but Abraham s miraculously survived
but was sentenced to leave his homeland and go to exile.
Let’s emphasize the novelty of
Abraham’s unique contribution to our faith.
The Rabbis said that till Abraham,
no one had ever attributed OWNERSHIP to any deity.
Not the Egyptians, not the Babylonian or the Greek.
After all, what is OWNERSHIP to do with Godliness?
To the Greek, for instance, Athens was the goddess of wisdom,
who present wisdom rather than own it.
Mars was the god of war presenting war, not the owner of war.
Poseidon was the god of the Sea, presenting the Sea
but not the OWNER of the Sea.
But for Abraham,
perceiving G-d as the OWNER of the World was a life changing new faith.
As Abraham became a wonderer, a Hebrew,
G-d directed him to the Land that
“I shall give you and your children.”
Here G-d speaks as the OWNER of Earth
who allocate Land to whoever He wishes.
The Land of Israel is to be given to Israel.
G-d also said:
I shall make you a great Nation,
And will bless you and make your name great
And you shall be a blessing
And I shall bless those who bless you
And I shall curse those who curse you
And all the families of the Earth
shall bless themselves by you (12: 1-3)
This led Abraham to bless HaShem in return
for any blessing His renders us.
Since He is the OWNER of everything,
we should bless Him and give him thanks
for anything we take and use for ourselves.
Thus, we need to bless Him for the food we eat,
for the clothes we wear, for enjoying
anything that belongs to Him.
the Rabbis instituted 100 such blessings
to be recited every day.
Again, here is Abraham’s message to us.
Before we use any natural source
we should hold back and recall
that we are not the owners of Earth
and that it was given to us to keep and preserver
and convert it to Eden.
THEFT as a Focus of Abraham’s struggle
Abraham’s struggle against THEFT continues
To dominate his life even in the Land of Canaan.
Thus, his wife Sarah is abducted by Pharaoh.
He departs away from his nephew Lot because
Lot had stollen water wells from the locals.
He goes to war against the four kings of the north
who had come from far to subdue and tax
the five kings of the south
Abraham redeems the many captives,
among them his nephew Lot,
and when he returns home victorious
he is greeted by his disciple, Malki Zedek,
who blesses Abraham to the
Supreme El Who OWNS the Heavens and the Earth,
As we’ve seen above.
But when the king of Sodom, the master of thieves,
offers Abraham to share with him the loot,
Abraham refuses vehemently, saying:
“I swear that I will not share with you
from a threat to a shoelace.”
Legitimate ownership was extremely important to Abraham
and a paramount pillar of his faith.
But above all, Abraham was
a Lover of the Merciful Attribute YHVH,
as Isaiah refers to him.
Very few people in history merited that title,
Among them: Joshua and David.
In summary: Abraham’s faith evolved in several steps
- Recognizing the CREATOR as an ARCHITECT-ARTIST
- Recognizing the CREATOR as the OWNER of His Work
- Recognizing THEFT as a violation of the CREATOR’S Ownership
- Combining Noah’s faith with his faith, calling G-d as
YHVH, Who Owns the Heavens and the Earth
Recognizing G-d as My Owner, AaDoNai
Placing the Master’s emblem in our flesh: Circumcision.
Love of YHVH
On the last line we’ll focus next class
You see that notion of G-d as an OWNER of the world playing out in the story about Abraham as he travelled in the Land of Canaan. After redeeming the captive slaves from the four Kings of the North, Abraham returns home and he is greeted by his disciple, Malki Zedek , who says Blessed is Abraham to the Supreme El ‘Who Owns Everything.”