© 2016 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
Torah Class THEFT-5/Abraham’s Unique Faith
“And Abraham said, AaDoNai, ELoKiM, what would you give me?” (Genesis 15:2)
1: Why should Noahides learn about Abraham?
In our quest to study Noah’s Fourth Commandment, THEFT, we move on from Noah and King Nimrod to Abraham.
Many wonder: why would Noahides learn about Abraham, who came later?
Noah and Abraham
I’ve been asked that question numerous times. The truth is that Abraham did not introduce ‘Judaism’ or Monotheism. There is no line drown in the sand dividing Abraham from Noah, as some have claimed. According to Maimonides (RaMBaM) Abraham was, and saw himself a Child of Noah who received (later in his life) another Commandment, the Eighth, Circumcision. This however did not make him a believer in a ‘new religion.’
Years ago, a speaker in a Noahide’s convention bragged that by converting himself to Judaism he had ‘elevated himself’ from worshipping ELoKIM to the worshipping of YHVH. So wrong! Wasn’t Adam who coined the name YHVH (See our classes)? Didn’t Enosh called in the Name of YHVH? Didn’t YHVH like Noah before the Flood?
In fact Abraham was not only a believer in the Seven Commandments of Noah, he was also the first ZEALOT-MARTYR for Noah’s teaching. He sacrificed his life for the teaching of the Seven Commandments (as we’ll soon learn.) He raised his sword against THEFT and ABDUCTION, thereby becoming a PROPHET-WARRIOR for Noah. His zeal paved the way for a new breed, Israel, as a zealot-warrior-nation ready to sacrifice their lives for the faith.
Although only Israel was Commanded to sacrifice our lives for the faith, Noahides are rewarded for it.
Some ask: Since Abraham received a new Commandment, the Eighth, namely Circumcision, wasn’t this enough to separate him and his seeds from the rest of the Children of Noah?
The answer is that receiving one more Commandment, made Abraham more committed to observe the earlier ones. Yet it did not establish a new religion. Abraham’s new Commandment, Circumcision, came to enhance his posture as a “Slave of G-d,” as “the emblem of our Master in our flesh.” It strengthened his stance against THEFT and for RIGHTFUL OWNERSHIP (besides his struggle against IDOLATRY) as we’ll see.
Let’s recall that Noah too had received a new, 7th Commandment, one more than Adam’s Six. This did not make Noah a prophet of a new religion. His 7th actually enhanced his stance against BLOODSHED, Adam’s 3rd.
And in the same token we’ll later learn that Jacob too added another Commandment, the 9th, prohibiting the consumption of the sciatic nerve. This addition did not make Jacob a believer in an new religion but rather more committed to observe the old ones.
Thus it is important for Noahides to learn not only about Noah but rather on Abraham and Jacob and Israel as well.
2: Abraham’s society and Organized Theft
The Nations breached the Noahide Treaty
You can’t comprehend Abraham’s contribution to our faith without considering the society into which he was born, at approx. 1900 BC.
We remember King Nimrod’s Tower of Babylon. It was a very effective and successful endeavor, as the Torah herself says:
“And YHV said Behold, the people is one,
and they have all one language, and this they have begun to do,
and now nothing will be withheld from them
which they have planned to do so.” (Genesis 11: 6)
The project was successful, and its only fault was the insensitivity of the workers to the human cost. People became heartless and cruel for the sake of the project’s success. When a person holding a brick fell to the ground, the workers lamented the broken brick rather than their lost fellowman. This enraged YHVH who “confounded their language, and from there YHVH dispersed them all over Earth” (Genesis 11: 9)
King Nimrod’s Tower toppled, but his legacy remained. The dispersed nations tried to emulate him and build their own physical and social Towers, where the ruling class sits at the top and the masses of workers at the bottom. But whereas Nimrod achieved his status by the art of listening to the people’s desires, the new rulers achieved their goals by FORCE.
Karen Amstrong, in her history books, describes the ensuing process. At first, the rulers forced themselves on their own people. They developed their own national Tower by force. But soon they learned that they can get richer and quicker by invading other nations’ borders and grab territories and manpower. This was the time when Forced Slavery was instituted. The nations did not respect each other borders anymore. The ancient ‘peace treaty’ between the Seventy Families of Noah’s Children disappeared (we’ll mention it again with the Prophet Bilaam.)
According to Karen Armstrong, society changed between 2500 BC and 1900 BC (when Abraham was born.) Empires appeared, whose sole business was to assemble strong armies, invade other nations and STREAL their territories and manpower for forced labor. The famous story of GILGAMESH depicts that evolution. aren Armstrong writes: “This became the new, noble way to accumulate wealth and wield political power.” To be a royal man meant to wear armor, head an army, invade and conquer. Karen Armstrong’s writes: “ORGANIZED THEFT became the royal, revered business of the day.”
This new THEFT differed from the stealing and mugging that took place in Noah’s time. Before the Flood, Tubal Cain’s gangues roamed the streets and conducted their stealing under the watching sun, but it was done on a private, individual level. In Abraham’s time, .ORGANIZED THEFT became the rule. It was a violation of 4th Commandment on a large scale, in big time.
transgressing all the Commandments
Abraham’s society also degenerated into violating all other Commandments, besides THEFT. They violated IDOLATRY, ADULTERY, BLOODSHED, INJUSTICE and BLASPHEMY as well. Noah and his teaching were forgotten. When Abraham was born Noah was still alive but was obsolete. Only few loyal disciples were still active, among them Noah’s firstborn son Shem, and his son Ever. They lived in Shem’s Torha Academy near Jerusalem, but their impact was miniscule.
The way the generations after the Flood degenerated into IDOLATRY is interesting, and is described by the RaMBaM as follows:
1. First they repeated Enosh’s errors and saw YHVH everywhere, prayed to Her through natural entities
2. Next they prayed to the Sun, the Moon and all celestial bodies as G-d’s COUNCILORS
3. Next they forgot the KING altogether and prayed to the Celestial bodies themselves
4. Next they worshipped natural forces like the Ocean, Wind, Mountains, Trees
5. Next they made statues and images of these entities and worshipped them
6. Next they created images of anything imaginary and worshipped them
7. Next they worshipped anything charismatic
Moses followed that path of IDOLATRY in the Ten Commandments:
1. “Other ELoKiM (partners, side by side with Him)
2. “Over my Face” ( like his putative wife, son)
3. “Thou shall not make for yourself any (imaginary) idol”)
4. “Statue or image” (man-made)
5. “Of everything that is in the sky above and on the earth below” (Natural forces)
6. “Thou shall not bow to them” (don’ bow to anything but G-d)
7. “And not serve them” (do not serve anything you like to much, like drugs alcohol, political party etc.)
Breaching the Rainbow Covenant.
By violating all the Noahide Seven Commandments, the generations breached his Rainbow Covenant. The Talmud says that a second Flood was imminent, had not G-d in His Compassion send us the precious soul of Abraham to save us from extinction.
He waited ten generations for Abraham to show up, the same way He had waited ten generation to pass between Adam and Noah.
Abraham would be that strong horse which would pull humanity’s sunken wagon from the mud.
Who was ‘greater,’ Abraham or Noah?
Both were “completely righteous.” But on Noah it is said that “he was righteous in his generations” (Genesis 6:9) implying that perhaps in Abraham’s generation he would not have been considered so righteous. Hence Abraham was greater.
On the other hand the verse can imply that Noah was righteous EVEN in his generations. Hence had Abraham lived in Noah time, Abraham wouldn’t be so righteous. Thus Noah was greater.
The better way to look at the verse is to say that G-d in His Compassion sends humanity precious souls that would meet the generation’s faults and fascinations.
Since Noah’s generations stumbled over BLOODSHED, G-d send them Noah who was completely engaged with his struggle against it, as it is seen in the Rainbow Covenant.
And since Abraham’s generation was fascinated by ORGENIZED THEFT, G-d sent them the soul of Abraham whose whole existence and faith was aimed at reaching RIGHTEOUS OWNERSHIP.
4: Abraham’s budding faith
The Torah’s text does not elaborate on how Abraham came to recognize G-d. Tradition, however, fills the gape. Here is the text:
“These are the generations of Terach.
Terach begot Abram, Nachor, Haran, and Haran begot Lot.
Haran died before his father Terach in the land of his nativity in Ur Kasdim.
And Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves
the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milkah.
But Sarai was barren, she had no child.
And Terach took his son Abram, and his grandson Lot the son of Haran
And his daughter in law Sarai the wife of his son Abram,
And they went from there, from Ur Casdim, to go to the Land of Canaan.
But they came to Haran (Syria) and they stayed there.
And where Terach days were 205 years, Terach died in Haran. (Genesis 11: 27-32)
Abraham was born either in Syria (Haran) or Mesopotamia, into a pagan family.
His father Terach was not only a pagan priest, but an artist who made the idols and sold them in his shop. Abraham, a young boy, helped his father in that shop.
We don’t know how old was Abraham at that time but surely he was young. One day he asked his father: “What right do we have to sell those idols?”
His father replied: “We own y the idols by the RIGHT OF THE ARTIST TO OWN HIS ART WORK. Since we’ve made them, we have the right to sell them.”
So Abraham asked: “Father, if so, do we have the right to destroy the idols?”
His father replied: “since we’ve made them, we have the right to destroy them.”
Then few days later, when Abraham’s father was out of the shop, Abraham took a stick and broke all the idols to pieces, apart from the biggest one. He then placed the stick in this idol’s hand. When his father returned and saw the devastation, Abraham explained: “Father, in your absence, this big idol took the stick and broke all the others idols to pieces.”
Seeing his father raising his brows, Abraham said: “Father, if you doubt my story, why do you worship these lifeless statuses?” (Midrash)
Abraham’s evolving faith
When I heard the story in my youth I took it as a funny joke about the idols. But in truth the rabbis expressed in it the ESSENCE OF ABRAHAM’S FAITH.
Let’s remember that Abraham was an artist, the son of an artist. When he grew up he looked at nature he noticed its extraordinary beauty.
1. So he said: “What a beautiful Castle is this World!”
2. Next he concluded: “This beautiful Castle must have a great BUILDER- ARTIST.”
3. Next he concluded: “The BUILDER-ARTIST of this Castle is also its OWNER” (Genesis 14: 22) by the right of the artist to own his artwork!
4. Next he declared: “The BUILDER-ARTIST OWNS ME, MY BODY, MY LIFE. HE IS MY MASTER AND I AM HIS SLAVE (Genesis 15:2)
5. Next he declared: “Since THE BUILDER OWNS everything, THEFT is forbidden. Moreover, FORCED SLAVERY is forbidden.”
We’ll learn these points in details in due course.
The novelty of Abraham’s faith
Thus, in a generation plagued with ORGENIZED THEFT, where FORCED SLAVERY was the official, accepted way to get rich and powerful, Abraham’s notion of RIGHTEOUS OWNERSHIP was revolutionary.
In Abraham’s mind, the struggle against THEFT became a religious dictum, an obsession. He would use this as a yardstick to measure peoples.
The rabbis noted that till Abraham came, no one had ever referred to the CREATOR (or a deity) as an OWNER. This was a novelty.
Indeed, neither the Egyptians nor the Greek attached OWNERSHIP to their gods. .
For instance, Neptun was the god of the ocean, but not the OWNER of the ocean.
Mars was the god of War, not the OWNER of war.
Athens was the goddess of Wisdom, not the OWNER of it.
Indeed, what point it is to attach OWNERSHIP to a deity?
But for Abraham, the notion of the CREATOR as an OWNER implied that THEFT is forbidden. It became the center of his teaching, even before he knew the Seven Commandments of Noah!
Note that the Talmud is extremely passionate about RIGHTFUL OWNERSHIP. Much of it is dedicated for the study of trade and ownership to avoid THEFT.
An implication of Abraham’s view is that from the Torah perspectives, a person can’t donate his body for anything, not even for medical research. After all, his body belongs to G-d. The halakhah says that in a case of emergency, when saving life is at stake, a committee comprised of rabbis and doctors should decide for the particular case. There should not be an across-the-board permission to donate organs.
Abraham met Noah
Abraham met Noah, according to tradition, when he was 58 y old miraculously “Noah” in Hebrew has a numerical value of 58). Noah himself was 892 years old at that time, an obsolete figure. Noah taught Abraham everything he knew, from the story of Genesis till Nimrod’s Tower. Henceforth Abraham would become Noah’s zealot disciple.
5: Abraham, the hard vessel
The notion of our CREATOR as an ARTIST who made us and therefore OWNS us has implications beyond the prohibition of THEFT.
It explains Abraham’s life-long trials and tribulations.
If the CREATOR has made Abraham a vessel, that vessel is not born perfect.
Adam too was NOT made perfect. Adam was made, rather, to become that “Image and Form” that ELKM had of him on His Mind (Rashi) Adam should thrive to become Very Good.
Abraham was born with a precious soul, but that wasn’t enough to make him a great vessel.
In the same token, Abraham was given a precious soul, hoping he would become that strong power who would push humanity out of the mud of IDOLATRY and THEFT, besides other sins.
Having the precious soul, wouldn’t be enough.
Abraham, the vessel, should get stronger during his life.
This is why the CREATOR-MAKER-OWNER of Abraham would place him in a series of tests, at least ten,
which would harden him as a vessel and make him increasingly stronger.
Yes, each test may cause Abraham as a vessel to break down,
But it may harden him to become a strong personality.
The first test: The fire of Ur
Indeed, immediately after being introduced to us in the Bible,
Abraham undergoes the first test of his life:
He is thrown, along with his brother Haran, into an OVEN (Ur)
For the crime of teaching Noah’s Seven Commandments.
Haran perished, but Abraham miraculously survived.
The fire of Ur only hardened him as a vessel.
Now he and his family were condemned for exile
To face other hard tests, one after the other.
Thus Abraham became the first Martyr-Prophet for Noah.
6: A receptive vessel
Why should Abraham become a hard vessel?
This is shown by the next verses.
The idea is that to receive and absorb God’s Benevolence and Blessing,
The vessel can’t remain ’transparent.’
A person has to develop a strong personality, a strong free will,
A capacity to REJECT the Light,
In order that the acceptance of God Will would be meaningful,
And that G-d’s Light would be fully absorbed into the vessel,
Warm it up and fill it with joy, love and holiness.
Israel, Abraham’s seed, has been selected because of their “heavy, stubborn neck.”
Because of their capacity to reject and rebel, as shown in the wilderness.
So when and if Israel accepts God 613 commandments, this is really meaningful.
And then, only then, Israel is the Nations’ Priest.