We are now going to take a short detour from our discussion about God to meet the person who was responsible for introducing mankind to the transcendent absolute being who is One, who is independent, who is the Creator, Sustainer, and Supervisor of all existence and whose relationship to existence is one of pure bestower of ultimate good. And just who is this person? His name is Abraham.
Freedom Is Bad
For a moment, let’s pretend that the bedrock assumption of our society and the central notion that shapes our values, ethics, culture, personal interaction and social policies is the belief that all men are not created equal, and that human freedom is, in almost all instances, bad.
Hard to imagine, isn’t it?
But what if it were so, and what if this had been the core assumption that shaped world civilization for the last thousand years? And now, imagine that you were born into such a world – a world that for all intents and purposes had always believed that all people are not created equal. Do you honestly believe that it would ever cross your mind that all people might actually be equal, that human liberty and freedom were noble ideals, and that all people possessed an inherent right to make life’s most basic and pivotal choices? What if ideas such as these had never been expressed in all of human history? Not only had they never been debated, written about, or spoken of, ever, but no one had even entertained the absurd idea that all human beings were equal and that freedom was good.
This Was the World of Abraham
The world into which Abraham was born looked out at the vast panorama of all it saw and experienced and concluded that there were only two types of beings – puppets and puppeteers. The puppets came in many forms. All animals and plants were puppets, and so were rain drops, cities, and people. Pulling the strings of every puppet was a puppeteer; these were the gods. The world in which Abraham was raised – the world in which he learned to speak, formulate thoughts, and interact with people – was a world of cosmic manipulation. That’s what everyone assumed and thought, that’s what everyone said, and it was on this basis that life was built.
So what do the lives of human puppets look like? How do they view themselves and how do they relate to life and the world around them? The puppet people of the ancient world saw themselves and everything else as “only an imperfect copy of the primal cosmos.” Indeed, “Since man was created by the gods to serve them, and he and his civilization were regarded as imperfect copies of heavenly prototypes, there was little feeling of joy or optimism.” The picture that history paints for us of life at the time of Abraham is one that said since people were mere puppets on the strings of the gods, life was reduced to worship of and sacrifice to the gods in the hope that by being nice to the puppeteer, he/she/it would be nice to you too. Life had no ultimate meaning or purpose, and there were no such concepts as personal freedom or aspirations since the strings that tied one to the gods could never be severed. No human being could ever have a higher calling, and there were no great values worth devoting one’s life to, much less worth dying for.
“The Sumerians, [the people who populated the ancient Mesopotamian world into which Abraham would eventually be born] not surprisingly, saw themselves as a people created to labor for the gods. These gods demanded propitiation and submission in elaborate ritual. In return for this and living a good life they would grant prosperity and length of days, but no more.”
J.M. Roberts, History of the World
At the dawn of civilization, the limits of human aspiration, and the best that one could hope for, was a long and prosperous life. In the end, life was nothing more than a grueling effort to eke out the minimal necessities and comforts of life, all the while hoping that the gods, with their mercurial whims, would play along. It is no wonder, then, that anything and everything could be an object of worship and that people withheld nothing – even children – from the voracious sacrificial appetite of the gods. This was the world of Abraham.
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Shimon Apisdorf is an award-winning author whose books have been read by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. He has gained a world-wide reputation for his ability to extract the essence of classical Jewish wisdom and show how it can be relevant to issues facing the mind, heart and soul in today’s world. Shimon grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and studied at the University of Cincinnati, Telshe Yeshiva of Cleveland and the Aish HaTorah College of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. He currently resides with his wife, Miriam, and their children in Baltimore. The Apisdorfs enjoy taking long walks, listening to the music of Sam Glaser and going to Orioles games.
Shimon can be reached at [email protected]
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