“There is hardly an animal in nature, from the Egyptian scarab to the Hindu elephant, that has not somewhere been worshiped as a god.”
Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage
Somehow, Abraham came to a different conclusion. Where everyone saw diversity, Abraham saw unity. Where everyone saw countless phenomena with countless causes, Abraham saw one creation and one Creator. Where everyone saw a panoply of self-serving, and self-indulgent cosmic puppeteers, Abraham saw a flawless being who was pure kindness, who only gave and gave the greatest good.
To Abraham nothing could be clearer than the fact that everyone else was dead wrong. Abraham’s conception of life was one that envisioned higher aspirations; to Abraham life had meaning and purpose. To Abraham, there was something deeply noble to strive for in life. For Abraham, there was something to accomplish, something to strive for, somewhere to go in life.
Abraham didn’t just come to a different conclusion from everyone else about God. Rather, he was the only person whose thinking concluded with God. The difference between Abraham and every other person on earth was something like the difference between a toddler who trembles at the sound of thunder and is convinced that his mother’s skirt can protect him, and an adult who is awestruck by the grandeur of creation.
Abraham Says Adios
Abraham was so sure he was right that the Creator Himself confirmed his convictions.
“And God said to Abraham ‘Lech Lecha, Go for yourself (not for Me) and leave your land, the community of your birth, and your father’s home.'”
“If we had lived in the second millennium BCE, the millennium of Abraham, and could have canvassed all the nations of the earth, what would they have said of Abraham’s journey? In most of Africa and Europe, where prehistoric animism was the norm and artists were still carving and painting on stone the heavenly symbols of the Great Wheel of Life and Death, they would have laughed at Abraham’s madness and pointed to the heavens, where the life of earth had been plotted from all eternity … a man cannot escape his fate. The Egyptians would have shaken their heads in disbelief. The early Greeks might have told Abraham the story of Prometheus … Do not overreach, they would advise; come to resignation. In India, he would be told that time is black, irrational and merciless. Do not set yourself the task of accomplishing something in time, which is only the dominion of suffering. In China, the now anonymous sages whose thoughts would eventually influence the I Ching would caution that there is no purpose in journeys or in any kind of earthly striving … On every continent, in every society, Abraham would have been given the same advice that wise men as diverse as Heraclitus, Lao-Tsu and Siddhartha would one day give their followers: do not journey but sit; compose yourself by the river of life, meditate on its ceaseless and meaningless flow.”
Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews
But somehow, some way, Abraham ignored the collective wisdom of the entire world. Not only did Abraham’s thinking lead him to God, but the conviction of his conclusion led him to strike out in a direction radically different from any other that had ever been traveled. When God said, “Go,” Abraham responded with a small step that was truly a giant leap for mankind.
“And Abraham went, just as God had told him …”
Thus began the relationship between Creator and creature that is inherent in the existence of God the absolute being – Creator, Sustainer, and altruistic and benevolent Supervisor of all creation.
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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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Other books by Shimon Apisdorf, available online at The Jewish Literacy Foundation.