Shalom and greetings.
In 1948, after the world's creation, a child was born in a small cave at the foot of the Ararat Mountains named Abram (later to be expanded to Abraham). When he was born, the servants of King Nimrod (the son of Kush, from the dynasty of Ham, who conquered the ancient world and murdered many of his brothers) rushed to tell the king the news that a son had been born in the dynasty of Shem, the "Keepers of the Secrets," who would destroy Nimrod's kingdom...
Thus begins the fascinating story of Abraham, the Hebrew. A remarkable story of a journey that began more than 3,800 years ago. It continues with Abraham's son, Isaac, and from there to Jacob and his twelve sons, who formed the basis for a unique nation. Not only did they survive for the entire span of world history (as opposed to Sumerians, Babylonians, ancient Egyptians, and Romans, among others), but they also kept a strict guard over the dynasty and the secrets that were handed down from one generation to the next – until this very day, the era of the establishment of the State of Israel and the return of the Bible to its original meaning as a basis for public discussion throughout the world.
What are these "secrets?" What did Abraham want, which caused so many others to pursue him and his offspring during the many generations since he was born?
To understand the answers to these questions, I want to go back to the beginning to understand the PATH that Abraham, the Hebrew, followed to enhance the recognition of the Creator by the people of the world, who worshipped idols.
Our tradition tells us that Abraham would give food to everybody visiting him at his home. Yes, that was what he did – he invited his guests to come and join him at the table. Abraham gave out real food, not "food for thought" or philosophy. Then, when the guest would say that he wanted to thank Abraham for his kindness, he would explain to the guest that he should thank the Creator.
And what if the guest refused? Let's say, for example, that he was an atheist or an idol worshipper. Then, Abraham would demand an inflated price for the food. And he would explain that the guest can have everything without paying, but only if he would thank the Creator for it all...
That is how Abraham convinced the other people that the world has an active Creator.
The above story, which comes from the Midrash, seems strange at first glance. Abraham is not involved in philosophic disputes – instead, he gives away food to get the people to listen about the good of the Creator!? That's his whole technique?
Is it that simple?
This story has a profound meaning.
Let's say that I convince you by logical arguments, in a purely philosophical dispute, that there is a God in heaven. What have I accomplished? Nothing! Why is this so? It is because such proof only shows that through mental exercises, I can build up a logical structure in my brain that corresponds to the understanding that God exists.
Descartes brought many proofs that God exists, and all this proves is that he was able to convince himself...
But when I eat something, my status demonstrates that I am a physical creature. I go through a total experience, which helps me understand that my existence depends on external factors. By eating, I show that my existence depends on receiving something from the outside. It puts me in the status of having been created. And if I was made, it stands to reason that there must be a Creator. And that explains why Abraham would give his guests food.
Thus, we can see that anybody who refuses to eat is something of an apostate... Such a person feels that they are a deity, and therefore he can refuse to eat...
It clarifies many events that took place throughout history. When Jethro, the Midian priest from Abraham's children, invites Moses, who has fled to Midian, to share bread with him (Exodus 2,20), this stems from the recognition that the link to God comes through eating. It helps Moses prepare for his future meetings with the Children of Israel. And in the next stage, after Moses has taken the Jews out of Egypt, when Jethro brings Moses his wife and children and visits the Children of Israel in the desert, Aaron and all the elders of Israel come to eat bread... before God (Exodus 17,12)! Once again, we encounter food as an element through which a person has an experience that is fundamental and existential – showing that he depends on factors external to his being!
But we are still left with the most crucial question – which God do you believe in?
Why is this question important? Very simple – from the earliest days of human history, when Cain and Abel were born, that hate came into the world. What was the reason? One reason given in Jewish tradition (the tradition of the "Keepers of the Secrets") is that the dispute was about religion. Yes, you heard right. Each brother said, "My god is more righteous and stronger than yours..." Does this sound like a good reason to argue? Or does it sound strange? Doesn't it sound a bit removed from our modern world? Like it belongs in the times of ancient history? If that is what you think, what can you say about the religious fanaticism of ISIS?
The Patriarch Abraham began to speak about God, a deity who loves His creatures, one who is the God of all His creatures, who created the world and loves everything in it. At the same time, he also spoke of the mystic truth that one out of three reasons for war in the world is faith in God, but it was not yet known that the long history of humanity would include endless struggles between Christianity and Islam or other religions on the subjects of truth and faith. At the time, this was a secret. Today when we look back at history, we can see that this is really what happened. And that is why it is essential to know which God we believe in! Does He insist that all the people in the world must be the same? Does He demand that anybody who rejects Him be killed most horribly?
And now, we can talk about another secret that was taught by Abraham, the father of the Israelite nation, more than 3,800 years ago. There is only one God in our world. And this leads to the conclusion that there is only one valid religion in the world!
Wait, let me elaborate on that point.
It means that no special Divine laws exist for different groups of people in our world. The Creator of the Universe speaks and acts as the God of all humanity, and He takes on responsibility for every nation. This can also be seen in the words of the prophets, as they appear in the Bible. And, just as Abraham took on himself the task of teaching all the people of his generation about this one unique God and the fact that He loves all of His creatures, so Abraham's children took on the task of bringing these glad tidings to all of humanity, throughout all history.
We are talking about a universal path that includes all humanity.
However, at the same time, this religion maintains Jewish individualism by giving additional tasks meant only for the Jews as part of their activities to benefit all humanity.
In other words: We are all obligated to observe the Seven Mitzvot of Bnei Noach. Abraham, too was a descendent of Noach. He was born in the tenth generation after Noach, as listed from father to son in the Torah. But Abraham accepted additional tasks not required of the other world nations. And later, at the momentous events at Mount Sinai, Israel got several additional mitzvot. We are proud to have been involved in a direct conversation with God and to have brought the word of God to all of humanity. Still, we must never forget that the rest of the world is not at a "lower level" even though they are not obligated by the additional tasks that Israel accepted.
What is the essence of the Seven Mitzvot? We will talk about this in the next lesson of this series. But first, I want to delve deeper into the "second" secret mentioned above – that only one God created the world.
The world can be viewed as a triangle, with the Creator at a vertex at the top and two different people at the other two vertexes. The two created people compete with each other since each one tries selfishly to obtain all the abundance that the Creator can give him.
The truth is that each person should receive all the good that the Creator has given to His world, which has become common knowledge in many places. The way for everybody to achieve all of the abundances is to recognize that the other creature standing nearby is also a creation of the same Creator that made him!!
Love that one person shows to the one standing next to him at the base of the triangle is an expression of the love for the Creator since we have been taught that all of humanity was created in the image of the Almighty (see Genesis 1,27). Every encounter we have with "another" can be seen as an encounter with the "shadow" of the Creator (note that "tzel," shadow, in part of the word "tzelem," image).
Every hour of every day, we are tested by looking at how we relate to other people. We might have contact with a bus driver, a mail carrier, a bank clerk, a neighbor, or a relative. In every meeting with another person, we encounter the essence of the Creator within them. Indeed, we are only sometimes aware of this openly. And that is why our lives are long enough for us to learn how to act appropriately. We will talk about this in future discussions.
Let us return to Abraham and his role. He revealed the secret of maintaining our link to the Creator, who loves us all and provides abundance for us – the entire world. All that is needed is for us to live in peace with our neighbor, to give the "other" a place such as the one we want for ourselves, and to help each other in a fruitful partnership. We must never have a relationship like that of Cain and Abel, who began to argue about their positions in the world just as soon as it became apparent that they were there to share.
What practical steps can we take to make sure that this happens? What actions must we take (what mitzvot should we perform) to inject this understanding into our daily lives?
More on this in our following lecture.
Shalom, and greetings from the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Chaim Goldberg