How well I remember the moment that ignited my lifelong passion for teaching how Jews read and understand Scripture!
During an interfaith discussion in 1974, A Christian Minister remarked: “Abraham was like a lottery winner chosen by an unexplained act of God’s Grace.”
I realized at that moment that many non-Jewish clergy were ignorant of the Jewish interpretations of Scripture found in post-biblical Jewish writings. Replacing that lack of awareness with understanding became a major focus of my life from then on.
Two Midrashic stories illustrate why God’s choice of Abraham was anything but random.
When Abraham was born, the ruler of the world was Nimrod, mentioned earlier in Genesis as a mighty hunter (Genesis !0:8-12). Nimrod’s astrologers tell him of a baby born that will overthrow his kingdom, and so Nimrod orders all the babies killed. Abraham’s father hides him in a cave.
At the age of three he walks out of the cave and being a most precocious child asks: “Who created the heavens and the earth and me?” He looked up at the sun and imagined that was the creative force. So he worshipped it all day. That night the moon came out. And he thought the moon must be stronger than the sun. So he worshipped the moon all night. When in the morning the sun came out again, Abraham reasoned that there must be a God more powerful than both the sun and the moon who is responsible for creation. (Bet ha-Midrash 2:118ff)
So, according to this story, Abraham at a very young age chose God, and that helps explain why God chose him.
Another story tells that when Abraham was a boy his father Terach was a merchant who had a shop selling idols that people worshipped as gods. One day, Terach had to go on a trip and left Abraham in charge of the store. While he was cleaning up, he accidentally broke one of the idols. Rather than try to hide it from his father, he placed a stick in the hands of the largest idol in the shop and left the broken idol on the floor.
When his father came home, he demanded that Abraham tell him what happened.
Abraham answered that the broken idol was misbehaving and the bigger idol beat him with the stick.
“Fool,” said his father, “Don’t you know that idols can’t do anything?”
“If so,” answered Abraham, “Then why do you worship them?” (found in several sources, notably, Bereshit Rabbah 38:13)
The story illustrates that Abraham rejected idolatry and further explains why God chose Abraham to begin the fourth society and present an entirely different idea of and approach to God.