Abraham is instructed to leave the comfort of his hometown and go to a place, which has not been revealed to him.
So Abram went as G-d had spoken to him and Lot went with him; Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and Lot, his brother’s son, and all their wealth that they had amassed, and the souls they made in Haran...(Gen. 12:4-5)
What does “souls they made in Haran” mean? How does one make a soul or take it with you? “Souls” refers to the students of Abraham and Sara when they lived in Haran. In a world of idolatry, Abraham and Sara taught that there is one G-d. They weren’t preaching faith, they were using logic to establish the idea that it isn’t logical to believe in idols. It didn’t make sense to place one’s trust in statue that was just created the previous day, month or year. They were teachers, not preachers. Belief in G-d isn’t accomplished through faith, it’s done through intellectual honesty.
But what happened to their students (or “the souls they made in Haran)? We know that when Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, went to Egypt with his family, they were a total of 70; this small group became the Jewish nation. They (Jacob’s family) were the one group in the world that were monotheistic. But what happened to Abraham and Sara’s students? Where were they when the Jewish nation was formed? Where are their children?
As mentioned, Abraham and Sara spoke about G-d from a logical angle. Their students accepted their teachings and did the things that were logical to them. However, Jacob’s family kept G-d’s word for a different reason-because G-d commanded it. Once one comes to an intellectual understanding that there is G-d, (s)he keeps His commandments because G-d said so, not because it’s logical. If this sounds strange, think of it in terms of any meaningful relationship.
Which scenario is better in a marriage? A man is asked by his wife to go shopping. (a) He logically concludes that food is necessary for the family and therefore he should shop or (b) he goes simply because his wife asked him to. He loves her and trusts her judgment. This love and trust didn’t happen overnight but once it’s there, it becomes a motivation to do things. No woman wants her shopping list scrutinized. “Isn’t there a cheaper brand” or “do we really need so many of these” or “do I need to go shopping right now” are not questions asked by a man who trusts his wife and goes shopping simply because it’s important to her. After trust has been established, it is an insult to a relationship to question every matter.
The students of Abraham and Sara came to G-d from their rational teachings but they never transcended to the next level; to do things simply because G-d had requested it. Abraham’s own decedents-the people who would become the Jewish nation-were superior because they developed a deeper relationship with G-d-one of love and trust. We Jews do many things that are illogical, for example, giving tzedakah. Why should I give my hard-earned money to a stranger? Although giving charity and being socially responsible are values we expect in any modern Western society, they were revolutionary in the ancient world. How about forgiveness; you’ve wronged me, why should I forgive you?” Infanticide was practiced in every culture of the ancient world except the Jews. If a child had a special need or handicap, why should the state pay for it; it’s not cost effective.
Helping someone who has less than I do is not logical. The Jewish nation began and was able to maintain itself due to being loyal to G-d’s plans how to build a family and community, not our own idea of how to make that happen.
Abraham and Sara’s students were way ahead of the idol believing people of their generation and even kept G-d’s word to a point but in the end, they lived their lives like the husband who does what his wife asks only when it makes sense to him. Why should he go shopping, he works at least as hard as she does? Personal agenda, laziness, insecurity and a host of other reasons will make it that he will want to do whatever is convenient and most comfortable for him. Even seemingly pure logic is subjective; the proof is that throughout history any group or society that persecutes others, argues that persecution is justified on logical grounds; people of a particular ethnic makeup are the cause of the country’s problems. Sometimes logic alone is not enough.
Jews are obligated to use their brains to the fullest but we must realize that our logic isn’t always pure and can’t be trusted in many circumstances. The best is to be a loving and trusting spouse, parent and Jew.
(Sources: Pirkei d’Rebbi Elazar, Drash Moshe–Behar)