Whatever Happened to the Students of Abraham and Sara?
In this week’s Parsha we are introduced to the first patriarch of the Jewish people, Abraham. G-d tells him to leave his father’s house, his relatives and his homeland.
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…(Genesis 12:4-5)
What does “souls they made in Haran” mean? How does one make a soul? How do you 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 a statue 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 Abraham and Sara’s students? Later when Abraham’s grandson Jacob went to Egypt with his family—70 in all—they became the Jewish nation, the one group in the world who were monotheistic. But what happened to Abraham and Sara’s students; where were they when the Jewish nation was formed? Where were their children? They are never mentioned again.
We mentioned that Abraham was a teacher not a preacher and he spoke about G-d from a logical angle. His students accepted his teaching 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 people come to an intellectual understanding that there is G-d, they keep His commandments because G-d said so, not because it’s logical. This is comparable to a healthy marriage. Which scenario is better: 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 she asked him to and trusts her judgment? This love and trust didn’t happen overnight but once it’s there, it becomes a motivation to do things.
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 said so. Abraham’s own descendants, the people who would become the Jewish nation, were superior because they developed a meaningful relationship of love and trust.
This idea provides one of the most applicable models for present-day Jewry. People and organizations talk about ‘Jewish values” but for many, it means whatever is convenient for them or the organization at any given time and place. For example, “love your neighbor” is a Jewish value but it has parameters. You don’t love an evil neighbor. “Don’t lie.” How about if it’s to save a life, prevent monetary loss or harm to someone else? Do you tell your child to tell the person on the phone you’re not home when you really are home? How about killing? Would you kill a sniper who was about to spray a school bus of innocent children with bullets? Every Jewish value is nuanced and must be understood. Whether it’s stealing or what time to put on tefillin, if we decide according to a logic based on our own vested interests, it’s bound to break down the Jewish value and turn it into a personal convenience.
Abraham and Sara’s students were way ahead of the idol-believing people of their generation and even kept G-d’s word to some degree, 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 do whatever suits him at that moment. Even seemingly pure logic is subjective; the proof is that throughout history when a group or society enslaves or persecutes another, it does so on logical grounds—the people of this race, color or economic class can be persecuted because that’s what’s best for society.
We Jews are obligated to use our brains to the fullest but must realize that our logic isn’t always pure and can’t be trusted in many circumstances.