In this week’s Sedra we learn about the 1st Jew – Avram.
Avram was born into a family and world of idol worshipers. The Midras teaches us that his father, Terach, owned an idol shop. Avram however believed in monotheism. One day, when asked to watch the idol shop, Avram took a hammer and smashed all the idols – except for the largest – in whose hands he placed a hammer. When his father came to find a scene of destruction, Avram explained “The idols all got into a fight and the biggest idol won.” His father was hard pressed to argue otherwise…
Hence, the famous verse, “Originally, our ancestors were idol worshipers” that we read in our Pesach Seder each year. We are reminded of our humble beginnings – and of having the conviction to challenge ideas, to change the world, to discover truth, to ‘be different’ and not to not just follow the crowd. The word ‘Hebrew’ itself comes from ‘Ha’Ivri’ because Abraham came ‘from the other side’ (of the river Euphrates).
The dictionary definition of idolatry is “an extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone”. In Avram’s days the world believed in idolatry.
In today’s age, for many, it could mean worshipping a statue, numerous gods, a shrine or image. In our own lives it could mean chasing the newest tech, or material goods – or the false pursuit of money or other material possessions. The 2nd Commandment tells us ‘You shall have no other gods before me…”
God told Abraham words that set the Jewish story in motion: “Leave your land, your birthplace and your father’s house and go to the land that I will show you.”
As Rabbi Sacks Z’L wrote:
“Abraham is without doubt the most influential person who ever lived. Today he is claimed as the spiritual ancestor of 2.4 billion Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims and 13 million Jews, more than half the people alive today. Yet he ruled no empire, commanded no great army, performed no miracles and proclaimed no prophecy. He is the supreme example in all of history of influence without power.
Why? Because he was prepared to be different. Leadership, as every leader knows, can be lonely. Yet you continue to do what you have to do because you know that the majority is not always right and conventional wisdom is not always wise. Dead fish go with the flow. Live fish swim against the current. So it is with conscience and courage. So it is with the children of Abraham. They are prepared to challenge the idols of the age.
Judaism is the counter-voice in the conversation of humankind. As Jews we do not follow the majority merely because it is the majority.”