Avrohom Avinu was born into a culture of idol worshipping. He was the first person since the time of Noach to recognize that the world has a Creator and did not spontaneously form.
The Medrash compares Avrohom’s awakening to that of a traveler who came upon a birah dolekes, a large, magnificent mansion on fire.
He saw the grandeur of the magnificent building, the work that went into it, the marvelous architecture and brilliant construction, and he knew that it could not have come into being on its own. Someone owned it, someone built it, and someone cared for it. Where was he? Why was he letting it burn?
The owner called out to him and said, “I am the owner of this home.”
So too, Avrohom Avinu would go around saying that the world must have a leader who runs it. Therefore, Hashem appeared to him and said, “It is I who is the owner of the world.”
This Medrash seems to indicate that Avrohom was the first person in his time to conclude that the world has a Creator who put it all together.
Avrohom was born 1,948 years from the founding of the world. Since Adam lived 930 years and Noach lived 850 years, essentially Avrohom and the people of his time were only a couple generations removed from the world’s creation. Therefore, it stands to reason that people who were concerned with the truth could have been aware of the world’s history and its creation.
If so, we are to understand the chiddush of this Medrash to be that Avrohom was not the first to realize that the world could not have come into existence by itself, but rather that he was the first who analyzed the world around him and concluded that not only must the world have a G-d who created everything, but in order to properly function, that G-d must control everything.
The Rambam (Hilchos Avodah Zora, chapter 1) explains that in the generation of Enosh, people surmised that since Hashem created stars to shine and serve Him, His desire was for the stars and otherworldly bodies to be praised and respected. People began constructing temples in which to bow to the stars, praise them and offer them sacrifices, in their mistaken belief that such was Hashem’s desire.
This practice was further corrupted, as priests developed images for the people to worship and pray to. As time went on, people forgot about Hashem and attached godly power to stars and idols they fashioned. There were only a few people who stood out by their recognition of Hashem as master of the world. These included Chanoch, Mesushelach, Noach, Sheim and Eiver.
That’s how it was until Avrohom came along. He changed everything. With no one to teach him, he recognized that everyone in his time was mistaken. He came to the understanding that there is one Creator who created the world and controls it. He engaged in conversation with people in Ur Kasdim and was able to answer all their questions. After Avrohom convinced many people that he was correct, the king tried to kill him. Miraculously saved, he escaped to Choron and from there traveled around to convince people about Hashem. He gained many thousands of followers and wrote seforim for Yitzchok to study and teach.
Avrohom was intrigued by the world. The more he studied it, the more he realized that it was impossible for everything to be happening by itself. There was more to it. The Alter of Kelm explained that it was Avrohom’s search for the true good that led him to find Hashem. As he recognized that the world at that time was mistaken in what they believed was good, he worked to find the proper path in life.
His search led him to discover Hashem as the root of all things, of life and of all good and contentment. He understood that the more he attached himself to Hashem and followed His ways, the more improved his life would be. At a young age, he raised himself above the people around him and began living on a different level.
He had identified something much deeper than the burning home seen by the traveler. For him, the world bore a message. It was calling out to him. He, alone among all humanity, heard the call. From that moment on, he was never the same.
Wherever he went, he spoke of a Creator, as he tried to open people’s eyes. He had seen the extraordinary truth and couldn’t understand how people were going about their lives as if there was no Creator.
After Avrohom had proven himself to be a faithful follower of Hashem, he was tested and told to leave the ancestral area where he was born and raised, and to head to a foreign land, where he would be blessed.
He was tested yet again, because shortly after he and his wife, Sorah, arrived in The Promised Land, a hunger ensued, forcing them to travel to Egypt. Rashi (Bereishis 13:3) teaches that during their return trip from Mitzrayim, Avrohom and Sorah stayed at the same lodgings they had visited on their way in.
Rashi says that one of the reasons Avrohom returned to the same places was “leshaleim hakafosav,” to pay his debts. The Chasam Sofer explains that as they descended to Mitzrayim, Avrohom and Sorah were mocked and ridiculed. People asked them where the Master of the Universe is and why He can’t provide food for them in Eretz Canaan. Those people said that either there is no master or He is unable to care for His followers.
On his return trip, laden with possessions, Avrohom went out of his way to meet the scoffers and show what the Creator had provided for him. There was so much more to life than they realized. Avrohom was compelled to tell them what they were missing.
Avrohom and Sorah were tested, and the strength of their belief sustained them through their travails and times of deprivation. They believed that what befell them was orchestrated by Hashem, who, as the ultimate good, intended everything that transpired for their benefit. Their belief was rewarded.
The power of their belief is what empowers us to withstand the pressures and downturns we face today. For all time, Jewish people have been able to maintain their faith in the face of the most trying circumstances. We know that there is a Creator who controls the world and seeks our benefit. If we maintain our belief, we will be richly compensated with satisfaction and blessing.
After the wealthy Avrohom returned to Canaan with his nephew Lot, who was blessed because of his relationship with Avrohom, their shepherds quarreled, as Lot’s were dishonest.
Avrohom told his close relative and disciple to leave, instructing, “Hipared na mei’olay – Please separate from me” (Bereishis 13:9). “Sorry,” he was saying, “but we are headed in different directions. If you go left, I’ll go right, and vice versa.”
A few pesukim later, the posuk (13:14) states that “acharei hipared Lot mei’imo, after Lot had parted from him,” Hashem blessed Avrohom. After Avrohom separated from a person consumed with pettiness and dishonesty, he became worthy of more blessing (see Rashi ad loc).
Lot’s shepherds were not able to get along with those of Avrohom Avinu, and Avrohom decided that they had to separate. He could not bear the thought of entering into a dispute with Lot and told his nephew to choose an area where he preferred to live.
Lot saw that the Kikar Hayardein was blessed with fertile abundance, so he chose to move there. In his eagerness to amass more wealth and power, he didn’t care that he would be living amongst the wicked people of Sedom. When Avrohom reproached him about the behavior of his shepherds, Lot did not apologize or seek direction. He was quick to take leave of Avrohom, the holiest and kindest man alive, and went to live with the most wicked and selfish people ever to walk the earth. They were wealthy and cool, and Lot couldn’t rush fast enough to become one of them.
We know the end of the story. Sedom was destroyed, and its inhabitants and their wealth were obliterated. Lot was saved in the merit of Avrohom Avinu.
We are affected by outer appearances. Promises of fame and glory tempt many people. Instead of seeking depth and goodness, we rationalize and fall prey to the lure of Sedom. The glitter dazzles and causes us to ignore what is beneath the veneer.
We are now in the season of beautiful foliage. People travel long distances just to view and photograph gorgeous trees. It is as if throughout the summer, when the leaves are basically the same color, they are bland and boring. When fall arrives and the leaves evolve from green to brilliant red, bright orange and shiny yellow, everyone is taken by the blast of beauty.
However, the exhibition doesn’t last long. In fact, the colors are a sign that the end is coming. The brilliant red indicates that the leaves are about to die, fall off, and be swept away to eternal oblivion. The bright colors are a sign that the leaves are about to meet the fate of Sedom and all of Lot’s friends and neighbors there.
Let us not fall for the glamour of those whose values lead them away from that which is fine and noble. Let us learn the lessons handed down throughout the generations from Avrohom Avinu. Let us be strong enough to withstand temptation and to face adversity without becoming pessimistic and dejected. Things don’t always appear to be going right, but with patience and faith, just as rain yields blessings and growth, so does everything that Hashem causes to happen to us.
Let us appreciate the green foliage and smile on rainy days as on days when the sun shines.
As we read these weeks’ parshiyos hashovua, the pesukim, Medrashim and meforshim remind us who we are and where we come from.
They are our biros dolkos, beckoning us to enter and soak in the light.
Let us concentrate on what is important. Let us live lives of greatness, goodness and purpose. May we all be blessed with the blessings of Avrohom and Sorah.