J9: IdentityPage 2 -
There is no Jewish nation in the book of Genesis, it only
This process - from individuals to a multitudes - can be likened to the development of a new product. First the prototype is constructed. It is tested for its strength and performance and if it passes then it is mass produced. Abraham and his family were the prototype Jewish people, whose successful lives led to the mass production of a huge population. Av does not mean "father" in the biological sense alone, it also means a prototype or an archetype. Abraham was originally named Av-Ram, which translates literally as "pre-eminent prototype". Thus the essence of Jewish identity lies in understanding the heart and mind of Abraham.
The most famous story about Abraham's early life tells of how he took a club and smashed up the idols in his father's retail store. He left the weapon in the arms of the one undemolished idol and when his father came home and angrily demanded an explanation, Abraham pointed to the last remaining statue and said: "He did it!" Though this episode is not actually written in the Torah and is only a traditional story (midrash: Bereishit Rabbah 38:19) about Abraham, it clearly illustrates the young man's attitude to life: he did not believe in the religions of his time, he had a violent streak, he wasn't afraid of dramatically proving a point even if it would shock and upset those around him and he had no intention of going into his father's business! These are the characteristics of an iconoclast - which literally means an idol-smasher (icon-clast).
Sarah and Abraham
Of all the leading lights of the Jewish people, none was more of a double act than Abraham and Sarah. The Torah is keen to point out that their successful achievements were contingent on their joint efforts:
· God first communicates with Abraham only after he marries Sarah. (Genesis 11:29, 12:1)
· They influenced people around them as a couple (Genesis 12:5)
· It was Sarah's decision for him to have a son with his maidservant Hagar (Genesis 16:2)
· The future of the Jewish people was only through Sarah even though Abraham had many other children. (Genesis 25:2)
· After Sarah dies, old age springs up on Abraham and God no longer communicates with him. (Genesis 24:1)
A complex personality
There were many sides to Abraham. He was by no means a perfect person and in his human frailty we begin to understand what made him tick:
LEADER: Abraham attracted a large audience of like minded people who rejected the idols of their ancestors.
DECEIVER: When in Egypt, he pretends that Sarah is his sister so that the Egyptians won't kill him to get to her.
BENEVOLENT: He gives his nephew Lot first choice when choosing land to live on.
NOBLE WARRIOR: He rescues Lot from the battlefield and then refuses to take the spoils of war.
PASSIVE: He accepts Sarah's decision to disown his first wife Hagar and their son, Ishamel.
What identifies Abraham is his ability to connect with people. Through his writings and speeches he was able to explain his beliefs, through subtlety he attempted to survive in the dangerous and alien culture of Egypt. Through kindness and understanding he cared for and protected his loved ones.
|The Jampacked Bible © UJIA 1996-2000|