As we continue our weekly journey through the book of Genesis in synagogues across the globe this Sabbath, we encounter Abraham, the forefather of the Jewish people who God chose as the bearer of His message to all of humanity. To gain a deeper appreciation of who Abraham was and what he stood for, it’s important to understand the world in which he lived, which was very different than the world we live in today.
Abraham was born and raised in the city of Ur Kasdim, located in modern-day Iraq, at a time when humanity was steeped in idolatry. We know from archeological discoveries that when Abraham traveled to Canaan the inhabitants of the land were depraved, barbaric, and served numerous deities. They offered their own children as sacrifices and emulated their idols, who had the most immoral and decadent characteristics. The world that Abraham was born into had no boundaries, morals, or absolute values.
It can be mind-blowing to think that it was in this atmosphere of immorality that Abraham set up shop. And, despite the idolatrous culture that surrounded him, he swam against the tide and served one God, successfully teaching moral and ethical values while showering kindness on everyone who passed through his tent.
Abraham’s ability to stand alone for what is true, moral, and just despite all the evil that prevailed around him testifies to his unrelenting integrity. His capacity to uphold morality, thus elevating everyone around him, is a quality we all can strive to emulate in our world today.
In many ways we are at a crossroads today between two extreme ideologies. On the one hand there is radical Islam, which believes in religious coercion and eliminating people’s rights. Women, “non-believers,” handicapped individuals, and numerous others are considered second-class citizens in Arab-ruled nations. On the other hand, we have secular Western culture, which promotes human rights but seeks to push religion, and the morality it teaches, to the margins of public life.
We live in a world with such conflicting extremes that Abraham’s lesson of integrity and going against the tide is just as applicable today as it has ever been. Abraham paved a new path of faith that can help us grow in our faith. As we look around the world and see biblical morality waning in the West and religious extremism growing in the East, we can look to our forefather Abraham for guidance in serving God with a beautiful balance of holiness and righteousness.