Our forefather Avraham earned his title as progenitor of the Jewish people due to his unswerving devotion to G-d. Avraham spread the awareness of G-d to the masses and loyally and devotedly listened to G-d’s instruction – even when it appeared to be in conflict or paradoxical to his moral beliefs or to what G-d had previously related to him.
The Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers teaches us that Avraham’s trustworthiness in G-d was tested ten times. A common theme in all the tests was that Avraham was able to come to terms with it personally, and to keep in mind how others would react to his apparent inconsistencies. Once G-d instructed Avraham to do something – he placed all personal feelings aside and stood poised to deal with the possibility of the negative fallout from his actions.
Before G-d even communicated with Avraham he was met with a challenge of life and death. The wicked King Nimrod was tipped off by Terach, Avraham’s own father that his son Avraham rebelled against idolatry and chose the belief in a Monotheistic G-d. Nimrod gave Avraham an ultimatum, either switch his faith to idols and live, or be cast into an intense fiery furnace.
Avraham could have spared his life by saying that he was committed to idolatry, while deep down believing in G-d. He would have been able to eventually resume his efforts on behalf of G-d, for after all, if it wasn’t for him, who would champion on behalf of G-d?
Even with all these logical considerations, Avraham chose to be thrown into the furnace. He miraculously emerged unscathed thereby sanctifying G-d through this miracle.
Avraham’s resolve to uphold G-d’s honor brought better results than yielding to his logical assessment.
When Avraham was ninety-nine years old G-d instructed him to circumcise himself. Aside from the challenge of the physical pain that he had to endure, Avraham had been successful in impressing upon society the Monotheistic belief in G-d through his care, kindness and sincerity. However, if word got out that he circumcised himself, setting himself apart from society his effectiveness would be compromised.
Avraham’s resolve to circumcise himself was firm. He did however discuss with some friends the best way to do it; whether it should be done privately or publicly. A friend, Mamre, supported Avraham to do it publically, which he did. At the Bris, G-d changed Avram’s name to Avraham. This new name gave Avraham the ability to have a son Yitzchok.
When Yitzchok was thirty-seven years old, G-d appeared to Avraham and presented the ultimate challenge; to offer his only son Yitzchok as a sacrifice. This command stood in the face of Avraham who decried human sacrifice his whole adult life. Since at this point Yitzchok was not yet married, this command was also in conflict with what G-d had already told Avraham, that through Yitzchok a nation will emerge. Yet, despite all the contradictions that Avraham would have to deal with, he set out to do it, and only at the last moment was he instructed not to do so.
It is interesting to note that the Zohar – Kaballa teaches us that during this event G-d took into consideration Avraham’s pure intent – and Yitzchok’s willingness to go through with it – and during the process, Yitzchok’s Neshama – soul – went through a transformation. Yitzchok’s original soul was not destined to have children; only through going through the binding of Yitzchok did he become capable of having children!
Avraham is known as Avraham Ha’ivri – commonly translated as Avraham who came from the other side of the river. What this means is that Avraham’s resolve and direction came from a different point of view then that of the rest of the world. Avraham’s course and direction was – what does G-d want from me, rather than what do I want for myself. Avraham was a trailblazer taking on the world and paving the path for his descendants all the way down to us and beyond.
The first blessing of our daily Amidah prayers concludes with “Blessed are You, Hashem, Shield of Avraham.” Rabbi Shimon Schwab o.b.m. writes, “We are all surrounded by a culture that has rejected, in a large part, the sacred Jewish concept that G-d watches and is aware of everything, and that we are held accountable for our actions. Every person has his own Spiritual challenges in working out his relationship with G-d, so we bow to G-d upon reciting the blessing – Shield of Avraham, to thank Him for protecting us as He protected Avraham against the pressures and negative influences that society brings against our principles, beliefs and loyalty to our Creator and religion!