According to a midrash, Avraham discovered God when he was three years old. When he was born, King Nimrod’s seers read the stars to learn that Terach would have a son who would inherit this world and the world to come if he were left alive. The king sought to kill the newborn Avraham, and so Avraham was hidden away in a cave for the first three years of his life. God provided him with all the food that he needed to sustain himself. When he left, he asked “Who created the heavens, the earth, and me?” He began by worshipping the sun, but when he saw that the sun set in the west while the moon rose in the east, he decided that the moon must have created everything, and that the stars were the moon’s ministers. When he saw the moon set and the sun rise, he realized that the celestial bodies were not gods, and that someone must have created them. He asked his father his question. Terach introduced him to his idols. Avraham asked his mother to prepare a fine meal for the gods. He placed the food before the head god, but there was no reply. When he realized that the idols had no power, the Divine spirit rested on him, and he said “They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see” (Psalm 115:5). He took a torch and burned them all except for the head god. He placed the torch in the head god’s hands. When his father came home and saw what Avraham had done, he shouted at him for destroying his idols. “The head god did it!” Avraham answered. His father replied “That wooden statue is not a living thing with the power to move!” Avraham then told Terach “Listen to your own words, father.”


This Midrash emphasizes Avraham’s independence that allows him to apprehend God. As a three-year-old child, he was able to feed himself. God did provide him with food while he stayed in the cave, but  this food came in the form of flour pouring from one window and oil pouring from the other. We can infer that Avraham himself, as a young child, mixed them and baked the dough in order to make it edible. Later, his spiritual search was done independently. He had no authority figures or teachers to guide him. His first attempt to find the Divine was not made by asking his parents, but by testing his feeling that the sun might be the creator. Through his own observation and his own powers of reason, he realized that neither the sun nor the moon nor the stars could have created everything, and that they themselves were created entities. Only when his own independent searches proved fruitless did he ask his father. When he realized that his father’s answer was false, he stood knowing that there was a creator, but that it could not be found with human help. God then intervened at that moment that Avraham was most receptive.


He was receptive to a mystical encounter because he could see past the illusions, myths, and the sensory input that enveloped him, but stood with the certainty that there must still be a creating power in the world, and that he would eventually find it. At that moment of faith and of non-knowing, the Divine presence rested upon him.


The literary device of Avraham being only three years old, but acting and thinking like a young adult or teen magnifies and spotlights his independent spirit. Even at the age of three, he could feed himself! Even as a toddler, he could safely wield a torch, and have a mystical encounter!


His young age is also reminiscent in the young boy in the story of the Emperor’ New Clothes who shouts out in the crowd that the emperor was naked. At that young age, he has not yet been socialized to believe what his peers and family must believe. True, real three-year-olds would be much more dependent on their parents, but they also lack social grace and any sense of conformity.


Starting our exploration of God not with the first commandment for us to obey, but with stories of a radically independent and non-conformist patriarch is a firm reminder to us that spiritual practice only succeeds when we come to it with a clear and logical mind. Faith and devotion require independence. Blind conformism is idolatry. Let 5781 be a year in which we clearly and honestly seek truth.


Shabbat shalom!

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