In this week's Parsha we read of Abraham, the first Jew, and the first to discover a Creator. For a moment, let us contrast God's revelation at Sinai when He gave the Torah and revealed Himself to all as Master of the Universe, with Abraham's self-discovery of God in his youth. The difference was this. At Sinai, the world came to know that there was a God because the Almighty made Himself known. It would be difficult for any witness standing at Sinai to deny there God's existence amidst the spectacular spiritual fireworks display. There was thunder and lightning, a heavenly voice, and a host of assembled angels.
At Sinai God revealed Himself to the collected host of Israel. But He did not reveal Himself to Abraham. Rather, Abraham used his higher cognitive faculties to reject the prevailing idolatrous notions of the time and embrace and propagate the knowledge of an infinite, invisible Creator. Abraham did not believe in a Creator. Rather, he came to know that there was a Creator. The God of Abraham was the God of the philosopher's, the God who is reached through rational inquiry. It is a God that a thinking man discovers on his own and not through divine intervention.
Surely, this was an unparalleled feat, deserving mention in the Torah. Yet, the Torah makes no explicit mention of Abraham's greatness as a youth or his discovery of God in his youth. Abraham is introduced to us in the Bible at the advanced age of 75. We know of his youth only through Rabbinical legend and Midrash. The Torah's first mention of Abraham is many years later when he is given his first divine commandment: Lech Lecha, leave your father's household and go unto the land that I will show you.
The Maharal, Rabbi Yehuda Low of Prague, immortalized by legend as the creator of the Golem, says that the Torah does not discuss Abraham's youthful virtue because that would imply that he was chosen for God's revelation based on personal merit. And if the Jews were to prove unworthy at some later date -- if they would revert to the paganism of Abraham's forebears -- God might annul His choice of Israel. Therefore, the Torah does not speak of Abraham's goodness so as not to imply that God's love for Abraham and his descendants is dependent on their righteousness. Rather, there is an unbreakable, unconditional, almost parental love which bonds them.
This point serves as an important lesson to this generation. Committed Jews today consist primarily of two groups. The first is the traditional type, those who were educated in a Jewish way of life by parents. We might describe this generation as that of revelation, not only because, in most cases, they trace their observance through an unbroken chain back to Sinai but also because their Judaism did not come through a process of self-discovery. Rather, they practice what they were taught to practice by their parents. Since their attachment to Judaism did not originate with personal choice but upbringing there will always be something lacking. Amazingly, today's generation of Jews incorporates a second dimension in which Judaism has come full circle. What we are witnessing is a resurgence of the generation of Abraham.
We have a significant number of committed Jews to whom no Judaism was revealed. They were not raised with it by their parents. Rather, they embraced Jewish tradition of their own accord and volition, usually through an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual journey. They have come to the tradition of Abraham through a process of self-reflection and education. Like Abraham our ancestor many today are returning to their people through a personal process of inquiry. Those who are part of this process possess but the virtue of Abraham -- who discovered God on his own -- but also the limitations of rational inquiry. They may end up rejecting those aspects of the faith that makes less sense to them personally.
For instance, the State of Israel that comes under ferocious attack may fare less well with even committed Jewish students at a university campus because of social pressure. People who once loved Israel may love it lest in accordance with the latest New York Times editorial. But those who are attached to Jewishness based on something intrinsic and congenital will similarly feel attached to the Jewish state even when it is unfashionable. It something is truly special then our attachment to it remains constant. Those things which fluctuate are usually a more of ephemeral, less significant nature.
The same pertains to one's Jewishness and attachment to the Jewish people. Questions of popularity and personal benefit are of little consequence to the truly committed individual and one must strive to transcend a purely rational attachment to one's tradition and people that will never waver amidst social pressure or personal upheaval. It was this thought that the Maharal was trying to convey in his explanation as to why the Torah neglects mention of Abraham's merit. God's love of Abraham struck deeper, was far more permanent, than Abraham's behavior on any given day.
By this God was teaching Abraham a lesson. His rational approach to Judaism was, of course, commendable. But it was only the first step in a process that would culminate in revelation at Sinai, a time when the Jews would witness God's presence appearance. Thus, God's place in their midst would be something that they could never forget, could never deny, and to which they would always remain steadfastly loyal.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, "America's Rabbi," is the international best-selling author of Kosher Sex and The Kosher Sutra. He has just published Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.