Abraham, Shabbat and the philosopher in all of us

From an early age, Abraham was lost in thought. Wondering day and night, he grappled with questions about how the world kept turning, and what caused the trees to grow and the rivers to flow. Midrash Raba points to a moment which sparked his philosophical journey. One day, Abraham stumbled upon the cave of Machpela, where he found the graves of Adam and Eve. With this profound encounter with the first man and woman, Abraham was left with a burning desire to know who created the world.

In the well-known midrash, his search led him first to the known god’s of the ages, rejecting one after another. He prayed to the sun, but then the sun went down, and so he prayed instead to the moon, yet the clouds covered the moon and so he prayed to the clouds, but then noticed how the wind blew away the clouds. Eventually concluding that there must be one God, he asked “Are You the ruler of this place?” The answer came,” Yes.”

The cave of Machpela in Hebron, which we read about in this week’s Torah portion, is not only Abraham’s family burial site, it is also the place where his questions were born. It represents a window into the creation story, which sparked his journey into the philosophical, and the spiritual. This encounter set the wheels in motion to start to repair the connection lost between heaven and earth.

Since Abraham is the DNA of the Jewish People, his thoughts also serve as our foundation,  but who has the time for philosophy these days? Don’t we just accept that this is what Abraham achieved and get on with living our part in the story? The Imrei Chaim, Rabbi Chaim Meir Hager, of the Vizhnitz Hasidic dynasty (1888 – 1972) explains that is not enough.

Indeed we retrace Abraham’s journey with our own powerful meditation on the creation story every week. He is referring to Shabbat and points to the words of the Kiddush prayer we say on Friday night. In this blessing we welcome in the Shabbat and bless God who has “given us, in love and goodwill, His holy Shabbat as a heritage, in remembrance of the work of Creation; the first of the holy festivals.”

Dressed in our finest clothes in what we hope is an unrivalled moment of peace in the home, together with our families the Imrei Haim says we step back into Abraham’ shoes, and those first Jewish thoughts, retracing and reinvigorating his sense of wonder at creation. As we return to the thought of the world’s creation, we remind ourselves of the start of his story and of our story. This was Abraham’s beginning and as his descendants, we are brought back to his shoes, to his eyes and to his thoughts to relive the power of his search every week.

In the words of the Friday night Kiddush, this is ‘Tehilat lemikre Kodesh’ – the beginning of all holiness.

About the Author
Rabbi Adam Ross is a British born Jewish educator and writer. He has a BA in Political Science from Birmingham University (UK) and semicha from Beit Midrash, Sulam Yaakov (Jerusalem). From 2015-2018 he was the Aish campus rabbi in Leeds where he shared many drinks with students while teaching the power of Tanach and Midrash to unlock deeper understandings of Jewish thought and practise.
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