Israel Drazin

Who was Abraham?

The Torah does not clarify much about the patriarch Abraham. Much is obscure. This is good. It prompts us to think. And when we think, we learn. And there is much in Abraham’s life that can improve our lives and make it better.

Why is there no miraculous birth story for Abraham as for Isaac and Jacob? Why are we first introduced to him when he is seventy-five years old? Among much else, is scripture teaching us that we can learn much even when we are older and improve ourselves and help improve others?

Why did Abraham argue with God and try to persuade God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah but did not argue with God when he thought God wanted him to sacrifice his son Isaac? Why did he not plead to save his nephew Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? What does it tell us about how and when to help others?

In Genesis 12:1, the Torah uses the idiom lekh lekha, two words, to express the command “go” from your homeland. Some rabbis note that the Torah could have used the single word lekh. In contrast, other rabbis give different meanings to the doubling, such as cutting off relationships forever, going by yourself, going to be yourself, not even thinking about your family, and many more notions. The rabbis do not give any of these interpretations in Genesis 22:2 when God commands Abraham to go and take Isaac to be sacrificed and uses the same double idiom. Why are the rabbis inconsistent? Shouldn’t we understand that the rabbis are not clarifying what happened but using the text to teach us how to act?

When did the story of the near-sacrifice by Abraham of his son Isaac, called the Akedah (meaning binding), occur? Why does the Torah not tell us how old Isaac was then? Is the answer that the story’s moral is good no matter how old Isaac was?

Immediately after the story of the Akedah in Genesis 22:1–19, the Torah tells us about the twelve children of Abraham’s brother Nahor and his two grandchildren in Genesis 22: 20–24. What is the connection between these two tales? The only offspring of Nahor of any significance is Rebekah, who later marries Isaac. Why mention other offspring? What do we learn?

In Genesis 12:1, God instructs Abraham to leave his father’s house and country, presumably to separate him from idol worshippers. In Chapter 24, why does Abraham seek a wife for his son Isaac from the family of his idol-worshipping brother Nahor after God told him to separate from him? What does this teach us?

In his quest for a wife for his son Isaac, Abraham tells his servant to go to “my land and my birthplace.” Why did Abraham not tell his servant specifically to go to my family in such a place? In addition, why does he call the land his birthplace? It was not his birthplace. Abraham, his father, and his family left his birthplace in Ur.

Abraham received the commandment to circumcise himself and his family to be holy. What does holy mean? Does it affect our mind or body or even anything?

Why, of all possibilities, did circumcision become a sign of the covenant between humans and God?

There are opinions among biblical scholars and Talmudic rabbis that the story of Abraham prefigures or parallels the story of the enslavement of the Israelites by the Egyptians during the days of Moses. Here are some similarities: Abraham and Jacob and their families went to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan, where they lived. Each family received mistreatment by Pharaoh: Pharaoh kidnapped Abraham’s wife Sarah and almost forced her to become his wife; Jacob’s descendants were enslaved. A plague struck Pharaoh, making him release Sarah; plagues inflicted the Israelites’ Pharaoh, causing him to free the Israelites. The two Pharaohs called Abraham and Moses to them; the first said that he would release Sarah, and the second said that he would release the Israelites. What do these similarities tell us? The Talmud explains that what happened to the patriarchs happened to their descendants. Is this thought correct? What does it say about human nature? Is this stating there is nothing new under the sun?

When Abraham and Sarah went to Egypt because of the Canaanite famine, why did Abraham think the Egyptians would want to take his wife? Was saying that Sarah was his sister protection enough? Why didn’t he do more? Was this a mistake? Was Nachmanides correct in saying Abraham acted improperly because he should have had faith that God would protect him? Or does Maimonides have the right approach when he teaches we should not depend on God to help us? We must use our intelligence and help ourselves.

What is Abraham saying when he tells his wife Sarah that now he knows what a beautiful woman she is? How did he not realize her beauty before? A sage in the Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra, explains that Abraham was so careful about his relationship with women that he never looked at another woman; he also did not look at his wife until now. Does this make sense? According to this view, what made Abraham finally look at his wife now? Isn’t it better to understand that Abraham is telling his wife, now, since I know you are beautiful and will attract male attention, we need to protect ourselves from brutes killing me to snatch you for themselves?

Is it a coincidence that Abraham and King David are described in their old age with three Hebrew words that mean “was now old, advanced in years,” yet Abraham was vigorous and much older than David was, while David was bedridden? Why was David so weak at age seventy? Was it because, being human, despite many good deeds, David made mistakes that resulted in consequences that weakened him, such as his adulterous relationship with Batsheva? Abraham was also human and sometimes acted badly. But not as bad as his descendant.

Abraham was born according to the biblical account 1,948 years after creation. The State of Israel became a state in 1948. Is there a connection? Does it make sense to ask such a question? Should we see significance in this coincidence?

The three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were very careful to marry relatives. Even Esau married a relative when he saw that his parents disapproved of his marriage. Why did they do so?  Should we learn from this that we must encourage our children to marry Jews?

God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai‘s name to Sarah by inserting a single letter into each name, the Hebrew letter hay. What is the reason for changing the names? Why such a simple change? What does it signify? Is there something special about hay? Are the rabbis correct in suggesting the hay represents God, and the event teaches us to insert God into our lives?

Why must Abraham buy a burial plot for his wife Sarah in Genesis 23? Why are there three rounds to the negotiation for the plot? Why are there seven references to Sarah’s burial? The sale cost of four hundred equals the number of years of Israelite servitude mentioned in Genesis 15. Since three and seven appear frequently in the Bible, should we read that the numbers have meaning here? Are the rabbis correct that seven indicates a complete act, such as creation? And does three, which is about half of seven, signify a smaller complete act, such as the Israelites’ preparation for the announcement of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments), eight, a new beginning, as circumcision on the eighth day indicates a new beginning for a male child, and forty suggests two generations?

After an angel stops Abraham from sacrificing his son, Abraham sees a ram achar caught in the thicket and offers this ram in place of his son. The word achar, meaning “another,” did not make sense to many scholars who contended that the letters daled and raish look alike, and a scribe mistook achad (one) for achar. Is my idea that the text is correct and it is saying that Abraham took a ram, which is another being in place of his son?

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.
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