The Four Sons
Abraham Discovers God
Long, long ago it was generally agreed that the gods were the heavenly lights - the sun, the moon, and the stars. For example, in the days of the Exodus Pharaoh believed in the sun god Ra and he bore the name Ra-meses - son of Ra. Idols of clay and wood were fashioned to embody the power of the heavenly lights. No one dared to disagree.
In those days in the city of Ur in Babylonia (today's Iraq) there lived a man named Terach, who was a skilled idol maker. His family prospered by selling these gods in the market.
Yet Terach's oldest son, Abram (later to be called Abraham), did not follow in his father's footsteps. From an early age Abram took nothing of his father's tradition for granted. Perhaps he was too inquisitive, too much an independent thinker. Terach considered Abram a rebellious son and worried that nothing good would come of him.
Once little Abram began to wonder: "Who really created the sky and the earth and me? Seeing the brilliance of the warm sun he worshipped it all day. But when the burning sun set in the west and the cool moon rose in the east surrounded by a thousand twinkling stars, he thought, "I must have been mistaken about the sun. It must be the moon with all its ministers - one for every nation on earth - that created the sky and the earth and me." All night long he worshipped the moon. However Abram was perplexed when next morning the cool moon set and all his servants disappeared and the burning sun rose again. "How" he wondered, "can either the sun or the moon be the supreme creator? Each is eclipsed in turn by the other!" Abram concluded that God was beyond all the physical forces, the Creator of all these processes. So he resolved in his heart to worship this invisible God alone.
The Idol Salesman
ONCE ABRAM'S FATHER, Terach, asked him to take over the idol shop in the market. Perhaps he hoped Abram would take an interest in the family business. An experienced soldier came to buy an idol to protect his new home.
Soldier: "Do you have a good idol?"
Abram: "What kind of god?"
Soldier: "Well, since I am a great soldier, give me a god like myself." Abram gave him the fiercest looking idol in the shop and the soldier paid full price.
Soldier: "By the way, are you sure this god is as fierce as I am?"
The lad could not contain himself.
Abram: "How old are you?"
Soldier: "I am fifty years of age, and have been a soldier for more than thirty years," was the answer.
Abram laughed: "You are fifty, whereas this idol was carved by my father only last week. And though you are a seasoned warrior, you seek protection from it!"
Startled, the man took his money back and left the idol in the shop. An old woman entered next: "My house has been robbed, and my god was stolen from me. Sell me another," she said, putting the money on the counter.b Abram smiled: "Your idol could not protect even himself, yet you wish to buy another!"
The woman retrieved her money and ran out angrily.
The Broken Idols
The rest of Terach's children ran to their father: "Abram will never make a salesperson. Let's make him a priest."
Abram asked: "What does a priest do?"
Terach's sons: "He stands before the gods serving them, washing them, and feeding them."
Though doubtful, Abram agreed to try. Abram prepared some tasty food and drink and told the gods: "Please help yourselves, take something to eat, take a drink, and please be good to the people who are giving you these gifts."b However, not one of the gods took any of his dinner. Abram began to make fun of the idols. "They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes but cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear; noses, but cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot touch; feet, but cannot walk; they can make no sound in their throats. Those who fashion them, all who trust in them, shall become like them" (Psalm 115: 5-8).
Then he took a stick and smashed every idol except the largest one. Carefully he placed the stick, like a scepter, in the hand of the remaining idol and placed the food before him.
When Terach arrived he was shocked: "Who did this to our gods?"
Abram: "it was unbelievable! I brought the food offering to them usual. Then one god insisted: "Me, first."
Another responded angrily: "No, me first!"
Finally the biggest of them took his staff, smashed the rest and took the offering all for himself.
Terach stared at his first bom Abram in disbelief and rage: "What kind of a joke is this? Don't mock me! None of these gods have the power you attributed to him."
Then Abram reasoned gently with his father: "Please, just let your ears hear what your mouth just said."
(Freely adapted from Philo, Maimonides, Nachmanides and Rabbinic midrashim)
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