The story of Abraham, the first Patriarch
In this parasha the Torah begins telling us the story of the first of the Patriarchs, Abraham. There is a question which emerges from this narrative that has been addressed by interpreters for centuries. How did Abraham discover the transcendent God in order to have any relationship with Him? The Bible begins this story with God´s command to Abraham to abandon his birthplace and his family, and go to the land that He will reveal him. Why did God speak to Abraham? How did Abraham recognize the voice of God? What happened before that the text does not reveal to us?
One of the most influential answers to the these questions was given by Maimonides in chapter 1 of the Mishneh Torah on the Laws concerning pagan cults. Maimonides prepared this chapter based on the legends created by the sages of the Midrash in order to complete the gap in the biblical narrative (Bereshit Rabba, Noah, chap. 38) There he explains the errors of pagan thought. According to Maimonides, the way Abraham rediscovered the transcendent God, who was already known by earlier generations in the Bible, was through his deep insight into the harmony of Nature.
Nevertheless, the Bible itself gives different versions about how the relation between God and Abraham developed. Joshua (24:1-3) tells that God took Abraham from beyond the river and conducted him to Cannan. In the same way Nehemiah (9:7) refers to God’s choice of him. Isaiah (41:8) describes Abraham as the one who loved God.
For sure, all the explanations complement each the other. Abraham deepened his contemplation on nature and on existence, finding in them a message which allowed him to perceive the call and mandate from God.
Abraham established a covenant with God (Genesis 17:7) for himself and for his offspring, committing them to act with God in the same dialogical way, in which there is a mutual choice of love and understanding. Several prayers allude to this covenant, saying that while God has made a divine decision, the covenant must always be understood as a choice in which each party continually chooses the other.
On many occasions in both the distant and more recent past, one of the hateful criticisms made against the Jews was to say that they are a “chosen people of God” to the detriment all others — that Jews think they are better than everyone else. This kind of attack fails to understand that the election of the people of Israel by God brings with it great responsibilities without privileges, as it is possible to learn from the verses of the book of the prophet Amos (3:2): “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities”. And Amos 9:7 goes on to say: “‘Are you not like the people of Ethiopia to Me, O children of Israel?’ says the Lord. ‘Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?’”
Thus, the calling of Abraham by the transcendent One applies to all Jews today as well as to those to come in the future who are called into a covenant of responsibility with God.