On a bus the other day in Israel. The usual crowd. The usual route. Then someone notices something suspicious. “An Arab!”, he yells out “Get the police!” The dark skinned young man looks around and realizes he’s the one. He pulls out his Israeli I.D. And his I.D.F. I.D. A policeman and woman arrive on the scene. They do their routine search. She smiles reassuringly at the passengers. He talks with the guy. The young man is calm. Everyone cooperates. Everything checks out. The uniforms get off the bus and ride resumes. The guy takes out his phone. He calls his mom and cries.
* * * * * * *
Abraham is NOT the first monotheist. And not the only one. When G-d’s booming voice echoes in the Garden, Adam never says, ‘I wonder who’s calling me now’. Noah doesn’t say, ‘The Lord who? I’m going to get myself another bid on this construction project’. So what is it about Abraham?
If you pose the question to young children, they tell you, it’s because he smashed his father’s idols. And because he saw the sun and the moon and realized there’s a greater power out there.
But these are stories, midrash. What we know from the text itself is that G-d told Abraham to go. And he does. What happened before that? Did He ask others? What did they say?
Noah had some details, what to build, what’s going to happen, how he and his family are going to be safe. Abraham, at this point, gets very little of it. Things will be ok. You will be a blessing. The rest, you and I will have to work out along the way.
So maybe that’s what it is. No big words, no assurance, but a great journey, and a meaningful relationship and a hope.
There is a rabbinic teaching that Abraham had 10 tests, and that once he passed all these tests, G-d doesn’t talk to him anymore. There are arguments how to count the 10, which event in Abraham’s life is in and which is out. But I’d like to suggest another read, and accordingly, G-d never talks to Abraham without Sarah.
Abraham and Sarah begin their joint journey in last week’s Torah portion. And after she dies, G-d does not speak to Abraham ever again. Throughout their life they act sort of like an antenna and a radio. The radio might make all the noise, but it is useless without the antenna. This is expressed in their name change: “You will not be called Abram but Abraham… And Sarai too, will now be called Sarah” (genesis 17:5-16). Some say, Sarai’s last letter, the tiny yud which in numerical value is 10, gets divided equally between the two of them, in 2 heys, one in each of their names. Unlike other name changes, they each get a silent letter, a breath of air, G-d’s presence in their midst.