Three-year-old Avraham was the first person in the world to recognize God.
The Torah tells us nothing about Avraham’s early years. As a matter of fact, when we first meet him in Parshas Lech Lecha, he is 75 years old. The medrash, however, gives us this information:
When Terach was 70 years of age, a son was born to him, and he called him Avram. That day, the astrologers of mighty Nimrod, the king of the land, reported that they saw a star rise and swallow four other stars. They interpreted this to mean that a boy was born that day that would swallow all the kings of the land (there were four kings at that time).
Inasmuch as a child was born that day to Terach, they assumed his son must be the one they were discussing.
The king’s advisors summoned Terach and said, “We understand that a son was born to you today. Give him to the king and he will reward you in gold and silver.”
Terach replied, “You remind me of a parable of a man who told his mule, ‘Give me your head and I will reward you with a bale of oats.’ What good will the oats be for the mule if he has no head to eat it with? This is similar to your offer. What good will the gold and silver be to me if I have no son to inherit it from me?”
“Your wife will give birth to other children and they can inherit your fortune,” they replied.
“You are trying to give me something in the future when I have something in the present. I have no guarantee that I will have another heir,” Terach replied.
When the advisors relayed what had happened, the king became angry and threatened to kill Terach and his entire family. Realizing the grave danger they were in, Terach asked the king for three days time to discuss the matter with his wife and family. Nimrod granted him his wish. God then gave Terach an idea. He took a baby who was born to one of his servants on the same day as Avram and sent him to the king.
The king took the child and he had him killed, thinking that it was Avram. The king and his ministers soon forgot about the entire affair.
Hides In Cave
In the meantime, Terach took his son and hid him in a cave. His wife accompanied him, and they remained in the cave for three years, with Terach providing them with food.
When Avram was three years old, he walked out of the cave and saw the sun shining.
“Surely the sun must be the god of the world for it seems so bright and powerful. I will begin to worship it,” Avram thought to himself.
So Avram worshipped the sun that day. But when the sun set and it became night, Avram realized that this sun could not be a god. He then saw the moon and the stars and thought that they might possibly be gods of the universe. But when the sun rose in the morning he again realized his error.
“Apparently, these are only the servants of a true god who created everything including me.” And so Avram began to worship Hashem. He remained in the cave for 10 years. He then visited Noach and his son Shem who taught him all about the Creator of the world and about His powers and wonders.
Father Sells Idols
Unfortunately, no one else believed Noach and Shem. Everyone in that generation worshipped strange gods made out of wood and iron – even Avram’s father, Terach. He was a manufacturer of these false gods that he sold to the ignorant public. He had 12 gods, one to worship each month.
When Avram was 50, he left the house of Noah and returned home. His father was happy to see him and introduced him to all of his gods and explained that it was to them that they owed their lives.
Avram became angry at such stupidity, and swore that he would take revenge on these false gods. Approaching his mother, he requested that she prepare a meal for the gods because they were very hungry. His mother was glad to oblige and she prepared a beautiful feast that she gave to Avram to give to the gods.
Avram took the meal and placed it before the gods. But lo and behold, not one moved and the food remained untouched all day.
“What stupid people are those who bow to these images!” Avram exclaimed. Picking up an axe, he chopped and destroyed all but the largest idol. He then placed the axe in the hands of that idol and left the store.
Avram’s father, Terach, was astounded to find all of his images destroyed with the exception of the largest one. Rushing over to Avram, he demanded an explanation.
“Simple,” said Avram. “When I placed the food in front of your gods, they began quarrelling with each other and soon the largest one of the bunch picked up an axe and he smashed all of his competitors. You can see that he is still holding the axe, and there is the food still in front of him.”
“Why are you making a fool out of me?” shouted Terach angrily. “Everyone knows that they are only made of iron and wood and I created them. So how can they move about as you claim?”
“Do your ears hear what your mouth is saying?” answered Avram. “You agree that these idols are nothing but wood and iron. Then why worship them? Destroy them and begin to pray to the true God in heaven who created us all. Put your trust and faith in Him and He will help you.”
Terach became furious and he picked up the axe to strike Avram, but he ran away and hid from his father until he cooled off.
Some time later when Avram returned home, Terach told him to mind the store and sell the idols to any customer willing to buy them. Avram agreed, and when a man entered to purchase one, Avram asked him how old he was. When the man replied, Avram said, “How is it possible that a man of your age should be so foolish as to bow to and worship an inanimate object that is only a few days old?”
The old man felt ashamed and departed without purchasing anything. Soon an elderly woman entered carrying a cake to offer to the idols. When Avram saw this he became furious and set fire to the place and burned all the idols.
To be continued…Rabbi Sholom Klass