Avraham and Inspiration

Lech Lecha 5773

Yesterday I asked:
How did Avraham stay inspired all these years? Why didn’t the gaps, the long years of silence, wear him down?

I think Avraham used three techniques to keep himself inspired:

  • Observation
  • Tefillah
  • Teaching

Observation

Our Sages tell us that Avraham discovered God by observing the natural word.

A midrash (which I’m paraphrasing) records it this way:

Avraham said, “I should worship the earth because it sustains us.” Then he saw that the earth would not produce food without the rain.

So he thought he should worship the sky. He saw that the sun is the most powerful light in the sky, so he thought he should worship it.

But then the sun went away and was replaced by the moon.

He said, “I should worship the moon.” But then night ended and the sun reappeared.

And so things progressed.

By observing the regular rhythm of the days and seasons he concluded that there must be a higher power directing them.

Avraham concluded that every physical thing had something else physical that over powered it. He learned from this that there was no physical object worthy of worship.

I contend, that even during the many years without direct communication from God, Avraham was still able to rely on his power of observation to confirm his conclusion about the nature of God.

Tefillah

Avraham is credited with instituting the Shacharit (morning) prayer service.

The Gemara Berachot 26b derives this from a verse in next week’s parasha (Judaica Press translation):

Bereshit 19
27 And Abraham arose early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord.

28 And he looked over the face of Sodom and Gomorrah and over the entire face of the land of the plain, and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the earth had risen like the smoke of a furnace.

This was the morning that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. From the context it appears that Avraham has returned to that place just out of curiosity.

Our Sages tell us that in fact this was Avraham’s normal routine. He would stand in this place every morning and commune with God.

Notice, this is the day after he had one of his longest recorded encounters with God. Nonetheless, he still came the next morning to his regular spot in engage in his regular prayers.

If Avraham did this the day after his encounter with God, it is compelling to think that he did this on other days as well.

Teaching

Avraham spent a lot of time teaching other people his insights about God and the futility of idol worship.

In this week’s parasha we read about Avraham and Sarah teaching before they came to the Land of Israel:

Bereshit 12:5
And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had acquired, and the souls they had acquired in Haran, and they went to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan.

Rashi comments:
and the souls they had acquired in Haran – whom he had brought under the wings of the Shechinah. Abraham would convert the men, and Sarah would convert the women, and Scripture ascribes to them [a merit] as if they had made them

Another verse relates how Avraham taught in Beer Sheva:

Bereshit 21:33
And he [Avraham] planted an eishel in Beer-Sheva, and he called there in the name of the Lord, the God of the world.

Rashi comments:
and he called there, etc – By means of that “eishel”, the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, was called “God of the whole world.” After they would eat and drink, he would say to them, “Bless the One of Whose [food] you have eaten. Do you think that you have eaten of my [food]? [You have eaten of the food] of the One Who spoke and the world came into being!”

I would imagine that no matter how compelling of a teacher Avraham was, he still found students who challenged him to prove what he was saying.

When a student challenges the teacher, the result is good for both of them.

The teacher has to dig deeper to find a satisfying answer for the student. In this way the teacher is strengthened and the student gets their questions and doubts resolved.

Tutoring

Now you know one of the deeper reasons why I’m looking for some tutoring clients.

I really do want to find some students that I can help. But I also want some students who will challenge me and help me grow.

Maybe a friend of yours would be interested in learning Chumash or Gemara. Please share the Thinking Torah Tutoring page with them.

Picture Credit: Wikipedia
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