Most people think they know a lot about Abraham the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They are mistaken. The events recorded about Abraham in scripture are generally if not always obscure. When the Bible does not clarify exactly what is happening, people tend to imagine details and come to think of them as really happening in the Bible. The following are examples:
- When Abram was 75–years old, he left his father and traveled to Canaan. Why did he leave his father? There is no indication in the Torah that Abraham had contact with his dad who died 60 years after Abraham left him, nor with his brother Nahor until about the same time when he learned that Nahor had children and grandchildren. Is this to show Abraham’s estrangement from his family? If so, why?
- Why are many women in the Bible barren for many years before having a son who will have a prominent place in Jewish history? Was Sarah punished by being barren for decades?
- Why did God tell Abraham to listen to his wife and banish the son he loved, Ishmael, the son he wanted to inherit his property?
- What act did Ishmael do that made Sarah want her husband Abraham to banish him?
- Abraham escaped criticism for trying to kill his son Isaac when he believed that this was a divine command. Why? He only desisted because an angel told him to stop. Was he heroic, pious, or foolish?
- Why did Abraham argue with God and try to persuade God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but did not argue with God when he thought that God wanted him to sacrifice his son Isaac? And why didn’t he plead to save his nephew Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah?
- In Genesis 12:1, the Torah uses the idiom lekh lekha two words to express the command “go” from your homeland. The rabbis note that the Torah could have used the single word lekh and different rabbis give different meanings to the doubling such as cutting off relationships forever, go be yourself, go to be yourself, do not even think about your family, and many more notions. The rabbis do not give any of these interpretations in Genesis 22:2 when God commands Abraham to go and take Isaac to be sacrificed, and uses the same double idiom. Why are they inconsistent? Does the inconsistency prove that the ideas they gave 12:1 are incorrect?
- When did the story of the near sacrifice by Abraham of his son Isaac called Akedah, meaning binding, occur? Why does the Torah not tell us how old Isaac was at that time?
- Immediately after the story of the Akedah in Genesis 22:1–19, the Torah tells us about the 12 children of Abraham’s brother Nahor and his two grandchildren in Genesis 20–24. What is the connection of these two tales?
- The only offspring of Nahor of any significance is Rebecca who later marries Isaac. Why are the other offspring mentioned? What do we learn?
- In Genesis 12:1, God instructs Abraham to leave his father’s house and country, presumably to separate him from idol worshippers. Why does Abraham seek a wife for his son Isaac from the family of his brother Nahor who worshipped idols?
- The issue of idol worship aside, why does he seek a union with his family after being told to separate from them?
- In his quest for a wife for his son Isaac, Abraham tells his servant to go to “my land and my birthplace.” Why did Abraham not tell his servant specifically, go to my family in such and such a place? Why did he not mention his family? In addition, why does he call the land his birthplace? It wasn’t his birthplace. He and his father and his father’s family left his birthplace in Ur, where the servant was not instructed to visit.
- Abraham received the commandment to circumcise himself and his family to be holy. What does holy mean? Does it affect our mind or body?
- Why of all possibilities did circumcision become as a sign of the covenant between humans and God?
- There are opinions among biblical scholars and Talmudic rabbis that the story of Abraham prefigures or parallels the story of the enslavement of the Israelites by the Egyptians during the days of Moses. Here are some similarities: Both Abraham and his family and Jacob and his family went to Egypt because there was a famine in Canaan where they lived. Each family received mistreatment by Pharaoh, Pharaoh kidnapped Abraham’s wife Sarah and almost forced her to become his wife; Jacob’s descendants were enslaved. A plague struck Pharaoh making him release Sarah; plagues inflicted the Israelite’s Pharaoh causing him to free the Israelites. The two Pharaoh’s call Abraham and Moses to them saying he is releasing Sarah and the Israelites. What do these similarities tell us? The Talmud explains that what happened to the patriarchs happened to their descendants. Is this thought correct? What does it say about human nature?
- Why when Abraham and Sarah went to Egypt because of the Canaanite famine, did Abraham think the Egyptians would want to take his wife?
- What is Abraham saying when he tells his wife Sarah that now he knows what a beautiful woman she is? Why didn’t he realize this before this moment? A sage in the Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra explains that Abraham was so careful about his relationship with women that he not only never looked at another woman; he also did not look at his wife until this moment. Does this make sense? According to this view, what made Abraham finally look at his wife now?
- Is it a coincident that both Abraham and King David are described in their old age with three Hebrew words that mean “was now old, advanced in years,” yet, Abraham was vigorous and much older than David was, while David was bedridden?
- Abraham was born according to the biblical account 1948 years after creation. The State of Israel became a state in 1948. Is there a connection?
- The three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were very careful to marry relatives. Even Esau, when he saw that his parents disapproved of his marriage, went and married a relative. Why did they do so? Why did this practice discontinue with Jacob’s children? Judah, for example, married a Canaanite woman and Joseph the daughter of a pagan priest.
- What happened to Esau’s wife when he married a relative?
- God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah by just adding a single letter to each name, the Hebrew letter What is the reason for changing the names? Why such a simple change? What does it signify?
- While the Bible uses Abraham’s and Sarah’s changed names after the change, it does not always do so for Jacob’s name change to Israel. Why?
- What does Jacob’s name change really signify?
- Why did Isaac’s name not change?
- Why was Sarah the only woman who had her name changed and not the wives of Isaac and Jacob?
- How old was Isaac at the Akedah (binding), when Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac?
- Why does the Torah tell us about Abraham’s sons’ descendants in Genesis 25:13–16? They are not Isaac’s descendants.
- Why are there two different descriptions of the twelve tribes in the deathbed blessings of Jacob to his sons and Moses’s blessing to their descendants, the tribes?
- What is the current meaning that we can find for ourselves, if any, in the near sacrifice by Abraham of his son Isaac?
- Similarly, is there any meaning for us today in the creation story, the Garden of Eden narrative, the drama of the Tower of Babel, and the many other stories told in the Bible? If so, what meaning is there?
- Why does the Bible tell us the faults of all the people in the Bible, including the Patriarchs, Moses, and David?
- Why are there three stories about the patriarchs telling people in a foreign land that their wives are their sister, twice for Abraham and once for Isaac? Should Abraham and Isaac not have learnt to make the claim after Abraham’s first experience?
- The Akedah, the near sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham likely occurred in the land of Moriah (Genesis 22:2) a place never again mentioned in the Torah. Where is this land?
- Jewish tradition states that the near sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham occurred at the holy site, later called Jerusalem, and the location of what would later be the temple. Is there any proof for this belief?
- Is it possible that the tradition was invented to give Jerusalem some sanctity and to vie with the northern kingdom after the ten tribes broke away from the kingdom of King David’s family and established two temples in Dan and Beth-El, the latter name meaning “House of God” which was a sacred place for the patriarch Jacob?
- Abraham ibn Ezra states in his commentary to 22:14 that the Torah explanation that Abraham called the place “God sees, as it is said today on the y-h-w-h’s mountain it is seen,” shows that at least the words “as it is said today” clearly indicates that at least this part of the Torah was written after Moses’s death. Is his proof logical?
- After an angel stops Abraham from sacrificing his son, Abraham sees a ram achar caught in the thicket and sacrifices this ram in place of his son. The word achar meaning “another” did not make sense to many scholars who contended that the letters daled and raish look very much alike, and a scribe mistook achad, “one,” for Is my idea that the text is correct and it is saying that Abraham took a ram as another being in place of his son?
Thank you for sharing your list of obscure items in Abraham. I too struggle with whether we can say Abraham acted heroic or foolish in the Akedah, the near-sacrifice of Isaac. The fact that a ram was caught in the thicket and an angel stops him seems to indicate that this was a test from G-d. What does a “test” mean and why would G-d, who is all-knowing need to test Abraham?
And the fact that Abraham was born in 1948 and the modern State of Israel became a state in 1948 is interesting. Was it a miracle or coincidence?
Have a good Shabbos
I believe the gemara states that a person must see his soon to be wife before he officially weds her. If so, how is it that Avraham fid not see his wife until much later in their married life?
Second, some of the questions posed are answered by Rashi.
The gemara teaching was developed long after the time of Abraham. It is clear that this notion that Abraham never looked at his wife is clearly untrue. You are right, there are answers to these questions, but do we want to accept all the answers given. We may want to ignore many of Rashi’s immaginative midrashic answers as his grandson Rashbam did. They prompt us to think.