Jewish Personalities

Abraham: The First Jew

His Period: According to the accepted view, Abraham was born in Ur in southern Mesopotamia in 1948 after creation (1812 BCE). The Midrash relates that when he was three years old, he pondered the wonders of creation, and realized that the world could not function without a Creator. He began disseminating his beliefs to people in his region. At the age of 25, he married Sarah. At the age of 75 he left Haran to go to the Promised Land after receiving G-d’s famous command “Go to the land I will show you.” When he was 86, his son Ishmael was born. When he was 99, Abraham circumcised himself at G-d’s command. At the age of 100 his son Isaac was born, and he died at the age of 175.

Lineage: There were 20 generations from Adam to Abraham. Abraham was born to parents whose names you would not guess in a Trivia quiz. His father was Terach the son of Nachor (he was an craftsman that specialized in idols) and his mother was Amtalai the daughter of Carnabo). Abraham had two brothers — Nachor and Haran. Haran fathered Lot, Milkah and Jessica (who was actually Sarah). He married Sarah, and after her death, Keturah (some say Keturah was his slave, Hagar, who returned to him). His best known sons are Isaac and Ishmael, from whom are descended the Jews (the descendants of Isaac and Jacob) and the Arabs (Ishmael).

The Events of His Life: When Abraham was born, he was given the name Abram. The Hebrew letter heh was added to his name later by G-d Himself, to change his destiny so his son Isaac would be born. His wife, Sarah, who was born with the name Sarai, also had her name changed for the same reason. The addition of the letter heh in both of their names (which is prominent in G-d’s Names) symbolized the providence of the Creator in their lives from now on. His nickname, “Abraham the Hebrew (Ivri)”, was given to him because at his time, his generation was on one side (ever) worshiping idols, and Abraham stood on the other side, believing in the existence of one G-d.

When Abram was young, the wise men of Nimrod, the evil king who ruled at the time, foretold Abraham’s future. They told Nimrod that on the night that Abraham was born, they saw a big star rising from the east of the sky, swallowing four stars in the four directions of the world. They predicted that the son born to Terach would in the future rebel and incite the people against Nimrod. Abraham was hidden away to save him from Nimrod’s officials.

Abraham became the greatest proselytizer for G-d of all times. As Rashi learns from the verse “and the souls they made ​​in Haran” (Gen. 12:5), Abraham converted the men and Sarah the women, and both of them disseminated belief in one G-d throughout the world.

To bring out Abraham’s powerful potential, G-d gave him ten ordeals, including having him thrown into a fiery furnace, making a covenant with him (Chapter 14), forcing him to leave his land and become a nomad, causing him to flee a famine in the Promised Land, endangering him to rescue Lot, asking him to circumcise himself, and of course the famous request to sacrifice Isaac. These ordeals are considered to be the paradigm of all kinds of ordeals that exist in the world, and because Abraham successfully passed all these trials, his descendants inherited the ability to meet all of life's challenges.

Corresponding to the ten ordeals which Abraham passed, G-d gave his descendants, the children of Israel, Ten Days of Repentance, ten miraculous plagues against the Egyptians, and of course the Ten Commandments.

Abraham wrote the “Book of Creation” and instituted the morning prayers. He was the symbol of lovingkindness in the world, because he constantly engaged in hospitality — even when he was in a weakened medical state just days after circumcising himself.

Besides Isaac and Ishmael, Abraham had six other children from the woman whom he married after the death of Sarah, Keturah. Their names were: Zimran, Yokshan, Medan, Midian, Yishbak and Shu’ach.

Abraham died, old and satisfied, in the year 2123 (1637 BCE) (there is a dispute in the Talmud [Rosh Hashana 10] about the precise date of his death). According to Rabbi Eliezer, Abraham died on 1 Tishrei, and according to Rabbi Joshua, he passed away on 1 Nissan).

The patriarch of the Jewish nation was buried in the Cave of Machpelah by his sons, Isaac and Ishmael, next to Sarah's grave. 

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