What appears below is a modern midrash – a piece of creative writing. The word midrash relates to the Hebrew word for “seeking” or “asking.” Over hundreds of years, midrash has evolved as a type of literature which often connects to a biblical text or event. Rabbis have been writing midrashim for years. This one, by Rabbi Barr, is based loosely on a midrash found in Midrash Genesis Rabbah 38.
Abraham and the Idols:
A Modern Midrash
By Rabbi Robert B. Barr
Abraham had been in his father’s idol shop many times. It was a family business. Terah, Abraham’s father, inherited it from his father – who in turn had inherited it from his father before him. The designs for the idols sold there had been passed down from father to son for several generations. Though each added some new idols – the historic ones always seemed most in demand.
As it is in most family businesses, everyone had to help. There was much work to be done. To ensure a profit the family helped out when they could. Displays had to be set up, floors swept, records maintained, bills paid, and purchases delivered. For the most part, Abraham was responsible for delivering the idols. Terah would help Abraham load the idols upon a sturdy wooden cart and Abraham would pull it to the homes of those who had made recent purchases. Once at their home – the family would eagerly assist Abraham at removing the idol from the cart, carrying it to the special place they had selected, and erecting it with the kind of respect and devotion deserving of an idol.
Typically, Abraham would just shake his head and leave without uttering a word. He could not understand why people purchased idols – and he was dumbfounded by reverence which they demonstrated towards the sculptures. Abraham knew how the idols were made – in fact he had helped. For him, the idols were simply stone…with eyes that could not see, ears that could not hear, mouths that could not speak, feet that could not move. But, still people would come to his father’s shop – respectfully exploring the idols and choosing the one which most moved them.
Terah had always avoided leaving Abraham alone in the shop, because he knew of Abraham’s disdain for idols and those who would purchase them. But, at times, Terah had no choice, as on this day when pressing business on the other side of town demanded his immediate attention. He left his son alone in the store.
A sense of dread came over Terah as he approached the store – he knew something was wrong. His steps quickened; nervously, Terah hurried to learn what had happened. As he entered his shop, the shop that once belonged to his father and his grandfather, he could not believe his eyes. It had been destroyed – displays were overturned, walls had holes in them, counters were on their sides, and all the idols were broken. Idols that had once been magnificent were now shattered pieces of stone. As Abraham stepped out from the back room – Terah asked, “who did this horrible thing? Who hated me and my family so much they that would destroy our shop and thus our livelihood?”
Abraham hesitated before answering, “the largest idol did it – he took a hammer and destroyed the others before I could stop and destroy him.” “Son, do you take me for a fool?” Terah shouted, “these are nothing but stone creations – you destroyed our shop – you destroyed our family’s future!”
“If you know that they are but stone,” asked Abraham, “why do you sell them – why do you allow people to believe that they are more than just sculpted rock?”
“It is not my place to take from people that which they hold dear,” answered Terah, “I am here to give them what they ask for even though I myself do not believe that what they want is of value.”
“That is a sham,” declared Abraham, “that is deceitful and dishonest – I will not be a part of such a charade. I will leave this place – I will not return.”
With that said, Abraham left his home, his family, and his past. He began his journey – vowing never to allow the idols of the past to be his security for the future.
For the midrash that serves as the second part of this two-part midrash series, click here.
For you to comment on here – or in another setting:
- What is the significance of Abraham (the mythic father of Judaism) being an idol smasher?
- How are or aren’t you willing to smash idols (challenge traditions) today?
- Are people willing to challenge their own traditions? Or, do they mostly complain about other people’s traditions and think their own are fine?
- Is idol smashing (questioning tradition) a core element of a liberal Jewish approach today?
- In what ways have you seen Jews question tradition and in what areas are Jews less likely to question tradition?