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.
This is the second part of a two-part midrash series. You can read the first story here.
Smashing of the Idols Part II:
Thinking he was alone in his father’s shop, Abraham began to smash the idols. The man who stood in the entryway unseen was startled by what he saw. Here was Abraham, who was known to be a wise and respectful son, destroying his father’s shop.
The man started walking away from the door slowly, curious as to what would happen next. As chance would have it, Abraham’s father Terah was walking down the street. Standing outside the store, the man watched as Terah entered his store and surveyed the destruction. He eavesdropped, hearing the argument that followed between father and son.
The man heard Abraham shouting, “if you know that they are but stone, why do you sell these idols?! How could 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, “It is deceitful and dishonest – I will not be a part of such a charade. I will leave this place – I will not return.”
As Abraham stormed out of the shop the man confronted him, challenging Abraham for what he had done. The man asked Abraham, “how can you turn your back on the past? How can you reject that which was so important to your ancestors? By rejecting their idols you are rejecting your ancestors!”
“No!” declared Abraham, “not finding value or meaning in that which brought my ancestors comfort is not something for which I must apologize. My ancestors found meaning for themselves and so must I, and so must each person and every generation. We do not dishonor our ancestors when we acknowledge that we find meaning from new sources. We dishonor our ancestors when we feel that the only way to satisfy them is for us to deny who we are and what we believe. Know that we, like they, are on the same quest: seeking truth, gaining wisdom, finding meaning. We are linked by virtue of the questions we ask – not by the answers we find. We honor our ancestors when we acknowledge what we value. To deny ourselves that is to deny that which our ancestors struggled so long to achieve – the right to be who we are.”
“But Abraham,” pleaded the man, “what of the past? It is not our responsibility to forsake it.”
“We do not forsake the past when we have our own vision for the future,” spoke Abraham. “Our vision of the days to come must be strong, bold, and clear. Our vision must inspire us to action, stir us to meet the challenges that we face, excite us to raise our voices in song so that we may celebrate that which we are and that which we are becoming. No! The past is not forsaken if we are willing to create a future. For in our hearts, souls, and minds we will always carry within us those who journeyed before – those who brought us this far, giving us the opportunity to go even further. Our ancestors did not struggle so that we would stop struggling. Our ancestors did not teach us so that we would stop learning. Our ancestors did not tell us what they valued so that we would only take their lessons as our own. No! They gave us the best that they had to offer so that we would give to those who come later the best that we have to offer. Our responsibility is not to preserve what came before us – for that is the job of idol merchants. No! We are to build upon that which we were given – it is not an act of defiance – but is rather out of the recognition that every generation builds upon the lessons of the past.”
By now, a crowd had gathered and was listening to the words that Abraham spoke. Some found his declarations heresy. Others simply did not care. And some heard in his words their own thoughts; those who did embraced Abraham’s vision as their own and together they forged a new path.
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?
A Modern Midrash
By Rabbi Robert B. Barr