Abraham: Discovering God at Three

I had always heard that Abraham recognized God when he was three years old. Was that really the case? How much could a three-year-old possibly understand about the world?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for raising your important issue. What really happened is that Abraham began a journey of discovery at the age of three. As soon as he was old enough to wonder, Abraham began to ask the most profound questions of life – how the world came into existence, was there a Creator, if there was, why did He create the world, is there a purpose to life, etc. And using the openness and sincerity so natural to children yet so elusive to grow-ups, Abraham began to see through the rampant idolatry of his society and discover the True God behind all existence.

There is a well-known Midrash (brought in “Kitei Midrashim – Geniza” Breishit p. 42) that as a small child Abraham looked up at the sun and wondered if that could be the force which brought the world into existence. But then the sun set and the moon rose. Abraham likewise asked if the moon and stars could be the heavenly forces guiding the world. But then the night ended and the sun returned. In time, Abraham recognized that there must be a greater force which created and guided the beauty and harmony of creation. Perfect design implies a perfect Designer. Only an infinite God could have created a universe of such infinite beauty and precision.

As to be expected, however, this was not a journey of discovery Abraham could have concluded at such a young age. Three was only his very precocious beginning. Maimonides (Laws of Idolatry 1:3) writes that as a small youth (“once he was weaned”) Abraham began wondering about the world around him. He grew up among idolaters and practiced idolatry himself – until the age of 40 when he fully recognized God and devoted himself to His service.

It is no surprise that Abraham practiced idolatry himself in his early years, while he grew up in Uhr Kasdim. No doubt Abraham tried out all the prevalent beliefs of his time before reaching his conclusion. As any true seeker, Abraham made every effort to find the answers to his questions. And as to be expected, he made many wrong turns along the way.

And this is the journey any person who is truly seeking God must embark on. We cannot just adopt beliefs we have never thought about or made sense of ourselves. I once heard a great rabbi comment that in a sense it is very positive that so many Jews seek religion in the Far East – for it shows we inherited Abraham’s unquenchable passion for truth. We will go to all ends of the earth trying to discover God. Certainly, there are many wrong turns a soul may make, but that is what seeking is all about. Every person should be on a journey throughout his life, trying to discover God in the world and within himself. And as with Abraham, hopefully in time God will bring such people to true recognition.

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