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What Happened to Abraham’s Converts?

I’ve always wondered what happened to the many people Abraham and Sarah taught about God? I understand that they spent years spreading the faith far and wide. But we never seem to hear of these people afterwards. Were there more monotheists besides the Children of Israel? Where did they all go?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It’s a very interesting issue. It is true that Abraham and Sarah devoted their lives to teaching the world about God. This is one reason why they were so beloved by God and why they became the progenitors of the Jewish people. They did not simply discover God themselves and withdraw from the world to commune with Him. They spread their belief and knowledge far and wide, to all who would hear. As the Midrash puts it, “Abraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women” (Bereishit Rabbah 39:21).

Likewise, when Abraham and Sarah departed for the Holy Land, the Torah states that they took with them “the souls they made in Haran” (Genesis 12:5). This peculiar expression may simply refer to the slaves they acquired. But the Sages understand “the souls they made (asu)” to be referring to the souls they “brought under the wings of the Divine Presence” – by bringing them to God and monotheism (Rashi there from Bereishit Rabbah 39:21, likewise Targum Onkelos & Yonatan). Leading a person to belief is most certainly “making” him in the most profound sense.

Maimonides in fact states that Abraham and Sarah began a worldwide movement, going from city to city and from country to country bringing heathens to belief in God by the tens of thousands (Mishne Torah, Laws of Idolatry 1:3). Abraham and Sarah devoted their entire lives to God, and as a result God selected them to beget a nation of believers.

So what happened to those tens of thousands whom Abraham and Sarah impacted upon so deeply? It appears to be a mystery. We never hear from them again.

Perhaps, however, a hint to an answer may be found in Abraham’s own words. When God promises to reward Abraham greatly in the Covenant Between the Parts, Abraham complains, “Lord God, what will You give me? For I am childless…” (Gen. 15:2). Abraham felt all his efforts would be in vain if he was not blessed with a child.

Abraham rightly felt that as powerful his influence had been on his contemporaries, nothing would become of it. They would be inspired for some time, perhaps even their entire lifetimes, but it would end with that. Without a nation of believers who would create a society – with schools, communities and religious institutions, all his efforts would come to nothing. You can inspire individuals, but without the community structure required to maintain it, it would rarely go beyond the people he influenced themselves.

Thus, Abraham knew how critical it was that a Jewish nation be formed, to transform his individual efforts into a lasting community and an eternal nation. And as we’ve unfortunately seen many times throughout our history, the greatness of parents may have little effect on their children without proper schools to send them to and a wholesome religious environment in which to raise them.

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