Avram & Sarai:
the First OlimThe Torah tells us that Terach became the father of Avram (Abram) when he was 70 years old.[1] Jewish legend, Midrash, and the Book of Jasher[2] share nearly identical extra-biblical stories about Terach, which makes the stories all the more credible, although they are not mentioned in the Scriptures. These stories tell us that Terach (Terah) was an idol-maker. That's how he earned his living in Ur,[3] near the Euphrates River  in  what is today southern Iraq.

     Avram began to suspect that the gods that his father Terach worshipped were false gods. He and his mother prepared a delicious feast for them, but not one of these gods would reach out a hand to eat from this feast. Avram then began to mock them, and not one of these idols would respond.

     He became very angry at these false gods and against his father Terach. He took a hatchet, and went to his father's idol shop, and destroyed all of the idols except for the biggest one. He then placed the hatchet in the hand of the big god.

     Terach heard the noise of the idols being destroyed, and ran to see what was happening. He saw all of the idols fallen down and broken, along with the hatchet in the hand of the biggest idol, as well as the feast that Avram had prepared for the idols.

     Terach became very angry. This was his livelihood, and he believed that Avram had destroyed not only his idols, but also his livelihood. When he accused Avram of destroying the idols, Avram had an amazing story to tell. He said, "Not so, my lord, for I brought savory meat before them, and when I came nigh to them with the meat, that they might eat, they all at once stretched forth their hands to eat before the great one had put forth his hand to eat." [4] Then Avram told him that the large god, in his anger, destroyed all of the other gods.

     Dear old Dad didn't believe Avram. Terach accused Avram of lying, because these idols neither see nor hear, and have no power to do anything. And then Avram asked, "Why, then do you worship them?"

     Avram then took the ax from the large idol, and escaped from his father's wrath. Terach then went to Nimrod to have Avram arrested. Avram and his brother Haran were thrown into a fiery furnace, much as happened at a later time with Daniel's friends - Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednego. Haran died in the fire,[5] but Avram lived.[6] Nimrod took this as a sign that Avram should not be killed. Shortly thereafter, Terach, Avram, his wife Sarai, Avram's nephew Lot, and Nahor fled Ur, intending to go to Canaan. However, they got as far as Haran,[7] and settled there. Haran is located near the Euphrates River in what is today northeast Syria.

     Genesis 11:32 tells us that Terach died at the age of 205 years in Haran. Avram was 75 years old (Gen. 12:4) when he left his father in Haran. With some very simple arithmetic, we can see that Terach lived another 60 years in Haran after Avram left to go to Canaan. He would have lived long enough to see his grandson Yitzchak (Isaac), who was born 25 years after Avram left Haran.

     In the title, I call Avram and Sarai "the first olim." The term "olim" [8] is used for people who make aliyah - that is, who "go up" or emigrate to Israel. HaShem is calling His people back to the Land. However, the first of His Chosen People to make aliyah were Avram and Sarai. Today, there are many Israelis living abroad. The term for those who leave Israel is "yordim," meaning "those who go down." This has nothing to do with altitude, because a large chunk of Israel near the Dead Sea is below sea level. Spiritually, it is considered that those who leave Israel have "gone down." Therefore, even though yordim is the correct word for Israelis living in other countries, it is considered a pejorative word by such Israelis.

     Avram had already left family in Ur, which was one of the three most important population centers of Sumerian and Babylonian civilization, along with Kish and Uruk. And now to leave his dad and other relatives, he needed a little encouragement from HaShem.[9] God told Avram, "Lech L'cha ('Go for yourself') from your country and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land which I shall show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him who curses you, and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed." [10]

     Avram had the commandment to leave Haran to go to the land which YHWH would show him. And if Avram was obedient, God promised that He would make of Avram a great nation. He also promises to bless those who bless him and to curse those who curse him. This is the normal biblical format: First we have the commandment. Then we have obedience to the commandment. Finally we have the signs following. For instance, we see this same pattern with each of the plagues on Egypt.[11]

     And God has made the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into a great nation. The world has benefited spiritually. The Scriptures - both the Tanakh (O.T.) and Newer Testament are written by Jews. Moses and the prophets were all Jews, except for Balaam. Yeshua the Messiah was born as a Jew, lived as a Jew, died as a Jew, and is returning as a Jew. The world has also benefited from Jewish intellect in science, invention, medicine, technology, and education.

     Today, Israel has been reborn in the Land of the forefathers, in the midst of the most disgusting part of the world, filled with violence, unrest, and chaos. However, Israel is an island of prosperity, human rights, and democracy surrounded by dictatorships, oppression, and evil. The tiny nation of Israel has a greater Gross Domestic Product than all of the bordering nations combined, and also has one of the most powerful militaries in the world.

     In Genesis 12:3, God promises to bless those who bless His people, and to curse those who curse His people. Every nation that rose up to curse or destroy His people has been thrown down. The mighty Babylo-nian, Persian, Assyrian, Greek, and Roman empires are no more. They came against God's Chosen People and have been rele-gated to the dustbins of history. The Spanish Empire turned against the Jewish people, and is no more. It was said a hundred years ago that the sun never set on the British Empire. Then Britain prevented Jewish refugees from getting to their homeland during the Nazi era and even after-wards. And then in 1948, Britain did all it could do to prevent the Jewish state of Israel from coming into existence. Today, the British Empire is no more. The same fate would have happened to Germany. However, after World War II, Germany decided to bless Israel and the Jewish people. Germany will prosper as long as she remains on this path.

     Israel has many enemies today. Anti-Semitism was a disease of the soul that seemed to be past history. However, anti-Semitism has returned with a vengeance. Even in the USA, college campuses have become hostile territory for many Jewish students. The worst anti-Semitism is now from Radical Islam. Muslim radicals should learn from history. They want to restore ancient Islamic glory. However, as long as they hold so firmly onto their fanatic anti-Semitism, they will never prosper.   There are many other verses in the Scriptures that confirm that God blesses those who bless His people and curses those to curse His people: Gen. 26:4; 27:29; Num. 23:8; 24:9; Isa. 41:11; 24:6; 54:15-17; 60:12; Jer. 2:3; Ezek. 28:26; Zech. 2:8; Mat. 25:40-45; etc. If the anti-Semite isn't judged in this life, he will be judged in the next life. God may actually use nations and individuals to judge His people. However, the nation or individual who comes against His people will also be judged, "for he who touches you (the Jewish people) touches the apple of His eye (Zech. 2:8)."

Genesis 12:4 tells us that Avram left Haran in obedience to Adonai when he was 75 years old. The next verse has an unfortunate translation in most Bibles: "And Abram took Sarai his wife, and lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls they had gotten in Haran, and they went forth into the land of Canaan..."

     The portion that I highlighted in bold type above makes it sound like Avram accumulated many slaves. That makes Avram sound like an oppressor of innocent people. However, the Hebrew text of that same passage in Gen. 12:5 reads: ha'nefesh asher asu, which should be translated: "the souls that they made." In other words, Avram and Sarai were "witnessing" to the people, and many had been converted to faith in HaShem.[12] These "converts" to faith in the Creator were not mere slaves. In Genesis 14:14 tells us Avram took 318 of his trained men, who fought for Avram against his enemies. If they were mere slaves, they would not have loyally fought for Avram. They would have run away instead! I assume he had other loyal male converts who were not trained for battle, as well as hundreds of female converts. Avram and his men had victory over their enemies and were able to rescue Lot and the others who had been kidnapped by these various kings. In Genesis 14:20, we read that Avram gave a tenth of his wealth to Melchizedek, the first reference to tithing in the Scriptures.

     In Genesis 12:7, HaShem promises to give the land of Canaan to Avram and his descendants. Avram returned to Canaan after the famine. God also has blessings for the descendants of Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis 16. However, the land of Canaan belongs to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Arabs also live in the Promised Land, and are welcome to stay and prosper in the Land. However, if they can't live in peace with the Jewish people, they have 22 other Arab countries that they can move to.

     Walking in obedience to God doesn't mean that there won't be problems along the way. Avram and Sarai were commanded by God Himself to go to Canaan. However, soon after arriving, they found themselves in the midst of a severe famine. As a result, they were forced to flee to Egypt.

     They left Haran when Avram was 75, and Sarai was 10 years younger than Avram, or 65 at the time. I don't know how old she was when they went to Egypt. However, she was so beautiful that Avram asked her to tell people that she was his sister, because he feared that men would kill him to take his wife. This was not the right thing to do, but he did it. Genesis 12:15-19 tells us that Pharaoh took Sarai as his wife,[13] and as a result, God sent plagues upon Pharaoh's household. Years later, when Sarah was about 90 years old, Abraham told the same thing to Abimelech,[14] because he was again fearful that men might kill him to take his wife because of her great beauty. Psalm 103:5 tells us that our youth can be renewed like the eagle! Sarah must have had that blessing. However, God came to Abimelech in a vision of the night warning him not to take Sarah. In his defense, Abraham told Abimelech that Sarah was indeed his half-sister, which was true, but he had not told him that she was his wife. Sometimes a half-truth is a whole lie.

     In Genesis 15, Avram is promised a son. HaShem took Avram outside, and asked him to count the stars, and that his descendants would be as the stars, which cannot be counted for multitude. Then in verse 6, we read, "And he (Avram) believed in the LORD, and He counted it to him for righteousness." Many people want to quit there. However, after believing in HaShem, Abraham obeyed Him, performing the rite of circumcision on his men and on himself, at the age of 99. Genesis 26:5 tells us that "Abraham obeyed Me, and kept My charge (mishmeret), My commandments (mitzvot), My statutes (chukot), and My instructions (tarot)." That's the Abrahamic kind of faith we need to emulate!



[1] B'reisheet (Genesis) 11:26.

[2] The Book of Jasher is mentioned in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18. However, the Book of Jasher that we have today may very well be a very clever forgery. This version of Jasher was discovered in the early 1800s, written entirely in Hebrew, and then translated into English. It contains many of the stories of Midrash and Talmud. I don't consider it to be Scripture. For instance, its stories about Joseph are very fanciful. However, it is often useful in filling in the spaces not covered in Scripture, and saves one from investigating or locating all of the various books of Jewish Midrash.

[3] "Ur" is also a Chaldean word meaning flame, furnace, or fire oven.

[4] Jasher 11:39.

[5] Genesis 11:28 confirms that Haran died in Ur.

[6] This is all according to Midrash, which may or may not be true. (I personally tend to believe it.)

[7] In Hebrew, the town Haran ("Kharan") is spelled with a chet (g), whereas the man's name Haran is spelled with a hei (d).

[8] This is a plural word. The singular masculine form is "oleh" and sing. fem. form is "olah."

[9] "The Name" (of God).

[10] Bereisheet (Genesis) 12:1-3.

[11] See, for instance, Exodus 8:5-6; 9:8-10.

[12] According to the Rabbis, Avram converted the men, and Sarai converted the women. However, nothing in Scripture indicates that men can't convert women, or women can't convert men.

[13] According to Jasher 15, Pharaoh did not have relations with Sarai, although Gen. 12:19 seems to indicate that he did.

[14] Gen. 20:3.