Lech Lecha – Age

There are several opinions regarding Abraham’s age when he “discovered” God. One opinion says that Abraham was three years old when he found God.  Another opinion says that he was forty years old, and yet another opinion says that he was fifty years old.  According to the Rambam, Abraham was forty years old when he found God.  The question is, though, why did Rambam choose the opinion that he was forty, and why was it necessary to mention Abraham’s name at all?

When the Rambam writes about the laws of idol worship (Hilchot Avoda Zara), in the very beginning, he mentions three different stages in the intellectual history of what was to become the Jewish people.

1) In Halahcah 1, Rambam mentions the intellectual error of the generation of Enosh, when people knew that God created the world, but thought that He imparted power to intermediaries as well, whom they began to praise and honor.

2) In Halacha 2, Rambam mentions that later generations included false prophets who commanded them to worship intermediaries such as specific stars, and God the supreme Creator, was forgotten aside from specific individuals until the generation of Abraham.

3) Abraham then came along and recognized the Creator and persuaded thousands of people of His existence, and passed his faith along to Isaac and subsequent generations.

From Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”), we know that man achieves full intellectual maturity and understanding (bina) at age forty.  It is for this reason that Rambam gives Abraham’s age as forty when he “recognized” his creator.  Even though his intellectual journey began much earlier, it was at age forty that Abraham reached the full extent of his intellectual achievement.  From Abraham and from the words of the Rambam, we know that idol worship begins as a subtle intellectual error.  However, we must beware of this error (that there exist intermediaries with their own power and sphere of influence on the universe and therefore it is appropriate to “worship” them, God forbid) and uproot it before it develops into something worse.

For a more detailed and complete exposition, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org/weekly/w_LechLecha_5766.php

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 20, page 13-24

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