The roots of Torah lie in heresy. Abraham’s heresy.
While the Torah’s text leaves Abraham’s origins teasingly encrypted, Chazal (the Masters of the Talmudic era) tell us more about where he came from, where he was trying to go and how he became the Progenitor of monotheism, the “Father of the International Community” – the originator of the concept of an “international community” itself (Genesis 17:4-5).
Maimonides (Rambam) summarizes parts of this history in his narrative of Abraham’s journey:
“[By Abraham’s time] there was nobody, aside from some misfits, who recognized or acknowledged the Weaver of the universe…. until the very pillar of the world itself, Abraham – our father – was born.
“By the time he was weaned, his mind was starting to wander and think nonstop… But he had no teachers or mentors in any subject. Just the opposite: he was trapped in Chaldean Ur along with all of the other ignorant idolaters.
“His father, his mother, and the entire society, were idol-worshippers – and Abraham worshipped right along with them! But: his heart still wandered, and he was still growing in understanding… and when he was 40 years old, Abraham recognized his Creator.
“Once he recognized [Him] and knew, he started publishing dissents and provoking arguments with the Chaldeans, and telling them that “The highway you’re walking is no road to truth!” And then he vandalized their idols. But he made them understand; that it’s simply not right to worship anything except the Lord of the Universe…”
(Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idol Worship / Hilchos Avoda Zara, Chapter 1)
We have here neither a religious crusader nor a faithful devotee, but a social misfit – a man whose brain hasn’t given him an hour of rest since he learned to speak (“the time he was weaned…”). A boy and then a teenager who walked along through the milestones and expectations of his society, going to school, football games and temple, attending Chaldea University, building a career… but knowing that for some maddening reason he never fit in – because he perceived… something that he could neither ignore nor identify.
His society’s explanatory matrix couldn’t explain him. So his heart kept wandering…
Abraham moves from being a quiet thinker to a social misfit to a subversive dissident. The Midrash relates that Avraham was arrested and dragged to the presidential palace of Nimrod, ruler of Babylon. In a last ditch effort to make Avraham see reason, Nimrod implores Avraham to recant his destabilizing anti-religious crusade. In a move that foreshadows the future, Avraham declines and is tossed by government agents into an industrial furnace. By a miracle, he survives and leaves.