He had to cross from one land to another, hence the name Avraham HaIvri, Abraham the Hebrew – literally, the one who crossed over (avar).
Moving to the other side, say the rabbis, is to be understood metaphorically, not merely literally.
From now onwards, ignorance and idolatry are on one side and Abraham and his descendants are on the other.
When others follow many gods, Abraham is to follow the One God. When others subjugate their minds to the prevailing philosophies, Abraham is to think for himself and be a pioneer of ideas and ideals.
When others deny rights and dignity to sub-classes of society, Abraham is to take a stand for the uniqueness and preciousness of every human being.
Life for Abraham will sometimes be lonely and unpopular, but that’s what it is to be an ivri.
The Hebrew heritage has always found its glory in Abraham-like moral courage. The path has not been without suffering and persecution. But civilisation has been the beneficiary.
Why were Jews in the vanguard of all the great movements for social justice? Because the descendants of Abraham could not sit back and refuse to stir themselves.
Why were Jews the pioneers of so many movements in science, philosophy and human culture? Because they had to be true to Abraham and use their minds, hearts and souls.
Did they get a vote of thanks? Sometimes long afterwards, in retrospect, but most of the time they suffered ridicule and were targeted for oppression and destruction.
Did they care? Of course they did. But they had no choice to be anything other than themselves.
The quiet life was never for them. They were a thorn in the flesh of many regimes. But unless they did what they had to do, they would never have been able to live with their conscience.