The picture we get of Abraham, amply reinforced by the Midrash, is of an iconoclast who attacked his society’s ills and idols and was unafraid to be on one side of the world with everyone else against him.
In this as in so many other ways, Abraham is the paradigm of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Leo Baeck, who showed his greatness as the leader of beleaguered German Jewry at the time of the Nazis, said that Jews were the eternal protestants – not Protestants in the Christian sense, but protesters who cannot accept that the status quo is the only or best pattern for society.
The Biblical prophets were protestants in that sense. No wonder that they made people feel uncomfortable.
Some so-called scholars of the Bible were actual Protestants who had a theory that – as enunciated in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5 – the Jews always resented, persecuted and sought to kill the prophets. According to these “scholars”, this is why the Jews rejected Jesus and why in turn God rejected the Jews.
Judaism responds that this is a blatant misreading of the place and fate of the Biblical prophets as well as a misreading of why Judaism could not support the Jesus theology – but even though more recent Christian writing is less biased it cannot undo the harm that the earlier theories brought upon the Jewish people.
When you read the works of the prophets you see social criticism and denunciation; you also see the most lyrical passages of love, beauty and hope.
You see the Jewish people in a global context: there are sins amongst Israel, but even greater sins amongst the other nations.
Only when they all come streaming to the mountain of the Lord will there be one God and one humanity.