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    How old was Abraham? – No’ach

    Tower of Babel, by Pieter Brueghel, 1563

    Tower of Babel, by Pieter Brueghel, 1563

    Everyone knows the stories about Abraham discovering God whilst he was still a child.

    Rashi, however, complicates the question of Abraham’s recognition of God.

    He says the patriarch was 48 at the time of the building of the Tower of Babel: “Abraham our Father was 48 years old and he took no part in the project”.

    If we looked at that comment on its own it would reinforce the obvious fact that an impertinent scheme like building the tower was not for Abraham.

    Not even the builders’ unity of purpose could impress him or change his mind. We see that Abraham had ample common sense and could not be persuaded to copy what others were doing.

    Two sages, Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Chanina went further. They are quoted in Midrash B’reshit Rabbah 64:4 as saying, “At 48 he recognised His Creator”.

    They held to their view even though Rabbi Levi objected that it was at the age of 3 that Abraham recognised God.

    Can we reconcile the two arguments?

    We can say that at 3 Abraham had the instinct to know there was a God; at 48 his recognition was full and mature.

    What happened to deepen his belief? The fact that it was challenged. He saw that belief really only matters when one has to decide whether it will be mere lip service or it will be strong enough to overcome obstacles.

    When Abraham could not calmly sail along but had to make up his mind to stand up for God at a time of great challenge, that was the moment that made all the difference.

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