With this week’s Torah reading, the Jewish story properly begins. Although the rabbis wondered why the Torah didn’t begin with commandments, in a way it is stranger that it didn’t begin with Abraham. After all, creation was for everyone, and Noah saved the entire living world; these stories could have waited to be told until we knew who we were, the descendants of this revolutionary figure. Even stranger, the Torah tells us virtually nothing about Abraham until he is seventy-five years old; no prophesies predicting the coming of a miraculous figure, no amazing events at his birth, no moving tales about his parents, no moment of enlightenment (the stories about the young Abraham come from Midrash, not the Torah.) Just a commandment to move – what amounts to a commandment from God not to continue to be ordinary.

I like this story for several reasons. I like the fact that Abraham is seventy-five years old when he makes the most important decision and experiences the most significant transformation in his life. From the biblical point of view, Abraham’s life begins when he is already, if not old, at least mature (biblical accounts of age being untrustworthy.) We tend to think of maturity as a time when the major decisions of life have been made, but that doesn’t reflect our reality – the reality is that every stage of life is equally important. David Brooks recently wrote in The Atlantic that he saw a photo of American president Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963, the first year of his presidency. He looked, says Brooks, like a classic old guy—wrinkled, mature, in the late season of life. It was a shock for Brooks to learn that he was only 55 at that time. Brooks notes that a 73-year-old in 2020 looks like a 53-year-old in 1935. The speaker of the United States House of Representatives is 80 and going strong. The presidential candidates are 77 and 74. Something is happening to aging, and it’s a lesson not just for us who are already older, but for young people as well. Living as we are with the reality of unprecedented challenges and reduced expectations, younger people might be encouraged to know that, although the pandemic-induced challenges they are suffering are real and some of them might never be ameliorated, their lives are far from over.. Significant and rewarding changes, even revolutionary ones, can, and likely will, happen over time. Abraham’s story is a message of hope, because he lived a life of meaning and significance far into what certainly was old age, and he founded a religion that continues to unite us and inspire us. And that is pretty miraculous.