The Lord said to Abraham, “Get going from your land, etc.” Rabbi Yitzhak said, “It is like one who was passing by and saw a palace on fire. He said, ‘Is it possible that this palace is without a manager?’ The owner of the palace peeked out at him and said, ‘I am the owner of the palace.’ So it was with our father Abraham. He said, ‘Is it possible that this world is without a manager?’ The Holy One Blessed Be He peeked out at him and said, ‘I am the owner.” (Bereshit Rabbah)
We call Abraham the founder of ethical monotheism. Some people think that God must be the basis for morality and so belief in God comes before, and leads to, a commitment to a moral life. I think Abraham took the opposite view. According to the midrash, Abraham saw the world as a palace on fire. He demanded to know, “Where is the master of the palace?” Abraham saw a world burning to ruin. He demanded justice, and reasoned that justice demands a judge. He committed to the proposition that life must be governed by morality, and that led him to God.
“He [Abraham] had faith in the Lord; and he [God] reckoned it to him as righteousness” is the Biblical source for Abraham as an exemplar of faith. The word here used for “faith” is more accurately understood as “trust.” Abraham is not being described as righteous on account of some advanced degree in theology or because he blindly embraced some cosmic esoterica. Abraham trusted. He trusted that there is a permanent relationship between the Divine and the world and its creatures. This trust manifests itself as love, fear and in deliberative action. That’s the Biblical tradition of “faith,” and it is reckoned as righteousness.
Rabbi Mitch Levine