Avraham - The Fiery Furnace
MeAm Lo'ez, Bereishit vol. 1, p. 436-439
Seeing that the majority of the people were beginning to follow Avram, Nimrod was trying to figure out what to do with him. One day, when Nimrod was making a feast, Avram came in and broke all his idols, much the same as he had done to Terach. Nimrod had set himself up as a god - claiming to have created heaven and earth. Avram said to him, "All right, so you're a god. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. It should be very easy for a god to make it rise in the east and set in the east. Do that and I will believe in you and worship you. But if not, be warned. G-d has given me the power to destroy your idols, and He can also give me power to kill you." (Bachya)
Hearing such words, Nimrod trembled with rage, and had Avram put in irons and cast in prison. He gave orders to the jailers that Avram be given only bread, but no water. The angel Gavriel then appeared to him once again, and made him a fountain in his cell. Each day the angel brought him food, and never left his side, not even for a moment.
The king then assembled all the wise men of the city and asked them what Avram's sentence should be, for publicly humiliating the king and smashing his idols. They all agreed that the sentence should be that Avram be burned alive. Nimrod made a proclamation that whoever was the king's friend should donate a load of wood to the cause. For forty days people brought firewood from all over the kingdom. (Shevet Mussar)
Nimrod had a huge furnace in a village known as Ur Kasdim, [Translator's note: This was not the ancient city of Ur, as is commonly supposed.] All the wood was brought there. The furnace was allowed to burn for three days and three nights, until the people in the village could no longer bear the searing heat. The whole city was as hot as a sauna. Men and women gathered from all over to see Avram being led to be burned alive. Besides the masses, there were thousands of Nimrod's men present. They stood one on top of the other, lining the streets and filling the roofs, to see Nimrod's spectacular triumph.
When Nimrod ordered that Avram be taken from the prison to be burned, the jailer replied, "This man has been in prison for a year without anything to drink. He's dead for sure already." Nimrod said, "I don't care. Go and see if he is still alive. If he is, bring him out to be burned." The jailer went and found Avram whole and hearty.
Astounded, the jailer asked, "Who brought you food?" "The G-d of heaven," replied Avram. "He feeds all creatures, and He also sustained me." He continued in this manner until even the jailer was won over to G-d. He said, "I believe that your G-d is the true one who must be worshiped. With my own eyes I have seen this miracle. Nimrold is a liar and a fraud!"
When Nimrod was told that the chief jailer had changed his mind and had joined with Avram. Nimrod ordered that he should be killed. Many attempts were made to decapitate him, but each time, the sword broke on his neck. In the end, they could not kill him.
Nimrod then sent his officers to cast Avram into the fiery furnace. Each time a group of them would approach the furnace to throw Avram in, tongues of flames would erupt from its bowels, burning them to death. While Avram was unharmed, many officers were killed in this manner.
Some say that Michael, who is the guardian angel of Yisrael, was sent down to save Avram.
Although the furnace was very hot, Avram was cool.
Some say that [only Avram was originally cast into the furnace.] When the people saw that Avram was not harmed at all, they said that this was because of his brother Charan. It was known that Charan was a great sorcerer, and he might have cast a spell so that the fire could not harm Avram. The wicked Charan said to himself, "If Avram escapes alive, I will join him at his side. If not, I will remain faithful in my belief in Nimrod." A flame shot out of the furnace and consumed Charan. His burnt body was then placed before his father Terach. [This is the meaning of the verse, "Charan died in the presence of Terach...in Ur Kasdim" (11:28) [ Targum Yonatan ; Zohar, Lech Lecha, Yalkut Reuveni]
Others say that Nimrod's men threw Charan into the furnace to find out why Avram was not being burned; whether it was because of his saintliness, or because he was Charan's brother. When they brought him to the furnace, Charan's lungs were burned out by the searing heat. Seeing that he was dying, they did not cast him into the furnace, but brought him before his father Terach, where he died. Then they all believed in Avram's greatness. [Bereishit Rabbah 38]
All the people saw Avram walking through the flames for three days and three nights. When the first reports of this reached Nimrod, he thought it was a joke. Later he saw the miracle with his own eyes, and odered that Avram be taken out of the furnace. This was easier said than done, since the furnace was so hot that no one could even come close to it. Eight of Nimrod's men valiantly tried to extract Avram, but they were all burned in the process. When Nimrod saw that this was impossible, he called Avram: "I admit that you are a true servant of the G-d of heaven, who is great, blessed and true. Come out!" [Shevet Mussar]
Avram emerged and stood before Nimrod. The masses standing there assumed that he was a god and began bowing down to him, with Nimrod following suit. Avram then announced, "I am nothing. Do not bow to me. Believe in the true G-d, who is in heaven."
Nimrod then gave Avram many gifts including two of his best slaves. One of these was Eliezer, who served Avram for the rest of his life.