Abraham is central to Judaism because he is widely regarded as the father of the Jewish nation. In addition, he is seen as the exemplar of the servant who is faithful to God in all things, and who follows all commands. Additionally, Abraham is not only the founder of the Jewish nation, but the receiver of the covenant to which all practicing Jews are bound.
In a time when many people in the Near East still clung to polytheistic faith and idol worship, Abraham, then called Abram, is said to have sought a truer God. Because of Abram's pureness of heart, the Scriptures state that God called out to him, commanding him to leave his homeland behind for a new life. Abram accepted this, and took his wife Sarah with him.
In exchange for his faith and devotion, God promised to make Abram's descendants grow in great numbers, and proclaimed that they would be called God's people. From that moment forward, Abram was renamed Abraham, meaning "father of the multitude." Additionally, circumcision for infant boys was made an enduring symbol of this covenant, being first articulated in Genesis 17.
Along the remainder of their arduous journey, Abraham and Sarah encountered more tests of faith before finally settling in the promised land of Canaan, thus fulfilling God's promise. In the most serious test, God calls upon Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to demonstrate his faith. Only at the last moment, with the knife raised above Isaac's head, does Scripture state that God calls off the sacrifice, having seen the true extent of Abraham's devotion. Because of his centrality to Jewish story and other aspects of faith, Abraham is also an enormously important figure in Judaism's sister religions, Islam and Christianity, as well.