Understanding Offering Hospitality as a Mitzva Bein Adam LaMakom

Understanding-Offering-Hospitality-as-a-Mitzva-Bein-Adam-LaMakom-11.13.19

A Rabbinic approach that favored Mitzvot Bein Adam LeChaveior (between man and man) over Mitzvot Bein Adam LaMakom (between man and God.)

In Sivan Rahav-Meir’s first short essay on Parashat VaYeira, “Call Waiting” (#Parasha: Weekly Insights for a Leading Israeli Journalist, trans. Chava Wilschanski, Menorah Books, Jerusalem, 2017, pp. 21-2), she notes the Talmud’s interpretation of Avraham’s interruption of the Divine Revelation that he was experiencing in order to see to the needs of the three “travelers” which approached his encampment:

Beraishit 18:1-2

1 And the LORD Appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamrei, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 2 And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed down to the earth.

Shabbat 127a

Rav Yehuda said that Rav said on a related note: Hospitality toward guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence,

(R. Yehuda in the name of Rav assumed that whatever responsibility was seen to “first,” was considered more important than the responsibility that was put on “hold.”)

as when Avraham invited his guests it is written: (Beraishit 18:3) “And he (Avraham) said: Lord,

(The word “Adon-ai” could be “Kodesh” [holy, a reference to HaShem, Who is being told to wait until the needs of the guests have been taken care of] of “Chol” (non-holy, a reference to the leader of the guests who is being requested by Avraham to take time out from their journey in order to rest and be catered to by Avraham and his entourage.] See RaShI on this verse, who by first interpreting the word as “Chol” obviously feels that this is more in keeping with the literal implications of the verse than the “Kodesh” approach.)

if now I have found favor in Your Sight, please Pass not from Your servant”. Avraham requested that God, the Divine Presence, Wait for him while he tended to his guests appropriately. Rabbi Elazar said: Come and see that the Attribute of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, is not like that of flesh and blood. The attribute of flesh and blood people is such that a less significant person is unable to say to a more significant person: Wait until I come to you, while with regard to the Holy One, Blessed Be He, it is written: “And he said: Lord, if now I have found favor in Your Sight, please Pass not from Your servant.” Avraham requested that God Wait for him due to his guests.

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Translating “Yirat Elokim” into Social Policy

Translating-“Yirat-Elokim”-into-Social-Policy-11.12.19

The bible offers the formulation of a criteria for basic morality and therefore the establishment of a just society.

In R. Binyamin Lau’s 2012 internet comments for Parashat VaYeira he focuses upon the response that Avraham gives to Avimelech when the latter asks him why he had misrepresented his relationship with Sara (Avraham for a second time—see Beraishit 12:13—had said that Sara was his sister rather than his wife):

Ibid. 20:10-1

10 And Avimelech said unto Avraham: What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing? 11 And Avraham said: Because I thought: Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake.

(RaShI suggests that Avraham drew his conclusion from empirical evidence, rather than a “guess”:  

RaShI on Beraishit 20:11 s.v. Rak Ein Yirat Elokim

A traveler seeking lodging, when he comes to a city, is he asked whether he has enough to eat and drink or who is this woman with whom he is travelling. They asked him: Is she your wife or your sister (with the implicit threat that if she was actually his wife, they would murder him in order to make her available to marry someone else.)

R. Lau notes that from the time of Avraham until “the end of generations,” this terminology of “Yirat Elokim” (“God-fearing”-ness) has served as the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for those engaged in Divine Service. He states that by definition, if a place has had “innocent blood” spilled within it, there is missing from it, or at least from its inhabitants, “Yirat Elokim.”

(It would appear that this is not only a Jewish value, but one that applies to non-Jews as well. In addition to 1) Avraham’s invoking such a standard by which the gauge the moral character of Gerar, a place inhabited by non-Jews, 2) Yosef, while still not having revealed his true identity to his brothers, says regarding himself: (Ibid. 42:18) “…for I fear God” without arousing his brothers’ suspicions, and 3) the Tora’s explanation for the Egyptian midwives defying Pharoah’s decree that they murder any male children born to Jewish mothers, assuming that they were Egyptian rather than Shifra and Pu’ah, was: (Shemot 1:17) “But the midwives feared God…”)

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Parashat VaYeira (Beraishit 18:1-22:24): Questions for discussion and consideration

pinchas

Rishon: in v. 18:3, the second word could be “Kodesh” (a reference to HaShem) or “Chol” (a reference to something else.) See RaShI s.v. VaYomer “A.” Im Na VeGomer. Which interpretation does the commentator present “first”? Why?

Sheini: In v. 18-9, HaShem Explains why He Is going to Alert Avraham as to what He Intends to Do to Sodom and Amora. What is implied by God’s Explanation? See RaMBaN on v. 18 s.v. VeAvraham Hayo Yihyeh for several possible interpretations. Which do you prefer? Why?

Shelishi: A comparison can be made between how Avraham receives the angelic guests (Ibid. 18:3-8,) on the one hand and the manner in which Lot does the same (Ibid. 19:1-3.) What similarities and differences can be asserted? See RaDaK’s commentary on these verses for possible answers.

Revi’i: Ibid. 19:26 describes how famously Lot’s wife was transformed into a “pillar of salt.” Why was this particular punishment meted out to her? See MaLBIM s.v. VaTabeit for a possible answer.

Chamishi: Ibid. 21: 6 attributes to Sara more “laughter” aside from her initial reaction in 18:12, where her laughter was roundly criticized by HaShem via His Angel. Is this later instance more of the same, or something entirely different? See R. S.R. Hirsch s.v. Yitzchak for a possible answer.

Shishi: Ibid. 26 describes Avimelech’s complete denial of any knowledge of the circumstances leading to Avraham’s bitter rebuke in v. 25. What could account for the Tora’s repetitions of the king’s denial? See HaEmek Davar for a possible explanation.

Shevi’i: In Ibid. 22:7, Yitzchak asks his father a question, that is answered by Avraham in v. 8. Do you think that Yitzchak “read between the lines” and proceeded to accompany his father anyway, or did he accept his father’s words at face value, only to be confounded a short time later? See Klee Yakar on Ibid. 7 s.v. VaYomer Avi VeGomer for a possible answer.

Always Addressing the “Other” Respectfully

Always-Addressing-the-“Other”-Respectfully-11.11

Speculating about the use of a particular form of a noun with respect to Avraham’s three visitors.

In one of R. David Silverberg’s 2017 essays for Parashat VaYeira, he grapples with the implication of a particular phrase in a verse in the Parashat HaShavua, according to the commentary of RaShI:

Beraishit 18:5

And I will fetch a morsel of bread, “VeSa’adu Libchem” (and stay ye your hearts;) after that ye shall pass on; forasmuch as ye are come to your servant. And they said: So do, as thou hast said.

RaShI s.v. VeSa’adu Libchem (based upon Beraishit Rabba 48:11)

In the Tora, in the Prophets, and the Writings (the three components that make up “TaNaCh”—Tora, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim) we find that “bread satiates the heart.” In the Tora: (Beraishit 18:5) “and stay your heart;” In the Prophets: (Shoftim 19:5) “And it came to pass on the fourth day, that they arose early in the morning, and he rose up to depart; and the damsel’s father said unto his son-in-law: Stay ‘Libcha’ (thy heart) with a morsel of bread, and afterward ye shall go your way.” In the Writings: (Tehillim 104:15) “And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, making the face brighter than oil, and bread that stayeth man’s ‘Levav’ (heart.)”

Said R. Chama: “Levavchem” is not written here (in Beraishit 18:5), but rather “Libchem.” One can say that the Evil Inclination does not affect angels.

(R. Chama’s point would be more consistent if the second example cited in the previous paragraph, from Shoftim, one that clearly speaks about a human being, would employ the word “Levavcha.” I suppose that the rule “Ein Meishivim Al HaDerash” [one ought not ask questions regarding a homiletical interpretation] would have to be invoked.)

R. Silverberg explains R. Chama’s inference in the Midrash:

…The Midrash explains that the word “Leivav” is used in reference to the heart of a human being, whereas “Leiv” refers to that of angels.  The explanation commonly given is that the word “Levav,” which has two “Veit”’s, alludes to the conflicting tendencies that struggle within human beings, the ongoing tension that exists in people’s hearts between right and wrong, good and evil, and the physical and spiritual realms.  Angels, by contrast, have a “Leiv” – a single desire and inclination, which is to fulfill God’s Will, a desire that is not opposed by any other desire.  The Tora here uses the word “Libchem” in the context of the meal served to the angels, the Midrash explains, because angels have a “Leiv,” and not “Levav.” …

(A proof text to this explanation appears in RaShI’s commentary on a well-known verse in the Tora that has been incorporated into our standard liturgy:

Devarim 6:5

And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all “Levavecha” (thy heart,) and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 

RaShI s.v. BeChol Levavecha

With both of your Inclinations [the Evil Inclination and the Good Inclination.] …)

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After Being Inspired, What Does One Come Back To?

After Being Inspired, What Does One Come Back To 11.10.19

Attempting to grasp the significance of a biblical phrase.

In his 2005 Sicha on Parashat VaYeira, “And Avrham Returned to His Place, R. Aharon Lichtenstein wonders about the final phrase in the following verse found in the Parashat HaShavua:

Beraishit 18:33

And the LORD Went His way, as soon as He had Left off Speaking to Avraham; and Avraham returned unto his place.

R. Lichtenstein understands the verb “returned” as a double-entendre. In addition to the geographical aspect that could be forthrightly addressed in light of an earlier verse:

Ibid. 16

And the men rose up from thence and looked out toward Sodom; and Avraham went with them to bring them on the way.

→  Avraham had left his encampment to accompany his “guests” on their way—a practice codified in the Mitzva of “Halvayat HaOreach” (accompanying a guest part of the way when he leaves– so now that he had completed his subsequent conversation with HaShem, he returned to his wife and his servants at the encampment where he had left them.

one has to wonder how Avraham coped with having to return to “normalcy” following the spiritual high that participating in a Divine Revelation must have signified to him.

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The Bible’s Regard for Avraham as a Parent

The Bible’s Regard for Avraham as a Parent 11.8.19

A contrast between the Written and Oral Tora traditions re Avraham.

In R. Jonathan Sacks’ 2011 internet Devar Tora for Parashat Lech Lecha, “On Being a Jewish Parent”, he pits three descriptions of Avraham presented in the Midrash and a Jewish codifier, with what the Tora explicitly states about him:

1)  Beraishit Rabba 38:13

R. Chiya bar brai D’Rav Ada D’Yafo: Terach was an idolater (and idol maker.)

One time he went out to a location and left Avraham to sell in his place. A man came and wanted to buy. He said to him: How old are you? He replied: I am 50 or 60. He said to him: Woe unto the man who is 60 and who worships one that is a day old. The man was embarrassed and left.

One time, a woman came holding a sack of flour. She said to him: Go and offer this before them. He went, took an axe, smashed all of the idols and placed the axe in the hands of the largest idol. When his father returned, he said to him: Who did this to them? He said to him: How can I keep this from you? A woman came carrying a bag of flour. She told me to offer it before them. I offered it before them. This one said: I wish to be first; and this one said: I wish to be first. The largest one rose up, took an axe, and broke the others. He said to him: Why are you telling me lies? Can these think? He said to him: Why don’t your ears listen to what your mouth is saying? …

Avraham, the iconoclast.

2)  ibid. 39:1

(Beraishit 12:1 “And HaShem Said to Avraham: Go from your land, etc.”)

… Said R. Yitzchak: A parable regarding one who passed from place to place, and he saw an estate afire. He said: Is it possible that this estate has no master? The owner of the estate appeared to him. He said: I am the master of the estate.

So too, since our Father Avraham was saying that this world was without a master, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, Looked upon him and Said: I Am the Master of the World…

 Avraham, the fighter against injustice.  

3)  RaMBaM, Mishneh Tora, Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 1:3

After this mighty man (Avraham) was weaned, he began to explore and think. Though he was a child, he began to think (incessantly) throughout the day and night, wondering: How is it possible for the sphere to continue to revolve without having anyone controlling it? Who is causing it to revolve? Surely, it does not cause itself to revolve.

He had no teacher, nor was there anyone to inform him. Rather, he was mired in Ur Kasdim among the foolish idolaters. His father, mother, and all the people (around him) were idol worshipers, and he would worship with them. (However,) his heart was exploring and (gaining) understanding.

Ultimately, he appreciated the way of truth and understood the path of righteousness through his accurate comprehension. He realized that there was one God Who Controlled the sphere, that He Created everything, and that there is no other God among all the other entities. He knew that the entire world was making a mistake. What caused them to err was their service of the stars and images, which made them lose awareness of the truth.

Avraham was forty years old when he became aware of his Creator. When he recognized and knew Him, he began to formulate replies to the inhabitants of Ur Kasdim and debate with them, telling them that they were not following a proper path.

He broke their idols and began to teach the people that it is fitting to serve only the God of the world. To Him (alone) is it fitting to bow down, sacrifice, and offer libations, so that the people of future (generations) would recognize Him. (Conversely,) it is fitting to destroy and break all the images, lest all the people err concerning them, like those people who thought that there are no other gods besides these (images.)

When he overcame them through the strength of his arguments, the king desired to kill him. He was (saved through) a miracle and left for Charan. (There,) he began to call in a loud voice to all people and inform them that there is One God in the entire world and it is proper to serve Him. He would go out and call to the people, gathering them in city after city and country after country, until he came to the land of Canaan – proclaiming (God’s Existence the entire time) – as Beraishit 21:33  states: “And He called there in the Name of the Lord, the Eternal God.”

When the people would gather around him and ask him about his statements, he would explain (them) to each one of them according to their understanding, until they turned to the path of truth. Ultimately, thousands and myriads gathered around him. These are the men of the house of Avraham.

He planted in their hearts this great fundamental principle, composed texts about it …

→ Avraham, the philosopher.

But R. Sacks points out that these three versions of Avraham are not expressly presented in the bible as constituting the defining characteristics for God’s Choosing this man to be the founder of the Jewish people:

… So these views are all true and profound. They share only one shortcoming. There is no evidence for them whatsoever in the Tora.

Yehoshua speaks of Avraham’s father Terach as an idolater (Josh. 24: 2), but this is not mentioned in Bereishit.

The story of the palace in flames is perhaps based on Avraham’s challenge to God about the proposed destruction of Sodom and the cities of the plain: (Beraishit 18:25) “Shall the judge of all the earth not do justice?”

As for Avraham-as-Aristotle, that is based on an ancient tradition that the Greek philosophers (especially Pythagoras) derived their wisdom from the Jews, but this too is nowhere hinted in the Tora…

R. Sacks claims that the Tora’s presentation of Avraham’s virtues which proved attractive to God, have to do specifically with his being a responsible father:

Ibid. 19

For I have Chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the Way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will Bring about for Avraham what He has Promised him.

(Ibid. 12:2-3, 7

2 And I will Make of thee a great nation, and I will Bless thee, and Make thy name great; and be thou a blessing. 3 And I will Bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I Curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed…

7 And the LORD Appeared unto Avram, and said: Unto thy seed will I Give this land… 

Ibid. 13:14-7

14 And the LORD Said unto Avram, after that Lot was separated from him: Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward and southward and eastward and westward; 15 For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I Give it, and to thy seed forever. 16 And I will Make thy seed as the dust of the earth; so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. 17 Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for unto thee will I Give it. 

Ibid. 15:4-5, 7, 13-6, 18-21

4 And, behold, the Word of the LORD came unto him, Saying: ‘This man (Eliezer) shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. 5 And He Brought him forth abroad, and said: Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if thou be able to count them; and He Said unto him: So shall thy seed be…

7 And He Said unto him: I Am the LORD that Brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to Give thee this land to inherit it...

13 And He Said unto Avram: Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I Judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 15 But thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. 16 And in the fourth generation they shall come back hither; for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full…

18 In that day the LORD Made a Covenant with Avram, Saying: Unto thy seed have I Given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates; 19 The Kenite, and the Kenizzite, and the Kadmonite, 20 And the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Rephaim, 21 And the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Girgashite, and the Jebusite. 

Ibid. 17:1-3, 4-8, 16, 19-21

1 And when Avram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD Appeared to Abram, and Said unto him: I Am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be thou wholehearted. 2 And I will Make My Covenant between Me and thee, and will Multiply thee exceedingly…  

4 As for Me, behold, My Covenant Is with thee, and thou shalt be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Avram, but thy name shall be Avraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I Made thee. 6 And I will Make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will Make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. 7 And I will Establish My Covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to Be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee. 8 And I will Give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will Be their God…

16 And I will Bless her (Sara), and moreover I will Give thee a son of her; yea, I will Bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be of her…  

19 And God Said: Nay, but Sara thy wife shall bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name Yitzchak; and I will Establish My Covenant with him for an everlasting Covenant for his seed after him. 20 And as for Yishmael, I have Heard thee; behold, I have Blessed him, and will Make him fruitful, and will Multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will Make him a great nation. 21 But My Covenant will I Establish with Yitzchak, whom Sara shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.)

R. Sacks states:

…The great scenes in Abraham’s life – a) waiting for a child (Ibid. 15-7), b) the birth of Yishmael (Ibid. 16:15-6), c) the tension between Sara and Hagar (Ibid. 16:1-6; 21:9-11), d) the birth of Yitzchak (Ibid. 21:1-8), and e) the binding (Ibid. 22) – are all about his role as a father

And in a comment that is deeply relevant to this time of year in the Jewish calendar, R. Sacks writes in light of the Tora’s presentation of Avraham’s concern with paternity:

…Judaism, more than any other faith, sees parenthood as the highest challenge of all. On the first day of Rosh HaShana – the anniversary of creation – we read of two mothers, Sara and Chana and the birth of their child(ren),

(The Tora reading is Beraishit 21, that begins: “1 And the LORD Remembered Sara as He had Said, and the LORD Did unto Sara as He had Spoken. 2 And Sara conceived, and bore Avraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had Spoken to him.”

The Haftora is I Shmuel 1-2, that includes: (I Shmuel 1:20) “And it came to pass, when the time was come about, that Chana conceived, and bore a son; and she called his name Shmuel: because I have asked him of the LORD.”)

as if to say: Every life is a universe. (See Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5.) Therefore, if you wish to understand the creation of the universe, think about the birth of a child.

Conclusion.

R. Sacks ends his essay:

What Darwin saw as the urge to reproduce, what Richard Dawkins calls “the selfish gene,” is for Judaism high religious art, full of drama and beauty. Avraham the father, and Sara the mother, are our enduring role models of parenthood as God’s Gift and our highest vocation.

Discussion.

One of the things for which RaMBaN roundly criticizes Avraham, is the manner in which he allows Hagar to be sent away the first time (see RaMBaN on Beraishit 16:6), and while the second time HaShem Ratifies Sara’s decision to exile Hagar and her son from the encampment (Ibid. 21:12), the fact that Avraham gives them insufficient food and water to survive, was never Mandated by HaShem.  Avraham had in the past displayed great concern for his oldest son, who ends up not continuing in the father’s spiritual path, perhaps at least in part by his perceived rejection at the ands of Avraham:

Ibid. 17:18

And Avraham said unto God: Oh that Yishmael might live before Thee!

Ibid. 21:11

And the thing (the exiling of Hagar and Yishmael) was very grievous in Avraham’s sight on account of his son.

If in fact “fatherhood” was a central concern for Avraham, he could hardly be expected to ignore his own child, despite God’s many Statements to the effect that it will be Yitzchak rather than Yishmael who will carry on Avraham’s traditions. Even with respect to his own first-born son, Avraham seems to have taken his role as “Av Hamon Goyim” (the father of a multitude of nations) seriously and therefore the manner in which he sent him and his mother away was deemed by RaMBaN as an egregious error..

Two Trials to Which Avraham was Subjected

Two Trials to Which Avraham was Subjected 11.7.19

Avraham directs two questions at God.

In R. Amnon Bazak’s fifth essay on Parashat Lech Lecha, “Emuna VeYedia” (Nekudat Peticha: Iyunim Ketzarim BePeshuta Shel Parashat HaShavua, Yediot Achronot, Sifrei Chemed, Yeshivat Har Etzion, Rishon LeTziyon, 2018 [new, expanded edition], pp. 39-40), he discusses the two question that Avraham poses to HaShem, following his victory over the four kings who had kidnapped Lot:

(Perhaps because Avraham’s had realized his own mortality during the course of the war, his thoughts turned to the Assuramces that he had received from God that there would be a future for his line.)

1)  Beraishit 15:2-3

2 And Avram said: O Lord GOD, what wilt Thou Give me, seeing I go hence childless, and he that shall be possessor of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? 3 And Avram said: Behold, to me Thou hast given no seed, and, lo, one born in my house is to be mine heir.

(Avraham was challenging the original Divine Promise Made to him regarding his having descendants at the beginning of the Parasha: 

Ibid. 12:2, 7

2 And I will Make of thee a great nation

7 And the LORD Appeared unto Avram, and Said: Unto thy seed …)

2) Ibid. Ibid. 15:8

And he said: O Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it (the land)?

(The land has also been Promised earlier in the Parashat HaShavua:

Ibid. 12:7

And the LORD appeared unto Avram, and said: Unto thy seed will I Give this land…)

God Responds positively to Avraham’s first question, but not to his second. 

R, Bazak states that while HaShem Directly Addresses Avraham’s first question re offspring, with the prophet seeming to accept the answer:

Ibid. 15:5-6

5 And He Brought him forth abroad, and said: Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if thou be able to count them; and He Said unto him: So shall thy seed be.

6 And he (Avraham) believed in the LORD; and He Counted it to him for righteousness.

the second question about the Promised Land neither appears to be Discussed by HaShem in as unambiguous a manner, nor is there any reference to Avraham’s reaction to the non-Discussion.

R. Bazak notes that when HaShem describes the course of Jewish history (v. 13-6) in association with the Covenant between the Pieces (v. 9-12, 17-21):

Ibid. 9-21

9 And He Said unto him: Take Me a heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon. 10 And he took him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each half over against the other; but the birds divided he not. 11 And the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Avram drove them away. 12 And it came to pass, that, when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Avram; and, lo, a dread, even a great darkness, fell upon him.

13 And He Said unto Avram: Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I Judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 15 But thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. 16 And in the fourth generation they shall come back hither; for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full. 

17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and there was thick darkness, behold a smoking furnace, and a flaming torch that passed between these pieces. 18 In that day the LORD Made a Covenant with Avram, Saying: Unto thy seed have I Given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates; 19 The Kenite, and the Kenizzite, and the Kadmonite, 20 and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Rephaim, 21 and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Girgashite, and the Jebusite.

in contrast to the question regarding children, no sign is forthcoming concerning the inheritance of the land, and if anything, God Appears to Discuss the Jews’ future exile more than their returning to the land of Israel. One can even find evidence of literary parallelism that supports God’s not Wishing to Delineate the Jews’ continually living in Israel in Chapt. 15. Avraham had asked in Ibid. 8 “…whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it…” and God Declares in Ibid. 13 “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs…”

Furthermore, R. Bazak maintains that the atmosphere of the Brit Bein HaBetarim was “dark” rather than “upbeat,” another reason to assume that God was not necessarily Disclosing anything positive with respect to the land:

a) v. 11 “And the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses…”

b) v. 12 “a dread”

c) Ibid. “a great darkness”

Tying these threads together.  

R. Bazak maintains that the very people who will be descended from Avraham, because they will be unfaithful to God’s Tora, will experience regular exile from the land. Therefore, while God Promises for the Jews to inherit the land (v. 18), the extent to which they will be able to remain on it will be a function of their exercising their freedom of choice. As v. 6 unequivocally states not only with regard to the promise of offspring, but also inheriting the land, it will require significant belief in God to get the Jews through the tough times of being forced to abandon their homeland and live elsewhere.

Discussion.

Looking for a sign to ratify a Divine Promise reflects human insecurity. Even if God is Good to His Word, as RaMBaN mentions several times throughout his commentary on Beraishit, the Forefather and Foremothers were concerned about their own lack of consistency and susceptibility to sin—Shema Yigrom HaCheit (lest sin cause [God to Withdraw His Promise.]) And while it is a postulate of Jewish belief, that the possibility of repentance obviates some of the predictions for punishments coming true—Yona and Nineveh is a case study of this principle—when a good thing has been Promised, it must come true by definition, the righteous just weren’t sure of their deserving such treatment until it actually takes place.

When Makot 24a lists many verses from the bible in the interests of establishing what the most important principle(s) may be, the final comment is a citation from Chabakuk 2:4 “…the righteous shall live by his faith.” However, this is easier said than done.

When You Go, Go for Yourself

When You Go, Go for Yourself 11.6.19

In Sivan Rahav-Meir’s first essay for Parashat Lech Lecha, “Go for Yourself!” (#Parasha: Weekly Insights for a Leading Israeli Journalist, trans. Chava Wilschanski, Menorah Books, Jerusalem, 2017, pp. 15-6), she reflects upon the opening Command in the Parashat HaShavua, from which the Parasha derives its name:

Beraishit 12:1

Now the LORD Said unto Avram: “Lech Lecha” (get thee out) of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will Show thee.

Assuming that the Directive was not only aimed at Avraham, but at everyone who reads the verse, R. Shalom Noach Berezovsky in his work Netivot Olam is quoted extensively by Rahav-Meir:

“Go for yourself.”

(R. Berezovsky’s interpretation is a variation upon the grammatical structure “Lech Lecha.” Instead of explaining the addition of “Lecha” as an indication of God’s Emphasis upon the importance of Avraham leaving his native land, R. Berezovsky suggests that it will be beneficial for Avraham, and that his journey is “for himself.”)

Everything a person encounters in his spiritual and material life, the bad and the good, is given to him so that he will  “correct” his purpose in life.

(The Hebrew word that is being translated as “correct” is probably “LeTaken,” which, to my mind, is closer in meaning to “enhance” or “establish.”)

Therefore, the verse says, “Go for yourself,” to your purpose, to “correct” your soul, and to what you are supposed to improve in this world.

(This idea is reminiscent of a thought that R. J.B. Soloveitchik develops in his essay “Shlichut Matmedetin which he insists that if a person lives at a particular time, and in a certain place, there is a mission for him to fulfill which only he can achieve, since no one else either before or after will be presented with a similar set of circumstances, type of upbringing, and environment. [Of course, the rub is not ever being sure what that role actually is!])

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Fences and Walls of Separation

Fences and Walls of Separation 11.5.19

Avraham at first takes Lot with him when he journeys to Canaan, but ultimately recognizes that they must part from one another.

In R. Binyamin Lau’s 2013 internet Devar Tora for Parashat Lech Lecha, he discusses a difficult interchange that takes place between Avraham and his nephew Lot.

Both men had become enriched with respect to material possessions.  Their success began as the result of the Egyptian Pharoah’s ill-fated attempt to marry Avraham’s wife and Lot’s aunt, Sara (Beraishit 12:16.) Avraham compounded the value of the gifts he received, and Lot, by association with his uncle, also became exceedingly wealthy (Ibid. 13:5.) Ironically, instead of their respective financial success creating even a tighter bond between these two family members, it led to their shepherd’s fighting regarding finding sufficient pastureland for their vast possessions (Ibid. 6-7.) Avraham did not want the growing resentment and competition between himself and his nephew to fester and grow, and therefore offered terms for peacefully going their separate ways, which Lot readily accepted:

Ibid. 8-9, 11-2

8 And Avram said unto Lot: Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we are brethren. 9 Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me; if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou take the right hand, then I will go to the left…

11 So Lot chose him all the plain of the Jordan; and Lot journeyed east; and they separated themselves the one from the other. 12 Avram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the Plain, and moved his tent as far as Sodom.

While in one of his comments on this event, RaShI notes that no sooner had Lot separated from Avraham, HaShem Resumes Revealing himself to His Prophet, in effect suggesting “Good riddance” vis-a-vis Lot, and may their paths never cross again:

Ibid. 14

And the LORD Said unto Avram, after that Lot was separated from him: Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward and southward and eastward and westward.”

RaShI s.v. Acharei Hipared Lot

As long as the evil one (Lot) was with him, the Divine Word had Departed from him (Avraham).

R. Lau believes that Avraham’s later risking his life and rushing to Lot’s assistance when the latter is kidnapped, indicates a different sort of separation agreement than one where the two parties agree to “turn their backs” on one another:

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Parashat Lech Lecha (Beraishit 12:1-17:27): Questions for discussion and consideration

pinchas

Rishon: In v. 12:5, regarding the phrase “Asher Asu BeCharan,” rather than only interpret the plural form of “Asu” as indicating that both Avraham and Sara converted individuals, RaDaK s.v. VeEt HaNefesh Asher Asu BeCharan suggests the multiple activities that Avraham himself engaged in during the course of introducing outsiders to his beliefs about God. What are these activities and contrast a “one-time” act of conversion to an ongoing “engagement” with converts.

Sheini: HaKetav VeHaKabbala on v. 12:16 s.v. VaYehi Lo Tzon perceives a difference between the gifts offered by the King of Sodom which Avraham refuses to take for himself (Ibid. 14:21-4) and what Pharoah provides in exchange for Sara, which Avraham obviously accepts and retains (Ibid. 13:2.) How can such a distinction be rationalized?

Shelishi: V. 13:13 constitutes another editorial comment on the part of the Tora, this time re the nature of the inhabitants of the land of Sodom. What might the Tora wish to convey with this comment? See R. S.R. Hirsch for a possible answer that distinguishes between Mitzvot Bein Adam LeChaveiro (between man and man) and Mitzvot Bein Adam LeMakom (between man and God.)

Revi’i: In v. 14:18-20, the anecdote describing the interaction between Avraham and MalkiTzedek interrupts Avraham’s negotiations with the King of Sodom (Ibid. 17, 21-24.) What might account for this strange sequence? See Chizkuni s.v. Hotzee Lechem VeYayin for a possible answer.

Chamishi: In v. 15:6, Avraham’s belief in HaShem is described as “Tzedaka.” How is the usage of such a word in this context to be understood? See RaMBaN for possible explanations.

Shishi: In v. 15:14, during the course of God’s Promising Avraham regarding the future experiences of his descendants, He Mentions how the Jews will emerge from their servitude “BeRechush Gadol” (with great wealth.) Why is this important to the message that HaShem is Delivering? See HaKetav VaHaKabbala s.v. Yeitzu BeRechush Gadol for a possible answer.

Shevi’i: In v. 17:17, Avraham is described as “Metzacheik” upon being told that he is destined to have a son despite his and his wife’s advanced age, and no criticism is forthcoming. Yet in Ibid. 18:12, Sara appears to have a similar reaction for the same reason (Ibid. 11), and she is roundly criticized by HaShem via the lead Angel (Ibid. 13.) What might account for this difference? See Ibn Ezra s.v. HaLeVen Mei’a Shana Yivaled for a possible answer.