Is Avraham Entitled to Give Anything Away that He Has Been Given by God?

Is Avraham Entitled to Give Anything Away that He Has Been Given by God? 10 29 20

In R. Amnon Bazak’s first essay for Parashat Lech Lecha, “’Et HaAretz’ Ve ‘Et Kol HaAretz’” (Nekudat Peticha: Iyunim Ketzarim BePeshuta Shel Parashat HaShavua, Machon Tzomet, Alon Shevut, 5766, pp. 19-20), he contends that whereas Avraham, in the interests of living peacefully with is nephew, Lot, thought that it was permissible for him to divide the inheritance of land that God had Promised him, to members of his family,

(Lot was the son of Haran, whom first Terach, and then Avraham took with him, when the family journeyed from Ur to Charan, and from Charan to Canaan:

Beraishit 11:27, 31; 12:5

27 Now these are the generations of Terach. Terach begot Avram, Nachor, and Haran; and Haran begot Lot

Continue reading

Pursuing One’s Life Goals

Pursuing One’s Life Goals 10 28 20

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, p. 15-6), she comments on the implications of the words that Hashem Expresses to Avraham at the beginning of His Charge to him, and from which the Parashat HaShavua derives its name:

Beraishit 12:1

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

(While such a construction  of a verb followed immediately by a prepositional contraction, appears in the bible several times, and is understood similar to instances of “Kefel Lashon” [redundancies with regard to a verb—see e.g., Shemot 22:25; BeMidbar 35:21; Devarim 15:8, 10, etc.] as indications of emphasis and personal encouragement, e.g., Shemot 20:4; 30:23; 34:1, 11-2, 17, etc., one can well understand why the extra word “Lecha” would lend itself to homiletic interpretations as well.)

Continue reading

Contrasting Avraham with Noach and the Generation of the Dispersion

Contrasting Avraham with Noach and the Generation of the Dispersion 10 27 20

Acknowledging three different biblical models presented over the course of the early part of the bible, for how one can attempt to live his life.

In R. Binyamin Lau’s 2014  brief internet comments re Parashat Lech Lecha, he contrasts Avraham’s “style” with those of Noach and the residents of Bavel, described in the previous Parasha, Parashat Noach:

We now “go out” (see Beraishit 12:1) following the “path” of Avraham.

(Ibid. 12:6-9

6 And Avram passed through the land unto the place of Shechem, unto the terebinth of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. 7 And the LORD Appeared unto Avram, and said: Unto thy seed will I give this land; and he builded there an Altar unto the LORD, Who Appeared unto him. 8 And he removed from thence unto the mountain on the east of Beit El, and pitched his tent, having Beit El on the west, and Ai on the east; and he builded there an Altar unto the LORD, and called upon the Name of the LORD. 9 And Avram journeyed, going on still toward the South.)

We leave the reassuring confines of the Ark that had separated us from the waters of the Flood

Continue reading

Combining Heaven and Earth

Combining Heaven and Earth 10 26 20

In R. David Silverberg’s Tuesday 2017 Devar Tora for Parashat Lech Lecha , he discusses the manner in which Malki Tzedek describes Avraham, following his battle with the kings in order to rescue the individuals that they had taken captive, as well as their “spoils of war”:

Beraishit 14:18-20

18 And Malki Tzedek, king of Shalem (Yerushayim?)  brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God, the Most High. 19 And he blessed him, and said: Blessed be Avram of God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth; 20 And Blessed be God, the Most High, Who hath Delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him a tenth of all.

In order to explain Malki Tzedek’s terminology, i.e., “Maker of heaven and earth,” R. Silverberg cites R. Moshe Walner’s 1975 book, entitled Derushim LeCheftzeihem. R. Silverberg summarizes R. Walner’s explanation:

…Rav Moshe Walner, in Derushim Le-cheftzeihem, suggests that this description speaks of the ideal of combining “heaven” and “earth,” of merging the physical and spiritual realms.  Just as God Resides in the heavens but is directly Involved in all worldly affairs, down to the minutest details, similarly, we are to strive to combine the “heavens” – the realm of spirituality – with “earth” – our mundane, worldly affairs.  The Tora here describes Malki Tzedek as “Kohein Le-Keil Elyon” (“a priest to the Supreme God,”) a term which perhaps suggests a spiritual quality that keeps a person withdrawn and apart from ordinary, worldly matters.  When Avraham returned from a successful military campaign, Malki Tzedek marveled at Avraham’s ability to combine the spiritual and worldly realms, to live a life of lofty ideals which are practically applied to mundane pursuits.  This ability was highlighted when Avraham waged a successful war.  Despite being a renowned spiritual leader, Avraham took up arms and went out to battle when this was necessary to rescue innocent captives.  He understood that spirituality demands not disengagement from the world’s problems, but rather active involvement and efforts to help solve them.  Malki Tzedek humbly acknowledged that whereas his own life of spirituality was withdrawn from worldly affairs (reminiscent of R. J.B. Soloveitchik’s “homo religiosus” in his classic Halachic Man,) Avraham succeeded in achieving spiritual excellence by applying his spiritual ideals to solving real-world problems.  Avraham’s spirituality was not a life of seclusion in a protective environment of sanctity, but rather a life of intensive engagement in world affairs, working to bring holiness to those affairs, rather than to hide from them…


Rav Walner’s interpretation is very much in keeping with the Tora U’Madda model that has been associated with Yeshiva University. To see as an ideal the integration of engagement with the general world as a means by which one can apply and even deepen his spiritual ideas is something that is difficult to manage to do, but certainly represents an emulation of the model that God Presents to us. Even the creation of man himself appears to involve a conscious interaction between the upper and lower worlds. Whereas the “Neshama” that is inserted in every person at the time of his creation is believed to be a manifestation of the spiritual realm, the body is the product of God amassing “dust” and turning it into the form that every person assumes during his lifetime. An interesting Talmudic passage imagines how every fetus, in which by definition, due to the weakness and dependency of its physical being, the “Neshama” plays the primary role undergoes a “swearing-in” ceremony prior to birth:

Nida 30b

…And a fetus does not leave the womb until the angels administer an oath to it, as it is stated: (Yeshayahu 45:23) “That to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” The verse is interpreted as follows: “That to Me every knee shall bow”– this is referring to the day of one’s death, as it is stated: (Tehillim 22:30) “All those who go down to the dust shall kneel before Him.” “Every tongue shall swear”– this is referring to the day of one’s birth, as it is stated in description of a righteous person: (Tehillim 24:4) “He who has clean hands, and a pure heart, who has not taken My Name in vain, and has not sworn deceitfully,” i.e., he has kept the oath that he took before he was born.

And what is the oath that the angels administer to the fetus? “Be righteous and do not be wicked. And even if the entire world says to you: You are righteous, consider yourself wicked. And know that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, Is Pure, and His Ministers Are Pure, and the soul that He Gave you is pure. If you preserve it in a state of purity, all is well, but if you do not keep it pure, I, the angel, shall take it from you.

The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught a parable: This matter is comparable to a priest who gave Teruma, the portion of the produce designated for the priest, to one who is unreliable with regard to ritual impurity (Am Ha’Aretz), and therefore it is suspected that he might not maintain the purity of the Teruma. And the priest said to him: If you keep it in a state of ritual purity, all is well, but if you do not keep it pure, I shall burn it before you.

R. Walner would therefore say that righteousness and avoiding evil, is not simply a matter of sequestering oneself so as to not be exposed to temptation, but rather to engage with that temptation, and overcome it by sanctifying that which is not yet holy, much as God instructed Kayin: (Beraishit 4:7) “If thou doest well, shall it (your countenance/face) not be lifted up? And if thou doest not well, sin coucheth at the door; and unto thee is its desire, but thou mayest rule over it.”

While another Rabbinic source implies that the “Neshama” had to be “sedeuced” into leaving the pure, wholly-spiritual “world of souls” to take up residence in the lower, potentially corrupt material world:

Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Pekudei #3

…When the soul was brought in, it prostrated itself before the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed Be He. At that time, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, Says to the soul: Enter the semen that is in this one’s (the angel appointed to see to such things) hand.

The soul opens its mouth and cries out: Master of the Universe! I have always been satisfied with the place in which I dwelt from the day You Created me! Why do You Desire that I enter this putrid drop? Now I am holy and pure, but then I will be cut off from the place of Thy Glory.

Thereupon the Holy One, Blessed Be He, Replied: The place which you are to enter is better for you than where you have dwelt. From the moment I Created you, it was only for this drop of semen.

Then the Holy One, Blessed Be He, Forced him to enter there though against his will.

After that, the angel turned around and placed the soul in the womb of his mother, and two angels were assigned to guard it lest it go out and fall. He placed a lighted candle at his head, as it is said: (Iyov 29:2) “Oh, that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me; when His light shined over my head.”

I have always wondered whether God had Been fully forthright with the “soul” when He Told him that the world was “a better place.” R. Walner would state without hesitation that, although the unredeemed world poses danger to one’s spiritual purity, if he meets the challenge properly,  this was certainly the case. Religions humanity reflects a range of those who shun the general world, those who embrace it, and a dizzying array of “in-between” solutions.

Comparing Atheism and Idolatry

Comparing Atheism and Idolatry 10 25 20

In R. Aharon Lichtenstein’s 1971 Sicha for Parashat Lech Lecha, “Avraham’s Two Wars”, he asserts that, based upon a Midrash describing Avraham’s literal iconoclasm:

Beraishit Rabba 38:13

(Beraishit 11:28 ) “And Charan died in the presence of his father Terach.”

Rabbi Chiya said: Terach was a manufacturer of idols. He once went away somewhere and left Avraham to sell them in his place. A man came in and wished to buy one. “How old are you?” Avraham asked the man. “Fifty years old,” he said. “Woe to such a man, who is fifty years old and would worship a day-old object!” Avraham said.

On another occasion, a woman came in with a plateful of flour and requested him, “Take this and offer it to them.” So, he took a stick and broke them, and put the stick in the hand of the largest. When his father returned, he demanded, “What have you done to them?” “I cannot conceal it from you. A woman came with a plateful of fine meal and requested me to offer it to them. One claimed, ‘I must eat first,’ while another claimed, ‘I must eat first.’ Thereupon, the largest arose, took the stick and broke them.” “Why do you make sport of me? Have they any knowledge?” Terach said. “Should not your ears hear what your mouth has said?” Avraham said…

Continue reading

Haftora Lech Lecha (Yeshayahu 40:27-41:16)

As opposed to some other Haftarot, where the connection to the Parashat HaShavua is tenuous at best, comprising no more than a phrase in a single verse, the Haftora for Lech Lecha devotes two entire verses to Avraham, the seminal figure who begins to actively engage with the world in this week’s Parasha (beginning with Beraishit 12:1) through much of Parashat Chayei Sara (Ibid. 25:11):

Yeshayahu 41

2 Who has roused a victor from the East,[1] Summoned him to His Service?[2] Has Delivered up nations to him,[3] And Trodden sovereigns down?[4] Has Rendered their swords like dust,4 Their bows like wind-blown straw?4 3 He pursues them,4 he goes on unscathed;4 no shackle is placed on his feet.4

Although, when God “Sings” Avraham’s praises in the Tora, it is not his military prowess that is celebrated:

Continue reading

Parashat Lech Lecha (Beraishit 12:1-17:27): Questions for Consideration and Discussion


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.

One Must Not Only Preserve Personal Righteousness, But Also Take Responsibility for the Righteousness of Others

One Must Not Only Preserve Personal Righteousness, But Also Take Responsibility for the Righteousness of Others 10 23 20

In R. Jonathan Sacks’ 2014 Devar Tora for Parashat Noach, “Righteousness is not Leadership”, he poses the question as to why if Noach was such an exceptional human being—he is the only one in all of TaNaCh who is referred to as “righteous” (Beraishit 6:9,) yet he had no influence at all upon the peers of his generation, resulting in their horrific destruction by drowning.

R. Sacks presumes that it was Noach’s very righteousness that was “part-and-parcel” of his turning his back on others:

…Noach preserved his virtue by separating himself from his environment. That is how, in a world gone mad, he stayed sane…

R. Sacks even makes the well-known debate regarding Noach’s righteousness, cited by RaShI in one of his first comments when this individual is described so profoundly in the bible, dependent upon a question regarding Noach’s overall personality:

Continue reading

Seeking Out the Middle Road

Seeking Out the Middle Road 10 22 20

Similarities in cases in Parashat Beraishit and Parashat Noach.

In R. Amnon Bazak’s seventh essay for Parashat Noach, “Chet Eitz HaDa’at VeDor HaFelaga” (Nekudat Peticha: Iyunim Ketzarim BePeshuta Shel Parashat HaShavua, [revised and expanded], Yediot Acharonot, Rishon LeTziyon, 2018, pp. 33-4), he notes two parallels between the sin of Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, on the one hand (Beraishit 3:1-24) and the transgression of the generation of the Dispersion when they tried to build the Tower of Bavel (Ibid. 11:1-9,) on the other:

a. Ibid. 3:22 “And the LORD God Said: Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.”

Continue reading

The Descriptive Words of the Tora as Moral Lessons

The Descriptive Words of the Tora as Moral Lessons 10 21 20

Thinking about what the Tora says, and what it could have said.

In Sivan Rahav-Meir’s second essay for Parashat Noach, “The Power of Words” (#Parasha: Weekly Insights for a Leading Israeli Journalist, trans. Chava Wilschanski, Menorah Books, Jerusalem, 2017, pp. 10-1), she focuses upon what turns out to be the Talmud’s own discussion of a particular circumlocution in the Parashat HaShavua:

Beraishit 7:8

8 Of ritually pure beasts,

(i.e., animals that are deemed worthy of consumption. See VaYikra 11.)

and of beasts “Asher Einenu Tehora” (that are not ritually pure,) and of fowls, and of everything that creepeth upon the ground,

(In Rahav-Meir’s essay, Ibid. 2 is quoted:  

Of every ritually pure beast thou shalt take to thee seven and seven, each with his mate; and of the beasts “Asher Lo Tehora” two (and two,) each with his mate.

While the two phrases mean the same thing, the Talmud derives its rule from v. 8 because more letters are used. “Lo”=2; “Einenu”=5.)

Continue reading