parasha Lech Lecha 5783

parasha Lech Lecha 5783 – Pivotal Points

“Ten generations from Noah to Abraham, in order to make known what long-suffering is His; for all those generations kept on provoking Him, until Abraham, came and received the reward of all of them.” – Pirkei Avos 5:2, sefaria.org

“Based upon the merit of Abraham, G-d did not destroy again the whole world. Abraham taught them that repentance was possible, and therefore G-d did not destroy the world.”– English explanation of the Mishnah; sefaria.org

Inasmuch that Noah and his family was spared when “Noah found favor in the eyes of H’Shem,” so, too, according to the mishnah, the world was spared through the merit of Abraham. In light of this comparison, two points become evident. First, the implementation of G-d’s Attribute of Mercy, as a means of relating to mankind, despite His strict Attribute of Justice. Second, that in each case, a righteous person was chosen to offer teshuvah (repentance) to others, and become the means through whom redemption would be offered to all of mankind.

In regard to Noah, it is evident that G-d favored him due to his righteousness, for, following the verse, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the L-RD,” the Torah  states that Noah was “a man righteous and wholehearted; Noah walked with G-d” (Genesis 6:8-9). As for Abraham, there is no such immediate mention of his character, when he is called out from the land of Ur, to the land that he would be shown. He is told by H’Shem, that he would become a great nation, that his name would be great, and that the nations would be blessed through him. And, the “persons that they had acquired in Haran” were converts to Abraham’s newfound monotheistic faith.

Abraham, the Hebrew

motzei Shabbos: parashas Lech Lecha 5782

“Abram the Hebrew – now he dwelt by the terebinths of Mamre.”

– Genesis 14:13, JPS 1917 Tanach

I would like to give a brief shpiel, in regard to the designation of Abraham as an Ivri. This word, denoting his ethnicity, as it were, is transliterated as “Hebrew.” And, in fact, if somebody speaks Ivrit, that means he speaks the Hebrew language. While for all intended purposes, on behalf of those who would like to instill a sense of continuity into Judaism, by claiming that Abraham was the first Jew, this is not actually the case, according to the most basic chronology in regard to the use of the word, Jew, as referring to a specific population or adherent of the religion referred to as Judaism. It would be more to say that Abraham was the first monotheist, as will be shown later in the discussion on the actual meaning of the word, Ivri.

The term Jew is derived from Judah, who was one of the twelve sons of Jacob. Each of the twelve tribes of Jacob consisted of persons who were referred to as members of their particular tribes, such Benjamites, Ephraimites, and Danites. So, a Judahite would have specifically been a member of the tribe of Judah. Not until sometime after the destruction of the first temple, and the seventy year exile, did the term Judahite become a more general designation. Why? Because, primarily, only members of the tribe of Judah and Benjamin returned to Israel after the seventy year exile – the Judahites, being the more populous tribe.

So, what is the significance of pointing out the difference between the words, ivri and Jew, inclusive of their actual use in history, as opposed to placing meanings upon them, derived from a perspective that recasts, specifically, the word “Ivri” in a quasi-religious light? One benefit is clear, in regard to being able to draw out the actual implications of the word Ivri (Hebrew), that referred to Abraham, and his descendants, who also became known as Israelites. For example, the word Ivri is said to mean “the other side;” thus, Abraham was from the other side of the Euphrates River (Rashi; Genesis Rabbah 42:8). From a symbolic perspective, commentary notes that Abraham was on the other side, in regard to his newfound monotheistic faith, while the rest of the world was steeped in idolatry.

Another point of significance is to make clear that the word Jew, eventually designated the same people known as Hebrews and Israelites, only many generations later, while living in the land of Israel, during the second Temple period. Yet, even to think of Abraham’s descendants living in Israel at that time as Jews, in the same sense that we think of ourselves today, would not be exactly correct either. Namely, because there was no religion, per se, in and of itself, called Judaism at that time. What we think of as the Jewish religion today, was simply the national way of life at the time, mostly centered around Temple worship, as well as synagogues that had been established around the country. The Judaism that we practice today is the result and consequence of our expulsion from Israel after the second Temple was destroyed in 70  C.E. At that time, a center of learning was established in a city called Yavneh, where the sages learned, and from where the Mishnah was eventually codified. Centuries later, Judaism continued to flourish, because of the continuity provided for by way of the Talmud, the observance of the mitzvoth (commandments), and the traditions.

A Test of Integrity

“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine and he was the kohein (priest) of El (G-d) the Most High.” – Genesis 14:18

“Five possessions did the Holy Blessed One, set aside as his own in this world, and these are they: The Torah, one possession; Heaven and earth, another possession; Abraham, another possession; Israel, another possession; The Temple, another possession.” – Avos 6:9, sefaria.org

“G-d acquired these five possessions to serve as the instruments by means of which He can bestow His kindness and generosity on man, to let him rise to the lofty position of comprehending His greatness.” – Akeidat Yitzchak, sefaria.org

A tenth of all that Abraham retrieved from the five kings was given to Melchizedek; the remainder was considered properly tithed from the perspective of a later Torah injunction; yet, Abraham kept none of this, for his reward has to do with heaven and earth. Therefore, what has any man to offer Abraham? The King of Sodom’s riches would have been devoid of any spiritual blessing, since they would not have been bestowed upon Abraham by G-d; but, rather by man.

While it is true that blessings can be given to someone through men, according to G-d’s design, this would not have been the case, in regard to the loot that was recovered by Abraham, when rescued his nephew Lot, who was captured by the five kings. Why? Because Abraham was righteous, and “disdained profit gained through oppression” (Akeidas Yitzchak; sefaria.org). That is to say, that he forsook the wealth that was rightly his according to custom in order to maintain his integrity.

Every now and then, we may find ourselves in a similar position, not necessarily having to do with possessions; rather, as pertaining to a challenge designed to test the integrity of our convictions. Our belief and practice, as well as the strength of our convictions must be tested, so that we are able to permit these to take root in actuality. The tests designed for Abraham, throughout the narrative of his life, as recorded in Torah, may also be understood this way.

“The L-RD trieth the righteous.” – Psalms 11:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Pivotal Points

parashas Lech Lecha 5782

“Ten generations from Noah to Abraham, in order to make known what long-suffering is His; for all those generations kept on provoking Him, until Abraham, came and received the reward of all of them.” – Pirkei Avos 5:2, sefaria.org

“Based upon the merit of Abraham, G-d did not destroy again the whole world. Abraham taught them that repentance was possible, and therefore G-d did not destroy the world.”

– English explanation of the Mishnah; sefaria.org

Inasmuch that Noah and his family was spared when “Noah found favor in the eyes of H’Shem,” so, too, according to the mishnah, the world was spared through the merit of Abraham. In light of this comparison, two points become evident. First, the necessity of G-d’s of Attribute of Mercy, as a means of relating to mankind, despite His strict attribute of justice. Second, that in each case, a righteous person was chosen to offer repentance to others, and ultimately to become the means through which a type of redemption would occur for all of mankind.

In the case of Noah, it is evident that G-d favored him for a specific reason. Immediately following “Noah found grace in the eyes of the L-RD,” the Torah  states that Noah was “a man righteous and wholehearted; Noah walked with G-d” (Genesis 6:8-9). As for Abraham, there is no such immediate recognition of his character, when he is called out from the land of Ur, to the land that he would be shown. He is told by H’Shem, that he would become a great nation, that his name would be great, and that the nations would be blessed through him. Before Abraham, Sarah, and his nephew Lot set out for Canaan, there were “persons that they had acquired in Haran.”

These souls are said to be converts to Abraham’s newfound monotheistic faith. It is this faith as demonstrated by his obedience to the L-RD’s calling, that Abraham is considered righteous: For, “he believed in the L-RD; and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6, JPS). “O ye seed of Abraham His servant, ye children of Jacob, His chosen ones. He is the L-RD our G-d; His judgments are in all the earth” (Psalm 105:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Lech Lecha 5781

Abraham was the first monotheist. According to the midrash, he arrived at the realisation of G-d’s oneness after a thorough intellectual inquiry. In considering the sun that rules during the day, and the moon at night, he realised neither ruled completely; hence, they must have a Creator who created them. Through this reflection, he raised himself up above the idolatrous beliefs of his countrymen. His newfound belief could only be nurtured, by removing himself from his environmental milieu, so that he would not continue to be influenced by idolatry. So that when G-d called him to lech lecha (literally, go forth to yourself), he was ready to go.

Yet, not until he departed with Sarah, Lot (his nephew), and his entourage of souls (converts) that they had acquired, did H’Shem appear to him in Shechem. The question is asked, why did H’Shem first speak (vayomer) to Abraham, when he was first called (Genesis 12:1), then appeared (vayeira) and spoke to Abraham in Shechem (Genesis 12:7)? Why is there a differentiation noted in these passages? A direct answer is not given. Yet, accompanying the vision, Abraham was granted greater insight into the nature of H’Shem. For this reason, out of gratitude towards H’Shem, Abraham built the mizbeach (altar) there (Zohar; Sheini Luchot HaBerit). I would add that there is a progressive revelation given to Abraham, beginning with his intellectual realisation. Next, he is called directly by H’Shem, then, after he takes that first step on the journey “to a land that I will show you,” H’Shem appears to him.

Abraham’s initial call, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and thy father’s house” (Genesis 12:1), compelled him to separate from his familiar environs. He became known as an “ivri,” mraning, “other side,” because he was from the other side of the Euphrates River. In terms of his belief, he was on one side of the moral sphere, and the world was on the other side. Incidentally, the transliteration of the word, ivri is Hebrew. Abraham was the first Hebrew, thus becoming the progenitor of the Hebrew people, whom later became known as the Israelites. Yet, the blessings given to Abraham would also include all the families of the earth being blessed through him (Genesis 12:2).