Volume 68 Number 2 October 31, 2014 Cheshvan 7, 5775
This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in memory of Elianna Randone-Rabinovitz, daughter of Eve Rabinovitz, who passed away tragically this week. May the family be comforted amongst all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
For Love of Avraham
Since Abraham is the father of the Jewish People (and of monotheism as we know it), and seeing that this week’s parsha is really the first one to speak about him at length, we shall take this opportunity to get to know him a little bit, and why he was so special.
The first significant thing that the Torah teaches us about him is that G-d spoke to him, and said, “Go from your land, your birthplace and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation and bless you and make your name great…” Before this conversation, the Torah tells us nothing about Abraham—who he is, why he merits to be spoken to by G-d, why G-d blesses him and gives him all this great stuff. Such an important person, given such an historic task, with no clear introduction or explanation given—it’s very strange. And so wonders Nachmonides.
The Maharal offers a poetic answer based on our Sages’ discussion of love. It is written in the Ethics of Our Fathers that a love that is dependant on something will not last. Only a love that is dependant on nothing will last. Meaning to say, if two people love each other because they enjoy eating Cracker Jacks together, when their teeth rot and fall out, their love affair is over. If they loved each other just because they were husband and wife, their love will last past dentures all the way to eternity.
Explains the Maharal, the reason the Torah teaches us nothing about Abraham’s life before G-d sent him forth to receive His blessings is to show us that G-d’s love for Abraham and his descendants is dependant upon nothing. He didn’t choose Abraham because of some noble or worthy thing he did. He just chose him, and bound Himself in a Divine covenant with him, an eternal pact for all of the generations of his children, that He would be our G-d and we would be His people.
But is there then nothing that makes Abraham special at all? Was he just your average Joe four thousand years ago? What gives the choice any importance?
The first thing we learn about Abraham, and indeed, much of what the Torah teaches us about him, is that he was tested. From leaving his homeland only to find his destination subsumed by famine, to the binding of his beloved son for sacrifice, Abraham was tested. Our Sages enumerate ten tests that Abraham was subjected to, and he triumphantly passed them all.
Personally, if ten gargantuan tests is what G-d’s love gets you, better him than me. Most people hate tests. The only test I like is the one my wife asks me to perform on a tray of brownies to see if they’re ready.
G-d chose Abraham and endowed him with extraordinary potential—strengths and abilities that could enable him to become a role model for all of humanity. Potential in and of itself is worthless. He then gave Abraham ten test through which he could take that potential and actualize it. Through the test he showed who he was and what abilities G-d had bestowed him with. That’s what a test really is, and that’s why the Hebrew word for test, nisayon, is based on the word nais, meaning a ‘show’ or display.
In Abraham’s excellence, he passed all ten tests, becoming in actuality the leader to whom G-d had given His great and holy mission—to be the father of the Jewish People, G-d’s Chosen and beloved children.
Easy Come, Easy Stay
Avraham’s life was truly amazing. He personally met Noach, who had met Adam, the first man. This certainly must have solidified his belief in the one true G-d. Additionally, he was surrounded by a society of idol worshippers. We can’t imagine the pressure that he was under to capitulate and join the crowd. However, it was so clear to him that the world has a Creator who rules the entire universe, that nothing could shake his belief.
Even though Nimrod had him thrown into a fire intending to incinerate him, Hashem was at his side and saved him. His brother, who was not fully convinced about the veracity of Hashem’s existence, did not survive the ordeal. However, it is clear from that incident, which is only alluded to in the Torah, that Hashem alone takes care of all our needs.
Avraham’s encounter with Pharaoh illustrates this again. When Pharaoh desired Sara and took her for a wife, he gave generously to Avraham. However, when he was punished and forced to return her to Avraham, he did not retract his gifts and accuse him of deceit. Rather he allowed him to leave peacefully, laden with the wealth that he had accumulated. Nachmonides refers to this episode as one of miraculous nature.
Since Avraham was so committed to the concept of monotheism, perhaps we should examine the nature of Hashem’s command that he should leave his familiar surrounding and venture forth to Israel. Rashi comments that Hashem informed him that this trip would be for his advantage and benefit. Why was it necessary to motivate him with this incentive? Wouldn’t Avraham have gone anyway at Hashem’s behest?
When we view Avraham’s life, we see that it was chockfull of mitzvos and good deeds. He jam-packed every moment of his day with an agenda of assisting others to come to the realization that there is only one true Creator. Therefore, when Hashem sent him away and informed him that this trek would be advantageous and beneficial, it was not meant in the conventional manner. Rather, Avraham would be able to spread his network of knowledge far and wide and bring to the multitudes a deep awareness of their purpose in this world. Indeed, Rashi comments that he and Sara were profoundly engaged in persuading others to believe as they did. Prodding Avraham to travel to Israel where he could persevere in accomplishing his life’s goal was the utmost benefit that he could possibly request.
In fact, the commentators explains that when the Torah mentions Avraham’s traveling in Israel it is actually metaphoric, referring to the continuous elevation of his spirit which he experienced due to his ongoing involvement in the lives of others. He was constantly involved in providing a springboard for others to recognize the need to elevate themselves and their lives.
Chofetz Chaim adds that when the Torah states that Avraham left his own country and surroundings then he came to Israel. The intent is to show that Avraham was an extremely focused individual and did not allow distractions to deter him from his objective. Life is too short to lose sight of our goals and we must be adamantly determined to accomplish them.
A Byte for Shabbos
Although one might think that G-d’s command to Avraham to leave his homeland was a command for him alone, in fact it resonates with each of his descendants as well, urging us to use our lives productively and not to waste our precious time here in this world.