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Friday, October 30, 2015

Parashat VaYera 5776


Following the binding of Isaac, our parasha ends with the genealogy of Abraham’s family in the old country. It includes many names which we do not really hear from again.
בראשית פרשת וירא פרק כב
Genesis Chapter 22
(כ) וַיְהִי אַחֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וַיֻּגַּד לְאַבְרָהָם לֵאמֹר הִנֵּה יָלְדָה מִלְכָּה גַם־הִוא בָּנִים לְנָחוֹר אָחִיךָ:
(20) Then it was after these happenings it was told to Abraham, saying: Behold Milkah also gave birth to children from Nachor your brother.
(כא) אֶת־עוּץ בְּכֹרוֹ וְאֶת־בּוּז אָחִיו וְאֶת־קְמוּאֵל אֲבִי אֲרָם:
(21) Utz his firstborn, Buz his brother, and K’muel the father of Aram.
(כב) וְאֶת־כֶּשֶׂד וְאֶת־חֲזוֹ וְאֶת־פִּלְדָּשׁ וְאֶת־יִדְלָף וְאֵת בְּתוּאֵל:
(22) And Kesed, and Chazo, and Pildash, and Yidlaf, and B’tuel.
(כג) וּבְתוּאֵל יָלַד אֶת־רִבְקָה שְׁמֹנָה אֵלֶּה יָלְדָה מִלְכָּה לְנָחוֹר אֲחִי אַבְרָהָם:
(23) And B’tuel sired Rebecca; these eight Milkah birthed from Nachor, the brother of Abraham.
(כד) וּפִילַגְשׁוֹ וּשְׁמָהּ רְאוּמָה וַתֵּלֶד גַּם־הִוא אֶת־טֶבַח וְאֶת־גַּחַם וְאֶת־תַּחַשׁ וְאֶת־מַעֲכָה: ס
(24) And his concubine, and her name was R’uma; she also gave birth to Tevach, and Gacham, and Tachash, and Ma’akhah.

Rashi explains these verses much in the sense in which I have always read them. Their entire point it to bring us to Isaac’s future wife, Rebecca.
רש"י שם
Rashi on the above
ובתואל ילד את רבקה - כל היחוסין הללו לא נכתבו אלא בשביל פסוק זה:
And B’tuel sired Rebecca - All of these family connections were only written for this verse.

However, the Palestinian Talmud tells us that Utz, uncle of Rebecca, was actually Job. It notices that Utz is also the name of the land in which Job resides. After meandering through other suggestions (I cut out the proof texts), it comes back around to that first opinion: that Job lived during Abraham’s time.
תלמוד ירושלמי (וילנא) מסכת סוטה פרק ה, הלכה ו
Palestinian Talmud (Vilna Edition), Tractate Sotah, Chapter 5, Law 6
אימתי היה איוב רבי שמעון בן לקיש בשם בר קפרא בימי אברהם אבינו היה הדא היא דכתיב איש היה בארץ עוץ איוב שמו (איוב א:א). וכתיב את עוץ בכורו (בראשית כב כא).
When was Job? Rebbi Shimon son of Lakish in the name of the son of Kafra: He was in the days of Abraham our father. This is what is written, “There was a man in the land of Utz; Job was his name,” (Job 1:1). And it is written, “Utz his firstborn,” (Genesis 22:21).
רבי אבא אמר בימי אבינו יעקב היה ודינה היתה אשתו...
Rebbi Abba said: He was in the days of Jacob our father and Dina was his wife...
רבי לוי אמר בימי השבטים היה...
Rebbi Levi said: He was during the days of the tribes.
רבי יוסי בן חלפתא אמר בירידתן למצרים היה ובעלייתן מת.
Rebbi Yose son of Chalafta said: He was among those who descended to Egypt, and in the coming out he died...
תני ר' ישמעאל איוב מעבדי פרעה היה ומגדולי פמילייא שלו היה...
It was taught by Rebbi Yishmael: Job was among the servants of Pharaoh, and of his household grandees....
רבי יוסי בר יהודה אומר בימי שפוט השופטים היה...
Rebbi Yose son of Yehuda says: He was in the days of the judging of the Judges.
רבי שמואל בר נחמן בשם רבי יונתן בימי מלכות שבא היה...
Rebbi Shmuel son of Nachman in the name of Yonatan: He was in the days of the kingdom of Sheba...
רבי נתן אמר בימי כשדים היה... רבי יהושע בן קרחה אמר בימי אחשורוש היה
Rebbi Natan said: He was in the days of the Chaldeans...
רבי יהושע בן לוי אמר מעולי גולה היה. רבי יוחנן אמר מעולי גולה היה וישראל היה...
Rebbi Yehoshua son of Levi said: He was among those who ascended from the exile. Rebbi Yochanan said: He was among those who ascended from the exile and was an Israelite.
רבי שמעון בן לקיש אמר איוב לא היה ולא עתיד להיות. מחלפה שיטתיה דר' שמעון בן לקיש. תמן אמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש בשם בר קפרא בימי אברהם אבינו היה והכא הוא אמר הכין
Rebbi Shimon son of Lakish said: Job never was and never will be. Switch the approach of Rebbi Shimon son of Lakish. There Rebbi Shimon son of Lakish said in the name of the son of Kafra, “He existed at the time of Abraham our father.” But here he says thus.
אלא הוא היה וייסורין לא היו. ולמה נכתבו עליו אלא לומר שאילולי באו עליו היה יכול לעמוד בהן.
Rather, he existed but the tribulations did not happen. Then why were they written about regarding him. To tell you that if they had happened to him he could have withstood them.


The Babylonian Talmud has a similar discussion as to the epoch of Job. It has a later discussion which I left out where it includes some of the other suggestions in the Palestinian Talmud. However, even though it suggests the times of Isaac and Jacob, it never suggests Abraham.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא בתרא דף טו עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Batra 15a
That Rebbi Levi the son of Lachma said: Job was during the days of Moses...
דא"ר לוי בר לחמא: איוב בימי משה היה...
And some say: During the days of Isaac...
ואימא: בימי יצחק...
And some say: During the days of Jacob...
ואימא: בימי יעקב...
And some say: During the days of Joseph...
ואימא: בימי יוסף...
Rava said: Job was during the days of the spies. It is written here, “There was a man in the land of Utz; Job was his name,” (Job 1:1). And it is written there, “Is there a tree [etz] in it?” (Number 13:20). How are they the same. Here is “Utz,” there is “etz”! This is what Moses is saying to them: Is there such a man who years are long like a tree and he protects his generation like a tree?
רבא אמר: איוב בימי מרגלים היה, כתיב הכא: איש היה בארץ עוץ איוב שמו (איוב א:א), וכתיב התם: היש בהעץ (במדבר סיני יג:כ). מי דמי? הכא עוץ, התם עץ! הכי קאמר להו משה לישראל: ישנו לאותו אדם, ששנותיו ארוכות כעץ ומגין על דורו כעץ.
Those of our Rabbis sat in front of Rebbi Shmuel son of Nachmani, and he sat and said, “Job never was, nor was he created. Rather, he was a parable.”
יתיב ההוא מרבנן קמיה דר' שמואל בר נחמני, ויתיב וקאמר: איוב לא היה ולא נברא אלא משל היה.

The Torah Temimah notes that it is odd to make the claim Job lived at the time of Abraham. He is from Utz; that does not make him Utz. Further, the name Utz shows up at other times in Tanakh. He suggests reading the midrash as the motivation.
תורה תמימה הערות בראשית פרק כב, הערב ל
Torah Temimah, Notes on Genesis chapter 22, Note 30
Barukh ha’Levi Epstein, 19th and 20th Centuries Lithuania and America
At first glance this exegesis is surprising. For at other later times we find a place whose name is Utz like, “All the kings of Utz,” (Jeremiah 25), “Those dwelling in the land of Utz,” (Lamentations 4). And if so, what is the connection of the land of Utz to the person whose name it Utz? And further, according to this why did they not expound that he was in the days of Noah, as is written, “And the son of Aram: Utz,” (Genesis 10:23).
לכאורה הדרשא נפלאה, דהא עוד בזמנים מאוחרים מצינו מדינה ששמה עוץ, כמו כל מלכי העוץ (ירמי' כ"ה) יושבת בארץ עוץ (איכה ד') וא"כ מאי שייכות ארץ עוץ לאיש ששמו עוץ, ותו דלפי"ז למה לא דריש שהי' בימי נח דכתיב ובני ארם עוץ (בראשית י:כ"ג)...

The midrash below tells us that Abraham was fit to have more than ten trials. But Job took over for him.
במדבר רבה (וילנא) פרשת שלח פרשה יז
Genesis Rabbah (Vilna Edition), Parashat Sh’lach, Parasha 17
Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to him, “Difficult tribulations and other trials were fit to come on Abraham, but they did not come. And these tribulations are the ones that came on Job - which were fit to come on Abraham. Thus it is connected to the portion [of the binding of Isaac], “ Then it was after these happenings it was told to Abraham… Utz his firstborn and Buz.” And Utz was Job.
אמר לו הקב"ה יסורין קשים ונסיונין אחרים היו ראויין לבא על אברהם ואינן באין ואלו הן היסורין אותן שבאו על איוב היו ראוין לבא על אברהם שכן הוא נסמך לפרשה ויהי אחרי הדברים האלה ויגד וגו' את עוץ בכורו ואת בוז ועוץ היה איוב

So what is the point? If I may be so bold as to make a suggestions. Whatever the meaning behind the binding of Isaac, perhaps this task is so weighty that God could no longer burden Abraham. It so broke him, even if he did pass. Instead, God has to move on to testing someone else. This gives us a sense of what the Palestinian Talmud meant that Job existed but never actually suffered such tribulations; but he could have. The trials of Abraham and Job were more than any person should ever have to suffer, though I am sure God has His reasons.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

It Was Passover: Explaining Rashi, Lot, and the Matzah


בראשית פרשת בראשית פרק ד
Genesis Chapter 4
(ג) וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ יָמִים וַיָּבֵא קַיִן מִפְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה מִנְחָה לַיקֹוָק:
(3) It was after some time, and Cain brought a grain offering to Hashem from the fruit of the Earth


מדרש אגדה (בובר) בראשית פרשת בראשית פרק ד
Midrash Agadah (Buber Edition), Genesis, Chapter 4
ויהי מקץ ימים. זמן פסח היה, אמר אדם לבניו עתידים ישראל כולם להביא פסחיהם ויהיו לרצון ועת רצון היא זאת, אף אתם הביאו קרבניכם לפניו וירצה לכם:
It was after some time: It was the time of Pesach. Adam said to his sons, “In the future, all of Israel will bring their Passover sacrifices and they will be pleasing, and this is a pleasing time, so you too should bring your sacrifices before Him, and he will be satisfied with you.”


בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת לך לך פרשה מב
Genesis Rabbah (Vilna Edition), Parasha 42
ריש לקיש בשם בר קפרא הוא עוג הוא פליט ולמה נקרא שמו עוג שבא ומצא את אברם יושב ועוסק במצות עוגות
Reish Lakish in the name of Bar Kafra: He was Og, he was Palit (the survivor). Why was his name called, “Og [עוג]?” For he came and found Avram sitting engaged in cakes [עוגות] of matzah.

בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת וירא פרשה מח
Genesis Rabbah (Vilna Edition), Parasha 48
לושי ועשי עוגות, הדא אמרת פרס הפסח הוה
“Knead and make cakes,” this says that it was part way through the time of preparation for Passover.

בראשית פרשת וירא פרק יח
Genesis Chapter 18
(ו) וַיְמַהֵר אַבְרָהָם הָאֹהֱלָה אֶל־שָׂרָה וַיֹּאמֶר מַהֲרִי שְׁלֹשׁ סְאִים קֶמַח סֹלֶת לוּשִׁי וַעֲשִׂי עֻגוֹת:
(6) Abraham hurried to the tent to Sarah and said, “Hurry, three seah of fine flour. Knead and make cakes.”

בראשית פרשת וירא פרק יט
Genesis Chapter 19
(ג) וַיִּפְצַר־בָּם מְאֹד וַיָּסֻרוּ אֵלָיו וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל־בֵּיתוֹ וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם מִשְׁתֶּה וּמַצּוֹת אָפָה וַיֹּאכֵלוּ:
(3) He pressed them hard, and they diverted to him and arrived at his house. Then he made them a feast, and baked matzahs and they ate.

רש"י בראשית פרשת וירא פרק יט
Rashi on Genesis Chapter 19
ומצות אפה - פסח היה:
And baked matzahs - it was Passover.

שפתי חכמים בראשית פרשת וירא פרק יט
Siftei Chakhamim, Genesis Chapter 19
Shabbtai Bass, 17th and 18th Centuries Poland
והא דאמר גבי אברהם (לעיל י"ח ו') לושי ועשי עוגות, ולא אמר מצות שהרי פסח היה והיה לו לומר עוגות מצות, יש לומר דאברהם ציוה שתעשה מצה עשירה לפי כבוד האורחים וק"ל:
That which was said about Abraham, “Knead and make cakes,” and it doesn’t say, “matzahs,” for it was Passover, so it should have said, “cakes of matzah.” There is to say that Abraham commanded that she [Sarah] should make rich matzah due to honor of the guests, and this is easy to understand.

רמב"ן בראשית פרשת לך לך פרק יב
Nachmanides, Genesis 12
It tells you a general principle. Understand it for all the coming portions in regards to Avraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And this is a great matter. Our Rabbis recalled it in a short manner and said, “Everything that occurred to the forefathers was a sign for the children.”
אומר לך כלל תבין אותו בכל הפרשיות הבאות בענין אברהם יצחק ויעקב, והוא ענין גדול, הזכירוהו רבותינו בדרך קצרה, ואמרו (תנחומא ט) כל מה שאירע לאבות סימן לבנים,
Therefore the writings were lengthy in the story of the travels, and the digging of wells, and other happenings. And one who considers them thinks that they are superfluous with no effect. But they all come to teach about the future. For when the occurrence comes to a prophet from the three forefathers, understood from it is the matter decreed to come to the child.
ולכן יאריכו הכתובים בספור המסעות וחפירת הבארות ושאר המקרים, ויחשוב החושב בהם כאלו הם דברים מיותרים אין בהם תועלת, וכולם באים ללמד על העתיד, כי כאשר יבוא המקרה לנביא משלשת האבות יתבונן ממנו הדבר הנגזר לבא לזרעו:

הצעה מהרב יואל בן נון על השוואה בן יציאת סדום ליציאת מצרים
Suggestion of Rav Yoel Bin Nun on a comparison of the exodus from S’dom and the exodus from Egypt
שמות י"ב
בראשית י"ט
(לט) וַיֹּאפוּ אֶת־הַבָּצֵק אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִיאוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם עֻגֹת מַצּוֹת...
(ג) ...וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם מִשְׁתֶּה וּמַצּוֹת אָפָה וַיֹּאכֵלוּ:
(39) Then they baked the dough that they took from Egypt as cakes of matzah...
(3) Then he made for them a banquet and he baked matzot; then they ate.
(כב) וְאַתֶּם לֹא תֵצְאוּ אִישׁ מִפֶּתַח־בֵּיתוֹ עַד־בֹּקֶר:
(ו) וַיֵּצֵא אֲלֵהֶם לוֹט הַפֶּתְחָה וְהַדֶּלֶת סָגַר אַחֲרָיו:
(22) And you, do not go out - a person - from the opening of his house until morning.
(6) Then Lot went out to them through the opening; and he closed the door after him.
(כג) וְעָבַר יְקֹוָק לִנְגֹּף אֶת־מִצְרַיִם וְרָאָה אֶת־הַדָּם עַל־הַמַּשְׁקוֹף וְעַל שְׁתֵּי הַמְּזוּזֹת וּפָסַח יְקֹוָק עַל־הַפֶּתַח וְלֹא יִתֵּן הַמַּשְׁחִית לָבֹא אֶל־בָּתֵּיכֶם לִנְגֹּף:
(יא) וְאֶת־הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר־פֶּתַח הַבַּיִת הִכּוּ בַּסַּנְוֵרִים מִקָּטֹן וְעַד־גָּדוֹל וַיִּלְאוּ לִמְצֹא הַפָּתַח:
(23) Then Hashem passed to strike Egypt; but He saw the blood that was on the lintel and the two doorposts; then Hashem skipped over the opening and did not permit the destroyer to come into the house to strike.
(11) And the men who were at the opening of the house they struck with blindness, from young to old; and they grew fatigued finding the opening.
(כז) וַאֲמַרְתֶּם זֶבַח־פֶּסַח הוּא לַיקֹוָק אֲשֶׁר פָּסַח עַל־בָּתֵּי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּמִצְרַיִם בְּנָגְפּוֹ אֶת־מִצְרַיִם וְאֶת־בָּתֵּינוּ הִצִּיל...
(יג) כִּי־מַשְׁחִתִים אֲנַחְנוּ אֶת־הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה כִּי־גָדְלָה צַעֲקָתָם אֶת־פְּנֵי יְקֹוָק וַיְשַׁלְּחֵנוּ יְקֹוָק לְשַׁחֲתָהּ:
(27) Then you shall say, “This is the Passover sacrifice to Hashem who skipped over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt in His striking of Egypt, but our houses He saved…”
(13) “For we will destroy this place for its outcry has grown great in front of Hashem; then Hashem sent us to destroy it.”
(לא) וַיִּקְרָא לְמֹשֶׁה וּלְאַהֲרֹן לַיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר קוּמוּ צְּאוּ מִתּוֹךְ עַמִּי גַּם־אַתֶּם גַּם־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּלְכוּ עִבְדוּ אֶת־יְקֹוָק כְּדַבֶּרְכֶם:
(יד) וַיֵּצֵא לוֹט וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל־חֲתָנָיו לֹקְחֵי בְנֹתָיו וַיֹּאמֶר קוּמוּ צְּאוּ מִן־הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה כִּי־מַשְׁחִית יְקֹוָק אֶת־הָעִיר...
(31) Then he called to Moses and Aaron in the evening and said, “Get up and go from amidst my nation; also you, also the children of Israel; and go serve Hashem as you said.”
(14) Then Lot went out and spoke to his son in laws, who married his daughters; then he said, “Get up and go out from this place, for Hashem is destroying the city…”
(נא) וַיְהִי בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה הוֹצִיא יְקֹוָק אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם עַל־צִבְאֹתָם: פ
(יב) וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים אֶל־לוֹט עֹד מִי־לְךָ פֹה חָתָן וּבָנֶיךָ וּבְנֹתֶיךָ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר־לְךָ בָּעִיר הוֹצֵא מִן־הַמָּקוֹם:
(51) Then it was in the midst of this day, Hashem took out the children of Israel from Egypt by their hosts.
(12) Then the men said to Lot, “Anyone who is still with you, son-in-law, sons, and daughters, and all who are with you in the city, go out from the place.”
(לט) וַיֹּאפוּ אֶת־הַבָּצֵק אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִיאוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם עֻגֹת מַצּוֹת כִּי לֹא חָמֵץ כִּי־גֹרְשׁוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לְהִתְמַהְמֵהַּ וְגַם־צֵדָה לֹא־עָשׂוּ לָהֶם:
(טז) וַיִּתְמַהְמָהּ וַיַּחֲזִיקוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים בְּיָדוֹ וּבְיַד־אִשְׁתּוֹ וּבְיַד שְׁתֵּי בְנֹתָיו בְּחֶמְלַת יְקֹוָק עָלָיו וַיֹּצִאֻהוּ וַיַּנִּחֻהוּ מִחוּץ לָעִיר:
(39) Then they baked the dough that they took from Egypt as cakes of matzah; for it did not leaven since they were expelled from Egypt and were not able to tarry, and they did not make provisions for themselves.
(17) Then he tarried; then the men grasped his hand, the hand of his wife, and the hands of his two daughters with the compassion of Hashem on him; then they took him out and placed him outside of the city.
כל הלילה אל הבוקר ביציאת מצרים נולד עם ישראל
כל הלילה אל הבוקר ממשפחת לוט שניצלה יצאו שני עמים: מואב ועמון.
All of the night until the morning in the exodus from Egypt the nation of Israel was born.
All of the night until the morning from the family of Lot which was saved two nations emerged: Amon and Moab.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Parashat Lekh Lekha 5776


One of the questions that many of our sources try to answer is, “Why Avraham?” What made him special. We do have one hint in our text though about the souls that Avraham “made” while in Haran.
בראשית פרשת לך לך פרק יב
Genesis Chapter 12
(5) Then Avram took Sarai, his wife, Lot, his nephew, all of the property they had collected, all of the souls that they had made in Haran; then they went out to go in the direction of the land of Cana’an; then they came to the land of Cana’an.
(ה) וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם אֶת־שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת־לוֹט בֶּן־אָחִיו וְאֶת־כָּל־רְכוּשָׁם אֲשֶׁר רָכָשׁוּ וְאֶת־הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר־עָשׂוּ בְחָרָן וַיֵּצְאוּ לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן וַיָּבֹאוּ אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן:

Rashi references a midrash (which we will see next), that Avraham and Sarah converted people. He does tells us, though, that the plain meaning is merely the servants they purchased in the slave market.
רש"י בראשית פרשת לך לך פרק יב
Rashi, Genesis Chapter 12
That he brought them together under the wings of the Presence of God. Avraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women. And the Text considered them as if they made them.
שהכניסן תחת כנפי השכינה, אברהם מגייר את האנשים, ושרה מגיירת הנשים, ומעלה עליהם הכתוב כאלו עשאום.
But the plain meaning of the verse is slaves and slave-women that they purchased.
ופשוטו של מקרא עבדים ושפחות שקנו להם

The midrash referenced by Rashi suggests reading “made” literally. But it rejects that there is any more room for creating people in the world. Therefore it concludes Avraham and Sarah must have converted people. So what does this actually mean?
בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת לך לך פרשה לט, סימן יד
Genesis Rabbah (Vilna Edition), Parasha 39, Siman 14
And all of the souls that they made in Haran. Said Rebbi Elazar son of Zimra: If we gather all those who come to be created in the world, one could not even throw a single mosquito soul in the mix. And it says, “And all of the souls that they made”! Rather, these are the converts that they converted.
ואת הנפש אשר עשו בחרן, אמר רבי אלעזר בן זימרא אם מתכנסין כל באי העולם לברוא אפילו יתוש אחד אינן יכולין לזרוק בו נשמה ואת אמר ואת הנפש אשר עשו אלא אלו הגרים שגיירו,
If it is so that they converted, why does it say, “they made.” Only to teach you that any who draws near the idolater and converts him, it is as if one created him.
ואם כן שגיירו למה אמר עשו אלא ללמדך שכל מי שהוא מקרב את העובד כוכבים ומגיירו כאלו בראו,
It should say, “that he made.” Why is it said, “that they made”? Said Rav Huna: Abraham would convert the men and Sarah would convert the women.
ויאמר אשר עשה, למה נאמר אשר עשו, אמר רב הונא אברהם היה מגייר את האנשים ושרה מגיירת את הנשים.

The great Aramaic translator, Onkelos, takes the conversion idea one step further. While usually somewhat literally, he tells us that Avraham and Sarah made people subjects of Torah. This gives us some context to what “conversion” means. However, it does not explain what “Torah” means in a pre-Sinai context.
תרגום אונקלוס בראשית פרשת לך לך פרק יב
Translation of Onkelos, Genesis, Chapter 12
(5) And Avram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his nephew, all of the possessions they acquired, and the people that they made subjects of the Torah in Haran; then they went out to go to the land of Cana’an; then they arrived in the land of Cana’an.
(ה) ודבר אברם ית שרי אתתיה וית לוט בר אחוהי וית כל קנינהון דקנו וית נפשתא דשעבידו לאוריתא בחרן ונפקו למיזל לארעא דכנען ואתו לארעא דכנען:

The Chizkuni tells us that this is actually the beginning of the giving of the Torah. He cites the piece of the Gemara we will see next.
חזקוני בראשית פרשת לך לך פרק יב
Chizkuni, Genesis Chapter 12
Chizkiyahu ben Manoach, 13th Century France
And the souls that they made:  They said in a teaching of the tanna of the house of Eliyahu: here begins the giving of Torah, and the translation [of Onkelos] is proof.
ואת הנפש אשר עשו אמרי' בשמעתא דתנא דבי אליהו כאן מתחיל מתן תורה, והתרגום ראיה.

The tanna [person who would repeat teachings] from the house of Eliyahu splits the history of the world into three two-thousand year periods. The middle is the period of the Torah. However, this does not quite add up unless we count the period of Torah from the time of Avraham.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת עבודה זרה דף ט עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Avodah Zarah 9a
The tanna of the house of Eliyahu: The world exists six thousand years. Two thousand are chaos, two thousand are Torah, and two thousand are the days of the messiah. And in our increasing sins, subtracted from them were those that were subtracted from them [the days of the messiah].
תנא דבי אליהו: ששת אלפים שנה הוי העולם, שני אלפים תוהו, שני אלפים תורה, שני אלפים ימות המשיח, בעונותינו שרבו יצאו מהן מה שיצאו מהן.
The two thousand of Torah from when? If we say from the giving of the Torah until now, there are not all them. For if you look into them, it is two thousand and some of this thousand.
שני אלפים תורה מאימת? אי נימא ממתן תורה עד השתא, ליכא כולי האי, דכי מעיינת בהו, תרי אלפי פרטי דהאי אלפא הוא דהואי!
If you add up from creation until the giving of the Torah, you have to dip into the third millennium.

Rather, from, “And the souls that they made in Haran.” And we have a received tradition that Avraham was at that time fifty two.
אלא מואת הנפש אשר עשו בחרן, וגמירי, דאברהם בההיא שעתא בר חמשין ותרתי הוה,
How short is what the tanna teaches? They are four hundred and four eight years. And if you investigate it, from the “souls that they made in Haran,” until the giving of the Torah, there are four hundred and forty eight years.
כמה בצרן מדתני תנא? ארבע מאה וארבעים ותמניא שנין הויין, כי מעיינת ביה מהנפש אשר עשו בחרן עד מתן תורה, ארבע מאה וארבעים ותמניא שנין הויין.

Along a similar line, Reish Lakish sees Avraham and Sarah as “making souls” by teaching them Torah.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף צט עמוד ב
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 99b
אמר ריש לקיש: כל המלמד את בן חבירו תורה מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו עשאו, שנאמר ואת הנפש אשר עשו בחרן.
Said Reish Lakish: Any who teaches the son of his fellow Torah, the Text considers it is as if he made him. As it says, “And the souls that he made in Haran.”

The midrash below associates the first Psalm with Avraham. Therefore, I have included it. The midrash wonders how Avraham could have learned Torah without a teacher. It sees God giving Avraham special kidneys (seen as the seat of knowledge in the ancient world). This makes Avraham a bit like Moshe in getting Torah from God. It also sees Torah as something that requires a teacher.
תהלים פרק א
Psalms, Chapter 1
(1) Happy is the man who did not follow the counsel of the wicked, in the path of sinners he did not stand, and in the seat of the scornful he did not sit.
(א) אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לֹא עָמָד וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב:
(2) Rather, the Torah of Hashem is his desire, and in His Torah he muses day and night.
(ב) כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת יְקֹוָק חֶפְצוֹ וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה:
(3) Then he will be like a tree planted on streams of water whose fruit will deliver at its proper time and whose leaves will not whither, and all that he does will succeed.
(ג) וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל־פַּלְגֵי מָיִם אֲשֶׁר פִּרְיוֹ יִתֵּן בְּעִתּוֹ וְעָלֵהוּ לֹא־יִבּוֹל וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂה יַצְלִיחַ:
(4) It is not so for the wicked; rather [they are like] chaff cast aside by the wind.
(ד) לֹא־כֵן הָרְשָׁעִים כִּי אִם־כַּמֹּץ אֲשֶׁר־תִּדְּפֶנּוּ רוּחַ:
(5) Therefore the wicked will in stand in the judgement and sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
(ה) עַל־כֵּן לֹא־יָקֻמוּ רְשָׁעִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּט וְחַטָּאִים בַּעֲדַת צַדִּיקִים:
(6) For Hashem knows the way of the righteous, and the way of the wicked will be destroyed.
(ו) כִּי־יוֹדֵעַ יְקֹוָק דֶּרֶךְ צַדִּיקִים וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים תֹּאבֵד:

בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת חיי שרה פרשה סא, סימן א
Genesis Rabbah (Vilna Edition), Parasha 61, Siman 1
Then Avraham took another wife and her name was K’torah. It is written, “Happy is the man who did not follow… .” “Who did not follow the counsel of the wicked.” This is [about] the generation of dispersion. “And in the path of sinners he did not stand.” These are the men of Sodom. As it says, “The men of Sodom were evil and sinners,” (Genesis 13:13). “And in the seat of sinners he did not sit,” (Genesis 20:15). This is Avimelekh, as it says, “Here is my land before you.” “Rather, the Torah of Hashem is his desire.” “I knew him, that he would command [his children],” (Genesis 18:19). “And in His Torah he muses.”
ויוסף אברהם ויקח אשה ושמה קטורה, כתיב (תהלים א) אשרי האיש אשר לא הלך וגו' אשר לא הלך בעצת רשעים, זה דור הפלגה, ובדרך חטאים לא עמד, אלו אנשי סדום, שנאמר ואנשי סדום רעים וחטאים (בראשית יג:יג), ובמושב לצים לא ישב זה אבימלך שנאמר הנה ארצי לפניך וגו  (בראשית כ:טו)', כי אם בתורת ה' חפצו, כי ידעתיו למען אשר יצוה (בראשית יח:יט), ובתורתו יהגה
Said Rebbi Shimon: A father did not teach him and he did not have a Rabbi. From where did he learn Torah? Rather, the Holy One, blessed be He, designated his kidneys as two Rabbis and they would give forth and teach him Torah and wisdom. The is what it means, “I will bless Hashem that he counsels me; even in the evening my kidneys instruct me,” (Psalms 16:7).
אר"ש אב לא למדו ורב לא היה לו, ומהיכן למד את התורה, אלא זימן לו הקב"ה שתי כליותיו כמין שני רבנים והיו נובעות ומלמדות אותו תורה וחכמה, הה"ד אברך את ה' אשר יעצני אף לילות יסרוני כליותי (תהלים טז:ז),

The Rambam, in his summary of this midrashic history, tells us there were other monotheists. However, Avraham made this known throughout the world. Not only that, he passed on the tradition and even composed books. This begins to give us a sense of what Torah is really about. It is about not just having knowledge of God and His ways, but the ability to pass that on. This takes the meaning of the word “Torah” quite literally. To bring people under Torah is to bring them under a history of instruction about God.
משנה תורה הלכות עבודה זרה פרק א, הלכה ב - הלכה ג
Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idolatry, Chapter 1, Laws 2-3
But the Creator of World, there was not a person who knew and recognized Him aside from a few individuals like Chanoch, Methusalah, Noah, Shem, and Ever. And as such the world continued to turn until the pillar of the world was born, and that is Avraham our father.
אבל צור העולמים לא היה שום אדם שהיה מכירו ולא יודעו אלא יחידים בעולם כגון חנוך ומתושלח נח שם ועבר, ועל דרך זה היה העולם הולך ומתגלגל עד שנולד עמודו של עולם והוא אברהם אבינו.
Then he [Avraham] began to stand up and call in a great voice to the entire world and to inform them that there is one God for the entire world. And it is fitting to worship Him. And he would go and call and gather the nation from city to city and from kingdom to kingdom until he came to the land of Cana’an. And he called, as it says, “Then he called there in the Name of Hashem, God of the world,” (Genesis 21:33). And when they gathered to him and interrogated him on his words, he would inform each one according to his mental ability until he returned him to the true path. Until thousands and tens of thousands were gathered to him. And those are the people of the house of Abraham. And he planted in their hearts this great principle. And he wrote books about it and made it known to Isaac his son. And Isaac informed Jacob and appointed him to learn and sit, teach, and encourage those clinging to him...
והתחיל לעמוד ולקרוא בקול גדול לכל העולם ולהודיעם שיש שם אלוה אחד לכל העולם ולו ראוי לעבוד, והיה מהלך וקורא ומקבץ העם מעיר לעיר ומממלכה לממלכה עד שהגיע לארץ כנען והוא קורא שנאמר ויקרא שם בשם ה' אל עולם (בראשית כא:לג), וכיון שהיו העם מתקבצין אליו ושואלין לו על דבריו היה מודיע לכל אחד ואחד כפי דעתו עד שיחזירהו לדרך האמת עד שנתקבצו אליו אלפים ורבבות והם אנשי בית אברהם ושתל בלבם העיקר הגדול הזה וחבר בו ספרים והודיעו ליצחק בנו, וישב יצחק מלמד ומזהיר, ויצחק הודיע ליעקב ומינהו ללמד וישב מלמד ומחזיק כל הנלוים אליו...

The Ra’avad asks why Shem and Ever did not destroy idols like Avraham. He suggests people hid their idolatry from Shem and Ever (who were living in Cana’an), as opposed Avraham who lived in Babylonia. [I understand this per the Kesef Mishneh in the next piece. There is some ambiguity as to who is hiding from whom.]
השגת הראב"ד
Glosses of the Ra’avad
Avaraham ben David III, 12th Century France
“And he would go and call,” etc., “until he came to the land of Cana’an, as it says, ‘Then he called there in the Name of Hashem, God of the world.’ Avraham says, “I am shocked, for there were Shem and Ever. How did they not prevent [idolatry]? And it is possible that they prevented, but they were not given the opportunity to break their idols since they hid themselves from them. Until Abraham came and broke the idols of his father.
והיה מהלך וקורא וכו' עד שהגיע לארץ כנען שנאמר ויקרא שם בשם ה' אל עולם. א"א ותמה אני שהרי היו שם שם ועבר איך לא היו מוחין, ואפשר כי מוחים היו ולא אירע להם שישברו את צלמיהם לפי שהיו מתחבאים מהם עד שבא אברהם ושבר צלמי אביו.

The Kesef Mishneh rejects this answer, but he does entertain the question. Instead, he suggests there were no idols in Cana’an. But while Shem and Ever may have broken idols, they did not really teach the way of God. They taught a select few. Rather, it was not until Avraham that there was a truly public teaching of the way of God. This might explain to us what it means that Avraham was the beginning of the giving of the Torah. It might also explain what made Avraham special.
כסף משנה הלכות עבודה זרה פרק א
Kesef Mishneh, Laws of Idolatry, Chapter 1
Yosef Karo, 15th and 16th Centuries Spain, Turkey, and Israel
מ"ש לפי שהיו מתחבאים מהם אינה טענה שהרי נמרוד וכל מלכותו בפרהסיא היו עובדים הצלמים ובני אדם היו מוכרים צלמים בחניות כמ"ש חז"ל שהיה תרח מוכר צלמים.
What he [the Ra’avad] wrote that they were hiding from them: that was not actual hiding, for Nimrod and his entire kingdom were worshiping the idols. And people were selling idols in stores, as our Rabbis, of blessed memory, wrote that Terach sold idols.
ולענין התימה שתמה יש לומר דמעיקרא ליתא שאברהם היה בבבל ושם ועבר היו בארץ כנען ושם לא שיבר אברהם הצלמים אלא שהיה קורא ומכריז אמונת היחוד ושם ועבר היו מודיעים דרך ה' לתלמידיהם אבל לא נתעוררו לקרוא ולהכריז כמו אברהם ועל כן גדלה מעלתו ביותר:
And according to the shock that he expressed, there is to say that there is no [question at all]. For Avraham was in Babylonian and Shem and Ever were in the land of Cana’an. And there Avraham did not break the idols. Rather he would call and announce the belief of the Singular One. And Shem and Ever made known the way of Hashem to their students, but they were not aroused to call and announce like Avraham. And for such his position was more exalted.