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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.

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