a little something from the Torah

because life is short and so am I.

I read a few divrei Torah today dealing with the fact that we know very little about Avraham’s mother. Actually, the other dvar Torah is not online yet, so I’m going to repeat it here. (Update: It is now here, but I’ll leave it here, anyway.)

Parsha Insights

By: Rabbi Moshe Simkovich

Parshat Lech Lecha begins with Avraham being blessed in a way no person had been blessed before. He will become a great nation, and his identity will be blessed and spread. He will be the source of blessing for all who bless him, and the opposite for those who curse him.

However, Avraham had already made a mark on the world. The impact of Avraham and Sarah even before leaving for Canaan is subtly described just a couple of verses later. It says they brought with them the “nefesh asher assu b’Charean” – the beings which they had made in Charan. This is a difficult phrase. Who were these beings? How do you “make beings”?

Rashi suggests that the phrase refers to the servants they had acquired before leaving Charan. It is significant that Rashi was not satisfied with this pshat alone. The phrasing “nefesh asher assu” is unusual, and as the text already mentioned Avraham’s wealth this explanation makes the text somewhat redundant. Indeed, Rashi presents a famous midrash as an alternative. It suggests that the “nefesh” were the people that Avraham and Sarah had converted in Charan, and these converts are the “nefesh asher assu”.

Besides Rashi’s drasha, the Talmud finds alternative interpretations.

In Massechet Avoda Zara 9a, the gemara suggests that Avraham ushered in a new era – the era of relating to G-d through Torah.

In Sanhedrin 99b, Resh Lakish suggests that anybody who teaches a youngster Torah is as if he created him, in the same sense as Avraham made people in our text.

These midrashic explanations share a theme – that even before Avraham came to the new land, he was already inspiring people, creating a new world. Avraham thus is the next stage of the divine creation of the world which we recall at Kiddush on Shabbat. The Kiddush states that G-d created the world “la’asot” – “to make”. This phrasing intimates a creation with tasks left for us to do. Humanity must participate in and complete G-d’s world, and G-d chose and blessed Avraham because he already was on this path.

Considering Avraham’s accomplishments, what is remarkable is how little the Torah tells us of this Avraham, he who changed people and the world even before he came to Israel. Were we to write a novel, we would certainly delve into his “pre-history”! Although midrash does try to fill the gaps, it is clear that the Torah did not. Why the omission?

Avraham and Sarah were innovators, the first to truly relate to G-d in a manner that could lead to sharing the making of our world. This makes their influence upon us extraordinarily dynamic. Were the Torah to have specified the exact qualities, accomplishments, character and intellectual attainments that they had reached, we might have mistakenly used it as an obligatory paradigm for ourselves. I.e., we might have been led to the conclusion that unless you act according to Avraham and Sarah’s model, you will not be a bona fide follower of G-d.

And so the Torah omits their background, emphasizing how important it is to value the source of your unique relationship to G-d. Some may discover G-d through their intellect and through studying philosophy (Rambam’s description of Avraham in Hilchot Avoda Zara). Others may approach G-d on a more emotional basis, or through what they have learned in their personal experiences. The omission reminds us that although how you got there may vary, the important thing is that you arrive in your unique way and become an “oseh”. If you join G-d in making the world anew through Torah, partnering as Avraham and Sarah did but in your way, you too are a valid partner. Then, as the first bracha of the Amidah concludes, you will help G-d the Magen Avraham, and G-d will help you in creating the world of Avraham and Sarah’s dreams .

This got me thinking about how this is really a recapitulation of the first part of the Torah itself, right in Chapter 2:

כד  עַל-כֵּן, יַעֲזָב-אִישׁ, אֶת-אָבִיו, וְאֶת-אִמּוֹ; וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ, וְהָיוּ לְבָשָׂר אֶחָד. 24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.

So in real terms, Avraham and Sarah are playing out what G-d set up for us all to do.

Shabbat Shalom.

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