Sanctifying God’s Name & Abram’s Identity II
Rabbi Israel Chait
Last week, we left with three questions:
1) Rashi taught that Abram would receive a great reward: money, fame, and children. As travel – now commanded to Abram – reduces these three, God therefore assured Abram that by following His command to leave Ur Kasdim, he would be compensated. Our question was: Why should Abram have concern for these matters? Maimonides teaches in his work, the Guide for the Perplexed, that these are evil matters: “For it is in the nature of man to strive to gain money and to increase it: and his great desire to add to his wealth and honor is the chief source of misery for man.” (Book III, Chap. XXXIX) Therefore, Abram should have no concern for these. Why then did God guarantee these matters to Abram?
2) What is the mandate of “Lech Lecha”, “Leave your land?” From what context did this command emerge? God does not make commands without any relevance. Also, Abram was no longer in Ur Kasdim; he was now residing in Charan. Therefore, why was he commanded at this time to leave further?
3) “Lech Lecha” is where the Torah first introduces us to Abram. But we ask, “If the whole greatness of Abram was his discovery of God over 40 years, how he influenced people teaching monotheism and refuting idolatry and establishing the foundations of Torah, why are these matters, so central to Abram’s identity, not mentioned in the Torah? This is astounding, that the Torah should neglect the true greatness of Abram.
The Torah, in its cryptic fashion, does however allow us to reconstruct the origins of Abram, if we read between the lines.
Reviewing the verses in the end of Parshas Noah, we uncover more of a picture. Genesis 11:31 reads:
“And Terach took Abram his son, and Lote son of Haran his grandson, and Sarai his daughter in law, wife of Abram his son, and they exited with him, from Ur Kasdim to travel to the land of Canaan. And they came up to Charan, and they dwelled there.”
Let us review. Abram had a strange father: Terach attacked his own son Abram. This is an abnormality. Terach was jealous of Abram, as he established new ideas, denying the religion of the masses. Abram was viewed as a revolutionary, rebelling against the state. Terach, unable to refute his son, turned him in to the authorities. He wished to have his own son killed. This is psychologically abnormal; as a father, Terach was not healthy-minded. Terach informed on Abram to Nimrod. Abram then debated with Nimrod, but to no avail. Nimrod’s decision to kill Abram was due to his recognition of Abram as a threat to the state. Nimrod then resorted to force, and had cast Abram to the furnace, but Abram was miraculously saved.
Abram was well known in Ur Kasdim, and people came to him. He had a platform, and members of that society were curious to hear his views. Terach, instead of losing his son Abram, lost Haran. Terach then took his son Abram, on whom he had previously informed, along with Lote. Apparently, Terach had a change of heart. The verse then states, “and they exited with him.” Who went with whom? It is not clear. The Rabbis say this means, “they went with Abram”, not referring to Terach. Apparently, Terach only initiated the exodus from Ur, but it was Abram who was the primary reason why others exited Ur Kasdim. Why do we need to know this?
Evidently, there was a plan. They initially intended to travel to Canaan. However, as they settled in Charan, we learn that Canaan was not a destination per se: the goal was in fact to leave Ur Kasdim, not to reach Canaan. This is why they settled in Charan: there was no need to travel further since they were far enough from Ur Kasdim. By the Torah expressing these facts, we are directed to look beneath the surface: the goal was relocation.
Abram had one concern, to spread the ideas of God. This was his life’s work: to debate with others, and educate the world about the one, true God. As Maimonides teaches, Abram wrote many books for this purpose.
Although displaying a change of character by removing Abram from the clutches of Nimrod, Terach never “truly” repented. (Rashi’s view is that Terach repented.) However, Ramban states that due to the merit of Abram, Terach was viewed as a penitent individual. But why should Abram’s acts render Terach as one who repented? How can Abram’s perfection “recreate Terach”, rendering him as one who repented?
Terach had a psychological problem. Later, when he lost Haran, he had a change of heart, but he didn’t embrace the ideas of Abram. However, he was sorry for how he fathered his son. This caused him to reconsider his poor actions, and therefore, took them from Ur Kasdim. This is why the Rabbis state, “Terach was a wicked person his entire days”. Remorse alone, without a true attachment to Abram’s ideas, to the truth, did not remove Terach’s status as a wicked person.
This was the new status of Terach: he revised his emotional life, overhauling his bad emotions. Terach had regret for his animosity towards Abram. This placed Terach closer to reality. Once he overcame this animosity, Abram’s ideas kept playing on Terach’s mind. When Terach came close to death, he was able to rethink Abram’s ideas, and then affirmed Abram’s views. Thus, he is referred to as a penitent person.
Ramban’s position is that Terach never fully embraced the correct ideas. The nature of a wicked person is so rooted in evil that he cannot improve. But although Terach was not penitent, once he overcame his animosity towards Abram, his soul turned somewhat towards the true ideas. He was in a state of mind, where we do not know his true position. He was not negative, but also, he was not positively inclined towards the truths of his son’s teachings. Only God could know Terach’s true state. Regarding his relationship with man, Terach never accepted Abram’s views, so he is therefore termed a “rasha”, a wicked person. But regarding his relationship with God, we do not know his true level. This is Ramban’s view.
Later, Abram was bothered about his father’s state. Therefore, God informed Abram that his father merited the next world. God gave Abram good tidings about his father Terach.
Abram went with Terach to Charan, intent on fulfilling his obligation to teach his ideas. Under Nimrod’s rule in Ur Kasdim, Abram could not further his teachings. But in Charan, Abram was safe to teach the truth. Therefore, Abram decided this was a proper decision, to travel to a place where he was not opposed, now able to teach his life’s work. But it was at this point that God told Abram, “This is not the place where you will succeed.” God’s providence now stepped in, “You might think that on the road you will not be successful. Not so. That is the natural conclusion. However, drop natural law. Forget about how it operates. Travel from Terach and Charan, and despite how travel usually inhibits one’s goals, you are now under My providence, and I will bless you. My providence will address all those areas that might be negatively affected by travel, i.e., wealth, children and fame.” This was God’s promise to Abram, “…I will bless you and make your name great.” (Gen. 12:2)
God now set out this course for Abram, commanding him to drop all considerations. But besides these, God also taught Abram that he should break all emotional attachments: to his land, to his birthplace, and to his father’s house. He must become emotionally independent. God’s command was, “forget about the practical platform, and engage in My command.” This was the command of “Lech Lecha”.
Torah’s Concealment of Abram’s Discovery
Why didn’t the Torah tell us about Abram’s great discovery of God? The reason is, because the Torah is not a book to teach of personal successes. Rather, it is an account of God’s providence, and how sanctification of God’s name takes place in the world. Had Abram remained firm in his own plan, he would not have affected too many people. It was only due to God’s plan, that Abram was successful. It was at this point that Abram became the “Israelite nation”. Rashi says the land was his from that moment and forward, but occupation would only ensue later. The nationality of Abram was also indicated by his coinage: he created his own currency, thereby distinguishing him and his followers from other cultures. He desired to create a unique identity for the people who embodied and taught the truths of God. A distinct currency assists in this goal. From this point of God’s command and Abram’s adherence, Abram became a permanent phenomenon.
This explains why the Torah, prior to this point in Abram’s life, omits all accounts of Abram. Abram’s success at his mission was only via God’s intervention, and this commences with “Lech Lecha”. Before Lech Lecha, Abram was not the “pillar of the world” as Maimonides termed him. Abram only became the pillar, once God’s providence stepped in. Had the Torah recounted Abram’s personal greatness, we would have the incorrect view of the Torah’s purpose: to sanctify God’s name. Obscuring mankind’s (Abram’s) personal achievements, the Torah focuses us on God.
An interesting side point is that Abram did not offer animals on the altars he created - not a single ox. It would appear that Abram built these altars so as to teach, that to God alone must we sacrifice. Simultaneously, Abram’s absence of any offerings - aside from the ram at the Akeida - teaches that we are not truly fit to offer sacrifices to God. Abram built his altars, and also “called out in God’s name”, teaching, God is the only One to serve, not idols, but we are also unworthy of doing so. Hence, no animals were offered. Parenthetically, Abram’s requirement of 40 years before fully comprehending what he could about God, teaches that the study and realization of truth - of God - is no simple matter.
The Jews’ Purpose of Sanctifying God’s Name: Impossible without God’s Providence
Sanctification of God’s name cannot take place naturally, as Parshas Haazinu teaches. Ramban says that the purpose of the Jews is to recognize God, to admit His existence and make His name known throughout the world. Had the Jews been destroyed, no one would be left to teach of God’s existence. Had God removed His providence from the Jews, all knowledge of God would be lost from the world: “…I will remove your remembrance from mankind.” (Deut. 32:26) It is only because of our nature, to be a nation that teaches the world about God, that God’s providence saved us from exile:
“…and we would have no salvation from the nations, except on account of His Name, as the matter states in Ezekiel,[20:41] ‘And I will gather you from the lands in which you are scattered, and I will be sanctified in you in the eyes of the nations, and you will know that I am God with My making of you, for the sake of My Name.” (Ramban, Deut. 32:26)
Deuteronomy 32:20 states, “And God said, ‘I will hide My face from them, see what their end will be’…” This teaches that once God hides Himself from us, there is no help. Only through God’s providence alone, are we set on the course to fulfill our role as the people who sanctify God’s name. This is stated clearly (verse 39), “See now, I, it is I, and there are no other gods with Me; I kill and bring to life, I struck down and I will heal, and there is no rescuer from My hand.”
Parshas Haazina also states, (Deut. 32:9) “For a portion unto God is His people, Jacob (is) a rope of His inheritance”. [“Rope” here implies a third ‘link in the chain’ or a third cord of the rope, referring to Jacob being the third patriarch after Abraham and Isaac. Jacob was a third, strengthening cord ‘tying’ the patriarchs to their descendants.] On this verse, Rashi says, “For as God’s portion (Israel) was hidden among the nations, and will eventually go out (from them).” What does this mean that “His portion was hidden among them and in the future, would go out”? This means that the Providence for the entire world to recognize God was immersed in the Providence of God’s nation. Without this Providence, the world could never recognize the true idea of God and fulfill the purpose of their existence as human beings. This was done from the beginning through the patriarchs, which constitute “chevel nachalaso”, the “rope of His inheritance” as Rashi explains.
The Shira commences with God’s kindness, teaching thereby that without His kindness, man’s purpose would not be realized. This is built into the creation. Ramban says that what happens in the history of the world as a reflection of the days of creation, e.g., man was created on the sixth day. Thus, Messiah, the man of wisdom will come in the sixth millennia. This means that there would be no creation, were it not for God’s Providence to His nation. Upon which, the knowledge of God depends.
There are two “shiras”, “songs”: Haazinu is referred to as “V’ansa hashira hazose lifanav layde”, “and this song will answer before you as witness”. (Deut. 31:21) Meaning, this song will attest to the truth that God’s providence is essential for creating the nation who will sanctify God’s name in the world. Az Yashir is the second song, teaching that God is above any Earthly power or force, “ga-oh, ga-ah”, “(He is) greatly supreme”.
Lech Lecha embodies this idea, that God’s providence is indispensable to our role and success – the nation who sanctifies God’s name. Shiras Haazinu culminates in the ultimate revelation of God’s name, when the whole world will recognize God’s name, by His execution of judgment on the wicked nations.
God engineered His providence, commencing with Abram, through Revelation at Sinai and throughout the generations, until His ultimate judgment is meted out, and His name is finally realized by the entire world.