“Reyes pueden ser jueces de la tierra, pero los sabios son los jueces de los reyes.” -Ibn Gabirol
Yo era un niño en Caracas, Venezuela, cuando me encontré con el rabino Ovadia Yosef, entonces Gran Rabino de Israel. En mi mente joven comprendí que el era un rollo de Torá ambulante. Había visto algunos rollos de Torá antes. Contenían nuestra antigua tradición escrita. Ellos eran sagrados. Les reverenciamos. Aquí había una versión humana, con brazos y piernas, ojos, oídos, una boca que derramó palabras de Torá y una poderosa mente enciclopédica que contenía y compartía un océano de Torá.
Algo tiene que me ha tocado en ese día que aún debo llevar tales recuerdos de tres décadas y media más tarde.
Dios le dice a Abraham que va a ser una bendición para otros. El Netziv, en Génesis 12:02, explica que las bendiciones de Abraham fueron especialmente eficaces y potentes. Fue buscado por príncipes y reyes por su consejo y bendición. El Netziv relaciona esto con el dicho talmúdico que cuando uno está enfermo, se debe buscar el “Chacham” (sabio). No sólo debe uno buscar las bendiciones potentes del “Chacham”, pero tal vez más importante, uno debe seguir su consejo.
Que tengamos la suerte de conectar con sabios y benditos.
En recuerdo de Rab Ovadia Yosef. El pueblo de Israel han perdido un gran sabio.
“Kings may be judges of the earth, but wise men are the judges of kings.” -Ibn Gabirol
I was a schoolboy in Caracas, Venezuela, when I met Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, then Chief Rabbi of Israel. In my young mind I understood he was a walking Torah scroll. I had seen some Torah scrolls previously. They contained our ancient written tradition. They were sacred. We revered them. Here was a human version, with arms and legs, eyes, ears, a mouth that poured forth words of Torah and a powerful, encyclopedic mind that contained and spread forth an ocean’s worth of Torah.
Something must have touched me on that day that I should still carry such memories three and half decades later.
God tells Abraham that he will be a blessing to others. The Netziv, on Genesis 12:2, explains that the blessings of Abraham were particularly effective and powerful. He was sought out by princes and kings for his council and blessing. The Netziv relates this to the Talmudic dictum that when one is sick, they should seek out the “Chacham” (sage/wise one). Not only should one seek the potent blessings of the “Chacham”, but perhaps more significantly, one should follow their advice.
May we have the good fortune of connecting with wise, blessed people.
In memory of Harav Ovadia Yosef. The people of Israel have lost a great sage.
“If a man happens to find himself, he has a mansion which he can inhabit with dignity all the days of his life.”-James A. Michener
Gravitas, Pietas, Dignitas and Virtus are the classic Roman virtues whose Latin names have survived to English and many other languages since. Both gravitas and dignitas underscore the fact that the more serious or successful a person becomes, the weightier they become (and I don’t mean pounds-wise, though there is certainly a literary connection).
Ibn Ezra (to Genesis 13:2) brings our attention to the antecedent to that concept from the Hebrew language and specifically from the story of Abraham.
“And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the South. And Abram was very heavy in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” Genesis 13:1-2
Ibn Ezra explains that to be weighed down with money, with livestock, etc. leads to honor. According to him, the term for honor (kavod in Hebrew) is derived from the word heavy (kaved). Likewise, the opposite of honor, disgrace (kalon) stems from the word light (kal).
So when someone calls another a lightweight, small fry, inconsequential, you now know that it stems from the Hebrew terms of light and disgraced. Likewise, heavy-hitters, big shots, heavy-duty (kaved) are all deserving of honor (kavod), because of their personal gravitas.
May we only be drawn by the gravitational pull of worthy heavyweights.
On the birth of my newest niece, Chana, to Dr. Elisha and JJ Kahen.
“You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt;
as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear;
as young as your hope, as old as your despair.”
– General Douglas MacArthur
The Wise Men of Marvel Comics, in their marketing wisdom, subtitled their superhero Daredevil, “The Man Without Fear.” Now Daredevil was not particularly powerful. He couldn’t fly. He didn’t have super-strength, was as fragile as any other mortal and had no special powers. His only unusual ability was that he had an internal radar/sonar that let him know what was going on around him. This was particularly useful to him, as besides not having conventional superpowers, Daredevil was also legally blind.
Despite his limited super-abilities, the character of Daredevil was truly fearless. He tackled armies of goons, the biggest crime-lords in the city, and of course powerful super-villains. All he was armed with was his billy-club, his radar-sense, his fighting and athletic prowess and his faith.
The Ohr Hachayim talks about another man with no fear. Our Patriarch Abraham. Armed with just his faith in God, Abraham leaves his home, his country, his people and ventures forth to an unknown destination. According to the Ohr Hachayim (Genesis 12:3), it was this faith, this fearlessness, that made Abraham blessed.
Not only was Abraham blessed, but he was perhaps the most blessed of all mortals. His blessing would be eternally powerful. Those who bless him and his spiritual descendants are in turn blessed, and the descendants likewise carry this power to bless. It only depends on one thing. Faith. And to achieve that faith, we need to let go of fear.
May we achieve faith, fearlessness and blessing and follow some of the footsteps of Abraham (or Daredevil).
To some of the fearless women in my life:
To Tamara, for her fearless and successful recruiting mission to England (she is now the Assistant Director of Midreshet Tzvia – some of you may also recognize her inspiration in this week’s story).
To my mother, for yet another move to a strange new land – Geneva!
To my grandmother, for a quick recovery from her hospitalization – please pray for Zahava bat Sa’ada Tichye.
God had spoken with Abram before. This time, though, Abram smelled menace in the air. The Divine Will exerted its force on Abram and led him to a clearing in the forest, on top of one of the mountains that ran through the length of the land of Canaan. The clearing was bare except for a light carpet of thistles that had fallen from the tall pines surrounding the clearing. A light chill in the night air reminded Abram that winter had not yet released its grasp of the early spring.
“Fear not, Abram,” resonated God’s voice through the clearing, “I shall be a shield for you, and your reward shall indeed be great.”
At first Abram could not respond. God’s presence always overwhelmed him. He needed to calm his thoughts and feelings. After some moments of meditation, he built up the gall to say what was on his mind.
“Lord God, what shall you bestow upon me? I continue childless, while Eliezer of Damascus is my heir apparent. Behold, you have given me no seed, and one of my household shall inherit me. And my nephew Lot, in whom I had placed some hope, has left my path.”
“That one shall not inherit you” responded God, “but one that shall venture forth from your own loins – he shall inherit you.”
A great wind lifted Abram up over the roof of the forest, and carried him high above the cedars and pine trees below. He had a vision of himself even older than he was now, with a child in his care. The child looked remarkably like himself.
Abram felt himself flying through the cool spring night, and was filled with both wonder and fear at the experience.
“Gaze upon the sky and count the stars if you can,” God challenged Abram, “so too shall be the numbers of your progeny.”
Abram gazed upon the countless sparkling lights in the clear night. He gasped at the import of what God was telling him. It took him a few moments to accept that from a single old man, a multitude of humanity would emerge. He believed it, and in God’s ability to make it so.
In the early hours of the morning, the wind set Abram back in the clearing where he had started from, where the conversation continued.
“I am the Lord that brought you out of the furnace of Kasdim, to give you this land to inherit,” God explained.
Abram was then given a view of the full length and breadth of the land of Canaan. From the snow peaked Hermon Mountain in the north, to the sandy beaches of the south with its dazzling coral reef on the shores of the Reed Sea. He saw the lush forests of the Galilee, teeming with wildlife. The rugged hills of the East beside the Jordan River, ripe with vineyards he could almost taste. The fertile plains of the West, where the ground flowered its produce with joy. The rough desert of the Negev where life found a way. And the mesmerizing Great Sea hugging the western coast. Abram wondered how all the terrains and climates of the world were represented in Canaan, in what he knew was a relatively small area.
However, once again sensing the dread in the forest clearing, he asked:
“Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit?” Almost immediately he regretted his outspokenness.
For a moment, there was complete silence. Even the surrounding birds seemed to hold their breath to see what the response would be.
Then God answered, with a voice different than before, like that of a somber judge: “Assemble for me a heifer of three years, and a goat of three years, and a ram of three years, and a turtledove and a young pigeon. Then shall I instruct and answer you.”
Abram spent the rest of the day tracking down the list of animals. He was surprised by what seemed like eagerness to be caught on the part of the animals. The ram had calmly walked up to Abram and started to lick his palm. Abram found two goats together and had to keep chasing one away, while he led his choice back to the clearing. Once he had spotted the birds, they flew towards him, landing on his outstretched arms. He built a simple altar of stones, and methodically sacrificed each of the animals by cutting their necks with his sharpened blade.
Then, as per God’s instructions, he split the carcasses of the heifer, the goat and the ram. He formed a path out of the parts, placing the front part of the animals to his right and the back parts on his left. However, he did not split the bodies of the birds. These he placed on either side of the path, the dove on the right and the pigeon on the left.
When Abram had finished the placement of the parts, he stood up, wiped the sweat off his brow, and looked into the afternoon sun. He saw a bird in the distance, approaching his mountain rapidly. It was an eagle, by far the largest Abram had ever seen. It beat its wings mightily as if pursued by Satan himself. Part of the fear Abram had been feeling materialized. He grabbed his staff in one hand and his blade in the other. His staff would assist him in the physical battle he was certain was approaching. His blade, so recently used in his religious sacrifices, would aid him in the spiritual battle he knew was a part of this struggle.
For a moment, the eagle disappeared from Abram’s view. He heard the wind of the eagle’s passage through the trees to his side. He ran to the opposite side of the clearing, to get a better view of the bird when it emerged from the trees and into the clearing. But the eagle outsmarted him. The bird appeared from the trees just a few paces from him, screeching like one of Hell’s minions. Abram ducked. The eagle’s talons tore into the tree behind Abram and ripped through it, leaving deep gauges in the tree. The eagle made its way to the path of the parts. Abram quickly followed him.
They reached the parts at the same time and faced each other. The eagle was the size of a man.
“I am here to destroy your path,” shrieked the beast with an inhuman voice, “let me go about my work and I will let you be.”
“No,” stated Abram, with more confidence than he felt, “this is a part of my destiny and I must proceed with it.”
“You fool,” laughed the eagle, “you do not even know your destiny, yet you would fight for it? I tell you it is filled with such sorrows and horror that you can not imagine. Your children will be sinners and will be preyed upon by the nations of the world.”
“And I say to you, yet again – nay, you vile spirit! I will teach my descendants to be faithful, a light onto the nations. Begone!” Abram charged the beast raising both his weapons.
The eagle deflected the blows with his wings. A scuffle ensued, spreading about the carefully placed parts of the path. The eagle distracted Abram by shaking his wing in front of him and then striking a gauging blow with his talon from underneath. Abram was able to parry the attack with his staff, and then with all his might he thrust his sword through the wing and into the torso of the beast.
The eagle disengaged from Abram with a shrill cry. “We are both right, my poor Abram. Your children shall be a beacon to the masses, but they will also suffer like no nation on the earth. Only in their faith and their clinging to God will their souls be saved.”
Without warning, the eagle then took flight and screamed out of sight, never to be seen again by man.
Abram straightened the parts that were disturbed during the fight. The setting sun tinted the horizon a dark red as it dipped into the Great Sea. Suddenly a terrible weariness overwhelmed Abram. The full horror of the darkness he had been expecting descended upon him and he found himself in the realm of the spirits.
A voice that could only be God’s spoke to him:
“Know surely that your descendants shall become strangers in a strange land. The people shall enslave and afflict them for four hundred years,” God declared ominously. “But the enslavers I shall also judge, and then your children will be freed, and with great wealth!”
A vision of a great desert kingdom appeared to Abram. He saw thousands upon thousands of people performing hard labor. Pulling and building and dying, all for the egos of demented rulers that considered themselves demi-gods. Constructing great monuments to death, while draining life from all around them. Abram saw his descendants struggling to keep their identity amidst the tyrannical pressures of their oppressors. He saw the appearance of one named Moses, in whom a major event of creation – the acceptance of God’s Law, would come to pass. He would forge and lead his people from the crucible of Egypt.
The flow and paths of history then became as the threads of a tapestry. The tapestry was infinitely wide, extending from the beginning of time until its end. The threads were the lives and struggles of humanity, and he watched and followed the paths they weaved. The threads were of all colors, some brighter than others. They danced around each other, fighting and clashing through the rhythm of history. Many were cut short. More gave birth to new threads. And a few inspired multitudes and made the whole tapestry brighter.
Abram then started to focus on particular scenes of the tapestry. He saw the birth of his twelve great-grandchildren that would establish the tribes of Israel. He witnessed the subjugation of their descendants by Pharaoh, and their miraculous exodus to the desert. He experienced the conquest of the land, led by Moses’ disciple, Joshua. However, the glory of the conquest would be short-lived. The Children of Israel would forsake their heritage, leaving God and succumbing to the domination of its neighbors. Abram searched for the fate of his other relatives and progeny. Lot, his nephew, who had not lived up to his expectations would sire two nations. They would not be friendly to Israel. Yet a spark of holiness would be distilled from his line, and form an integral part in Israel’s and the world’s redemption.
His concubine’s son, Ishmael, would found a line that would cover more territory and more nations than any other. The divine message would be altered, yet they would be within an arm’s length of true faith and holiness. A grandson, Esav, through sheer might and willpower, would lay the foundation to one of the strongest and most influential of empires on earth. Based in Rome, their materialism and religiosity would change the world.
But only Jacob and his progeny would remain true to Abram’s path, and to them he returned his attention.
He perceived the constant subjugations, exiles and miseries of Israel as the ebb and flow of history. Brief periods of peace and tranquility would allow them to catch their breath before the next test.
God interrupted Abram’s thoughts: “They need not suffer in this world.”
“What is the other option?”
“The errant souls would be consigned to the netherworld.”
“I don’t understand.”
“There are two paths, Abram. The first, the one I have shown you, your progeny, all those that follow your way, shall suffer. They shall suffer torment and misery and persecution as a whole, as a nation, whether any one individual is guilty of sin or not. In a nation, one is responsible for the other. A brother bears the burden of his brother though it not be of his own making. The second path does not have the bonds of nationhood, brotherhood or fellowship. Each soul will rise or fall solely on its own merit. However, the soul that falls shall have none to raise him. His soul shall suffer forever.
With that word, God caused the tapestry to roll itself up and Abram witnessed infinity concentrating into a single point. He finally understood that God was not bound by the strictures of time. God was removed from time, as a painter is removed from his canvas. Though one’s destiny may be predetermined and known to God, it did not remove the individual’s free will.
“Lord God, either choice leads to eternal pain.”
“You perceive the truth, Abram. But the pain of exile and subjugation is endurable. The minions of Hell on the other hand will show no mercy to the fallen individual, to those that have none to raise them.”
“You have cast a great burden upon me. I fear that to decide on the fate of unborn millions upon millions is more than I can carry.”
“You must decide, Abram. Yours is a great responsibility. You will choose wisely. But you must choose. I know your fears. You are afraid that the good will suffer with the bad, that justice will not seem evident and that your line will be swept up and disappear forever.”
“That is my fear. Do I choose certain eternal damnation for many, or do I risk all by allowing the entire nation to go into exile?”
“Fear not! By my life, I promise you this. Your descendants shall never be completely lost in exile. They will suffer. They will suffer more than any other people. But there shall always be a remnant. They will follow the path of the just, and the whole world shall be changed because of it.”
Abram spent the entire day in agonized thought. He asked God to see the great tapestry once again, to try to understand the consequences of exile. This time he started from the end of the tapestry and worked his way backwards. He saw the final redemption, four millennia hence. The social convulsions that would precede the coming of the Redeemer. The rebirth of the nation in its land after its long two thousand year exile. The wars that would engulf the world with weapons too horrible to even dream of. He cried at the calculated destruction of one third of his people. He saw the senseless slaughter. Then he saw it all over again. The pattern repeated itself throughout time. Sometimes it was worse, other times it was merely unspeakable.
The Israelite people would find a home among host nations. They would appear safe and warm in their homes of exile. Once the comfort seeped into their bones, someone reminded them that they did not belong. This was demonstrated forcefully and fatally. But a remnant always lived on.
He felt the majesty of the Second Temple and its heart-wrenching destruction that started the two-thousand year exile. He cheered the bravery of the Macabbees in their struggle for independence. He saw the brief seventy year exile of the First Temple and the drama of Queen Esther in the Persian Empire.
He was overwhelmed by the site of Solomon’s Temple and the presence of God in it. He was amazed by the will of David, the man that would found the royal line. He looked more closely to follow his adventures and was awed that a man could suffer so, yet remain so strong in his faith. David never gave up. He would make himself a vessel for God, and would thereby fulfill one of the more important missions in the tapestry. His line would remain true until the end of days.
He had pity for Saul in his struggle with kingship and wept for the loss of Samson. He was surprised by the role of some women. He saw the leadership of Deborah against the army of Yavin and the bravery of Yael as she killed the great General Sisra.
Then he saw a wondrous sight. The time was shortly after Joshua’s conquest of the land. He saw a left-handed man, leading an army of lefties in a charge against a force ten times its size. And they were singing with joy and faith.
“Who is that, my Lord?”
“That is Ehud, an assassin.”
And Abram looked on as the threads told their story, and as they moved in unexpected yet critical ways.
“Lord God,” he stated with greater confidence than he had felt in some time, “I believe that exile will not be as hopeless as I feared. This is the right course and the one that we must take. God save us.”
* * * * * *
Genesis Chapter 15
There is a midrashic source that states that at the Covenant of the Parts (Genesis, Chapter 15) God gave Abram the choice of a history of Exile for the Children of Israel or eternal damnation for the souls of the sinners. In the process God showed Abram all of history, so that he could make an informed decision. He chose Exile.
Tzvi Ilan ben Gita update: Ilan is back in the rehab clinic, starting therapy and making progress since his seizure. He’s getting stronger, and his walking and speaking are improving. Thanks for the continued prayers. Keep ‘em coming.
Kli Yakar Genesis: Lech Lecha
The Power to Bless
Dry conventional theological wisdom might claim that only God is capable of affecting blessings upon us. There is a perhaps apocryphal joke of a Lithuanian (non-Hasidic) Rabbi that is approached by a simple Jew and asks the Rabbi to bless him. The Rabbi answers:
“Are you an apple that I should bless over you?”
The Hasidic and Sephardic traditions on the other hand are rife with blessings being bestowed at every opportunity.
When God commands Abraham to leave his homeland and head towards Canaan, He states:
“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing.” Genesis 12:2
The Kli Yakar wonders as to the seeming repetition of ‘be thou a blessing’ and what is the difference from ‘I will bless thee’?
He explains that not only will Abraham be blessed for obeying God’s word but that Abraham will also have the power to bless whoever he wants and will indeed be the source of the blessings he bestows.
The Kli Yakar further explains the simple metaphysical mechanics of how one achieves the power to bless. God is the ultimate source of all blessing. The closer one is behaviorally and/or physically to God (the Kli Yakar also points to the Temple mount as a ‘source’), the more one will acquire His ability to bestow blessing.
May we acquire more and more the power to bless – and may we use it.
Shabbat Shalom and blessings of “all your heart’s desire for good” to you, for whatever it’s worth,
To the Chilean miners. They are blessed and their spirit and discipline in the mine hints that they must be doing something right.
I am under attack. It seems like almost every other night I need to put on my uniform, be the victim of blasting noise, of children screeching and running in all directions, and walk into yet another battlefield called a Bar-Mitzvah.
Seriously though, I love celebrating with our friends on their joyous occasions. For the most part the food is good, the speakers tolerable, even inspiring, and the Bar-Mitzvah child surprisingly entertaining.
What most impresses me though about Bar-Mitzvahs are not the children coming of age, though they are certainly impressive. (If half of the “eulogies” that parents bequeath upon their children at these events would be the whole story, the children would not have much more to accomplish in life.) What impresses me most about the Bar-Mitzvah celebrations are the grandparents.
These are people who I usually know from a distance and I have only had limited interaction with them, if at all. However, one can often see the strong and positive impact that the grandparents have imparted, the living legacy that has been imprinted on the grandchild’s personality DNA. This effect is frequently accomplished from another continent, yet the menschlict character traits shine through.
Abraham has related concerns as to what legacy he will leave his progeny. Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni), wonders as to Abraham’s questioning of God’s promise of having a child by Sarah. Hizkuni explains that Abraham was not worried about God delivering on his promise. He was worried about how long he himself would live after the birth of Isaac and what he would be able to pass on.
Abraham’s concern was that his servant Eliezer would still be running the household and would then dictate and interpret the directions or the “Will” as he saw fit. Abraham wanted to be the one that would impart both the financial, but probably more importantly, the spiritual heritage that he had worked so hard to create. Abraham knew that the best way to pass on a legacy is to do so in person and to make sure the child has truly absorbed the “inheritance” during the parent’s lifetime.
May we all continue to play a part in the work of passing on noble legacies to our progeny.
To the very special grandparents of the most recent Bar-Mitzvah boys I had (and will have) the great pleasure of celebrating with:
“I shall not go with Abram on this crazed campaign,” Eshkol stomped his long but lithe feet on the intricately tiled floor of Mamre’s home, “it is suicide!”
“How can you even think to abandon us, Eshkol,” Mamre responded as forcefully from deep in his barrel chest, “you would sunder our sacred covenant with Abram, out of cowardice?”
Aner, the eldest of the three, who had been watching the debate with growing concern, stood up to intercept Eshkol before he got within striking distance of Mamre.
“Now, now, Mamre,” Aner stated in soothing tones, as he grabbed on to Eshkol, “there is no need to speak so disparagingly of our brother.”
“Mamre, we have fought side by side with Abram on previous skirmishes and small raids,” Eshkol said more tersely, standing a bit taller, “where I was very much in danger and threatened personally. But what Abram proposes now is nothing less than suicide. To attack Amrafel’s legions, after they successfully destroyed the combined armies of Sedom and Gemorah is simply insane. We are speaking of pitting our workers and slaves against Amrafel’s professional soldiers.”
“Do not try to frighten me,” Mamre answered angrily, “I am loyal to the death to Abram, and more importantly to the God of Abram, who visibly protects him like a favored child. Abram must rescue his nephew from Amrafel, and we, his oath-brothers must go with him. The God, who protects and blesses Abram, will continue to protect and bless us as well.”
“I too believe in his God,” Eshkol explained, “however, against such a formidable foe, we might as well take our own lives here at home and save ourselves the journey, and Abram’s God the hassle.”
Aner cleared his throat, getting both Mamre’s and Eshkol’s attention. “I too am fearful of such a momentous undertaking. However, we cannot in good conscious forsake our brother Abram.”
“By placing us in such an impossible position,” Eshkol retorted, “Abram is the one who is forsaking us. I shall not in good conscious throw away my life against all reason.”
“First of all,” Mamre said, his voice getting louder again, “Abram has not called us to help him, though it should be clearly understood. Second, Abram, our great brother, would not think any less, of any of us, for not joining him. Third, and most importantly – you are lacking in faith. Faith! If you do not have the faith that the God of Abram, the One and Only God, as Abram has taught us, the Creator and Ruler of the Earth, can perform miracles beyond our imagination – then perhaps you are better off staying home. Though I think it would break my heart and perhaps our friendship.” Mamre then sat down heavily looking away from his guests.
Eshkol stood speechless. His mouth hung open at Mamre’s statements. He too sat down morosely. After a few silent moments he uncomfortably explained:
“It may be true that my fear is greater than my faith. However I cannot live with my friendship being questioned. I just require some more tangible hope, something concrete that will let some reason rule over trepidation.”
Eshkol’s confession was greeted with uncomfortable silence.
“Then let me suggest a thought you just inspired,” Aner broke the quiet, “that encourages me and may give you the concrete loadstone you require. Amrafel has just re-conquered and ransacked the entire plain of our very wealthy neighbors of Sedom and Gemorah. If by some miracle, the God of Abram were to place Amrafel in our hands, the spoils of this war would be beyond anything we have ever seen.”
“That is indeed a more tangible goal,” Eshkol stated more excitedly, “though equally suicidal.”
“The spoils would be ours by convention,” Mamre added, “and they would indeed be monumental. Though that is not what draws me, and I am sure it holds little allure to Abram.”
“But it is agreed then,” Aner looked meaningfully at Eshkol, “we are in this together, with the explicit understanding that we get our fair share of the spoils.”
Eshkol looked pensively at Aner and then at the brooding Mamre. He was in mortal fear of attacking Amrafel’s legions. The image of facing Amrafel’s army made his legs wobble and his stomach turn. But he could not face the possibility of being branded a coward. Such a mark would ruin him. And the thought of disappointing Mamre, and even worse, the holy Abram, was more than he could bear. How could he abandon his friends, his oath-brothers? They had always been there for him, especially Abram. Abram, so kind and gentle and wise. Yet so strong and firm and courageous. He knew in his heart he would follow Abram to the ends of the earth.
Aner was right. The idea of the spoils was a good distraction and lessened the dread. And Mamre was right too. The God of Abram had performed miracles for him against all odds. He was indeed powerful.
“I am with you.” Eshkol declared emotionally. “I was wrong to even sow doubt in our friendship.”
Mamre leapt up with a tear in his eye. “My dear Eshkol,” Mamre almost cried as he grabbed Eshkol’s forearm, “I am sorry I even questioned your friendship. This will be a grand adventure.”
As if by divine inspiration, at that very moment, Abram walked in to Mamre’s house.
Aner was the first to greet him and quickly pulled Abram into the embrace of Eshkol and Mamre.
“All hail Abram!” Aner exclaimed, “Prince of God!”
“All hail Abram! Prince of God!” Eshkol and Mamre responded.
“We are with you in all your troubles. Be strong and of good courage!” Aner sang.
“We are with you in all your troubles.” Eshkol and Mamre rejoined in unison.
“Be strong and of good courage!”
* * * * * *
See Genesis Chapter 14 “The War of the Kings”
From Bereshit Rabbah 42:8:
When the Holy One, Blessed is He, told Abraham to circumcise himself, he went and consulted his three friends…
Eshkol said to him, “Why will you put an end to yourself among your enemies, (weakened by circumcision, you will be unable to ward off their attack)?” Said the Holy One, Blessed is He, “By your life, I will not appear to Abraham in the residence of Eshkol…”
Aner said to him, “You are already a hundred years old, and you are going to inflict pain on yourself?”
Mamre said to him, “Your God Who stood by you in the fiery furnace, in the battle with the kings, and in famine – will you not obey Him when He tells you to circumcise yourself?” The Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Mamre, “You advised him to circumcise himself – by your life, I will appear to him only in your residence.” Then God appeared to Abraham in the plains of Mamre (Genesis 18:1)
God reveals Himself to Abraham in this week’s parasha (Genesis Ch. 17, verse 1) with the name “Shadai” (letters Shin, Daled, Yud). Centuries later when He reveals Himself to Moses, the Torah goes out of its way (Exodus Ch. 6, verse 3) to point out that he did not reveal Himself to the forefathers with the Tetragammaton, the Four-Letter Name of God (letters Yud, Heh, Vav, Heh).
What difference does it make by what name we know God? Why did Abraham, Isaac and Jakob receive one name and Moses another?
The 16th century Italian commentator, Rabbi Ovadia Sforno, brings our attention to two different levels of divine involvement implied in the different names. “Shadai” can also be read and translated as “That is sufficient”. It implies God’s self-sufficiency and ability to Be and to create the universe ex-nihilo. He exists without there being anything else, or with anything else acting on Him. The relationship of God to Man represented by “Shadai” is one within the normal bounds of nature and that was the basis of the relationship God had with our forefathers.
However, there is an even higher level of expression of the divine, that of revealed, public miracles that are completely outside the bounds of nature, as well as the level of prophecy that only Moses was privy to. This aspect of God was new to the nascent Jewish nation and required specific instructions and formulation. From the moment of Exodus forward, the relationship between God and Israel would be predicated by the supernatural, such as the Egyptian plagues, the splitting of the sea, the Sinai covenant, and all the miracles that have been a part of Jewish history since.
God’s willingness to be actively and sometimes visibly involved in the lives of people and nations marks a higher level of connection and divine love that we should always be cognizant and appreciative of.