THE LIFE OF ABRAHAM: A COMMENTARY
Judaic tradition tells us that the conduct of our biblical ancestors and the events described in the Hebrew Bible are guideposts for our own conduct and portents of the Future. Accordingly, we are permitted to critically analyze our biblical ancestors' actions -- both the praiseworthy and the blameworthy -- in order that we may know, in our own Day, which paths to choose and which to avoid. However, when we undertake this task we must be careful to submit to the requirement of the Torah that: "You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him." (Lev. 19:17). Alternatively stated, any such criticism must be proffered with love and for constructive purposes.
Of Noah the Torah says: "These are the offspring of Noah -- Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noah walked with God." (Gen. 6:9). But, of Abraham the Torah says: "When Abram was 99 years old, HaShem appeared to Abram and said to him, 'I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be perfect.'" (Gen. 17:1).
Noah, a part of the antediluvian gentile World from his birth until its demise, was required only to confront his World spiritually. He was able to successfully accomplish this task by doing God's Bidding -- the incremental construction of an Ark -- in an open and public manner for a 120-year period, during which God afforded to Noah's fellow human beings an ample opportunity to repent of their Evil and to ponder the consequences of their continued rebellion against His Moral Code (-- "My Spirit shall not contend evermore concerning Man since he is but Flesh; his days shall be 120 years." (Gen. 6:3) -- ).
At the end of this long grace period, God vindicated the faith and obedience of righteous Noah by executing His prophesied Judgment upon the unrepentant World, thereby destroying all (non-aquatic) Life therefrom, except for that which had entered the Ark. This was for the benefit of Posterity, as the Hebrew Bible declares: "The righteous man shall rejoice when he sees Vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the Wicked. And Mankind shall say, 'Truly there is a reward for the Righteous. Truly there is a God Who judges on Earth.'" (Psalms 58:11-12)
In contrast, Abraham, while born into the postdiluvian gentile World, was separated from it, and he ceased to be a gentile thereafter. This separation was both spiritual and physical. As the Torah relates: "HaShem said to Abram, 'Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father's house to the Land that I will show you.'" (Gen. 12:1). He was therefore identified as the "Ivri" (the "Hebrew"), not only because he was the sixth generation descendant of Ever (Eber), but also because God intended that he confront the gentile World both physically and spiritually. A hint of this can be found in the Hebrew-language name Ever which means "the other side" (from which is derived the Hebrew-language designation Ivri, which idiomatically means “Hebrew”, but which literally means "he who is of the other side"), portending that the whole World would stand on one side of the great Moral Divide while Abraham, the Hebrew, and his Jewish progeny would stand on the other side thereof. This dual separation of the Jewish people from the gentile nations would later be praised by the gentile prophet Balaam, who declared: "'For, from its origins, I see it rock-like, and from hills do I see it; behold! -- it is a people that [physically] shall dwell in solitude, and [spiritually] not be reckoned among the nations.'" (Num. 23:9). And God even chooses to describe Himself to the Jewish people by reference thereto, declaring to them: "'So I said to you, "You shall inherit their Land, and I will give it to you to inherit it, a Land flowing with milk and honey" -- I am HaShem, your God, Who has [physically] separated you from the peoples.'" (Lev. 20:24); and "'You shall be holy for Me; for, I, HaShem, am Holy -- and I have [spiritually] separated you from the peoples to be Mine.'" (Lev. 20:26).
Clearly, Abraham's task, which included the necessity of physical confrontation as well as its attendant risks, was, by its very nature, more difficult than Noah's task; for, if Noah's faith in God turned out to be misplaced, Noah and his family risked only scorn and derision, while, if Abraham's faith in God turned out to be misplaced, Abraham and his family risked death.
The potential consequences of misplaced faith thereby weighed heavily upon Abraham. And despite the fact that God directly revealed Himself to Abraham and promised Divine Protection to him in all that he would do -- saying: "'And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you, I will curse; and all the families of the Earth shall bless themselves by you.'" (Gen. 12:2-3) -- he still harbored residual doubts over God's Power and Promises which caused him, except in situations where no pragmatic or diplomatic alternatives were available, to act in ways which demonstrated his fear of the very gentile World from which, at God's Behest, he had separated.
However, the fact that Abraham often failed to fulfill God's Expectations of him in no way detracts from his lofty stature as the righteous progenitor of the Jewish people. As is conceded in the Hebrew Bible, "For, there is no man so wholly righteous on Earth that he will [always] do good and will not [ever] sin." (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
Yet, by means of the many trials that God would set before him, Abraham ultimately acquired that complete faith in God's Power and Promises for which he is held in so high an esteem to this very Day.
THE ASCENT INTO THE
The Torah relates:
"And these are the generations of Terah: Terah sired Abram, Nahor and
"Terah sired Abram, Nahor
"And Terah took his son Abram and Lot --
the son of Haran -- his grandson and his daughter-in-law Sarai -- the wife of
Abram his son; and they departed with them from Ur Kasdim
to go to the Land of Canaan; they arrived at Charan
and they settled there." Since
Abraham and the other members of Terah's family were already
on their way to the Land of Israel (originally called the Land of Canaan), why
was it necessary for God to thereafter instruct Abraham to go there? The
answer lies in the difference between Volition and Obligation.
When it suited them, Terah and his family chose to
relocate from Ur Kasdim (Ur of Chaldea) to the
"'Go for yourself ...'" God instructed Abraham to embark upon a journey which would remove him from the lands and families of the gentile World. For Abraham, this journey was as much a spiritual ascent as it was a physical trek.
"' ... to the Land that I will show you.'" Nevertheless, the journey's declared purpose
was Abraham's physical relocation to the Land of Israel. The spiritual
aspects of the journey, while crucial to God's Plan for Abraham and his covenantal
descendants -- the Jewish people -- could not be fulfilled unless and
until Abraham practiced his Judaism inside the
"'And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you and make
your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who
bless you, and him who curses you, I will curse; and all the families of the
Earth shall [eventually] bless themselves by you.'" This Declaration, made in connection with
Abraham's imminent entry into the Land of Israel, represented God's first
Promise to Abraham -- the Promise of Divine Protection. This Promise was made, not
only to Abraham as an individual, but, as well, to Abraham as the
progenitor and representative of the Jewish people -- his covenantal descendants
who, nearly four millennia later, would be repatriated to the Land of Israel
and thereafter constitute the citizenry of a resurrected nation-state of
Israel. As such, this Declaration contains two important messages for modern
"'I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you, I will
curse ...'" Firstly, this
Declaration teaches us that God not only praises and causes benefit to the
Righteous, but that He also condemns and causes harm to the Wicked. Who are the
Righteous? -- Those who bless the Jewish people; for, God will bless
none but the Righteous. Who are the Wicked? -- Those who curse the
Jewish people; for, God will curse none but the Wicked. That this Declaration
does, indeed, refer to the future Jewish people would later be confirmed
through the public declamation of the gentile prophet Balaam who explicitly
declared, in God's Name, concerning the Jewish people: "... Those who bless
you are blessed, and those who curse you are cursed." (Num. 24:9).
Just as the God of Israel, on High, condemns and causes harm to the nation that
curses the Jewish people, so must the leadership of Israel, as God's Instrument
on Earth, do the same. For, in destroying such an evil nation and thereby
preventing it from further rebelling against
"' ... and him who curses you ...'" Secondly, by making this Declaration, God is giving notice to the Jewish people that, in the Future, He will test their faith in His Promise of Divine Protection by raising up formidable enemies -- those who will curse the Jewish people -- which will cause Israel to fear for its very existence. Since these enemies and their worldwide supporters will be superior to Israel in both number and temporal power, Israel will naturally be tempted towards appeasement and, ultimately, capitulation, in exchange for promises of brief respite and, thus, temporary safety. Only in this manner will Israel's collective faith in God be tested; for God does not test Israel with either weak or cowardly adversaries -- such a "Test" would be no Test at all. However, by making this Declaration, God is also informing the Jewish people of the method by which they may pass such a future Test, namely, that if the Jewish leadership will exhibit, in both word and deed, true faith in God's Power to fulfill His Promise of Divine Protection, then the enemies of Israel as well as their supporters -- all of those nations who seek to instill fear among the Jewish people -- will, mida k'neged mida (measure for measure), instead, fear for their own existences, because those nations will then tremble before the Power of Israel's Protector -- the Living God -- Who will then, without any delay, curse them (-- "' ... and him who curses you, I will curse ... '" --).
"And Abram passed into the Land as far as the site of Shechem, until the Plain of Moreh;
and the Canaanite was then in the Land. And HaShem appeared to Abram and
said, 'To your offspring I will give this Land.'" Despite the fact that the Land of Israel was
then fully settled by the Canaanite nations, the God of Israel nonetheless
issued to the newly-arrived Abraham an astounding Declaration: "'To
your offspring I will give this Land.'" This Declaration represents
the intertwined Promises of Progeny and of the Land which has served,
until this very Day, as the foundation stone for both the existence of the
Jewish people and their right to the Land of Israel. In order to demonstrate
his complete faith in the Promise of Progeny, Abraham was required, at
the most basic level, to wholeheartedly believe that, come what may, he
would not die before siring children. Similarly, in order to demonstrate
his complete faith in the Promise of the Land, Abraham was required, at
the most basic level, to wholeheartedly believe that, come what may, he
would not be expelled -- by Man or Nature -- from the Land. What rights
were conveyed by God to Abraham and his covenantal descendants by virtue of His
Gift of the
"From there he relocated to the mountain east of Beth-El and pitched his tent, with Beth-El on the West and Ai on the East; and he built there an altar to HaShem, and he called upon the Name of HaShem." Abraham called upon God's Name as an expression of thanksgiving for His Promises and as a declaration of faith in His Power to fulfill those Promises. However, a theoretical belief in God's Power to fulfill His Promises is not equivalent to a pragmatic acceptance thereof. For, while the former entails only benign declarations of faith in God's Power, the latter entails conduct which would be foolhardy but for the sure knowledge that God's Power is real. Accordingly, complete faith in God's Power requires the marriage of pragmatic conduct to theoretical faith, the offspring of which is pragmatic faith. Anything less will not suffice for a leader of the Jewish people.
THE DESCENT INTO
As the Torah continues:
"Then Abram journeyed on, journeying
steadily towards the South. There was a famine in the Land, and Abram descended
As a consequence of being confronted with a harsh famine soon after his arrival in the Land of Israel, Abraham was presented with a choice between (a) remaining in the Land and (b) fleeing from the Land. Abraham realized that, by choosing to remain in the Land, he would necessarily be placing all of his trust in God’s Promises to him. And he feared that, if God did not (or could not) fulfill those Promises in the face of the famine, then he and Sarah might starve to death there. Consequently, although Abraham trusted in God, he nonetheless thought it prudent to minimize the risk of harm to Sarah and himself by counterbalancing his theoretical reliance upon God’s Promises with his pragmatic reliance upon a plan to protect himself and Sarah from the famine. Thus did Abraham hedge his bets by departing the Land of Israel and entering the Land of Egypt. Moreover, this would be but the first of six times that Abraham, when faced with a risky situation, thought it prudent to hedge his bets.
"Then Abram journeyed on, journeying steadily towards the
South." Why did Abraham travel
without deviation towards the southern extremity of the
"There was a famine in the Land ..." Why did God reward Abraham with the Gift
" There was a famine in the Land,
and Abram descended to
"And it occurred, as he was about to enter
"And he [Pharaoh] treated Abram well for her sake, and he [Abram] acquired sheep and cattle, and male donkeys, and male servants and female servants, and female donkeys and camels. But HaShem afflicted Pharaoh along with his household with severe plagues because of the matter of Sarai, wife of Abram." Abraham's reprehensible conduct required God's direct Intervention to save, not Abraham, who was made wealthier from the transaction, but rather Sarah, who was given over to an evildoer. It is noteworthy that only after God's redemptive Intervention does Scripture resume referring to Sarah as Abraham's "wife".
"Pharaoh summoned Abram and said, 'What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she is your wife? Why did you say, "She is my sister", so that I would take her as my wife? Now, here is your wife; take her and go!' So Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they escorted him and his wife and all that was his." Abraham's evident fear of Pharaoh, which fear represents, more broadly, Yirat HaGoyim (fear of the nations), not only reflected Abraham’s lack of complete faith in God's Power and Promises, which complete faith is the embodiment of Yirat Elohim (fear of God), but it also created an enormous Chillul HaShem (desecration of God's Name). Why? It is because God’s Purpose in employing Abraham as His Instrument through which to create a magnificent Kiddush HaShem (sanctification of God’s Name) before the nations was thwarted when Abraham's own lack of pragmatic faith in his Divine Protector was laid bare before the Egyptians. This unfortunate absurdity provided evil Pharaoh with the perfect opportunity to falsely portray himself as an innocent victim of deception and, consequently, as the injured party in this episode -- this despite the fact that the God of Israel was the true injured Party.
However, why would the God of Israel, Who had just finished harshly punishing Pharaoh for his detention of Sarah, now enable that same evildoer to shamelessly exploit his feigned victimhood by permitting him to publicly and contemptuously rebuke righteous Abraham, especially in light of the fact that it was obvious that Pharaoh sought to humiliate Abraham, not for the sake of creating a Kiddush HaShem, but only for the sake of assuaging his own injured pride? Moreover, why would God permit that embarrassing rebuke to be forever memorialized in the Torah?
The answer to the first question is that, just as Abraham -- by hedging his bets a second time (i.e., attempting to minimize the risk of harm to himself by counterbalancing his theoretical reliance upon God’s Promises with his pragmatic reliance upon a plan to protect himself from Pharaoh) -- had openly exhibited contempt for God -- mida k'neged mida (measure for measure) -- God now permitted Pharaoh to openly exhibit contempt for Abraham. Consequently, the fact that Pharaoh’s motivation for the rebuke was impure could not shield Abraham from the consequences of his own Chillul HaShem. It would have been otherwise if Abraham had fearlessly proclaimed to all that Sarah was his wife, thereby creating a Kiddush HaShem. For, although God's Intervention might still have been necessary to save Sarah (and/or Abraham), evil Pharaoh would neither have been given the opportunity to falsely portray himself as an innocent party nor have been permitted by the God of Israel to openly shame righteous Abraham with words of hypocritical rebuke. Moreover, due to that rebuke, it is clear that Abraham’s lack of pragmatic faith actually created a triple Chillul HaShem, the first being when Abraham deceived Pharaoh, the second being when Pharaoh falsely portrayed himself as an innocent party, and the third being when Pharaoh rebuked Abraham. For, although God had permitted Pharaoh to rebuke Abraham, the public humiliation of God’s earthly representative by Pharaoh nonetheless brought the Reputation of God Himself into disgrace among the Egyptians.
The answer to the second question is that this episode provides an essential lesson for the Jewish people, especially for modern Israel’s leadership. For, when the Jewish State’s leaders attempt to deceive the gentile nations concerning the Jewish people’s God-given right to the entire Land by feigning bona fide participation in negotiations whose stated purpose is to abandon portions of the Land -- thereby replacing Yirat Elohim with Yirat HaGoyim and thereby creating an enormous Chillul HaShem -- the God of Israel will permit the immoral gentile nations to falsely portray themselves as innocent victims of Israel’s duplicity, and He will allow them to publicly and contemptuously rebuke the Jewish State, despite the fact that such rebuke will be motivated, not by the rebukers’ desire to create a Kiddush HaShem, but rather by their evil conspiracy to thwart the everlasting fulfillment of God’s Promise of the Land to His People. Consequently, the modern Jewish leadership’s lack of pragmatic faith in God’s Promise of the Land will actually create a triple Chillul HaShem, the first being when the Jewish State attempts to deceive the gentile nations, the second being when the gentile nations falsely portray themselves as innocent parties, and the third being when the gentile nations publicly rebuke the Jewish State.
Final confirmation that Abraham's departure from the Land of Israel was a breach of faith comes from God's later admonition to Abraham's son, Isaac, during a subsequent famine in the Land, as a result of which Isaac travels to the South thereof with the intention of entering Egypt, as his father had done before him. As the Torah relates: "HaShem appeared to him and said, 'Do not descend to Egypt; dwell in the Land [i.e., the Land of Israel] that I shall indicate to you. Sojourn in this Land, and I will be with you and bless you; for, to you and your offspring will I give all these lands, and establish the Oath that I swore to Abraham your father: "I will increase your offspring like the stars of the Sky; and will give to your offspring all these lands; and all the nations of the Earth shall bless themselves by your offspring"'". (Gen. 26:2-4). God thereby restrained Isaac from repeating his father's mistake.
Yet, one lingering issue remains. Why did righteous Sarah agree to
THE REBELLION OF LOT AND THE PROPOSED DIVISION OF THE LAND
After Abraham and his nephew Lot returned to the
As the Torah relates:
"So Abram ascended from
"And the Land could not support them dwelling together, for [the requirements of maintaining] their possessions were great, and they were unable to dwell together. And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock; and the Canaanite and the Perizzite were then dwelling in the Land." The narrative describes an unusual situation, as it is highly unlikely that the servants of a junior member of the family would dare challenge the servants of the paterfamilias. If, however, a junior family member did challenge the paterfamilias, then that rebellion would normally have terminated in only way, namely, in the death of the usurper or in the death of the paterfamilias. So, why did Lot challenge Abraham for supremacy over the family? Due to Abraham’s traits of kindness and mercy, Lot viewed him as lacking the necessary belligerence required for the protection and perseverance of the family in the face of potential aggression from the resident Canaanite peoples -- which is why the text explains that “ ... and the Canaanite and the Perizzite were then dwelling in the Land.” Notwithstanding the foregoing, Lot did not challenge Abraham directly. Instead, in order to maintain plausible deniability and thereby hedge his bets, he instructed his servants to challenge Abraham’s servants in order to discover whether Abraham would deal with the situation via suppression or appeasement. However, why didn’t Lot merely wait for the aged and childless Abraham to die, which event would have rendered Lot as the successor paterfamilias? I believe that God Himself inclined Lot to act against Abraham after their return from Egypt as a test of Abraham’s faithfulness to God’s Word in the face of strife over possession of the Land.
"So Abram said to Lot, 'Please let there be no strife between me and you, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not all the Land before you? Please separate from me: If you go left then I will go right, and if you go right, then I will go left.'" Abraham’s solution -- namely, the trading of land in exchange for peace -- was misguided, for Abraham had no right to relinquish portions of the Land of Israel -- even for the sake of peace and even to his close relation -- because possession of the Land was promised, not to Abraham alone, but to the entire Jewish people, although as yet unborn, in perpetuity.
"So Lot raised his eyes and saw the entire plain of the Jordan
[River] that it was well watered everywhere -- before HaShem destroyed Sodom
and Gomorrah -- like the garden of HaShem, like the Land of Egypt, going toward
Zoar. So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the
Jordan [River], and Lot journeyed from the East; and they separated themselves,
one from another. Abram dwelled in the Land of Canaan while Lot dwelled in the
cities of the plain; and he [Lot] relocated his tents as far as Sodom. Now the
"HaShem said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, 'Raise now your eyes and look out from where you are: northward, southward, eastward and westward. For, all the Land that you see, to you will I give it, and to your descendants forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, then your offspring, too, can be counted.'" Since God had already declared to Abraham His intertwined Promises of Progeny and of the Land, saying "' ... To your offspring I will give this Land ... '" (Gen. 12:7), why did God find it necessary, at this time, to repeat these Promises, and especially to emphasize their eternal nature by declaring that the Land would be given "'to you … and to your descendants forever '"? This was done precisely in order to teach Abraham that God’s Gift of the entire Land to him and to his as yet unborn covenantal descendants was irrevocable, and to thereby correct his misplaced generosity towards Lot and towards Lot’s as yet unborn descendants. God thereby reminded Abraham that, although he had sought to divide possession of the Land with Lot, he had neither the legal authority (-- possession of the Land did not belong to Abraham alone --) nor the moral justification (-- Lot was unworthy --) to do so. However, even had Abraham alone been given possession of the Land, and even had Lot been of sterling character, Abraham would have, nonetheless, lacked any authority to divide the Land between them; for, in that case, God’s Gift would have nonetheless been to Abraham alone. Moreover, such an unauthorized partitioning by Abraham of God’s Gift would have constituted the equivalent of a rejection thereof -- a great Chillul HaShem.
"'Arise, walk about the Land through its length and breadth; for, to you will I give it!'" To you and your covenantal descendants
(the Jewish people) -- not to Lot and his descendants, and certainly not to any other nation! Consequently, this episode represents a
crucial lesson for modern
THE WAR AGAINST THE FOUR KINGS AND THE GIFT OF THE LAND
While Lot was residing in Sodom, an alliance of four powerful Mesopotamian kings defeated a rebellion staged by five vassal kings, including the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. In doing so, the Mesopotamian kings sacked these cities.
As the Torah relates:
"And it happened in the days of Amraphel, king of Shinar, Arioch, king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer, king of
Elam, and Tidal, king of Goiim, that these [kings]
made war on Bera, king of Sodom, Birsha,
king of Gomorrah, Shinab, king of Admah,
Shemeber, king of Zeboiim,
and the king of Bela, which is Zoar. All of these had
joined at the
Although Lot was not a righteous person, he nevertheless enjoyed the
protection of his uncle, brother-in-law and guardian -- Abraham. Accordingly,
this physical aggression against the ward of Abraham constituted a direct
affront to the God of Abraham; for, by this brazen act, the four kings openly
demonstrated their disregard for God's Existence and Power, thereby creating a
massive Chillul HaShem (desecration of God's Name).
Once Lot was taken captive, all diplomatic avenues to saving him were closed to
Abraham -- master of mercy and kindness -- and he, consequently, had no choice
but to put aside his natural aversion to conflict and, instead, to immediately
go to war against these kings for the sake of Kiddush HaShem (sanctification of
God's Name). He did this despite the obvious danger to his own life and the
lives of his disciples, and despite the adverse consequences that such
belligerent conduct might have upon his present and future relationships with
these and other nations; and God consequently rewarded him with a miraculous
victory over a vastly superior military force. Thus did the nations see the
fearlessness and faith of a Jewish leader backed by the demonstrated Power of
the God of Israel! From this episode, each and every future Jewish leader is
meant to learn that eradicating Chillul HaShem
requires action without delay, despite the fact that the superior forces
of the gentile nations are arrayed against him and despite the fact that Jewish
life will thereby be put at risk. As God would later instruct Moses concerning
the conquest of the
It is instructive to note that, in describing the details concerning Lot's
capture, the Torah refers to Lot as Abraham's "nephew", yet in
describing Abraham's reaction to Lot's capture, the Torah twice refers
There is yet another lesson to be gleaned from this episode, namely, the
limits of the doctrine of Pikuach Nefesh
(avoidance of danger to life). Abraham's war against the four kings teaches us
that this important doctrine dissipates upon the shoals of those national
obligations in which danger to life inheres. The doctrine of Pikuach Nefesh posits that the
performance of a Jew's individual obligations to his fellow Jew or even
to God Himself will be excused if such performance would endanger the obligor's
life. The basis for the doctrine is that preserving one's own life in
order to perform many individual Mitzvot
(Commandments) in the Future is of a higher value to God than is sacrificing
one's own life in order to perform a single individual Mitzvah (Commandment) in
the Present, especially since the performance of the individual Mitzvot, such as keeping Shabbat (Sabbath) and observing
Kashrut (kosher laws), are not meant to be dangerous to one's
life. A typical example of the application of the doctrine of Pikuach Nefesh involves the ill
Jew who must determine whether or not the doctrine excuses him from fasting on
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), as a result of which he defers to the
recommendation of an expert, namely, his physician. Relying upon the Yom Kippur
paradigm, most contemporary rabbis have also applied the doctrine of Pikuach Nefesh to the
permissibility of ceding portions of the Land of Israel to gentile sovereignty
in an effort to appease the international community, including Israel's many
enemies, and thereby possibly avoid such warfare as will inevitably lead to
massive Jewish casualties, all based upon the prevailing recommendations of the
relevant experts, namely, Israel's military leaders. Of course, since many of
Israel’s military leaders are aspiring politicians, they naturally opine in
conformity with their respective preexisting political views. Consequently, in reliance upon the differing
military recommendations, there are resultant rabbinical rulings -- predictably
also mirroring the respective preexisting political views of their
authors -- that contradict each other, as some permit while others prohibit
ceding portions of the Land, all based upon the doctrine of Pikuach Nefesh. Yet, as Abraham's
war against the four kings demonstrates, the doctrine was never meant to
absolve the Jewish people from collectively fulfilling those national
obligations that are inherently dangerous. Otherwise, all dangerous national
Torah Mitzvot -- such as conquering the Land of
Israel and maintaining possession thereof by force -- would be rendered a
nullity, never to be performed even once (unlike those benign individual
Torah Mitzvot which, once the abnormal danger had
passed, would again be capable of being performed with regularity). It bears
repeating that when Abraham -- the very vessel from which the Jewish people was
created -- went to war against the four kings, he endangered, not only
his own life, but, as well, the very existence of the future Jewish
people. If the doctrine of Pikuach Nefesh were to be applicable to determining the
permissibility of freeing Lot from captivity, then Abraham would surely have
been absolved of that dangerous national obligation. However, Abraham's
prosecution of the War, despite its grave risks, establishes that the doctrine
of Pikuach Nefesh is not
applicable to the performance of those national obligations in which danger
inheres. In fact, the inapplicability of the doctrine of Pikuach Nefesh to the dangerous national
obligation of forcibly freeing Jewish captives would subsequently be
affirmed by God Himself when Israel went to war against the king of Arad,
thereby risking the lives of many Jews, over the matter of a single
Jewish captive. As the Torah relates: "The Canaanite king of
In fact, it may be argued that, although Abraham’s explicit goal was limited to rescuing Lot, his successful military campaign against the alliance of Mesopotamian kings actually constituted the first Jewish war for control over the Land of Israel.
As the Torah continues:
"The king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from defeating Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, to the Valley of Shaveh, which is the King's Valley. And Malchizedek, king of Salem [Jerusalem], brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. He [Malchizedek] blessed him [Abraham], saying, 'Blessed is Abram of God Most High, Maker of Heaven and Earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand'; and he [Abraham] gave him [Malchizedek] a tenth of everything. The king of Sodom said to Abram, 'Give me the people, and take the possessions for yourself.' Abram said to the king of Sodom, 'I lift up my hand to HaShem -- God Most High, Maker of Heaven and Earth -- if [I have taken] so much as a thread to a shoe strap; or if I shall take from anything of yours! So you shall not say, "It is I who made Abram rich." Only what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who accompanied me: [Amorite brothers] Aner, Eschol and Mamre -- they will take their portion.'" (Gen. 14:17-24).
After Abraham's return from battle, he simultaneously encountered both Good
and Evil. Malchizedek, the king of Salem and a
priest of God, gave exclusive credit to the God of Israel for Abraham's
victory, while Bera, the humiliated king of Sodom,
deviously attempted to share in the credit for Abraham's victory by
offering to "permit" Abraham to retain the city's looted possessions
which Bera and his army had no part in
recovering. Righteous Abraham publicly rewarded Malchizedek
with a tithe of his own possessions, while he publicly rebuked Bera by openly crediting his victory to God and refusing Bera's "offer". Here is presented a profound
lesson to every person who would become a leader of the Jewish people, namely,
that a Jewish leader must always -- and without reservation
-- publicly praise and embrace those who are Good, and publicly rebuke and
confront those who are Evil. As the Prophet Amos would later declare:
"Seek Good and not Evil ... Hate the Evil and love the Good" (Amos
5:14-15). Yet, while this proposition might seem self-evident in theory, it is
extremely difficult to implement in practice. For, many well-meaning people
delight in embracing the Good, as this entails pursuing a course of exclusively
benign conduct, but they recoil from confronting the Evil, as this
entails pursuing a course of potentially dangerous conduct. Accordingly,
by publicly rebuking the evil king of
However, that being said, the great Kiddush HaShem created by Abraham's self-sacrificing conduct, consequent military victory and public acknowledgment of God's Providence was, nevertheless, possibly diminished by two circumstances:
Firstly, there is the fact that Abraham allied himself with a well-known family of Amorites -- consisting of Mamre, Eschol and Aner; for, it is possible that some people might have attributed Abraham's victory, not to the God of Israel, but rather to the assistance of the Amorites.
Secondly, there is the fact that Abraham agreed to repatriate the newly-liberated people, including Lot, to Sodom; for, he thereby arguably made it more difficult for these morally-deficient people to overcome the temptations of their immoral surroundings.
Yet, Abraham's otherwise exemplary behavior in this episode provides us with a profound lesson for future Jewish leadership: True faith in the God of Israel -- which derives from Yirat Elohim (fear of God) -- demands, not only that we publicly reward righteous leaders and publicly associate ourselves with them, but also that we publicly rebuke evil leaders and publicly disassociate ourselves from them -- without fear of the military or diplomatic repercussions of such action. Consequently, modern Israel's leadership should understand that, when Israel is pressured by the nations to embrace Evildoers for the sake of an illusory peace, God is thereby testing that leadership in order to determine whether or not it has true faith in Him -- meaning Yirat Elohim rather than Yirat HaGoyim (fear of the nations). It goes without saying that a Jewish leadership which lacks Yirat Elohim will always fail such a Test.
Yet, one intriguing question remains. Why did Abraham stridently refuse an offer of compensation from the evil king of Sodom but meekly accept an earlier offer of compensation from the evil king of Egypt? Abraham’s shameful acceptance of compensation from Pharaoh in exchange for his sale of Sarah to that evil monarch was caused by Abraham’s lack of complete faith in God’s Power to keep His Promise of Divine Protection. However, after Lot was captured and kidnapped, Abraham exhibited complete faith in God by fearlessly pursuing and attacking a superior foe. Moreover, in the wake of triumph, he publicly attributed his victory to God. Consequently, between Abraham’s earlier interaction with the king of Egypt and Abraham’s later interaction with the king of Sodom, Abraham’s faith in God had evolved from incomplete to complete. Alternatively stated, from a spiritual perspective, the Abraham who dealt with the king of Sodom was not the same Abraham who had earlier dealt with the king of Egypt.
So, then the Torah continues:
"After these events, the Word of HaShem
came to Abram in a vision saying, 'Fear not, Abram, I am a Shield for you; your
reward is very great.' And Abraham said, 'My Lord HaShem: What can You give me,
seeing that I go childless, and the steward of my house is Eliezer of
Damascus?' Then Abraham said, 'See, to me You have given no offspring; and see,
my steward inherits from me.' Suddenly, the Word of HaShem came to him, saying,
'That one will not inherit from you. Only him that shall come forth from within
you shall inherit from you.' And he took him outside, and said, 'Gaze now,
towards the Sky, and count the stars if you are able to count them!' And He
said to him, 'So shall your offspring be!' And he trusted in Hashem, and He
reckoned it to him as righteousness. Then He said to him, 'I am HaShem Who
brought you out of
"After these events, the Word of HaShem came to Abram in a vision saying, 'Fear not, Abram, I am a Shield for you; your reward is very great.'" Despite Abraham's possible diminishment of the Kiddush HaShem which he had wrought, God was well pleased with Abraham's exhibition of pragmatic faith in the matter of the Mesopotamian kings; and He thereby reassured a doubt-prone Abraham that just as His Promise of Divine Protection had been fulfilled (in the matters of Pharaoh and of the Mesopotamian kings), so would His Promises of Progeny and of the Land also be fulfilled in their respective times.
"And Abraham said, 'My Lord HaShem: What can You
give me, seeing that I go childless, and the steward of my house is Eliezer of
"Suddenly, the Word of HaShem came to him, saying, 'That one will not inherit from you. Only him that shall come forth from within you shall inherit from you.'" God, consequently, found it necessary to brusquely interrupt Abraham's complaints and -- in the several declarations that immediately follow -- to reaffirm to him, yet a third time, His Promises of Progeny and of the Land.
"And he took him outside, and said, 'Gaze now, towards the Sky, and
count the stars if you are able to count them!' And He said to him, 'So shall
your offspring be!' And he trusted in Hashem, and He reckoned it to him as
righteousness. Then He said to him, 'I am HaShem Who brought you out of
As the Torah continues:
"And He said to him, 'Take to Me three heifers, three goats, three rams, a turtledove, and a young dove.' He took all these to Him: he cut them in the center, and placed each piece opposite its counterpart; the birds, however, he did not cut up. Birds of prey descended upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. And it happened, as the Sun was about to set, that a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold -- a dread -- great Darkness fell upon him. And He said to Abram, 'Know with certainty that, for 400 years, your offspring [the Jewish people] shall be aliens in a land not their own; they [the Jewish people] will serve them, and they will oppress them [the Jewish people]. But also the nation that they shall serve, I shall judge, and afterwards they [the Jewish people] shall leave with great wealth. As for you: You shall come to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And the fourth generation shall return here; for, the Iniquity of the Amorite shall not yet be full until then.'" (Gen. 15:9-16).
There were two alternative temporal means by which Abraham's covenantal progeny -- the Children of Israel -- could inherit the Land of Israel: The first way was without any suffering, in haste, through Abraham's (or the future Jewish people's) righteousness. The second way was against the collective will of the Jewish people and after much suffering, in its natural time, when the sinfulness of the indigenous peoples would become so great as to cause God to dispossess them in favor of the Jewish people, but only in order to sanctify His Holy Name. After assessing Abraham's lingering doubts as to the Promise of the Land, God determined that the Jewish people would not merit the first path, but would, instead, be forced to endure the second path. And this second way -- the severity of which would be exacerbated by the Chillul HaShem inherent in the Jewish people’s presence in the Exile -- would forever remain the path chosen by the faithless Jewish people throughout their long history.
As Moses would later explain to the Children of Israel concerning their original return to, and conquest of, the Land of Israel under the leadership of Joshua: "Do not say in your heart, when HaShem pushes them [the Canaanite nations] away from before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness does HaShem bring me to possess this Land’; for, because of the wickedness of these nations does HaShem drive them away from before you. Not because of your righteousness and the uprightness of your heart are you coming to possess their Land, but because of the wickedness of these nations does HaShem, your God, drive them away from before you, and in order to establish the Word that HaShem swore to your forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And you should know that not because of your righteousness does HaShem, your God, give you this good Land to possess it; for, you are a stiff-necked people." (Deut. 9:4-6).
And as God Himself, speaking through the Prophet Ezekiel, would thereafter
declare concerning the pre-messianic ingathering of the Jewish people to a
resurrected nation-state of
A further understanding of the relationship between God's Redemption of the
Jewish people "in its natural time" (due to their lack of sufficient
merit to justify a hastened redemption) and God's Redemption of the Jewish
people "in order to sanctify His Holy Name" can be gleaned from the
words of the Prophet Isaiah concerning the End of Days: "Thus Justice has
been withdrawn and Righteousness stands at a distance; because Truth has
stumbled in the street, and Integrity cannot enter. Truth became lacking, and
refraining from Evil was considered to be foolish. HaShem saw all this, and it
was Evil in His Eyes that there is no Justice. But He saw that there was no
[worthy] man, and He was astounded that there was no one to intervene [in order
to restore Justice to the World and thereby sanctify His Holy Name]; so His
[own] Arm wrought Salvation for Him, and it was His [own] Righteousness that
was His Support. He donned Righteousness like armor and a helmet of
Salvation on His Head; and He donned garments of Vengeance as His Attire and
clothed Himself in Zealousness like a coat. Just as there were [previous]
Retributions [against His enemies], so shall He [now] repay Wrath to His
enemies, Retribution to His adversaries; He will pay Retribution [even] to the
distant lands. From the West they will fear the Name of HaShem, and from the
rising of the Sun [they will fear] His Glory; for [their] travail will come
like a river; the Spirit of HaShem will gnaw at them. 'A Redeemer will come to
"And it happened, as the Sun was about to set, that a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold -- a dread -- great Darkness fell upon him." God prepared Abraham for His solemn Response to Abraham's request for proof that he and his progeny would indeed inherit the Land by causing a dread and a great Darkness to envelop Abraham although the Sun had not yet set -- this in order to impress upon Abraham the great disappointment experienced by God that (on account of Abraham's lack of complete faith in His Promise of the Land) the Jewish people would reacquire the Land, not without suffering and in haste -- through Abraham's (or their) merit -- but rather against their collective will, after much suffering and in its natural time -- through the Iniquity of the Canaanite nations.
"And He said to Abram, 'Know with certainty that, for 400 years, your offspring [the Jewish people] shall be aliens in a land not their own; they [the Jewish people] will serve them, and they will oppress them [the Jewish people]. But also the nation that they shall serve, I shall judge, and afterwards they [the Jewish people] shall leave with great wealth.'" As punishment for Abraham's sin, God decreed that the Jewish people, in a future generation, would be removed from the Land and become slaves to an evil empire, thereby initiating an era which would become known as the Egyptian Exile.
Yet God's Words are more than merely a declaration of delayed punishment. For, He is also teaching to the gentile nations and to the Jewish people a profound lesson: If, in the Future, an evil nation should dare to say that, since its persecution of the Jewish people was foreordained by God, its Evildoing was actually Righteousness, then that nation should know that, although its Evildoing may have served God's Higher Purpose, it is not thereby absolved from suffering God's Judgment; for, that arrogant nation will surely be punished for having committed Evil against God's People (-- "'But also the nation that they shall serve, I shall judge, and afterwards they [the Jewish people] shall leave with great wealth.'" --). As God, acting through the Prophet Zechariah, declares to the nations who persecute the Jewish people: “… Thus said HaShem of Legions: ‘I have become zealous for Jerusalem and for Zion -- a great Zeal. And I am wrathful -- a great Wrath -- against the complacent nations; for I was slightly wrathful [against the Jewish people], but they augmented the Evil.’” (Zech. 1:14-15). Consequently, the Jewish people will receive just compensation for their ordeal and they, in turn, will exult over their tormentor's just punishment. As the Hebrew Bible explains: "The righteous man shall rejoice when he sees Vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the Wicked. And Mankind shall say, 'Truly there is a reward for the Righteous. Truly there is a God Who judges on Earth.'" (Psalms 58:11-12).
With respect to the foreordained Egyptian Exile, although
It is the same with respect to the later Babylonian Exile. On account of their sins, the God of Israel
determined that the Jewish people were to be subjugated by Babylonia, either
through its voluntary submission in situ to Babylonia or through its suffering
of re-conquest, massacre and involuntary exile at the hand of Babylonia. As the Prophet Jeremiah recounts, concerning
his advice and warning to vassal king Zedekiah who now challenged Babylonian
hegemony: "And to Zedekiah, king of
But how can a gentile nation's persecution of the Jewish people truly be Evil if it has been foreordained by the God of Israel as a necessary chastisement for His People? The answer lies in the Truth that the very same event may constitute the simultaneous fulfillment of that nation’s evil intentions and God's Higher Purpose. As Abraham's great grandson, Joseph, would explain to his brothers concerning their earlier cruel sale of him to slave traders: "'Although you meant [to inflict] Evil upon me, God meant it for Good, in order to accomplish -- it is as [clear as] this Day -- that a vast people be kept alive.'" (Gen. 50:20).
And yet, regardless of how malevolent a gentile nation’s persecution
of the Jewish people may actually be, why doesn’t God’s Foreordination of such
persecution nonetheless exonerate that nation from moral
responsibility for that Evil and, consequently, excuse that nation
from suffering punishment on account thereof? The answer lies in the interplay between Predestination
and Free Will. The leadership of
such a nation will always possess the power to choose between Good and
Evil (which is the essence of Free Will), while God -- possessing the
Power to see all that was, is and will ever be -- will always know, ab
initio, the results and consequences of those future choices (which is the
essence of Predestination).
Accordingly, it is not that such a nation’s course of action is fixed
because God has foreordained it; rather,
it is that such a nation’s course of action is fixed because its leadership has
chosen it. An example of the
interplay between Predestination and Free Will is Egypt’s harsh enslavement of
the Jewish people and the horrific punishments it suffered on account thereof,
all in conformity with the prior Words of God to Abraham. By informing Abraham about his progeny’s
future travails and triumphs, God is declaring that which is predestined
to occur owing to the myriad choices which will be made by Jews and
Gentiles over the succeeding centuries.
Yet, although God will place before Pharaoh a great temptation --
namely, a huge pool of potential slave laborers to be drawn from a segregated
minority population which was already being viewed by the majority population
with a combination of disdain (see Gen. 46:31-34) and envy (see Gen. 45:4-11;
45:16-23; 47:5-6; and 47:11-12) -- God will not command the leader of
Egypt to persecute the Jewish people.
Rather, Pharaoh -- after considering the fecundity and growing
wealth of the Jews in Egypt and the pecuniary advantages to himself
of demonizing and exploiting this foreign population -- will choose
to do so. As the Torah relates:
"'As for you: You shall come to your ancestors in peace; you shall
be buried in a good old age.'" If
only Abraham had not tested God with his query over inheriting the Land, then
perhaps the Jewish people, in Abraham's merit, would have been able to
reacquire the Land through the first path, namely, without suffering and in
haste. However, none of this deprives Abraham of his greatness and exalted
stature as our first forefather. For, although Abraham was not sufficiently
righteous to merit for his covenantal progeny the first path to the
Yet, it seems incongruous that, in response to Abraham's sin, God
would both punish Abraham's covenantal descendants with exile and
slavery and reward Abraham with a long life and a peaceful death. Rather,
it seems that God's evident love and respect for Abraham refutes the
notion that Abraham had sinned through his lack of complete faith in God's
Power and Promises! In this regard, let us consider the case of Abraham's
righteous descendant, Hezekiah, monarch of the southern
"'And the fourth generation shall return here; for, the Iniquity of the Amorite shall not yet be full until then.'" In specifically referring to the Amorites, as a symbol of the evil Canaanite nations, God was implicitly criticizing Abraham for having made an alliance with a clan of Amorites during the war against the four kings. For, that alliance had diminished the Kiddush HaShem resulting from Abraham's miraculous victory by God's Hand.
However, in addition to presenting Abraham with this specific criticism, God
is also teaching to the Jewish people a profound lesson for the Future: Abraham " ... dwelled among the oak
trees of Mamre, the Amorite, the brother of Eshcol and the brother of Aner, these
being Abram's allies." (Gen. 14:13). Righteous Abraham did not
associate himself with Evildoers. Accordingly, we can assume that Abraham's
Amorite allies -- Mamre, Eshcol
and Aner -- were also righteous! Yet, in God's
Response to Abraham's questioning of the Promise of the Land, He explicitly
refers to the "Iniquity of the Amorite". Furthermore, as God
later warns Moses concerning the Canaanite nations, including the Amorites,
then occupying the Land: "'Beware of what I command you Today: Behold, I
will drive out before you the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivvite, and the Jebusite.
Be vigilant not to seal a covenant with the inhabitants of the Land to which
you are coming, since they will be a fatal trap for you.'" (Ex. 34:11-12);
and: "'You shall devour all the peoples that HaShem, your God, will
deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them; you shall not worship their gods,
for it is a snare for you.'" (Deut. 7:16); and: "'But from the cities
of these peoples that HaShem, your God, gives you as an inheritance, you shall
not allow any person to live. Rather you shall utterly destroy them: the
Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite,
the Hivvite, and the Jebusite, as HaShem, your God,
has commanded you, so that they will not teach you to act according to all
their abominations that they performed for their deities, so that you will sin
to HaShem, your God.'" (Deut. 20:16-18). And Abarbanel
(Don Yitzchak Abarbanel, b. 1437 - d. 1507),
commenting on Exodus 34:11-12, declares: "Verses 11-12 inform us that
since God is driving out the Amorites and the other nations, it is
How, then, do we reconcile the seeming contradiction between the righteousness of Abraham's Amorite allies and the iniquity of the Amorite people? And, moreover, how do we reconcile the seeming injustice of repaying Abraham's Amorite allies for risking their lives in aid of Abraham with the expulsion and destruction of their descendants by Abraham's descendants? The general principle to be learned is that while, individually, gentiles may indeed be righteous, collectively, they are not. That is precisely why Abraham's friends were righteous, but the nation to which they belonged was Evil!
And should we have any doubts as to whether the specific reference to the
"Iniquity of the Amorite" in God's Response to Abraham constitutes a
sufficient basis upon which to infer, by inductive logic, the general principal
so stated, it is pointed out that the case of Mamre
and his brothers represents but one example of righteous gentiles who
were members of an evil nation against which the Jewish people were
commanded to wage war without mercy. For instance, despite the fact that Malchizedek, king of the City of
Moreover, in the modern era, we have the example of Nazi Germany, y’mach sh’mo (cursed be its name). The fact that righteous Germans risked -- and forfeited -- their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust does not alter the fact that the nation to which they belonged was the epitome of Evil. A related example concerns the United Nations, y’mach sh’mo. Although many member nations of the United Nations have cordial bilateral diplomatic relations with the State of Israel, the respectful nature of those bilateral relationships does not alter the fact that the United Nations itself (representing the collective Will of those same member nations) has molded itself into a relentless Enemy of the Jewish State.
Accordingly, the corollary principle to be learned is that a leader of the Jewish people is not permitted either to relinquish possession over any portions of the Land of Israel to the immoral gentile nations or to tolerate any vestiges of their avodah zarah (idolatry and other deviant worship) -- including those inherent in Christianity and Islam -- inside any portions of the Land, even if individual members of those nations are themselves righteous and even if such individuals have risked their lives and their property to aid the Jewish people. As to this last point, the God of Israel strictly adjures the Jewish people: "These are the Decrees and the Ordinances that you shall observe to perform in the Land that HaShem, the God of your forefathers, has given to you, to possess it, all of the days that you live in the Land. You shall utterly destroy all of the places where the nations that you are driving away worshipped their gods -- on the high mountains, and on the hills, and under every leafy tree. You shall break apart their altars; you shall smash their pillars; and their sacred trees shall you burn in the fire; their carved images shall you cut down; and you shall obliterate their names from that place." (Deut. 12:1-3).
Furthermore, since -- with limited exceptions -- even those righteous
gentiles (who reside either in a gentile country outside of the Land or in a
gentile-dominated area inside of the Land) will, nevertheless, continue to participate
in the life of, and provide support for, their respective amoral
societies, they and their descendants (-- as well as those
"stiff-necked" Jews who insist on remaining in the Exile even during
a time when the gates of the resurrected nation-state of Israel are wide open
to receive them --) will ultimately share in the Collective Punishment that
the God of Israel will mete out to the gentile nations during the future
messianic War of Gog and Magog (see Deut. 32:43; Isaiah 45:14-23; Ezek. 38:1 -
39:8; and Zech. 14:1-21). That this will be the destiny of righteous gentiles
who choose to remain among their respective amoral peoples during the End of
Days is portended by the presumed fate of righteous Jethro. For, although Moses
persistently invited Jethro the Midianite to join the Jewish people as they
journeyed to the
However, with respect to God's Commandments to expel and to annihilate the
Canaanite nations from the Land of Israel, it must be noted that, at the time
of the returning Hebrews' conquest of the Land under the leadership of Joshua,
there were certain clans of Hivvites residing in the
district of Gibeon which -- through an adroit combination of deceit as to their
real identity and of complete prostration before Joshua and the Hebrew tribes
-- convinced the Jewish people to conclude an alliance with them (in violation
of God's Prohibition against such treaties), on account of which they were
exempted from God's Decrees of Expulsion and Destruction (see Joshua 9:1-27).
This incident raises another issue, namely, what would have happened if all
of the Canaanite peoples, including the Amorites, had been as peaceful and as
submissive towards the Hebrews as the Gibeonites?
Putting aside the fact that the Hebrews were tricked into making their treaty
with the Gibeonites, isn't it likely that the Hebrews
-- as the covenantal descendants of the kind and merciful Abraham --
when faced with a peaceful and submissive native population, would have, in
any case, found it morally difficult -- if not impossible --
to treat this population as harshly as God had so commanded, namely, not
to make any alliances with them, but rather, without pity, to expel
and to annihilate them from the Land?
Despite the fact that God's Decrees were not made conditional
upon the military posture of the Canaanite peoples towards the returning
Hebrews, the answer to this question is in the affirmative: The Jewish people would have had great moral
difficulty conducting a war of expulsion and annihilation against a supine Canaanite
population. Accordingly, God enflamed
the Canaanites’ belligerence towards the Jewish people, so that the latter
would have no practical choice but to comply with His Decrees. As is revealed
in the Hebrew Bible: "Joshua waged war with all these [Canaanite] kings
for a long time. There was not a city that made peace with the Children of
Israel except for the Hivvite inhabitants of
After God had finished responding to Abraham's query seeking proof that his descendants would indeed inherit the Land, God once more repeated the Promise of the Land.
As the Torah continues:
"So it happened: The Sun set, and it was
very dark; and behold -- there was a smoky furnace and a torch of fire which
passed between these pieces. On that day HaShem made a Covenant with Abram,
saying, 'To your descendants have I given this Land, from the
This Covenant, known as the “Covenant Between The Pieces”, represented the fourth time (see Gen. 12:7; Gen. 13:14-17; Gen. 15:7; and Gen. 15:18-21) that God had declared to Abraham His Promise of the Land. Perhaps God decided -- mida k'neged mida (measure for measure) -- that just as Abraham, through lack of complete faith, had required Him to promise the Land four times, He would delay His fulfillment of this Promise, combined with much suffering, until the fourth generation of exiled progeny (-- "'And the fourth generation shall return here; for, the Iniquity of the Amorite shall not yet be full until then.'" --).
This is similar to the tragedy caused by the lack of complete faith of
Abraham's descendant, Jehoash, monarch of the northern kingdom of
Scripture clearly teaches and warns the Jewish people that their leaders' lack of complete faith in God has dire consequences, not only for them in their Day, but, as well, for their descendants in future days.
THE GIFT OF OFFSPRING
After having seen, with his own eyes, God's Punishment of Pharaoh on account of Sarah in order to restore her to him, and after having heard, with his own ears, God's oft-repeated Promise of Progeny, Abraham could not have believed that his promised offspring would come through a woman other than Sarah, meaning that Abraham must have always understood God's Promise of Progeny to be a promise made to him and Sarah jointly.
This being the case, it is puzzling that righteous Sarah, who had been saved
from evil Pharaoh by the Hand of Omnipotent God, would now doubt God's Promise
to her of Progeny. For she knew that Omniscient God would not make such a
Promise to her, only to later retract it. She understood -- as the gentile
prophet Balaam would later declare to Balak, king of
However, as the Torah relates:
"Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had born for him
no children; and she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. And
Sarai said to Abram, 'See, now, HaShem has restrained me from bearing; consort,
now, with my maidservant; perhaps I will be built up through her.' And Abram
heeded the voice of Sarai. So, Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian,
her maidservant -- after 10 years of Abram's dwelling in the
"Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had born for him no children; and she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar." Hagar was among the servants given to Abraham by Pharaoh in compensation for the latter’s seizure of Sarah. After Sarah was rescued from Pharaoh by God, Abraham gave Sarah authority over Hagar. Had Abraham’s fear of the famine in the Land of Israel not triumphed over Abraham’s faith in the Promises of God, then Abraham would not have descended from the Land of Israel to the Land of Egypt, and Hagar would never have become part of Abraham’s household. Alternatively stated, Hagar’s presence in the Land of Israel and her status as Sarah’s servant were a direct consequence of Abraham’s lack of complete faith in the God of Israel.
"And Sarai said to Abram, 'See, now, HaShem has restrained me from bearing; consort, now, with my maidservant; perhaps I will be built up through her.'" Please note, by her choice of words, that Sarah -- unlike Abraham -- never doubted God's Power to cause her to conceive. On the contrary, she explicitly attributed her failure to conceive to God's Power, the necessary corollary of which is that God also possessed the Power to cause her to conceive. But, if Sarah had pragmatic faith in God's Power to cause her to conceive, and if she was also aware of God's Promise that He would, in fact, eventually cause her to conceive, then how can it be that she lacked the patience to wait for the certain fulfillment of that Promise? The answer is that Sarah lacked, not the patience for the fulfillment of that Promise, but rather knowledge of the existence thereof. For, Abraham, lacking pragmatic faith in the efficacy of that Promise, never informed Sarah that God had issued a Promise of joint Progeny. This would serve to explain why Sarah, rather than patiently wait for conception, instead persuaded Abraham to take Hagar as a secondary wife. For, if Sarah had known that God had promised a child to her, then never would she have erroneously concluded that her present barrenness was due to God's Decision to retract that Promise.
"And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. So, Sarai, Abram's wife, took
Hagar the Egyptian, her maidservant -- after 10 years of Abram's dwelling in
"He consorted with Hagar and she conceived; and when she [Hagar] saw that she had conceived, her mistress [Sarah] was lowered in her esteem. So Sarai said to Abram, 'The outrage against me is due to you! It was I who gave my maidservant into your bosom, and now that she sees that she has conceived, I became lowered in her esteem. Let HaShem judge between me and you.'" The pregnant Hagar's subsequent disrespect and disdain for her mistress caused Sarah to realize that Abraham's acceptance of Hagar as a secondary wife had been a great mistake. This, then, would serve to explain Sarah's seemingly hypocritical outburst of anger against Abraham. For, while Sarah was hardly justified, on a mundane level, in criticizing Abraham for yielding to her own request to accept Hagar as his concubine, she was justified, on a prophetic level, in criticizing him for so yielding -- since, by his conduct, he had demonstrated his impatience with, and consequent loss of faith in, God's Promise of joint Progeny. This is precisely the meaning of Sarah's demand of Abraham: "'Let HaShem judge between me and you.'" For, while Sarah had offered a concubine to Abraham based upon her complete faith in God’s Power, Abraham had accepted Sarah’s offer based upon his lack of complete faith in God’s Power.
Despite the fact that Sarah was unaware of God’s Promises to Abraham, Sarah nonetheless perceived that Hagar’s disrespect towards her portended a disrespect towards God’s Plan, whatever future events that Plan might entail. Sarah’s prophetic powers are revealed through the other name by which Sarah was known: "Iscah" (Hebrew: “Yiscah") (see Gen. 11:29), a name which is derived from the Hebrew-language verb infinitive "liscot", meaning "to see" or "to gaze". Scripture's disclosure of this alternative name prompts Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, b. 1040 - d. 1105) to comment thereon: "This is Sarah, [so alternatively named] because she saw into the Future through Holy Inspiration ... " However, Rashi's comment fails to deal with the anomaly that "Yiscah" means "he will see". This is very strange. It seems, rather, that Sarah's alternative name should have been "Tiscah", meaning "she will see". The answer to this puzzle lies in the Purpose for which God granted such prophetic powers to Sarah. These powers were given to Sarah, not to benefit her, but rather to enable her to help Abraham to "see" God's Plan and to thereby accept it as the embodiment of true Morality. As the Prophet Isaiah, speaking in God's Name, would later declare concerning God's Morality: "For, My Thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My Ways -- the Word of HaShem. As high as are the Heavens above the Earth, so are My Ways high above your ways, and My Thoughts [high] above your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9). Accordingly, it bears reiterating that Sarah's prophetic powers were granted to her so that "he (Abraham) will see" God's Plan and eventually accept it as the embodiment of true Morality -- even though (as will be discussed elsewhere in this Essay) certain of the elements thereof will seem antithetical to his natural inclination towards kindness and mercy.
In fact, in order to truly appreciate Sarah's greatness, we must understand that God chose her as Abraham's mate precisely in order to compensate for Abraham's inherent weaknesses. This was in fulfillment of God's original intention when He created Eve as mate to Adam. As is set forth in the Torah: "HaShem God said, 'It is not good that the man be alone; I will make for him a help-mate.'" (Gen. 2:18). This passage employs the Hebrew-language phrase "ezer k'negdo", usually translated as "help-mate", but which literally means "helper against him". The use of "ezer k'negdo" in Gen. 2:18 prompts Rashi to comment thereon that: "If he is worthy -- a helper. If he is not worthy -- against him, for strife." Alternatively stated, God gave Man a help-mate with the intention that she support him when he does Good and that she oppose him when he does Evil; only in this way can such a mate truly help her husband. So it was with Sarah and Abraham; she was an "ezer k'negdo" -- a "helper against him".
"Abram said to Sarai, 'Behold! -- your maidservant is in your hand; do to her as you see fit.' And Sarai dealt harshly with her, so she fled from her." Sarah dealt harshly with Hagar, because Sarah prophetically discerned that Abraham's error in taking Hagar as a secondary wife would lead to strife on a national scale. What exactly did Sarah foresee? Did she foresee the birth of a son (i.e., Ishmael) to Hagar whose existence would be misused -- thousands of years later -- by a false prophet, Mohammed ibn Abdullah, to claim that he and his people (i.e., the Arab people) were the descendants of that son and, consequently, the true covenantal progeny of Abraham? Did she foresee that this false connection to Hagar’s son would, inter alia, result in that people’s erroneous belief that the Land of Israel belonged to them by virtue of God’s Covenant with Abraham? While the extent and details of her gaze into the Future are unknown, it is undeniable that what she saw triggered her harsh response. Although Abraham -- owing to the traits of mercy and kindness that permeated his being -- was not able to discern any of these consequences of his marital union with Hagar, he nevertheless sensed the justness of Sarah's rebuke of him. For this reason, "Abram said to Sarai, 'Behold! -- your maidservant is in your hand; do to her as you see fit.'"
"An Angel of HaShem found her by the spring of water in the desert, at the spring on the road to Shur. And he said, 'Hagar, maidservant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?' And she said, "I am running away from Sarai, my mistress.' And an Angel of HaShem said to her, 'Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her domination.'" God, Master of Justice, acting through His Angelic Messenger, thereafter ratified Sarah's harsh treatment of Hagar. For proof of this we must pay close attention to the Angel's words: The Angel of God, describing Hagar as "maidservant" and Sarah as "mistress", instructed Hagar to return and submit to Sarah's "domination". These words represent God's Messianic Judgment that, with respect to the ultimate inheritance of the Land of Israel, the falsely-claimed descendants of Hagar (i.e., the Arabs), will be rightfully subjected to the domination of the covenantal descendants of Sarah (i.e., the Jews).
Some 13 years later, God again tested Abraham's faith by repeating His -- as yet unfulfilled -- Promise of joint Progeny.
As the Torah relates:
"When Abram was 99 years old, HaShem appeared to Abram and said to him, 'I am El Shadai; walk before Me and be perfect. I will set My Covenant between Me and you, and I will increase you most exceedingly.'" (Gen. 17:1-2).
The Hebrew-language appellation "El Shadai", usually translated as "God Almighty" or "Almighty God", literally means "God Who is Sufficient". God prefaced His Repetition of the Promise of joint Progeny by describing Himself to Abraham as "El Shadai" in order to impress upon him that He had sufficient Power to fulfill all of His Promises -- sufficient Power, in fact, to continue to sustain all of Creation. God's request to Abraham that he "walk before Me and be perfect" reflected God's acknowledgment, not only that Abraham, unlike Noah (-- "These are the offspring of Noah -- Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noah walked with God." (Gen. 6:9) --), did not yet have complete and enduring faith in God's Promises, but also God's Confidence that Abraham had the potential to achieve such perfection. That God will patiently wait for a human being to actualize his potential is profoundly demonstrated by God's Advice and Warning to a very imperfect Cain, as recounted in the Torah: "And HaShem said to Cain, 'Why are you annoyed, and why has your countenance fallen? Surely, if you improve yourself, you will be forgiven. But if you do not improve yourself, Sin rests at the Door. Its desire is towards you; yet you can conquer it.'" (Gen. 4:6-7). If God had exhibited such great patience with, and enduring readiness to forgive, the flawed Cain, how much more was He willing to provide extended opportunities for the righteous Abraham to improve himself? It was in this context that -- after more than two decades of Sarah's barrenness -- God, describing Himself as "El Shadai", again tested Abraham's faith by repeating His unfulfilled Promise of joint Progeny. But this time, instead of placing before Abraham a temporally indefinite Promise of joint Progeny, God finally disclosed to him the imminence of its fulfillment.
As the Torah continues:
"Abram threw himself upon his face, and God spoke with him saying, 'As for Me, this is My Covenant with you: You shall be a father of a multitude of nations; Your name shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations; I will make you most exceedingly fruitful and make nations of you; and kings shall descend from you. I will ratify My Covenant between Me and you and between your offspring after you, throughout their generations, as an Everlasting Covenant, to be a God to you and to your offspring after you; and I will give to you and to your offspring after you the Land of your sojourns -- the whole of the Land of Canaan -- as an everlasting possession; and I shall be a God to them.' ... And God said to Abraham, 'As for Sarai, your wife -- do not call her name Sarai; for, Sarah is her name. I will bless her; indeed, I will give you a son through her; I will bless her and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples will rise from her.' And Abraham threw himself upon his face, and he laughed; and he thought, 'Shall a child be born to a 100 year old man? And shall Sarah -- a 90 year old woman -- give birth?' And Abraham said to God, 'O that Ishmael might live before You!' And God said, 'Nevertheless, your wife, Sarah, will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will fulfill My Covenant with him as an Everlasting Covenant for his offspring after him. But regarding Ishmael I have heard you; I have blessed him, will make him fruitful, and will increase him most exceedingly; he will sire 12 princes, and I will make him into a great nation. However, I will maintain My Covenant through Isaac whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.' And when He had finished speaking with him, God ascended from upon Abraham." (Gen. 17:3-22).
"And Abraham threw himself upon his face, and he laughed; and he thought, 'Shall a child be born to a 100 year old man? And shall Sarah -- a 90 year old woman -- give birth?'" On its face, this passage is ambiguous, indicating either Abraham's jubilation over the imminence of God's Promise of joint Progeny finally being fulfilled, or, alternatively, Abraham's skepticism that -- after all of this time -- God's Promise was even capable of being fulfilled. The great Torah commentators have unanimously interpreted Abraham's laughter and thoughts as demonstrative of his jubilation and, consequently, his broad faith in God's Power and Promises. However, I respectfully dissent; and I submit that, on the contrary, Abraham's laughter and thoughts concerning God's announcement of the fulfillment of His Promise of joint Progeny were demonstrative of Abraham's skepticism, and, consequently, his lack of complete faith in God's Power to fulfill this Promise.
"And Abraham said to God, 'O that Ishmael might live before You!'" Abraham's lack of pragmatic faith was reinforced by his supplication on behalf of Ishmael -- the progenitor of a people (namely, the Arabs) who would, in the Future, inflict untold suffering upon Abraham's covenantal descendants (namely, the Jews). That Abraham would promote the ascendancy of one who represented, not the sweet fruit of God's Promise of joint Progeny (through Abraham's union with Sarah), but rather the bitter fruit of Abraham's loss of faith in that Promise (through Abraham's union with Hagar), led God to understand that Abraham's laughter was motivated neither by joy nor by the self-assured satisfaction of one who had patiently waited for -- and who, consequently, should not have been surprised by -- the long-awaited denouement of His Promise. Moreover, by promoting Ishmael’s candidacy to be his covenantal heir, Abraham thereby hedged his bets a fourth time (i.e., attempted to minimize the risk of not siring a covenantal heir by counterbalancing his theoretical reliance upon God’s Promises with his pragmatic reliance upon the logical argument that Ishmael was the only viable candidate to inherit the Covenant). Yet, this instance of hedging was unique. For, in all other instances of his hedging (both past and future), Abraham would counterbalance his theoretical reliance upon God’s Promises with his pragmatic reliance upon an immediate remedial plan. However, in this instance, there was no counterbalancing immediate remedial plan available to Abraham. Consequently, in this instance, Abraham sought to minimize the risk by striving to convince God that He ought to substitute a Fact (i.e., a present son) for a Promise (i.e., a future son).
"And God said, 'Nevertheless, your wife, Sarah, will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will fulfill My Covenant with him as an Everlasting Covenant for his offspring after him. ... However, I will maintain My Covenant through Isaac whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.'" Clear proof that God understood Abraham's laughter and thoughts as demonstrative of his skepticism thus comes by way of the very first Word of God's Response to Abraham. This Hebrew-language word is "Aval", which may be translated as "Nevertheless", "However", "Nonetheless" or "But". Yet, regardless of its English-language translation in a particular context, "Aval" always represents the concept of opposition to the words against which it has been directed. With all due respect to the great Torah commentators, I believe that God's Response to Abraham constituted, not merely a more detailed recitation of the imminent fulfillment of His Promise of joint Progeny, but rather a rebuke. In fact, this is the very reason why, as an integral part of His Response to Abraham, God -- rather than leave the naming of the promised child to the discretion of Abraham and Sarah -- Himself chose the name for the child: "Isaac" (Hebrew: "Yitzchak"), which means "he will laugh". However, this name seems to be a misnomer because, in fact, Abraham had already laughed. Accordingly, "Tzachak", which means "he laughed", would seem to have been the appropriate name for the promised child. What Message, then, is God thereby conveying to Abraham (and, through him, to us, his covenantal descendants) by having named the prospective child "Yitzchak" ("he will laugh") instead of "Tzachak" ("he laughed")? In order to decipher God's Message we must first return to the language used by Scripture to describe Abraham's reaction to the news that he would finally have a child through his beloved wife Sarah. The Torah says of Abraham: "va’yitzchak" (spelled with the letters "vav", "yud", "tzadi", "chet" and "kuf"), which translates as "and he laughed". If we remove from "va’yitzchak" the grammatical conjunction "va" (represented by the letter "vav") which means "and", then "va’yitzchak" becomes "yitzchak" (spelled with the remaining letters "yud", "tzadi", "chet" and "kuf"). But this transformation is not limited to the simple grammatical effect of removing the word "and" from the phrase "and he laughed"; for it also alters the tense of the verb from past tense to future tense, with the full grammatical effect being that the phrase "and he laughed" ("va’yitzchak") becomes "he will laugh" ("yitzchak"). Alternatively stated, God took Abraham's reaction -- "va’yitzchak" -- and, by removing the letter "vav" therefrom, He thereby transformed its meaning from being a reference to the Past into being a reference to the Future. Why did He do this? The reason is as follows: Since, in the Past, Abraham had laughed the laughter of skepticism on account of God's Message that he would soon receive a son through Sarah, God now determined -- mida k'neged mida (measure for measure) -- that, in the Future, Abraham would instead laugh the laughter of jubilation on account of this same Message, and, furthermore, that the very product of this Message would serve, through his name Isaac (Yitzchak), as a perpetual remembrance to his father Abraham of how utterly misplaced was the latter's original skepticism. This provides the reason why God did not name the prospective child "Tzachak" ("he laughed"); for, that name would have represented Abraham's past skepticism rather than his future jubilation. Consequently, that name would not have been an appropriate name for the heir to God's Everlasting Covenant.
Moreover, the perplexing grammatical rules of biblical Hebrew which conflate the Past and the Future yield a profound insight into the Metaphysics of God and the nature of the passage of Time. God possesses the Metaphysical Attributes of Eternality (being Without Beginning Or End), Incorporeality (being Not Of Material Form), Omnipotence (being All Powerful), Omniscience (being All Knowing) and Omnipresence (being Everywhere Present). In the Beginning of Creation, Omnipotent God created the primordial burst of Electromagnetic Energy (known to Modern Science as “The Big Bang”) that converted a portion of itself into incalculable quanta of Matter, each possessing different combinations of gravity and velocity. These quanta of Matter endlessly combined, separated and re-combined to form our ever expanding and evolving Universe, including the celestial bodies situated within it. The initial existence of Matter, in turn, triggered the immediate commencement of the passage of Time, which could neither have existed prior to nor in the absence of Matter. The rate of the passage of Time, as measured on any particular celestial body, is determined by the gravity and velocity of that celestial body. Yet although Time objectively passes more slowly on a celestial body with greater gravity and velocity than it does on a celestial body with lesser gravity and velocity, hypothetical persons living on diverse celestial bodies would, nonetheless, always perceive and experience their different rates of the passage of Time (i.e., the routine elapses of seconds, minutes and hours) as being normal. However, an object without mass, such a photon of Electromagnetic Energy traveling through the vacuum of Outer Space, exists completely outside the passage of Time. Consequently, such a massless object, if sentient, would perceive and experience only an Everlasting Present. Modern Science thus confirms an ancient message conveyed to us by the Torah’s employment of special grammatical rules that conflate the Past and the Future. This message informs us that, although Omnipotent and Omnipresent God created different rates of the passage of Time upon all of the diverse matter locations spread throughout the Universe, Incorporeal God Himself -- like a massless photon -- exists completely outside the passage of Time; He is Eternal God. Consequently, for Omniscient God, the Past and the Future are merged into an Everlasting Present.
However, what is the significance of the Torah’s employment of the Hebrew letter “vav” (which represents the grammatical conjunction “and”) to trigger the conflation of the Past and the Future? Since the Hebrew language does not possess separate numeric symbols, it uses Hebrew letters to represent numbers; and “vav” represents the number Six. The Torah’s employment of the letter “vav” to convert Future into Past, as well as Past into Future, is connected to the number Six in two different, but related, ways:
Firstly, the number Six refers to the Six Days of Creation described in the Torah, which culminated with God’s creation of a being in His own Image (HaAdam B’Tzalmo), called by the name Adam, at the end of the Sixth Day of Creation (see Gen. 1:1-31). The Six Days of Creation do not refer to the passage of Time as measured on the planet Earth. However, beginning with the Seventh Day, the rate of the passage of Time as described in the Torah becomes equivalent to the rate of the passage of Time as perceived and experienced on the planet Earth. Modern Science has determined, based upon the rate of the passage of Earth Time, looking backward in Time from the earliest appearance of Homo Sapiens (Human Beings) to the Beginning of Creation, that the Universe was created approximately 16 billion years prior to the creation of Homo Sapiens. Yet, Modern Science has also determined, based upon the rate of the passage of Cosmic Time, looking forward in Time from the Beginning of Creation to the earliest appearance of Homo Sapiens, that only Six Days passed prior to the creation of Homo Sapiens. The rate of the passage of Cosmic Time is measured by the wave frequency of the original cosmic microwave background radiation emitted by the primordial burst of Electromagnetic Energy; and such radiation pervades the entire Universe. Since the cosmic background radiation’s wave frequency is not affected by such radiation’s proximity to any particular celestial matter location within the Universe, this wave frequency constitutes an objective Universal Clock. As the Universe has unremittingly expanded from the Beginning of Creation through the earliest appearance of Homo Sapiens and continuing to the present time, the cosmic background radiation’s wavelength has increased while its wave frequency has decreased by a factor of approximately 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) from its initial wavelength and initial wave frequency at the Beginning of Creation, thereby resulting in the gradual stretching of the rate of the passage of Cosmic Time by this same factor. As the rate of the passage of Cosmic Time stretched, its measurement by the Universal Clock began to approach the measurement of the rate of the passage of Earth Time. Conversely, as measured by the present status of the Universal Clock, the rate of the passage of Cosmic Time was compressed by a factor of approximately 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) at the Beginning of Creation. Consequently, the passage of approximately 16 billion (location-based) Earth Time Years (projecting backwards into the Past toward the Beginning of Creation) is, in fact, equivalent to the passage of Six (radiation-based) Cosmic Time Days (projecting forwards into the Future from the Beginning of Creation).
Secondly, the number Six also refers to the fact that, according to the Jewish Calendar, we are presently in the Sixth Millennium since God’s creation of Adam. And just as God allowed Adam, who was created at the terminus of the Sixth Day of Creation, to develop a level of knowledge which transcended that of all creatures created before his Time, God has allowed us, as we approach the terminus of the Sixth Millennium since Adam’s creation, to develop a level of knowledge -- especially that which facilitates the conflation of the Torah and Modern Science -- which transcends that of all humankind living before our Time.
In sum, how profound are even the grammatical rules of the Torah! (My understanding and discussion of Cosmology and Time Dilation is due to the lucid explanations thereof found in two books, “Genesis and the Big Bang” and “The Science of God”, both authored by Professor Gerald L. Schroeder of Jerusalem, Israel.)
After Abraham had been informed of Isaac’s impending conception and birth, his lack of complete faith in God's Promise of joint Progeny was subsequently confirmed when three Angels visited him in order to repeat God's announcement of the good news.
As the Torah relates:
"They said to him, 'Where is Sarah, your wife?' -- And he said, 'Here in the tent.' And he said, 'I will surely return to you at this time next year, and behold Sarah, your wife, will have a son.' -- Now Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent that was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well on in years; the manner of women had ceased to be with Sarah. And Sarah laughed at herself, saying, 'After I have withered shall I again have delicate skin? And my husband is old!' Then HaShem said to Abraham, 'Why is it that Sarah laughed, saying, "Shall I truly bear a child, although I have aged?" Is anything beyond HaShem?! At the appointed time I will return to you at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.' Sarah denied it, saying, 'I did not laugh', for she was frightened. But He said, 'No, you laughed indeed.'" (Gen. 18:9-15).
Why do I say that these passages confirm Abraham's lack of pragmatic faith? It seems, rather, that they demonstrate Sarah's lack of pragmatic faith. This is, indeed, the view of the great Torah commentators who have opined that Sarah's laughter was demonstrative of her skepticism, for which she was harshly rebuked by God. However, again, I must respectfully dissent. And, in order to explain the basis for my dissent, I must pose a question: Why did God find it necessary to declare to Abraham twice the Message that Sarah would give birth to Isaac in a year's time? After all, conveying the Message to Abraham once would certainly have been adequate to accomplish the task. However, God was interested, not only in conveying information, but -- more importantly -- in discerning Abraham's reaction to it. The doubling mechanism was part of God's testing of Abraham. For, God desired to see whether Abraham, despite any initial skepticism, really believed -- and would, consequently, openly exhibit pragmatic faith in -- God's Promise of joint Progeny. And God determined that the best proof of Abraham's complete faith in His Promise would be found in Abraham's immediate communication to his beloved Sarah of the wonderful news that -- at long last and in fulfillment of His Promise -- she would finally receive her child!
The Original Message of Isaac’s prospective birth (Gen. 17:15-16, 19 & 21) transpired as follows: "And God said to Abraham, 'As for Sarai, your wife -- do not call her name Sarai, for Sarah is her name. I will bless her; indeed, I will give you a son through her; I will bless her and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples will rise from her.' ... And God said, 'Nevertheless, your wife, Sarah, will bear you a son and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will fulfill My Covenant with him as an Everlasting Covenant for his offspring after him ... But I will maintain My Covenant through Isaac whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.'" The first time that God informed Abraham of Isaac's prospective conception and birth, the Message was meant for Abraham's ears in order to observe his reaction, and to thereby ascertain whether he was joyful or skeptical.
The Reiterated Message of Isaac’s prospective birth (Gen. 18:9-10) transpired as follows: "They said to him, 'Where is Sarah, your wife?' -- And he said, 'Here in the tent.' And he said, 'I will surely return to you at this time next year, and behold Sarah, your wife, will have a son.' -- Now Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent that was behind him." The second time that God (through His Angels) informed Abraham of Isaac's prospective conception and birth, the Message was meant for Sarah's ears in order to observe her reaction, and to thereby ascertain whether or not Abraham, despite any initial skepticism, had nonetheless previously informed her of God's Message.
"And Sarah laughed at herself, saying, 'After I have withered shall I again have delicate skin? And my husband is old!'" Why did only Sarah -- and not also Abraham -- laugh at this news? After all, if Abraham had really laughed the laughter of joy upon initially being informed of Isaac's prospective conception and birth, why wouldn't he again laugh the laughter of joy upon hearing this wonderful news being reiterated -- this time in the auditory presence of his beloved Sarah? There are two answers. The first answer is that Abraham was especially careful not to laugh a second time at this news, lest God be reminded of Abraham's earlier affront, namely, that he had laughed the laughter of skepticism. The second answer is that Abraham did not laugh a second time at this news because it was, by then, no longer news to him. Alternatively stated, it was, by then, old news to him. Yet, it was not old news to Sarah, as she was obviously hearing it for the very first time; and, thus, she laughed! Accordingly, it cannot be doubted that Sarah's spontaneous reaction to God's repetition of His Message to Abraham in her auditory presence resulted from Abraham's failure to inform her of its initial conveyance to him. Furthermore, Sarah did not laugh at God, but only "at herself". Moreover, it is noteworthy that, unlike Abraham, Sarah did not attempt to deflect God’s Promise by implying that Ishmael’s existence rendered its fulfillment unnecessary.
"Then HaShem said to Abraham, 'Why is it that Sarah laughed, saying, "Shall I truly bear a child, although I have aged?" Is anything beyond HaShem?! At the appointed time I will return to you at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.'" It is crucial to note that, with respect to Sarah's laughter, God rebuked, not Sarah, but rather Abraham -- for, due to his doubt that God's Message was real, he had neglected to inform his 90 year old wife that she would shortly conceive and thereafter give birth. Accordingly, when Sarah heard -- for the very first time -- that God's Promise of joint Progeny was about to be fulfilled, she laughed at herself in surprise and delight. That Sarah laughed the laughter of joy -- rather than the laughter of skepticism -- upon hearing God's Message is established by the fact that God did not rebuke Sarah on account of her laughter, as He had determined that her pristine laughter merited no such rebuke. Rather, God rebuked only Abraham on account of Sarah's laughter, because her laughter established that Abraham had neglected to inform her of God's Message upon its initial conveyance to him, thereby betraying his lack of pragmatic faith in its fulfillment.
"Sarah denied it, saying, 'I did not laugh', for she was frightened. But He said, 'No, you laughed indeed.'" Sarah's denial was prompted only by fear. After hearing God's rebuke of Abraham on account of her own laughter, Sarah reasonably -- but incorrectly -- believed that, through her laughter, she had offended God. Accordingly, in a desperate effort to erase a Chillul HaShem (desecration of God's Name) which she assumed that she had wrought, she reflexively denied that which could not be denied. As a consequence thereof, Sarah was indeed rebuked by God, but not on account of her laughter -- rather, only on account of her false denial thereof. And Scripture is quite clear that her false denial was prompted only by her fear of offending God -- which fear was a natural consequence of her Yirat Elohim (fear of God) -- and not by any desire, or belief that she was able, to deceive God.
This narrative of the doubled Message strengthens the hypothesis that Abraham had, decades earlier, also neglected to inform Sarah of God's oft-repeated Promise of joint Progeny -- a failure of communication which had led barren Sarah to erroneously believe that God did not ever intend for her to bear children and which, consequently, had induced Sarah to offer to Abraham her handmaiden, Hagar, as a secondary wife for that very purpose. For, it seems certain that if Abraham, at the present time, lacked sufficient faith in God's Promise of joint Progeny to so inform Sarah when its fulfillment was declared to be imminent, then Abraham must have, in earlier times, lacked sufficient faith in that very Promise to so inform Sarah when its fulfillment was yet temporally indefinite.
Moreover, Sarah’s purity and innocence in this matter was finally confirmed by the Torah’s subsequent narrative concerning the birth of Isaac. As the Torah subsequently relates:
"And HaShem remembered Sarah as He had said; and HaShem did for Sarah as He had spoken. Sarah conceived and bore for Abraham a son in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son that was born to him -- that Sarah bore for him -- Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac at the age of eight days as God had commanded him. And Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, 'God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh for me.' And she said, 'Who would have said to Abraham, "Sarah would nurse children?" -- for, I have borne a son in his old age.'" (Gen. 21:1-7)
"And HaShem remembered Sarah as He had said; and HaShem did for Sarah as He had spoken. … And Sarah said, 'God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh for me.'" God “remembered” and “did for” Sarah rather than for Abraham! For, upon learning of the imminent miracle of Isaac’s conception and birth, Sarah had laughed the laughter of joy, while Abraham had laughed the laughter of skepticism. Moreover, after Isaac’s birth, Sarah was given the high honor of declaring for Posterity the connection between her son’s Divinely-imposed name (“Yitzchak”; see Gen. 17:19) and the Divinely-inspired reaction of anyone who hears about the miracle, namely, that “‘… everyone who hears will laugh …’” (“yitzchak”). In fact, the very language used by Sarah to describe the birth of Isaac, namely, “‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh for me’”, reinforces the conclusion that Sarah had previously laughed the laughter of joy rather than the laughter of skepticism, as such language would have ignited a great Chillul HaShem had it been intended to memorialize the latter rather than the former.
THE COVENANT OF CIRCUMCISION
At the earlier time that God had changed Abraham's name from Abram to Abraham, he had commanded Abraham (and, through him, the Jewish people) to observe the Covenant of Circumcision.
As the Torah relates:
"God said to Abraham, 'And as for you, you shall keep My Covenant -- you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is My Covenant that you shall keep between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the Covenant between Me and you. At the age of eight days every male among you shall be circumcised, throughout your generations -- he that is born in the household or purchased with money from any stranger who is not of your offspring. He that is born in your household or purchased with your money shall surely be circumcised. Thus, My Covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. An uncircumcised male, the flesh of whose foreskin shall not be circumcised -- that soul shall be cut off from its people; he has invalidated My Covenant.'" (Gen. 17:9-14).
Then, after God informed Abraham that He had also changed Sarah's name -- from Sarai to Sarah -- and that her son, Isaac, rather than Hagar's son, Ishmael, would inherit God's Everlasting Covenant, Abraham immediately acted to fulfill this Commandment.
As the Torah relates:
"Then Abraham took his son, Ishmael, and all those servants born in his household and all those he had purchased for money -- all the male members of Abraham's household -- and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskin on that very day, as was spoken to him by God. Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. On that very day Abraham and his son, Ishmael, were circumcised. And all the men of his household -- born in his household and purchased with money from a stranger -- were circumcised with him." (Gen. 17:23-27).
"Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the Covenant between Me and you." Why does God demand that the sign of His Covenant be embedded in the male sexual organ? The reason is that the human being is a combination of the Spiritual and the Physical. As is set forth in the Torah: "And God said, 'Let us make humankind in Our Image, after Our Likeness. They shall rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and over the cattle, the whole Earth, and every creeping thing that creeps upon the Earth.' So God created humankind in His Image, in the Image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Gen. 1:26-27). Unlike the human-like creatures (such as Neanderthal beings) that preceded God’s creation of Humankind (i.e., Homo Sapiens) in His Image in the form of Adam and Eve, we human beings were infused by God with the unique “Nishmat Chaim” (“Soul of Life”) which endowed us with the ability to exercise true Free Will and thereby purposefully choose between promoting Good and perpetrating Evil. As the Torah states with respect to the creation of Adam, the very first human being: "And HaShem God formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the Soul of Life; and the man became a living being." (Gen. 2:7). Although Humankind was created in the Spiritual Image of God, Humankind was also given physical dominion over the Earth. With such raw physical power at Humankind's disposal came the natural temptations towards egotism, corruption and wanton violence. Our physical nature and its attendant temptations are symbolized by the male sexual organ. By placing the sign of His Covenant precisely there, God is providing us with a tangible reminder that we are not only physical beings, but also spiritual beings -- and that we are, consequently, capable of subjugating and even ennobling our innate physical temptations. The removal of the foreskin symbolizes the diminishment of our physical self (i.e., our status as an autonomous being) in favor of our spiritual self (our status as a servant of God). However, the fact that circumcision is a cosmetic change only, leaving the sexual organ structurally and functionally unchanged, teaches us that, despite the elevation of our spiritual self over our physical self, our spiritual essence must, nevertheless, continue to co-exist with, and even thrive in, a World created and defined according to physical parameters. In this way, despite living in the physical World, we are constantly reminded that we are more than a human animal. We will thereby be drawn towards the Yetzer HaTov (Inclination to do Good) and away from the Yetzer HaRah (Inclination to do Evil); and by understanding the underlying purpose of the Commandment of Circumcision, we will be better able to observe, as well, the remainder of God's Commandments.
"At the age of eight days every male among you shall be circumcised, throughout your generations ..." The number "seven" represents the plane of physical existence. This is because the last Day that God counted as part of His Scheme of Creation was the Seventh Day. As is set forth in the Torah: "Thus, the Heavens and the Earth were finished, and all their Vast Array. By the Seventh Day God completed His Work that He had done, and He abstained on the Seventh Day from all His Work that He had done. God blessed the Seventh Day and sanctified it because on it He abstained from all His Work which God created to make." (Gen. 2:1-3). Thus, we count the days of our physical existence in cycles of seven. However, the number "eight" represents the plane of spiritual existence, because it is outside the cycle of seven. This is the reason why the seven-day Torah holiday of Sukkot (known in the English language as: Feast of Tabernacles) is followed on the eighth day by the Torah holiday of Shemini Atzeret (known in the English language as: Eighth Day Assembly). In order to further transcend the cycle of seven, God also utilizes the number "fifty". That is the reason why the date of the Torah holiday of Shavuot (known in the English language as: Pentecost) is calculated by counting from (but excluding) the first day of the Torah holiday of Pesach (known in the English language as: Passover) a week of weeks -- seven cycles of seven days (49 days) -- and by then adding thereto one more day (the 50th day), thereby rendering the Torah holiday of Shavuot outside the cycle of seven. That is also the reason why the date of the Yoval (Jubilee) year was calculated by counting a week of Shmitot (Sabbatical) years, each such Sabbatical year being the seventh year in the cycle of years -- seven cycles of seven years (49 years) -- and by then adding thereto one more year (the 50th year), thereby rendering the Yoval year outside the cycle of seven. By designating that circumcision take place on the eighth day after birth, God is reminding us of the spiritual nature of the Covenant of which circumcision is but the physical sign.
THE DESTRUCTION OF
Subsequent to God’s announcement of the Covenant of Circumcision and its initial fulfillment by Abraham but prior to the Angels’ repetition of God’s Announcement of the prospective conception and birth of Isaac, the Torah relates:
"HaShem appeared to him among the oak trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day. He lifted his eyes and saw: And behold! -- three men were standing over him; and he perceived; so he ran towards them from the entrance of the tent, and he bowed towards the ground. And he said, 'My lord, if I find favor in your eyes, please do not pass away from your servant. Let some water be brought, and wash your feet, and recline beneath the tree. I will fetch a morsel of bread that you may sustain yourselves -- afterwards you may pass through -- inasmuch as you have [already] passed your servant's way'; and they said, 'Do so -- just as you have said.' So Abraham hastened to the tent of Sarah and said, 'Hurry! -- [prepare] three seahs of meal [as] fine flour! -- knead and make cakes!' Then Abraham ran to the cattle, took a calf -- tender and good -- and gave it to the youth who hurried to prepare it. He took cream and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and he placed these before them; he stood over them beneath the tree, and they ate." (Gen. 18:1-8).
Why does the Torah describe, in such detail, the great lengths to which Abraham went in order to minister to the three strangers? It is to emphasize that Abraham's mercy and kindness -- whether to family or to strangers -- knew no bounds.
These three strangers -- actually Angels (see Gen. 19:1) -- had come
Abraham's way on a multiple mission: firstly, to announce the prospective
conception and birth of Isaac in the auditory presence of the long-barren Sarah
(see Gen. 18:9-15); and then afterwards, to facilitate the annihilation of
thousands of human beings in Abraham's midst. There was a pedagogical
connection between these two tasks. The first task -- that of creating
human life -- exuded Mercy and Kindness, while the second task -- that of destroying
human life -- reeked of its polar opposite, namely, Harshness and Cruelty. God
knew that, in Abraham's eyes, the first deed would seem Good,
while the second deed would seem Evil. After all, how else could
Abraham -- master of mercy and kindness -- possibly view these two sequential
actions? And that is precisely the reason why God bound together these
two seemingly antithetical deeds, and then set both of them before Abraham.
For, in order to truly understand the Ways of God, Abraham would first have to
learn that the act of exhibiting mercy and kindness to those who deserve it (--
namely, rewarding the Righteous --) and the act of exhibiting harshness
and cruelty to those who deserve it (-- namely, punishing the Wicked --) stand,
not in contradiction to one another, but rather as coequal
aspects of true Morality. As David, second king of united
So it came to be, that on account of their great evildoing, God determined that, in order to restore Kiddush HaShem (sanctification of God's Name), it was necessary to punish the Cities of the Jordan River plain -- Sodom and Gomorrah -- with the destruction of their entire populations -- a harsh Collective Punishment. Since God knew that Abraham's essence consisted of mercy and kindness, He knew that Abraham would have difficulty comprehending the justice of this Punishment and might thereby incongruously attribute to God, Master of Justice, an "unjust" act. Such an improper attribution to God by righteous Abraham would have resulted in a Chillul HaShem (desecration of God's Name) -- the very antithesis of that which God sought to achieve by the destruction of these Cities. In order to avoid this result, God decided to confide in His Servant Abraham so that he and his progeny might comprehend that Humankind's "morality" is not God's Morality. For, as the Prophet Isaiah, speaking in God's Name, would later declare concerning God's Morality: "'For, My Thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My Ways -- the Word of HaShem. As high as the Heavens are above the Earth, so are My Ways high above your ways, and My Thoughts [high] above your thoughts.'" (Isaiah 55:8-9).
As the Torah relates, after the Angels had finished speaking with Abraham and Sarah about the prospective conception and birth of Isaac, they turned their attention to their next task:
"So the men arose from there, and they
gazed down upon the face of
"So HaShem said [to Abraham], 'Because the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and because their Sin has been very grave, I will descend and see: If they act in accordance with its outcry -- then Destruction!" It is noteworthy that God’s Declaration of Crime and Punishment does not include a prior Warning to these Cities and an opportunity for them to accomplish satisfactory Repentance as prerequisites for His Imposition of Punishment. This contrasts with the manner in which God will later deal with the Evilness of the City of Nineveh. In that situation, God will provide Nineveh with an opportunity to avoid its Destruction by repenting of its Evil. God will do this by sending to Nineveh, as His Emissary, Abraham’s descendant, the Prophet Jonah, to give a prior Warning to the City. As the Hebrew Bible relates: "And the Word of HaShem came to Jonah, son of Amittai, saying, 'Arise -- go to Nineveh, the huge city, and call out against it, for their Wickedness has ascended before Me. '" (Jonah 1:1-2). In fact, God will afford Nineveh a generous 40-day grace period to accomplish satisfactory Repentance before His Imposition of Punishment (see Jonah 3:4). Conversely, it appears that Sodom and Gomorrah were to be subjected to a harsh summary Punishment (i.e., without being afforded an opportunity to avoid Destruction by accomplishing satisfactory Repentance). Why would God treat two groupings of Evildoers, each deserving of utter Destruction, so differently? The answer is revealed by analyzing the differing attitudes of the inhabitants of Nineveh and the inhabitants of the Cities of the Jordan River Plain towards the God of Israel. Of the inhabitants of Nineveh, the Hebrew Bible states: "The people of Nineveh believed in the [one and only] God; so [due to their belief in Him] they proclaimed a fast and donned sackcloth, from their great [personages] to their small [personages]." (Jonah 3:5). The Hebrew Bible makes no such redemptive observation about the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact, the Torah implies the opposite to be true, by revealing that the inhabitants of Sodom rejected the very concept of moral oversight (see Gen. 19:9). God does not engage in futile conduct. Due to their refusal to acknowledge His Dominion over them, God determined that affording the Cities of the Jordan River Plain a Warning and an opportunity for Repentance would have been futile. Consequently, none was warranted or provided.
Upon hearing God’s Declaration, Abraham -- the epitome of mercy and kindness -- recoiled at the concept of Collective Punishment and felt pity for the doomed inhabitants of the Cities of the Jordan River Plain.
As the Torah continues:
"The men had turned from there and went to
"'It would be Sacrilege to You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the Righteous along with the Wicked; so the Righteous will be like the Wicked. It would be Sacrilege to You! Shall the Judge of all the Earth not do Justice?'" By uttering this blunt criticism of God’s Judgment upon the Cities of the Jordan River plain, Abraham audaciously substituted his human judgment for God’s Divine Judgment, thereby committing the gravest Sin attributable to a leader of the Jewish people. This is the very Sin which, during the generation of the Exodus from Egypt, would be committed by Abraham’s illustrious descendant and leader of the Jewish people -- Moses -- and tragically result in his exclusion from the Land of Israel (see Num. 20:1-13).
In order to convince God that his human judgment was superior to God’s
Divine Judgment, Abraham argued that Collective Punishment was intrinsically
immoral because it had the effect of treating the Righteous as if they were
Evildoers, thereby causing the gentile nations to perceive that God, Master of
Justice, was indifferent to the plight of the Righteous. Indeed, Abraham’s moral
argument that the Righteous should not be punished for the Sins of the
Wicked would seem not to be susceptible to refutation. Yet, merciful
Abraham was unable to limit himself to a moral request that was consistent
with his moral argument that it would be unjust to punish the Righteous,
namely, a moral request that God spare only the Righteous
(presumably by extracting them from the doomed Cities prior to His Destruction
thereof) and thereby punish only the Wicked. Instead, Abraham
utilized his moral argument that it would be unjust to punish the
Righteous as a springboard to make a very different -- and immoral
-- request, namely, a request that God spare the Wicked as well as
the Righteous. Abraham thereby committed
the additional Sin of False Moral Equivalency (namely, the Sin of treating the
Wicked as if they merited the same Beneficence as the Righteous). Moreover, he also acted hypocritically
towards God; for, he accused God of planning to do the very thing
that he himself now sought to accomplish, namely, securing the same
Fate for the Wicked and the Righteous.
Specifically, at the very same time that Abraham criticized God for
planning to treat the Righteous as if they were Wicked, he
demanded that God treat the Wicked as if they were Righteous.
And, remarkably, God appeared to concede the validity of Abraham's Moral
Equivalency argument, as He immediately agreed to rescind His Decree of
Collective Punishment if even 50 righteous citizens could be
found interspersed among the wicked population of these Cities. However, a
closer look is in order. Although God eventually agreed that even for the sake
of a mere 10 righteous citizens He would spare the entire population
of these evil Cities, this Concession did not have any effect whatsoever upon
God's original Intention -- the Cities were still utterly destroyed. How can
this be? Could not even 10 righteous residents be found within all of
With respect to the pre-Exodus era City of Shechem (site of modern-day Nablus), the entire adult male population of the city was destroyed by Simeon and Levi, the sons of Jacob, on account of the kidnap, rape and detention of Dina, the daughter of Jacob, by Shechem, the prince of the City, with the acquiescence of his father, King Chamor. (See Gen. 34:1-31). Why, in this situation, was collective, rather than individual, punishment warranted? Why did the righteous of the City have to suffer the same fate as the directly culpable parties, namely, Prince Shechem and King Chamor? Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides, b. 1135 - d. 1204), in viewing the City as a collection of individual citizens with individual responsibilities, opines that: "All the residents of [the City of] Shechem incurred a death sentence because [Prince] Shechem stole, and they saw and knew, yet did not put him on trial" (Hilchot Melachim 9:14), while Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, also known as Nachmanides, b. 1194 - d. 1270), in viewing the City as a single social unit with a collective responsibility, opines that: "They [brothers Simeon and Levi] killed the king and all the people of his city because the latter were his servants and under his charge." (Ramban on Gen. 34:13). Both views represent the Torah concept of Collective Punishment -- that is, the idea that ordinary people justly suffer the Divine Consequences of their leadership's conduct.
Similarly, with respect to Exodus era Egypt, God imposed upon it ten awful
plagues, representing a harsh Collective Punishment, including the final plague
which destroyed all of its firstborn "…from the firstborn of Pharaoh
sitting on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the
dungeon…" (Ex. 12:29). Why were the imprisoned of
As in the later cases of the Shechemites and the Egyptians, if there were some truly righteous people living in Sodom and Gomorrah, they would have rebelled against, or at least fled from, their evil societies. By continuing to reside within -- and participate in the daily life of -- their societies, these "righteous" people passively ratified the Evil perpetrated by their governments, and could not thereafter be considered by God to be righteous. That is why God's great concession to Abraham was no concession at all. Although Abraham was, indeed, questioning the morality of Collective Punishment, God, the Great Educator, was teaching to him and to us -- his covenantal descendants -- a profound lesson, namely, that Collective Punishment, when warranted, is, in fact, the embodiment of Divine Justice. To argue otherwise is to succumb to the false morality of the nations and to thereby rebel, in our arrogance, against God's Morality.
That, in order to avoid death and destruction, righteous persons are
required to separate themselves from the evil societies in which they
dwell is proven by reference to the plight of the Kenites
(a people who were descended from Moses’ father-in-law Jethro) during King
Saul’s war of annihilation against the Amalekites. As the Hebrew Bible relates: "Saul came
to the City of
God's exemption of unrighteous Lot, a resident of
Abraham's Hebrew descendants certainly acknowledged the reality, and feared
the consequences, of Divine Collective Punishment. For, when the leadership of
the tribes which had been granted lands on the west side of the Jordan River
mistakenly believed that the leadership of the tribes which had been granted
lands on the east side of the Jordan River (namely, the tribe of Reuben, the
tribe of Gad, and half of the tribe of Menasseh) had
erected an idolatrous altar there, they were determined to wage war against
their brethren in order to avoid God's Wrath against all the people of
Israel. However, as a prelude to
military confrontation, a diplomatic delegation representing the western Hebrew
tribes met with the leadership of the eastern Hebrew tribes. As the Hebrew
Bible relates: "They came to the Children of Reuben, the Children of Gad,
and half of the tribe of Manasseh, to the Land of Gilead, and they spoke with
them, saying, 'Thus said the entire assembly of HaShem: "What is this
treachery that you have committed against the God of Israel -- to turn away
from HaShem this Day, by building for yourselves an altar for your rebellion
this Day against HaShem? Is the Sin of Peor not
enough for us -- from which we have not become cleansed until this Day, and
which resulted in the Plague in the assembly of HaShem? Yet, Today, you would
turn away from Hashem? If you rebel against HaShem Today, [then]
Tomorrow He will be angry with the entire assembly of
Moreover, even the evildoing of a single person was sometimes enough to justify the imposition of Divine Collective Punishment against the entire people. As the Hebrew Bible relates, concerning the consecrated valuables of the destroyed City of Jericho: “The Children of Israel trespassed against the consecrated property because Achan, son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took [some] of the consecrated property; and the Wrath of God flared against the Children of Israel.” (Joshua 7:1).
Yet, the Torah also declares: "Fathers shall not be put to death because of sons, and sons shall not be put to death because of fathers; a man should be put to death for his own sin." (Deut. 24:16)? Isn’t this statement a repudiation of the doctrine of Collective Punishment? No; it is, instead, a repudiation of the precept then common among the gentile nations that an innocent person may be justifiably punished for the individual sin of his family member. This situation is very different from the situation in which the leadership and supportive population of a nation have perpetuated such collective Evil that the entire nation, including those generations too young to have participated in such Evil, becomes collectively liable for punishment. With respect to such a situation, the Torah declares that the God of Israel will visit "the iniquity of fathers upon children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate Me" (Ex. 20:5).
There is one last question to be asked. Why does Abraham's negotiation with
God appear to focus only on Sodom when, clearly, Abraham was pleading to save
both evil cities? The answer may be found in the fact that Abraham now
experienced guilt over his prior mistake in repatriating to Sodom those of its
citizens, including Lot, who had been captured by the four dominant
kingdoms during their war against Sodom and the four other vassal kingdoms. As
is set forth in the Torah: "The king of
THE ABDUCTION OF SARAH BY KING ABIMELECH
Thereafter, Abraham and Sarah journeyed to the south of the
As the Torah relates:
"Abraham journeyed from there to the region of the South and settled between Kadesh and Shur, and he sojourned in Gerar. Abraham said of Sarah, his wife, 'She is my sister'; so Abimelech, King of Gerar, sent [for], and took Sarah. And God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, 'Behold, you are to die because of the woman you have taken; moreover, she is a married woman. Now Abimelech had not [yet] approached her; so he said, 'My Lord, will you kill a nation even though it is righteous? Did not he himself tell me, "She is my sister?" And she, too, herself said, "He is my brother"; in the innocence of my heart and integrity of my hands have I done this.' And God said to him in the dream, 'I, too, know that it was in the innocence of your heart that you did this, and I, too, prevented you from sinning against Me; that is why I did not permit you to touch her. But, now, return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you will live; but if you do not return her, be aware that you shall surely die -- you and all that is yours.' Abimelech arose early the next morning; he summoned all his servants and told them all of these things in their ears, and the people were very frightened. Then Abimelech summoned Abraham and said to him, 'What have you done to us? How have I sinned against you that you brought upon me and my kingdom such great sin? Deeds that ought not to be done have you done to me!' And Abimelech said to Abraham, 'What did you see that that you did such a thing?' And Abraham said, 'Because I said, "There is no fear of God in this place, and they will slay me because of my wife." Moreover, she is indeed my sister, my father's daughter, though not my mother's daughter; and she became my wife. And so it was, when God caused me to wander from my father's house, I said to her, "Let this be your kindness which you shall do for me -- to whatever place we come, say of me: He is my brother."' So Abimelech took flocks and cattle and servants and maidservants and gave [them] to Abraham; and he returned his wife Sarah to him." (Gen. 20:1-14).
"Abraham said of Sarah, his wife, 'She is my sister'; so Abimelech, King of Gerar, sent [for], and took Sarah. And God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, 'Behold, you are to die because of the woman you have taken; moreover she is a married woman ... But, now, return the man's wife for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you will live; but if you do not return her, be aware that you shall surely die -- you and all that is yours.'" Incredibly, after all of the open miracles that God had already performed for Abraham (including His Delivery into Abraham's hand of the four kings), and after God had explicitly given to Abraham His Promise of Divine Protection -- initially saying: "'And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you, I will curse; and all the families of the Earth shall bless themselves by you.'" (Gen. 12:2-3); and subsequently saying: "'As for you: You shall come to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.'" (Gen. 15:15) -- Abraham still lacked complete faith that God would safeguard his life. So, he hedged his bets a fifth time (i.e., attempted to minimize the risk of harm to himself by counterbalancing his theoretical reliance upon God’s Promises with his pragmatic reliance upon a plan to protect himself from Abimelech). Of course, by once again fabricating the canard that Sarah was merely his sister, he thereby, once again, precipitated Sarah's abduction by the local monarch, which, in turn, once again, forced God to intervene in order to save her.
"Then Abimelech summoned Abraham and said to him, 'What have you done to us? How have I sinned against you that you brought upon me and my kingdom such great sin? Deeds that ought not to be done have you done to me!'" Abraham's conduct again impelled the God of Israel to permit the abductor, Abimelech -- like Pharaoh before him -- to falsely portray himself as an innocent victim of deception and, consequently, as the injured party in this episode (despite the fact that the God of Israel was the true injured Party), and to openly rebuke righteous Abraham, earthly representative of the God of Israel, in the midst of the Philistines. Consequently, Abraham’s lack of pragmatic faith had, once again, wrought a triple Chillul HaShem (desecration of God's Name), the first being when Abraham deceived Abimelech, the second being when Abimelech falsely portrayed himself as an innocent party, and the third being when Abimelech rebuked Abraham.
"And Abimelech said to Abraham, 'What did you see that that you did such a thing?' And Abraham said, 'Because I said, "There is no fear of God in this place, and they will slay me because of my wife.'''" "'"There is no fear of God in this place …"'" was Abraham's initial response to Abimelech's question. It was the truth, but it was not the whole truth. For, ironically, Abraham, himself, lacked sufficient Yirat Elohim (fear of God) to overcome his Yirat HaGoyim (fear of the nations).
"'Moreover, she is indeed my sister, my father's daughter, though not my mother's daughter; and she became my wife. And so it was, when God caused me to wander from my father's house, I said to her, "Let this be your kindness which you shall do for me -- to whatever place we come, say of me: He is my brother."'" This was Abraham's further and more elaborate response to Abimelech's question. It was also the truth, but only in the narrowest sense. Accordingly, it was entirely unworthy of righteous Abraham, earthly representative of the God of Israel and progenitor of the Jewish people. For, in trying to salvage what little of his honor remained, Abraham now implausibly attempted to convince Abimelech that, since Sarah was, in fact, his close relation ( -- actually his father's granddaughter, hence his niece, but, in the context of the times, acceptably referred to as his father's "daughter", hence his "sister" -- ) there was actually no deception at all. But Scripture itself had previously disposed of this unworthy pretext by stating clearly: "Abraham said of Sarah, his wife, 'She is my sister'; so Abimelech, King of Gerar, sent [for], and took Sarah."
But there is another aspect to Abraham's "justification" for his deception of Abimelech -- an aspect that is brought into sharp relief upon a comparison between Abraham's reaction to the denouement of this deception and his reaction to the denouement of his earlier deception of Pharaoh. In the wake of the earlier deception, Abraham did not offer to Pharaoh any justification for his behavior, while in the wake of this later deception, Abraham offered to Abimelech a multi-tiered justification for his behavior. Why the difference? In the earlier incident Abraham was not at all prepared for Pharaoh's harsh criticism of his moral character. In fact, Abraham was humbled by Pharaoh's rebuke -- which exuded an attitude of disgust and ostracism toward Abraham -- and he did not relish reliving that unpleasant experience at the hand of Abimelech. Consequently, in order to make himself less odious to Abimelech, Abraham sought to justify his mistrustful behavior toward Abimelech with a convoluted explanation that he hoped would placate the Philistine monarch. However, this is very strange; for, Abraham's offense was, not in mistrusting the immoral Abimelech (who habitually abducted women entering territory under his control), but rather in mistrusting the God of Fidelity to His Promises. Consequently, Abraham owed his explanations, not to Abimelech, but rather to God. And by, instead, offering such explanations to Abimelech, righteous Abraham thereby made evil Abimelech a judge over his behavior!
The Chillul HaShem inherent in Abraham's desire to
appease Abimelech rather than God cannot be overstated. Indeed, Abraham's urge
to justify himself before Abimelech is a precursor to a disease that has ever
since plagued Jewish leadership -- a disease that is the handmaiden to Yirat HaGoyim -- namely, the
obsessive need to be understood, accepted and even loved by the immoral family
of nations. This disease has erupted,
not only in modern times, but was present, as well, in (post-Abrahamic)
biblical times. For example, after
Abraham’s great grandchildren, Simeon and Levi, impose Collective Punishment
upon the City of
The lesson that is imparted to the leadership of modern Israel via Abraham’s deception of Abimelech is identical to the lesson that is imparted to such leadership via Abraham’s prior deception of Pharaoh, namely, that if the State of Israel does not deal forthrightly with the immoral gentile nations concerning the exercise of its God-given right to possess the entire Land of Israel, then those Jewish leaders will create a great Chillul HaShem, on account of which the God of Israel will permit those hypocritical nations both to feign injury and to rebuke the Jewish State, thereby ultimately rendering a triple Chillul HaShem.
One last issue remains. How could it be that righteous Sarah -- after having been directly saved by God from the hand of Pharaoh in Egypt, after having directly heard God's Revelation to Abraham that she would finally bear him a son, and after having directly seen the complete destruction wrought by God upon Sodom and Gomorrah -- again participated in a deception which was so thoroughly infused with a lack of pragmatic faith in God's Power and Promises? The evidence suggests that, unlike the prior deception of Pharaoh in which Sarah was an active participant, in this subsequent deception of Abimelech, Sarah was only a passive participant. In the prior deception, Abraham had implored his wife: "'Please say that you are my sister, that it may go well with me for your sake, and that I may live on account of you.'" (Gen. 12:13). Yet, in this subsequent deception, the text states: "Abraham said of Sarah, his wife, 'She is my sister'; so Abimelech, king of Gerar, sent [for], and took Sarah." (Gen. 20:2). Clearly, both Abraham and Sarah had lied to Pharaoh, but only Abraham lied to Abimelech. Yet, this conclusion is contradicted by Abimelech's own declaration to God that, not only Abraham but also Sarah had lied to him: "... 'My Lord, will you kill a nation even though it is righteous? Did not he himself tell me, "She is my sister?" And she, too, herself said, "He is my brother"; in the innocence of my heart and integrity of my hands have I done this.'" (Gen. 20:4-5). However, the greater portion of Abimelech's declaration was false! Since Abimelech feared for his life, he joined falsehoods to truths in an attempt to justify himself before the God of Israel. Thus, the evil Philistine monarch falsely claimed before God that his nation was righteous despite the fact that it worshipped idols and abducted innocent sojourners. Moreover, he also falsely claimed before God that his motivation in abducting Sarah was innocent; and God seemed to accept this claim, initially replying to him: "... 'I, too, know that it was in the innocence of your heart that you did this ...'" (Gen. 20:6). Yet God was merely mocking this evildoer, as He immediately completed His Reply by saying to him: "... '... and I, too, prevented you from sinning against Me; that is why I did not permit you to touch her. But, now, return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you will live; but if you do not return her, be aware that you shall surely die -- you and all that is yours.''' (Gen. 20:6-7). Since the God of Justice would never have deigned to either restrain or threaten an innocent person, it is clear that Abimelech, being fearful of suffering Diving Wrath, lied to God about his real intentions in having abducted Sarah. Accordingly, having lied to God about the righteousness of his nation and about the purity of his intentions, Abimelech also lied to God about Sarah's participation in the affair by converting her role therein from passive to active. Yet, nonetheless, how could it be that righteous Sarah participated in the deception of Abimelech even passively? The answer is that, while Sarah was willing to challenge and even chastise her beloved Abraham in the privacy of their own encampment (see Gen. 16:5), she would never have humiliated him in public, especially in the presence of an evil king and his evil nation. Accordingly, when Abraham told Abimelech that Sarah was his sister, she neither contradicted nor confirmed the falsehood. Sarah believed, with all of her heart, that only God had the Right to publicly chastise God's earthly representative and the progenitor of the Jewish people for his lack of pragmatic faith, even if such public chastisement was to be effected -- mida k'neged mida (measure for measure) -- through the mouth of an evildoer.
The concept that only God has the Prerogative to execute Judgment (of
whatever nature) upon His Anointed Ones will later be demonstrated through the
tale of the conflict between two of Abraham's royal descendants, namely, Saul,
first king of united Israel, and David, second king thereof. Although God,
acting through the Prophet Samuel, had informed Saul that he had forfeited his
THE EXPULSION OF ISHMAEL
Thereafter, in fulfillment of God's Promise of joint Progeny, Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah. And Sarah became deeply concerned with Ishmael's potential influence over Isaac, for she knew very well that an Angel of God had said of Ishmael prior to his birth: "'And he shall be a barbarian of a man -- his hand against everyone, and everyone's hand against him ...'" (Gen. 16:12).
As the Torah relates:
"Sarah saw the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had born to Abraham, mocking. So she said to Abraham, 'Drive out this slavewoman with her son, for the son of that slavewoman shall not inherit with my son -- with Isaac!' The matter greatly distressed Abraham regarding his son. So God said to Abraham, 'Be not distressed over the youth or your slavewoman: Whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice, since [only] through Isaac will offspring be considered yours.'" (Gen. 21:9-12).
"Sarah saw the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had born to Abraham, mocking. So she said to Abraham, 'Drive out this slavewoman with her son, for the son of that slavewoman shall not inherit with my son -- with Isaac!'" Ostensibly, Sarah's solution to the problem of Hagar and Ishmael -- their expulsion from Abraham's and Sarah’s encampment -- seems, not only immoral, but absolutely draconian. But, Humankind's "morality" is not God's Morality. Sarah knew that the descendants of Ishmael (i.e., the Arabs) were not meant to inherit the Land together with the covenantal descendants of Isaac (i.e., the Jews); and she also knew that only by creating a separation between them could Abraham assure the latter's spiritual and physical survival. That is why the only truly moral solution to the problem of Hagar and Ishmael was expulsion.
Yet Abraham's merciful and kind nature caused him to equate such expulsion with Harshness and Cruelty -- traits from which he instinctively recoiled. So, despite God's prior Declaration that only Isaac and his covenantal descendants would inherit the Land of Israel, merciful and kind Abraham was not capable of inflicting the harshness and cruelty of expulsion upon his son Ishmael. Sarah, however, was not hampered by false morality, namely, the belief that traits and situations such as Kindness, Mercy, Love, Forgiveness and Peace are inherently and absolutely Good, and that traits and situations such as Cruelty, Harshness, Hatred, Revenge and War are inherently and absolutely Evil.
As declared in the Hebrew Bible: "Everything has its season, and there is a time for everything under the Heavens: A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot the planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to wreck and a time to build. A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to wail and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to shun embraces. A time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to discard. A time to rend and a time to mend; a time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace. What gain, then, has the worker by his toil? I have observed the task with which God has given the sons of Humankind to be concerned: He made everything beautiful in its time; He has also put an enigma into their minds so that Humankind cannot comprehend what God has done from Beginning to End." (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11). Only the rare person who truly understands the foregoing concept will be able to avoid that dangerous inversion of Morality of which the Hebrew Bible warns: “Woe unto those who speak of Evil as [if it were] Good, and of Good as [if it were] Evil; who make Darkness into [the semblance of] Light, and Light into [the semblance of] Darkness; who make Bitter into [the perception of] Sweet, and Sweet into [the perception of] Bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)
According to God's Moral Code, traits and situations such as Kindness, Cruelty, Mercy, Harshness, Love, Hatred, Forgiveness, Revenge, Peace and War are -- in and of themselves -- neither Good nor Evil but, instead, Neutral. It is only the specific circumstances in which, and the particular motivation with which, a particular trait is exhibited or a particular situation is initiated that determines whether such a trait or situation is Good, thereby creating a Kiddush HaShem (Sanctification of God's Name), or Evil, thereby creating a Chillul HaShem (Desecration of God's Name).
For example, God has elevated Hatred to the status of a Commandment under the appropriate circumstances. As the Hebrew Bible declares: “Seek Goodness and not Evil ... Hate Evil and love Goodness …” (Amos 5:14-15); “Fear of HaShem is hatred of Evil …” (Proverbs 8:13); and “You that love HaShem, hate Evil …” (Psalms 97:10).
Likewise, God has extolled and implemented Revenge, even describing Himself as a God of Vengeance, under the appropriate circumstances. As the Hebrew Bible declares: "HaShem is a Zealous and Vengeful God; HaShem is Vengeful and full of Wrath; HaShem is Vengeful to His adversaries and reserves Hostility for His enemies. HaShem is slow to Anger, but He has great Power and He will not absolve [Evil]." (Nahum 1:2-3); and: "The righteous man shall rejoice when he sees Vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the Wicked. And Mankind shall say, ‘Truly there is a reward for the Righteous. Truly there is a God Who judges on Earth.’" (Psalms 58:11-12). Also, with respect to the foreordained Egyptian Exile, although Exodus-era Egypt will merely be fulfilling a role assigned to it by the God of Israel (see Gen. 15:13-16), He will purposefully stiffen the resolve of its evil Pharaoh only so that He may exercise a horrific Vengeance against it as punishment for its enslavement of the Jewish people: "HaShem said to Moses, 'When you go to return to Egypt, see all the wonders that I have put in your hand, and perform them before Pharaoh; but I shall strengthen his heart, and he will not send out the people. You shall say to Pharaoh, "So said HaShem, 'My Firstborn Son is Israel. So I have said to you: Send out My Son that he may serve Me, but you have refused to send him out; behold! -- I shall kill your firstborn son.'"'" (Ex. 4:21-23). Furthermore, God will command that Israel take revenge upon its enemies, which, by definition, also constitute God's enemies: "HaShem spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites …’", but: "Moses spoke to the people, saying, ‘… inflict HaShem’s Vengeance against Midian.’" (Num. 31:2-3). Moreover, God even demands that the gentile nations praise the Jewish people on account of the Vengeance to which these nations will be subjected during the End of Days: "O nations: Sing the praises of His People, for He will avenge the blood of His Servants; He will bring retribution upon His adversaries, and He will appease His Land [and] His People." (Deut. 32:43). Finally, prophesying about the End of Days, the Prophet Isaiah, describing the Vengeance that God will wreak upon the nations who have persecuted the Jewish people, declares: "He donned Righteousness like armor and a helmet of Salvation on His Head; and He donned garments of Vengeance as His Attire and clothed Himself in Zealousness like a coat. Just as there were [previous] Retributions [against His enemies], so shall He [now] repay Wrath to His enemies, Retribution to His adversaries; He will pay Retribution [even] to the distant lands. From the West they will fear the Name of HaShem, and from the rising of the sun [they will fear] His Glory; for [their] travail will come like a river; the Spirit of HaShem will gnaw at them." (Isaiah 59:17-19).
So it is with Cruelty and Harshness, under the appropriate circumstances. God will later command the Exodus-era Israelites to treat the Canaanite nations who were then occupying the Land of Israel with cruelty and harshness. As the Hebrew Bible declares: "HaShem spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab, by the Jordan [River], at Jericho, saying, 'Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, "When you cross the Jordan [River] to the Land of Canaan, you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the Land from before you; and you shall destroy all their prostration stones; all their molten images shall you destroy; and all their high places shall you demolish. You shall possess the Land, and you shall settle in it; for, to you have I given the Land to possess it."'" (Num. 33:50-53); and "'You shall devour all the peoples that HaShem, your God, will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them. ...'" (Deut. 7:16). Yes -- righteous Sarah understood that, sometimes, the exhibition and application of Cruelty and Harshness was Good, and that, sometimes, the exhibition and application of Kindness and Mercy was Evil.
"The matter greatly distressed Abraham regarding his son. So God said to Abraham, 'Be not distressed over the youth or your slavewoman: Whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice, since [only] through Isaac will offspring be considered yours.'" By His Instruction to Abraham, God placed the judgment of Sarah above the judgment of Abraham. From this, we learn that Abraham's mercy and kindness towards Ishmael was not Good -- it was, rather, Evil -- and that Sarah's harshness and cruelty towards Ishmael was not Evil -- it was, rather, Good. For, in his great love for Ishmael, Abraham came dangerously close to rebelling against God's earlier Selection of Isaac (and the latter’s covenantal descendants) as the sole recipient of God's "Everlasting Covenant" (see Gen. 17:19 & 17:21). Thus, Abraham’s kindness would have resulted in a great Chillul HaShem; but Sarah prevented him from committing this Sin -- thus, her cruelty resulted in a great Kiddush HaShem.
Moreover, another important lesson regarding Jewish leadership inheres in God’s Instruction to Abraham, namely, that a Jewish leader must never allow his personal feelings to interfere with the performance of his national obligations. Just as Abraham accepted (albeit reluctantly) that his duty to safeguard the existence of the future Jewish people had to prevail over his natural love for Ishmael, so must a future leader of the Jewish people accept (even if reluctantly) that his duty to the Jewish collective must always prevail over any contrary personal predilections.
As the Torah continues:
"'But the son of the slavewoman
as well will I make into a nation; for, he is your offspring [as well].' So
Abraham awoke early in the morning, he took bread and a skin of water, and he
gave them to Hagar. He placed them on her shoulder along with the boy, and he
sent her off. She departed, and she strayed in the
"'But the son of the slavewoman as well
will I make into a nation; for, he is your offspring [as well].'" Ishmael was indeed given an important
destiny to fulfill; but this destiny was not to be fulfilled within the
encampment of Abraham and Sarah. Neither are the descendants of Ishmael
given a national destiny to be fulfilled within the encampment of the
"God heard the cry of the youth, and an Angel of God called to Hagar from the Heavens and said to her, 'What troubles you, Hagar? -- fear not; for, God has heeded the cry of the youth in his present state. Arise, lift up the youth and grasp your hand upon him; for, I will make a great nation of him.'" What is meant by the Angel's declaration that: "... God has heeded the cry of the youth in his present state"? Once God had confirmed the correctness of Sarah’s decision, Hagar and Ishmael obediently and peacefully removed themselves from the encampment of Abraham and Sarah. Accordingly, in his present state, Ishmael was in compliance with God's Will. Consequently, in his present state, Ishmael merited God's Assistance. If Ishmael's falsely-claimed descendants (i.e., the Arab people) were to obediently and peacefully remove themselves from the encampment of the Land of Israel, they would, as well, be in compliance with God's Will, and they would, as well, merit God's Assistance.
Thereafter, Abraham's faith in God's Power and Promises was again found to be wanting.
As the Torah relates:
"At that time, Abimelech and Phicol, general of his legion, said to Abraham, 'God is
with you in all that you do. Now swear to me here, by God, that you will not
deal falsely with me nor with my son or with my grandson. According to the
kindness that I have done with you, do with me and with the Land in which you
have sojourned.' And Abraham said, 'I will swear'. Then Abraham disputed with
Abimelech regarding the well of water that Abimelech's servants had seized. But
Abimelech said, 'I do not know who did this thing; furthermore, you have never
told me; and, moreover, I myself have heard nothing of it except for today.' So
Abraham took flocks and cattle, and he gave them to Abimelech; and the two of
them entered into a covenant. Abraham [then] set seven ewes of the flock by
themselves. And Abimelech said to Abraham, 'What are these seven ewes which you
have set by themselves?' And he replied, 'Because you are to take these seven
ewes from me, that it may serve me as testimony that I dug this well.' Thus,
that place was called
Why did God suddenly find it necessary to test Abraham's faith in Him? And what severe breach of faith did Abraham commit in order to warrant such a severe Test? Rashbam (Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, b. 1085 - d. 1174), grandson of Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, b. 1040 - d. 1105), comments: "After the pact that Abraham made with Abimelech, [a pact also] with Abraham's [unborn] grandchildren and [unborn] great grandchildren, he gave him seven lambs. And the Almighty became enraged by this, for behold, the Land of the Philistines had been given to Abraham ... and the Almighty had commanded them [the Children of Israel]: '... You shall not allow any person to live' [Deut. 20:16]. Therefore, 'God tested Abraham' in order to teach to him a lesson ... that is: You were proud of the son [Isaac] that I gave to you, and you made a pact between your sons and their sons?! Go now, and offer him [Isaac] as a sacrifice, and find out how useful to you is this pact!"
"At that time, Abimelech and Phicol,
general of his legion, said to Abraham, 'God is with you in all that you do.
Now swear to me here, by God, that you will not deal falsely with me nor with
my son or with my grandson. According to the kindness that I have done with
you, do with me and with the Land in which you have sojourned.' And
Abraham said, 'I will swear.'"
Ironically, while Abraham's consent to the alliance was motivated by his
fear of Abimelech, the latter's proposal of the alliance was motivated
by his fear of the God of Israel! The Torah reveals that Abimelech
brought with him Phicol, the general of his army, in
order to emphasize that Abimelech intended to create, not only a political
alliance, but also a military nonaggression pact, between the two nations --
the Philistines and the embryonic Jewish people. By entering into a nonaggression
pact with Abimelech, Abraham sacrificed a portion of the
"Then Abraham disputed with Abimelech regarding the well of water
that Abimelech's servants had seized. But Abimelech said, 'I do not know who
did this thing; furthermore, you have never told me; and, moreover, I myself
have heard nothing of it except for today.'" By means of Abimelech's callous response
to Abraham’s complaint of theft, God is teaching to the Jewish people a
profound lesson that their leadership never seems to learn, namely, that
it is an exercise in utter futility for the Jewish people to constantly
complain to the gentile nations that they are the victim rather than the
perpetrator of aggression. This is so even if the acts of
aggression perpetrated against
"So Abraham took flocks and cattle, and he gave them to Abimelech; and the two of them entered into a covenant." Abimelech, king of the Philistines, sought to obtain the benefits of an alliance with Abraham while, at the same time, aggressing against Abraham. Despite his adversary’s duplicitous scheme, Abraham -- naively hoping that Abimelech’s character would nonetheless be transformed thereby -- entered into the requested treaty. Abraham sealed the treaty by bestowing upon evil Abimelech valuable assets; but, in return, he received nothing but Abimelech’s untrustworthy promise of peace. This episode is a clear portent of the future time when the resurrected State of Israel will naively enter into accords with its evil adversaries who will publicly extol peace but covertly, and sometimes overtly, continue to make and/or support war against the Jewish State. Moreover, these accords will require the Jewish State to make huge concessions to its adversaries of land, money and security in exchange for their false promises of profound peace and normalization of relations.
"Abraham [then] set seven ewes of the flock by themselves. And Abimelech said to Abraham, 'What are these seven ewes which you have set by themselves?' And he replied, 'Because you are to take these seven ewes from me, that it may serve me as testimony that I dug this well.'" As the Torah makes clear, Abraham not only entered into the treaty, but, by paying symbolic tribute to Abimelech in order to induce him to recognize Abraham's ownership of the "disputed" well, Abraham also -- and for the second time -- made Abimelech a judge over him, the first instance thereof having occurred during Abimelech's earlier abduction of Sarah (see Gen. 20:1-18). In fact, it may be said that, by giving those seven sheep to Abimelech, Abraham had repurchased the very well that already belonged to him. This, in turn, created a great Chillul HaShem (desecration of God's Name), as Abraham's quick consent to the treaty coupled with his consequent appeasement of Abimelech (concerning the well which the latter's minions had stolen from Abraham) -- all born of Abraham's lack of complete faith in God -- had caused the Philistines’ manifest fear of God to diminish. After the death of Abraham, this loss of fear would lead the Philistines to harshly treat and expel Isaac in violation of their treaty with Abraham (see Gen. 26:12-21).
"Abimelech then arose, with Phicol,
general of his legion, and they returned to the Land of the
Philistines." Indeed, by having
entered into this treaty with the Philistines, Abraham abandoned to them a
portion of the Land of Israel -- this is why thereafter, and only thereafter,
the Torah refers to the sacrificed Land as "Eretz
Pelishtim", meaning "Land of the
Philistines"; for, Abraham had made it so. As a stunning example of the Prescience of
the Torah, it is noteworthy that the present-day Arabs of the Land of Israel,
who seek to dismantle the Jewish State even as their leadership pays formulaic
homage to Peace, have chosen, for propaganda purposes, to collectively declare
themselves to be "Palestinians", which appellation derives
from the Roman Empire’s re-designation, in 135 CE, of the Land from Judea
(the Latin-language word for which was Iudaea,
meaning Land of the Jews) to Palestine (the Latin-language word
for which was Palaestina, meaning Land of
the Philistines). The Philistines
were a people who had invaded the
"He [Abraham] planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba; and there he proclaimed the Name of HaShem: 'El Olam.'" After hedging his bets by making a treaty with the Philistines, in order to celebrate that "achievement", Abraham planted a hardy tree in order to symbolize his expectation of dynastic permanence in the Land. He then used that very occasion to re-hedge his bets by publicly declaring that his God of Promises was also "El Olam". This Divine Appellation means both “God of the Universe” and “Eternal God”, thereby expressing the concept that God is Master of both Space and Time -- in the argot of modern Physics: the Creator of the Space-Time Continuum. By employment of that lofty Name, Abraham ostensibly acknowledged that his God of Promises was, in fact, the Deity of All Existence. However, despite the Supreme Name by which Abraham now addressed God, his orchestration of a counterbalancing process between Righteous God and evil Abimelech had nonetheless betrayed a lack of complete trust in God, as a result of which Abraham's worthiness to continue in his role as God's Emissary and Covenantee became suspect. For, if Abraham had really been certain that his God of Promises was “El Olam”, then he would not have felt the need to make a covenant with the Philistines in order to guarantee a secure future for his progeny in the Land.
"And Abraham sojourned in the Land of the Philistines for many years." As a prelude to God's imposition upon Abraham of the harshest trial that he would ever face, the Torah now reiterates that, by sacrificing a portion of the Promised Land to the Philistines, Abraham thereafter resided, not in the Land of Israel, but rather in the "Land of the Philistines"; for, he had made it so.
"And it happened after these events that the [one and only] God tested Abraham and said to him, 'Abraham'; and he replied, 'Here I am.' And He said, 'Please take your son, your only one, whom you love -- Isaac -- and go for yourself to the Land of Moriah; offer him up there as an offering upon one of the mountains which I shall tell you.'" As a result of his lack of complete trust in God, Abraham had impermissibly attempted to sever the eternal connection between God's intertwined Promises of Progeny and of the Land (-- "HaShem appeared to Abram and said, 'To your offspring I will give this Land ...'" (Gen. 12:7) --). By arrogating to himself the "right" to sacrifice the one (Promise of the Land) for the sake of the other (Promise of Progeny), he transgressed against the Owner of the Land. For this reason, it became necessary for God to show to Abraham the consequences of breaking the connection between the Promise of the Land and the Promise of Progeny. So, just as Abraham had readily initiated the sacrifice of (a portion of) the Land -- mida k'neged mida (measure for measure) -- God now readily initiated the sacrifice of Abraham's son. And just as Abraham had tested God with his apparent disregard for God's beloved Land -- mida k'neged mida -- God now tested Abraham with His apparent disregard for Abraham's beloved son.
"'… go for yourself to the Land of Moriah …'" This is the second (and final) time that
God instructed Abraham to undertake a special journey. The first time was when God instructed
Abraham to: " … 'Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives,
and from your father's house to the Land that I will show you.'" (Gen.
12:1). Both times (and only in these
two instances), God employed the unique phrase: "lech
l’cha" ("go for yourself"), indicating
that the main purpose of both treks was to provide Abraham with the opportunity
to spiritually elevate himself. The First
Instruction required Abraham to spiritually ascend from the gentile World
by physically relocating himself and his family to a new Land, namely, the Land
of Israel, where he would become the first "Hebrew" (meaning,
"he who is of the other side") under God’s Tutelage. The Second Instruction required
Abraham to confront his own innate essence, namely, that of mercy and kindness,
by seeming to effectuate something abhorrent to him, namely, the murder of his
son and sole covenantal heir. While
Abraham had readily complied with the First Instruction by traveling, without
delay, to the Land of Israel, his subsequent responses to the challenges he
encountered there (as well as in the Land of Egypt) almost always betrayed a
lack of pragmatic faith in the Power and Promises of the God of Israel. The treasonous nature of Abraham’s treaty
with the Philistine king -- especially in light of God’s prior Declaration to
Abraham that the Land was not to be divided even with his kinsman
Consequently, God issued the Second Instruction for two reasons: (1) to determine whether Abraham’s faithlessness had degenerated into disobedience; and (2) to determine whether Abraham had finally internalized the lesson from his prior dispute with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Gen. 18:16-33), namely, that it would constitute the apex of Immorality for him to substitute his will for God’s Will.
Yet, despite the severity of Abraham's past transgressions against God and His Promises, the ensuing Test that God devised for Abraham nevertheless shocks modern sensibilities, especially since, as is known, the God of Israel abhors human sacrifice and declares it to be an abomination to Him, to wit:
“‘Do not allow any of your offspring to be offered up [as a fire sacrifice] to [the pagan god] Moloch, and do not profane the Name of your God: I am HaShem.’” (Leviticus 18:21); and
“And HaShem spoke to Moses: ‘Say further to the Children of Israel: “Anyone among the Children of Israel, or among the strangers residing in Israel, who gives any of his offspring [as a fire sacrifice] to [the pagan god] Moloch, shall be put to death; the people of the Land shall pelt him with stones. And I will set My Face against that man and I will cut him off from among his people, because he gave of his offspring to Moloch and so defiled My Sanctuary and profaned My Holy Name. And if the people of the Land should shut their eyes to that man when he gives of his offspring to Moloch, and should not put him to death, then I Myself will set My Face against that man and his kin, and will cut off from among their people both him and all who follow him in going astray after Moloch.’” (Leviticus 20:1-5); and
“You shall not act in this way towards HaShem your God; for, they [the surrounding nations] perform for their gods every abhorrent act that HaShem detests; they even offer up their sons and daughters in fire to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12:31); and
“Thus said HaShem [to the Prophet Jeremiah]: ‘Go, and get a potter's earthen bottle, and take of the elders of the people, and of the elders of the priests, and go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the gate Harsith, and proclaim there the Words that I shall tell you, and say: “Hear the Word of HaShem, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says HaShem of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will bring Evil upon this place, and whoever hears of it, his ears shall tingle, because they [the people of Jerusalem] have forsaken Me, and they have estranged this place, and have offered [sacrifices] in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah [have known]; and they have filled this place with the blood of innocents; and they have built the high places of [the pagan god] Baal, to burn their sons in the fire for burnt offerings unto [the pagan god] Baal; which I did not command, nor have I spoken of it, neither did it come it into My Mind.”’’” (Jeremiah 19:1-5); and
“They [the people of Jerusalem] turned their backs to Me, not their faces; although I have taught them persistently, they do not give heed or accept rebuke. They placed their abominations in the House which bears My Name and defiled it; and they built the high places of [the pagan god] Baal, which are in the Valley of the son of Hinnom, where they offered up their sons and daughters [as a fire sacrifice] to [the pagan god] Moloch, which I never commanded, nor did it come into My Mind, that they should do such an abomination, and so cause Judah to sin.” (Jeremiah 32:33-35).
Additionally, since Omniscient God does not utter a Promise which He knows He will never fulfill, it is clear that He never intended to permit Abraham to slay Isaac -- the sole inheritor of God's "Everlasting Covenant" (see Gen. 17:19 & 17:21). And yet, God did, nonetheless, impose upon the kind and merciful Abraham a trial that ostensibly endangered the life of his precious child -- a trial that ran counter to every personality trait with which Abraham was imbued -- in order to ascertain whether Abraham, in the face of such a horrible Instruction, was capable of demonstrating complete and unconditional faith in Him and in His Morality.
As the Torah continues:
"So Abraham woke up early in the morning
and he saddled his donkey; he took his two young men with him and Isaac, his
son; he split the wood for the offering, and stood up and went to the place of
which God had spoken to him. On the third day, Abraham raised his eyes and
perceived the place from afar. And Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here by
yourselves with the donkey, while I and the lad will go yonder; we will worship
and we will return to you.' And Abraham took the wood for the offering, and
placed in on Isaac, his son. He took in his hand the fire and the knife, and
the two of them went together. Then Isaac spoke to Abraham, his father, and
said, 'Father.' And he said, 'Here I am, my son.' And he said, 'Here are the
fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the offering?' And Abraham said,
'God will seek out for Himself the lamb for the offering, my son.' And the two
of them went together. They arrived at the place of which God had spoken to
him; Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood; he bound Isaac, his
son, and he placed him on the altar atop the wood. Abraham stretched out his
hand, and he took the knife to slaughter his son. And an Angel of HaShem called
to him from Heaven, and said, 'Abraham! Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' And
he said, 'Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything against
him; for, now I know that you are a God-fearing man, since you have not withheld
your son, your only one, from Me.' And Abraham raised his eyes and saw --
behold, a ram! -- afterwards caught in the thicket by its horns; so Abraham
went and took the ram and offered it up as an offering instead of his son. And
Abraham called the name of that site "YHVH Yireh"
[meaning: HaShem Will Be Discerned], as it is said this Day: on the mountain
HaShem will be discerned. The Angel of HaShem called to Abraham a second time
from Heaven. And he said, 'By Myself I swear -- the Word of HaShem -- that because
you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only one, that I
shall surely bless you and greatly increase your offspring like the stars of
the sky and like the sand which is on the seashore; And your offspring shall
inherit the gate of its enemy. And all the nations of the Earth shall bless
themselves by your offspring, because you have listened to My Voice.' Abraham
returned to his young men, and they stood up and went together to
"So Abraham woke up early in the morning and he saddled his donkey; he took his two young men with him and Isaac, his son; he split the wood for the offering, and stood up and went to the place of which God had spoken to him." Abraham’s reaction to God’s Instruction to sacrifice his son Isaac was to promptly prepare for and commence the journey to the Land of Moriah. It is noteworthy that, unlike the prior episode in which God had informed Abraham about His impending Judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah (see Gen. 18:16-33), in this episode Abraham neither accused God of being Unjust nor otherwise attempted to persuade Him to rescind His Instruction. This is very strange. For, other than Lot, the inhabitants of the cities of the Jordan River plain were both evil and strangers to Abraham, while Isaac was both righteous and Abraham’s closest kin. Why did Abraham aggressively advocate for them, but not at all for his only covenantal offspring? The answer is that Abraham had indeed learned a profound lesson from that prior episode, namely, that the Judge of all the Earth does indeed do Justice (see Gen. 18:25); and he had consequently internalized the fact that even if God’s Instruction was incomprehensible to him, it was nonetheless Just. Being Just, it must be obeyed.
"On the third day, Abraham raised his eyes and perceived the place from afar. And Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here by yourselves with the donkey, while I and the lad will go yonder; we will worship and we will return to you.' … Then Isaac spoke to Abraham, his father, and said, 'Father.' And he said, 'Here I am, my son.' And he said, 'Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the offering?' And Abraham said, 'God will seek out for Himself the lamb for the offering, my son.' And the two of them went together. They arrived at the place of which God had spoken to him; Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood; he bound Isaac, his son, and he placed him on the altar atop the wood." It is clear that, until the very last moment, Abraham actively concealed from Isaac the Instruction that he was to offer him as a sacrifice to God. Consequently, while Abraham was able to exercise his God-given right of Free Will to choose whether to obey or disobey God’s Instruction, Isaac was denied that same prerogative. The reason for Abraham’s conduct is that he understood that God’s Instruction was meant only for him and was thereby intended to implicate only the exercise of his Free Will. By informing Isaac of the Instruction, and by giving Isaac the opportunity to choose whether or not to participate in the implementation thereof, Abraham would be making his own obedience to God dependent upon and secondary to Isaac’s obedience to God, thereby subverting the raison d'être of the trial. Yet, despite Abraham’s evasion of the Truth, it is nonetheless likely that Isaac, who was approximately 37 years old at the time of this incident -- calculated by comparing Sarah’s age at his birth (90 years old per Gen. 17:17) with Sarah’s age at her death (127 years old per Gen. 23:1), which happened shortly after this incident -- understood that he was to be the sacrificial offering. Why did he cooperate with the ruse? The reason is that he completely trusted in his father, just as Abraham now completely trusted in his Father.
"Abraham stretched out his hand, and he took the knife to slaughter his son. And an Angel of HaShem called to him from Heaven, and said, 'Abraham! Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' And he said, 'Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything against him; for, now I know that you are a God-fearing man, since you have not withheld your son, your only one, from Me.'" That God's Purpose in testing Abraham was to ascertain whether or not Abraham was capable of demonstrating complete and unconditional trust in Him and, consequently, true Yirat Elohim, is confirmed by the Angel's laudatory declaration to Abraham as the latter was about to slaughter his son. By explicitly declaring: "… for, now I know that you are a God-fearing man …", the Angel was explicitly confirming that Abraham’s prior conduct had demonstrated an endemic lack of pragmatic faith in God’s Power and Promises.
"The Angel of HaShem called to Abraham a second time from Heaven.
And he said, 'By Myself I swear -- the Word of HaShem -- that because you have
done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only one, that I shall
surely bless you and greatly increase your offspring like the stars of the sky
and like the sand which is on the seashore ..." As a reward for Abraham's demonstration
of complete faith, God reiterated to Abraham His Promise of Progeny through
Isaac, who was described to Abraham, for the third time since God's
announcement of His Test, as "your son, your only one". Yet
this characterization was factually incorrect because Abraham then had two
sons, namely, Ishmael and Isaac. Obviously, God was speaking, not in
terms of Abraham's biological offspring, but rather in terms of
Abraham's covenantal offspring -- of whom Isaac was the only one.
Clearly, by referring three times to Isaac as Abraham's only son, God
sought to emphasize to Abraham -- in the strongest possible manner -- that
God's intertwined Promises of Progeny and of the Land were meant to be
fulfilled only through Isaac and his covenantal descendants,
namely, the Jewish people. For, it is by virtue of these intertwined Promises
that God has granted to the Jewish people -- and only to the Jewish
people -- rightful and eternal possession of the
"... And your offspring shall inherit the gate of its enemy." This represented God's Promise of military victory and domination in favor of Abraham’s progeny. Consequently, it was a pointed reminder to Abraham of how utterly worthless was his treaty with the Philistines.
Through this incident, God is teaching to Abraham and to the Jewish people a
crucial lesson concerning the fruit of the tree that is rooted in
complete and unconditional trust in Him: Although God commanded Abraham to
initiate a procedure which ostensibly endangered Isaac's life, Abraham's
compliance with such instruction further safeguarded Isaac's
life. In our own Day, this lesson takes the following form: Although acting in
compliance with God's national Commandments may endanger the lives of individual
Jews, the exercise of such complete and unconditional trust in God will
assuredly further safeguard the collective existence of the
Jewish people. With this lesson in mind, we can see that the Test imposed by
the God of Israel upon Abraham was also intended to serve as a portent of the
End Time when God will test the Jewish people still residing in the
Exile by presenting them, in fulfillment of Prophecy (-- see Deut. 30:3-5 --),
with the opportunity to freely return to the resurrected nation-state of
Israel -- but, at a time when Israel would be subjected to such
unrelenting threat of annihilation and international hostility that both common
sense and parental instinct would naturally conspire against their
exercise of this God-given Opportunity. In this way, God intends to discover
whether or not His People -- as demonstrated by their collective willingness
or unwillingness to place themselves and their children in apparent
harm's way -- will follow in the footsteps of their ancestor Abraham by
completely and unconditionally trusting in Him. To date, the bulk of Exilic
Jewry -- both the Secular and the Religious -- have failed this Test.
And, accordingly, the God of Israel will adjudge this generation for their lack
of trust in Him, just as He once adjudged the generation of the Exodus for
their lack of trust in Him -- a generation which, upon hearing the fearful
report of 10 out of the 12 tribal leaders sent to reconnoiter the Land of
Israel (then occupied by the Canaanite nations), complained to Moses that the
Land would devour them and their children. The harsh Sentence
that God pronounced upon our wayward ancestors for their lack of faith in His
Promises ought to penetrate our very souls and cause us to reconsider
our collective judgment that the modern countries of the Diaspora are --
while the modern State of Israel is not -- a safe harbor
for the Jewish people. God declared to that prior generation: "'And
your young children of whom you said they will be taken captive, I shall
bring them; they shall know the Land [of
"Abraham returned to his young men, and they stood up and went
THE PURCHASE OF THE
After the death of righteous Sarah, Abraham's faith was again tested.
The traditional rabbinic view is that Abraham's acquisition of the Cave and the surrounding field through the payment of money was an act of righteousness, and thereby resulted in a Kiddush HaShem (sanctification of God's Name), based primarily upon the following ancient statement:
"Rabbi Yehuda Bar Simon said: It is one of the three places where the nations of the World would not be able to deceive Israel by claiming, 'You are thieves.' And they are: The Cave of the Patriarchs [in Hebron], the Temple Mount [in Jerusalem], and Joseph's Tomb [in Shechem, which is modern-day Nablus]." (Bereshit Rabba, 89)
-- the underlying rationale being that, by having purchased these places from their gentile occupiers, we thereby prove to the gentile nations and to ourselves that our claim of possessory right thereto is valid and, consequently, beyond any legitimate challenge or dispute.
However, this venerable justification for the acquisition of possession by purchase ignores (or, at least, obscures) the fact that the true and only basis for our claim of possessory right to these places is God's Promise of the Land to the Jewish people, thereby rendering the approbation over acquisition by purchase -- at least under circumstances in which acquisition may be obtained without having to compensate the occupiers -- misplaced. This is so for four basic reasons:
Firstly, by paying the Hittite occupiers for that which the Jewish people had already acquired from the True Owner thereof, Abraham exhibited a lack of complete faith in God's Promise of the Land and thereby diminished the Hittites' evident awe of him and, consequently, of his -- and their -- Master, the God of Israel.
Secondly, in claiming that the acquisition by purchase of these three specific places in the Land of Israel proves that Israel's possession of those places is legitimate, we wrongly imply that the acquisition by conquest of the remainder of the Land of Israel establishes the converse, namely, that Israel's possession of the remainder is illegitimate.
Thirdly, despite their knowledge that we have purchased these three specific places with money, the gentile nations are not impressed by our proofs and, consequently, they persist in declaring that we have stolen these places -- as well as the remainder of the Land -- from its "rightful owners"; and, unfortunately, many Jews accept this Falsehood as Truth.
Fourthly, and most importantly, by praising the acquisition of possession by purchase, we wrongly declare to the gentile nations and to ourselves that rightful possession of the Land of Israel may be acquired by means of our own resources rather than by virtue of God's Promise of the Land to the Jewish people.
Accordingly, I dissent from the traditional view.
Nonetheless, when the gentile nations are the masters of the
As the Torah relates:
"Sarah’s life was 127 years -- the years of
Sarah’s life. Sarah died in Kiryat Arba -- this is
"Sarah’s life was 127 years -- the years of Sarah’s life. Sarah died in Kiryat
Arba -- this is
"… and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to mourn her." After Sarah’s death, Abraham travelled from Beersheba to Hebron to conduct her funeral and burial. However, Scripture is silent as to whether Isaac accompanied Abraham on that journey and thereafter attended the funeral and burial, thereby again raising questions that cannot be answered by reference to the revealed text of the Torah. However, whether or not Isaac accompanied Abraham on the journey to Hebron, is it possible that Isaac did not attend his own mother’s funeral and burial there? If Sarah travelled to Hebron before the binding of Isaac, then perhaps Isaac, returning with Abraham from the Land of Moriah, chose to remain with her in Hebron with the intention of accompanying her back to Beersheba, as it is unlikely that he or Abraham would have permitted Sarah to travel such a long distance by herself. Alternatively, if Sarah travelled to Hebron only after Abraham had returned to Beersheba, then perhaps Isaac chose to accompany her to Hebron, as -- again -- it is unlikely that he or Abraham would have permitted Sarah to travel such a long distance by herself. In either case, Isaac would have already been with his mother in Hebron when she died. Consequently, when Abraham arrived in Hebron he would have joined Isaac for the funeral and burial.
"Abraham rose up from the presence of his dead and spoke to the Children of Heth, saying, 'I am an alien and a resident among you. Grant to me an estate for a burial site with you, so that I may bury my dead from before me.'" This event took place after God's direct intervention against, and humiliation of, Pharaoh; and after Abraham's miraculous victory over the four kings; and after God's destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and, in the merit of Abraham, His miraculous extraction of Lot therefrom; and after God's direct intervention against, and humiliation of, Abimelech; and after the miraculous birth of Isaac; and after the political-military alliance solicited by Abimelech due to the latter’s publicly-declared awe of the God of Israel; and after the binding of Isaac for sacrifice and God's resultant Promises to Abraham of majesty, including military victory and domination. Moreover, since, by Divine Promise, the entire Land of Israel was given to Abraham -- God's Earthly Representative and the progenitor of the Jewish people -- he was its earthly master, and he was thereby entitled to physically exercise his possessory right over any portion thereof, including the Cave of Machpela, without having to compensate its present occupiers on account thereof. Nevertheless, despite all of this, Abraham supplicated the Hittites with the utmost humility, portraying himself, not as the Land's earthly master, but rather as its transient guest -- "an alien and a resident among you". Abraham's exhibition of such humility before the Hittites was not appropriate to his true status as Prince of God. In fact, it constituted a Chillul HaShem; for, all of the nations of the World, including the Jewish people, are slaves to God, and, consequently, His Servant Abraham was not permitted to be, or to even portray himself as, a supplicant to his fellow slaves but only to his and their Master, the God of Israel. As God would later explain concerning the reason why an indentured Jew is not permitted to serve his human master in perpetuity, but must either be redeemed by his family prior to the Jubilee Year or be released by his human master in the Jubilee year: "'For, the Children of Israel are Servants to Me; they are My Servants, whom I have taken out of the Land of Egypt -- I am HaShem, your God.'" (Lev. 25:55).
"And the Children of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, 'Hear us, my lord: You are a Prince of God in our midst; in the choicest of our burial places bury your dead; any of us will not withhold his burial place from you, from burying your dead.'" The Hittites were well aware of Abraham's illustrious history; and, moreover, they knew that Abraham and his heir Isaac were the bearers of God's "Everlasting Covenant" (see Gen. 17:7 & 17:19 & 17:21). Accordingly, while Abraham improperly displayed his subservience towards the Hittites by humbly petitioning them for a burial site, they properly displayed their subservience towards the God of Israel by openly acknowledging His Servant Abraham's supremacy over the Land and over them -- "a Prince of God in our midst".
"Then Abraham rose up and bowed down to the members of the council, to the Children of Heth. He spoke to them saying, 'If it is truly your will to bury my dead from before me, heed me, and intercede for me with Ephron, son of Zohar. Let him grant to me the Cave of Machpelah which is his, on the edge of his field; let him grant it to me for its full price, in your midst, as an estate for a burial site.' Now, Ephron was sitting in the midst of the Children of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite responded to Abraham in the hearing of the Children of Heth, of all who had come to the gate of his city, saying, 'No, my lord; heed me! I have given to you the field, and as for the cave that is within it I have given it to you. In the view of the children of my people have I given it to you. Bury your dead!'" Ironically, while an incredulous Abraham ignored the Hittites' open awe of the God of Israel, by prostrating himself before them and offering to pay full value for the Cave of Machpela, an incredulous Ephron ignored Abraham's display of servility, by publicly insisting that, not only the Cave, but also the surrounding field, already belonged to Abraham.
"So Abraham bowed down before the members of the council. He spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the members of the council, saying, 'Rather, if only you would heed me! I give to you the price of the field. Accept it from me, so that I may bury my dead there.' And Ephron replied to Abraham, saying to him, 'My lord, heed me! Land worth 400 silver shekels; between me and you -- what is it? Bury your dead.' Abraham heeded Ephron, and Abraham weighed out to Ephron the price which he had mentioned in the hearing of the Children of Heth -- 400 silver shekels in negotiable currency." But Abraham, due to his personal humility and on account of his insistence on treating the Hittite occupiers as the true owners of the Land, thereby caused their manifest fear of the God of Israel to diminish and, accordingly, Ephron gladly accepted Abraham's money as a purchase price for that which already belonged to the Jewish people! This is similar to Abraham's earlier treaty with the Philistines in which he essentially purchased from King Abimelech the very well that he already owned (see Gen. 21:22-34).
"And Ephron's field, which was in Machpelah, facing [the oak trees of] Mamre, the field and the cave within it and all the trees in the field, within all its surrounding boundaries, was confirmed as Abraham's, as a purchase in the view of the Children of Heth, among all who came to the gate of his city." This publicly-conducted transaction constituted a great Chillul HaShem; for Abraham did not yet understand that he was standing, not only before the Hittites, as an individual on a personal errand to bury his wife, but, as well, before the entire gentile World, as the progenitor of the Jewish people on a national mission to publicly exercise the Jewish people's possessory right to the Land in the sight of the nations and to thereby demonstrate his complete faith in God's Power and Promises. Instead, Abraham publicly demonstrated to the gentile World that, despite his exalted true status, he still considered himself, not "a Prince of God in our midst", but rather "an alien and a resident among you".
Conversely, the traditional rabbinic view asserts that Abraham's servile attitude towards the Hittites and their respectful counter-attitude towards him, as well as their offer to provide to him a burial site without request for payment, were merely component parts of an elaborate, convoluted, and traditional Hittite negotiating ritual -- and therefore feigned; and that, since the attitudes and offer were feigned, they bore no relationship to the parties' true positions. But, in my opinion, the God of Israel, Who meticulously chose the contents of the Torah, did not include therein the full details of the parties' negotiations in order to educate us as to the intricacies of the Hittite negotiating process. Rather, God desired to educate us as to the conflict that raged within our Patriarch Abraham concerning issues of Kiddush HaShem and Chillul HaShem -- issues of Yirat Elohim (fear of God) and Yirat HaGoyim (fear of the nations). Accordingly, while Abraham's recurring humility in the Presence of God was certainly a virtue and thereby created a Kiddush HaShem, his recurring humility in the presence of the gentile nations (including the Hittites) was not a virtue, and thereby created a Chillul HaShem.
That a Jewish leader is prohibited from flattering, and humbling himself
before, the gentile nations is demonstrated by the tragedy of righteous
Hezekiah, monarch of the southern kingdom of Judah (see II Kings 18:1 - 20:21
and II Chronicles 29:1 - 32:33). King Hezekiah eradicated idolatry from the
That a Jewish leader is prohibited from flattering, and humbling himself
before, the gentile nations was also demonstrated, in an earlier generation, by
the following words of the Prophet Samuel to Saul, first anointed king of
united Israel: "'Is this not so? Though you may be small in your own eyes,
you are the head of the tribes of
However, Abraham was more than king over the nation of
THE FINAL WISDOM OF ABRAHAM
Towards the end of his life, Abraham finally learned from his mistakes and ceased to continue them. And, for the first time in Scripture, he began to publicly acknowledge -- as an established fact not subject to doubt or equivocation -- God's intertwined Promises of Progeny and of the Land. The proof of this comes from Abraham's instructions to his chief steward concerning the acquisition of a wife for Isaac.
As the Torah relates:
"Now Abraham was old, well on in years, and HaShem had blessed Abraham with everything. And Abraham said to his servant, the elder of his household who controlled all that was his, 'Place now your hand under my thigh. And I will have you swear by HaShem, God of Heaven and God of Earth, that you not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell. Rather, to my land [of birth] and to my kindred shall you go and take a wife for my son -- for Isaac.' The servant said to him, 'Perhaps the woman shall not wish to follow me to this Land. Shall I take your son back to the Land from which you departed?' Abraham answered him, 'Beware not to return my son to there. HaShem, God of Heaven, Who took me from the house of my father and from the land of my birth, Who spoke concerning me, and Who swore to me saying, "To your offspring I will give this Land" -- He will send His Angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. But, if the woman will not wish to follow you, you shall then be absolved of this oath of mine. However, do not return my son to there.'" (Gen. 24:1-8).
While not as harsh a Test as God’s earlier Instruction to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice, the Test of finding a suitable wife for Isaac was nonetheless daunting, as Abraham needed to satisfy two mutually-exclusive requirements -- namely, geography and demography. Although the Land of Israel satisfied the geographic requirement, it failed the demographic requirement; and although the Land of Aram Naharayim (meaning: the “High Place between the Two Rivers”, which refers to Mesopotamia, which is situated between the Tigris River and the Euphrates River, and which encompasses portions of modern Turkey, Syria and Iraq) satisfied the demographic requirement, it failed the geographic requirement. Consequently, Abraham sought to square the circle, thereby satisfying both requirements, by offering his future daughter-in-law the opportunity to immigrate to the Land of Israel.
It is noteworthy that modern Israel faces the same geographic-demographic dilemma, as the Jewish people’s ancient homeland contains a substantial population of irredentist and hostile Arabs, augmented by a high birthrate. Consequently, the Jewish State sought to square the circle by enacting the “Law of Return”, which has successfully encouraged much of diaspora Jewry to immigrate to Israel, thereby greatly reducing the Arab demographic threat to Jewish hegemony in the Land.
By permitting Isaac neither to assimilate into the resident Canaanite peoples of the Land nor to leave the Land -- come what may -- and by openly reiterating God's intertwined Promises of Progeny and of the Land, Abraham finally demonstrated his complete faith in God's Power and Promises. Consequently, Abraham finally internalized the fact that the Land of Israel belongs exclusively to his covenantal descendants (i.e., the future Jewish people), and that this Gift carries with it certain responsibilities, chief among which is the obligation to settle the entire Land of Israel and to thereafter not abandon any portion of it to the gentile nations, whether for reasons of adverse environmental conditions (e.g., the severe famine that plagued Abraham when he first ascended to the Land), or generosity towards other claimants (e.g., Abraham’s desire to partition the Land between himself and Lot; and Abraham’s desire to recognize Ishmael as his covenantal heir), or the dangers attendant to repelling aggressors (e.g., the invasion of the Land by four powerful kings), or the advantages attendant to forming political-military alliances with other claimants (e.g., Abraham’s treaty with the Philistines), or bleak demographic forecasts (e.g., the risk that remaining in the Land would prevent future growth of the tiny covenantal population).
After Abraham had, from among his extended family, secured for Isaac a righteous wife -- Rebecca (being Abraham’s grandniece and Isaac’s first cousin once removed) -- he himself remarried.
As the Torah relates:
"Abraham proceeded and took a [secondary]
wife whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan,
"Abraham proceeded and took a [secondary] wife whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan,
"Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But to the children of the concubine who were Abraham's, Abraham gave Gifts. Then he sent them away from Isaac, his son, while he [Abraham] was still alive -- eastward to the Land of the East." By the end of his life, Abraham had inculcated himself with the strength and wisdom of Sarah; for although he remarried after her death and sired additional descendants whom he loved greatly, he expelled them from the Land of Israel. Abraham did this precisely because he now understood that God's intertwined Promises of Progeny and of the Land actually constituted a bilateral Contract between God and himself, which imposed obligations on both parties. Abraham finally understood that, in order to facilitate the fulfillment of God's Promises, he was required to separate -- both physically and spiritually -- his covenantal offspring (i.e., Isaac) from his non-covenantal offspring (i.e., Ishmael and the progeny of Keturah). The unprompted expulsion of his beloved non-covenantal descendants for the sake of Isaac constituted Abraham’s final Test.
Finally, the Torah relates:
"Now these are the days of the years of Abraham's life which he lived: 175 years. And Abraham expired and died at a good old age, mature and content; and he was gathered to his people. And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the Cave of Machpela, in the field of Ephron, the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing [the oak trees of] Mamre. The field that Abraham had bought from the Children of Heth: there Abraham was buried -- and [also] Sarah, his wife. And it was after the death of Abraham that God blessed Isaac, his son; and Isaac settled near Be’er Lachai Ro’i." (Gen. 25:7-11).
"And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the Cave of Machpela, in the field of Ephron, the son of Zohar the
Hittite, facing [the oak trees of] Mamre." Ishmael's participation in Abraham's burial
is proof that even he ultimately accepted the Justice -- by Abraham's
hand -- both of his expulsion from the
"And it was after the death of Abraham that God blessed Isaac, his son." God blessed Isaac, and not Ishmael. For, although Ishmael had exhibited great respect towards Abraham by the end of the latter's life, it was exclusively to Isaac that God's Everlasting Covenant passed. And it is only with Isaac's covenantal descendants -- the Jewish people -- that God's Everlasting Covenant presently resides.
Abraham was a product of the Exile -- first Ur Kasdim (Ur of Chaldea) and then Charan. When he came to the Promised Land, he made many mistakes, but by the end of his life, he had atoned for all of them, thereby fulfilling, in toto, God's Command to him: "'... Walk before Me and be perfect.'" (Gen. 17:1).
The lesson finally learned by a perfected Abraham must not be ignored by our
future leaders: The Jewish people -- Abraham's covenantal descendants --
are required to settle the
At the dawn of History, the God of Israel bestowed upon the future Jewish
people, in perpetuity, sole possessory right to the
To Abraham, five times, in Gen. 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:7; 15:18-21; and 17:7-8.
To Isaac, three times, in Gen. 17:18-21; 21:9-13; and 26:1-5.
To Jacob, two times, in Gen. 28:13-15; and 35:9-13.
And God ultimately reiterated His Promise to Moses and the Jewish people in the form of a national Commandment:
"'See, I have given the Land before you; come and possess the Land that HaShem swore to your forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them.'" (Deut. 1:8).
© Mark Rosenblit