THE WAY OF AVRAHAM AVINU
"And Hashem said to Avram, 'Go take yourself away from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, and go to the land which I am going to show you'". (Bereishis 12:1)
In the very first verse in the Torah, Rashi, in his classic commentary, asks a question so penetrating, that in the first moments of our new foray into learning the Torah, we are catapulted into immediate soul searching. What is our relationship to the Torah and what is our place in it?
Rashi asks, why does the Torah begin with the account of creation and the subsequent stories of the lives of the Patriarchs (Avos) and Matriarchs (Imahos). If the Torah is a book of laws (Zohar, Torah is from the word horaah, instruction), then why doesn't it begin with the first mitzvah, the sanctification of the new moon and the declaration of Rosh Chodesh?
One of the most compelling answers to this question that I remember hearing in my first years in Yeshiva. is from the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 9:3). Derech Eretz Kadma L'Torah. The way of the world preceeds the Torah.
Derech Eretz here refers to proper mannered behavior, to be the exemplary person that is truly a reflection of the Creator. The study and acquisition of these character traits are a prerequisite to the acquisition of Torah knowledge. From where is Derech Eretz learned? From the Avos and Imahos. This is Derech Eretz is before Torah. Before we can get into the laws of the Torah a person must have Derech Eretz. That is why the Torah begins with the stories of the lives of the Avos.
Avraham Avinu was the first of the Avos. The Ohr HaChayim, R' Chayin ben Attar, (a contemoprary of the Baal ShemTov whose commentary greatly influenced Chassidic thought), says on the first verse in Parshas Lecha Lecha (Bereishis 12:1), that Hashem came straight to Avraham and immediately began to speak to him, something He didn't do with any other prophet or sage. Before He spoke to the other Avos, or to Moshe Rabbenu, Hashem first appeared to them, so to speak to introduce himself. Only afterwards did he begin to speak to them.
With Avraham the situation was different. At a very young age, without any instruction, Avraham had already learned that there was a Creator, and he beagn to teach the people of his generation who this Creator was.
The Midrash relates how Avraham was trying to figure out who created and therefore ruled the world. He saw the life giving power of the sun. So he paid homage to the sun, assuming that the sun had created the world. Then the night fell. The sun was no longer to be seen. The moon, surrounded by the stars commanded the sky. So he paid homage the the moon, to the creator of the world. When the sun reappeared in the morning, he understood that neither one had any dominion. Later in the day, clouds came which blocked the rays of the sun. Perhaps the clouds were the power that ruled the world? No! Soon came the winds and blew them all away.
Finally Avraham reasoned that there must be some other force that was responsible for all these natural phenomena. Avraham had discovered Hashem!! At a very young age (three years old or five years old), Avraham began to try to convince the people in his generation that there is only one God, and only he sees us and hears us and responds to us. (See the many well known Midrashim about Avraham and his father's idols.)
The Ohr HaChayim says that Hashem immediately spoke straight to Avraham with no need for any introductions. Since Avraham had already discovered Hashem on his own, Hashem was speaking to someone who already knew and loved him.
Furthermore, Avraham was the first one in the last ten generations that knew Hashem and spoke about him. But Hashem had been let down already by less worthy human beings in every generation since the flood. So Hashem tested Avraham by commanding him to go to an unidentified land, without any accompanying revelations of the Divine Prescence.
"And Hashem appeared to Avram sayings, and to your children I will grant this land. And Avram built an altar for the Hashem who appeared to him." (Bereishis 12:7)
When Avraham passed the test with flying colors, Hashem finally revealed to him the Divine Presence.
"Listen daughter and behold, incline your ear and forget your people and your father's house." (Psalms 45:11) The Midrash says that this verse is hinting at Avraham. Listen refers to Avraham who listened to the voice of Hashem who said, "Lech Lecha.! Go!" Behold also refers to Avraham who saw the Divine Presence when Hashem appeared to him. Notice that the verse says, "Hear daughter and behold. . .". It reflects Avraham's experience. He heard, he acted, (the word daughter which separates between hear and behold), then he saw the Divine Presence.
"And Hashem appeared to Avram sayings, and to your children
I will grant this land. And Avram built an altar for Hashem who
appeared to him."
After Hashem appeared to Avraham, Rashi says that he built the altar in gratitude for the good tidings of children and the Land of Israel which are mentioned in the verse. The Ohr HaChayim disagrees.
He says that the verse is coming to tell us about the unparalled joy of Avraham after beholding the Divine Presence. It is not the promises of children and Land which prompt Avraham to built an altar. Rather, the verse testifies that, ". . . Avram built an altar for Hashem who appeared to him". Avraham rejoiced and gave thanks to Hashem who for the first time revealed to him His Divine Presence.
In fact, says the Ohr HaChayim, the two promises of children and Land really mean nothing to him in light of his deveykus, and his joy in the revelation of Hashem. This is the understanding of the verse, ". . .the fullness of joy is (to be) in Your presence . . .". (Psalms 16:11)
The sages enjoin every Jew to ask himself, "When will my deeds be like those of my ancestors"? (Tanna D'vei Eliyahu Rabbah 25) The implication is that we are enjoined to emulate the deeds of the Avos and Imahos, of Avraham, Yitzchok, Yaacov, Sarah, Rifka, Rachel and Leah. The fact that the sages can obligate us to engage in such an act of introspection means that the answer is close at hand.
May we be successful in learning and emulating the ways of our Avos and Imahos.
EVERYTHING IS FROM HASHEM
"And Avraham believed in Hashem, and He considered it as righteousness (Tzedakah)." (Bereishis 15:6)
The above translation is according to the commentary of Rashi. R' Yitzchok Meir of Gur, the Chiddushei HaRIM, has a brilliant way to read the verse. "And Avraham believed in Hashem, and he (Avraham) considered it as righteousness (Tzedakah)." From Avraham we learn a essential principle in Jewish thought. Everything comes from Hashem. When Avraham reached a high level of faith and belief in Hashem, he considered it to be Tzedakah from Hashem. Even the faith which one works so diligently to cultivate, is ultimately a gift from the Creator!
GREAT IDEAS IN THE MINDS OF MEN
R' Zusia of Anipoli again found himself in debt with the repayment date the next morning, and the resources with which to repay nowhere in sight. R' Zusia however, was a Tzaddik of perfect faith. Long ago he had placed himself totally in the hands of the Creater of the World, and he had no need to be concerned.
So R' Zusia, wanting to further demonstrate to his Creator how perfect his fath and trust were, sat down with a piece of paper. On it he recorded 25 different scenarios in which the money needed to pay back the debt comes his way. The rest of the evening passed, and R' Zusia gave the situation no further thought.
The morning came, and no sooner did R' Zusia finish his morning prayers, than did the required sum manifest itself. But the money came to R' Zusia, in a 26th way, according to a scenario that he didn't think to record. "Oy yoy, oy yoy", he moaned, thoroughly diwith himself. "Is the Creator of the World limited to the feeble ideas of R' Zusia!?"