Raboyseyee and Raboyseyettes:
The First of the Chosen People
For those who never paid attention while in Yeshiva, let’s begin with a shtikel roundup of this week’s givaldige parsha of Lech Lecho. Avrom, under direct orders from the RBSO (G‑d) is instructed (in reverse order) to leave his father’s house, his birthplace and the land, to a new land which He, the RBSO, will show him. As an inducement, the RBSO promises good things ahead. Avrom and his wife Sorai, still childless, and nephew Loit obey and leave.
Of course things don’t always go smoothly; Avrom ends up in Mitzrayim, his wife ends up in the king’s buduoir where he, the king, either did or didn’t have some improper contact with a married woman, if you chap, and with the help of the RBSO, they get out alive. Though we covered this particular topic last year, mistama you forgot. Alternatively, you remember this topic only too well but avada want to read about what went down in the kings palace one more time, oisvorfs that you are. Halt zich eyn (patience please, we’ll get to it soon enough.) For allowing his eishes chayil to have the palace tour, Avrom is rewarded with gold, silver, slaves, and cattle. Not a terrible deal.
Still childless ten years after their arrival in the Land, Sorai allows and mamish tells her husband to marry the shiksa maidservant Hogor, who like most hot shiksas, becomes immediately pregnant. Veyter. A pregnant Hogor and Sorai are not getting along, Hogor, we are taught, is insolent to Sorai, and mamish flees for her life when Sorai treats her harshly. The RBSO allows a malach (angel) to convince her to return, and tells her that her son, yet to be born, will father a populous nation. Shoin! At 86, Avrom becomes a father to Yishmoel; enemy of the Yiddin ad hayoim hazeh (till today.)
Now 99, and thirteen years later, the RBSO elongates Avrom’s name to Avrohom (father of multitudes), and Sorai’s toSoro (princess), and promises that a son will be born to them. The RBSO commands Avrohom to circumcise himself and his descendants as a “sign of the covenant between Me and you.” Avrohom immediately complies, circumcising himself and all the males of his household. And now let’s learn a shtikel more about Avrohom, seemingly the first of the Chosen People.
Many generations and unique characters have come and gone since the RBSO decided to create Man. With the exception of Noiach, it appears that they were all bad. In the last two Toirah readings we met the original Adams mishpocho (Odom, Chava, and their givaldige kinderlach) and got to know the Noiachs, we won’t hear from or about them for the rest of the Toirah though we will avada encounter a few more snakes as we move along. And here we are in Parshas Lech Lecho. It’s time to meet Avrohom (Avrom at the time) Oveenu (our forefather) who takes center stage, and we’ll be covering his life in the next three parshiois (weekly readings). Many consider Avrohom to be the first Yid. Was he? Was he the first of the Chosen people, and did the Chosen nation start with him? Moreover, since Avrohom (and all the forefathers) lived well before Yitzyas Mitzrayim (exodus from Egypt) and the giving of the heylige Toirah on Har Sinai—two defining events in our glorious Jewish history, mamish, how can he really be considered Jewish? Was he the first Yid before there were Jewish people, what’s pshat here?
And if he was, was Noiach a goy mamish? And if Noiach was a goy, how was it that his son Shem and other descendants started what was a world famous Yeshiva known as Yeshiva Shem Vo’ever, an institution the medrish talks about quite a bit and the Yeshiva where, as Rashi tells us in a few weeks, Yankif Oveenu was a student for many years? Would parents have sent their kinderlach to a yeshiva run by goyim mamish? Ver veyst? And if Avrohom was the first, why was he the one to be selected? Taka givaldike kashas, no?
Nu, just about now you must be wondering about Noiach and his religion, and didn’t the heylige Toirah tell us just last week that Noiach was a tzadik and that he walked with the RBSO? Ober not to worry, and zicher you’re not the first to be klerring (pondering) over these very same questions, and rest assured that the holy people who wrote the Medrish discussed and came up with many answers, a few of which we’ll talk about right now. Ober ershtens (firstly) some background on Avrohom that mistama the Rebbe skipped over. Nu, some say that when Avrohom was but three years old he looked around at the world of nature with all its perfection, beauty, symmetry, precision, timing, balance, integration, coordination, and unity and concluded that for the world to be designed so perfectly there obviously must be a higher power. Quite the thinker he was at that age. It was then that Avrohom discovered the RBSO.
Another approach: avada people before Avrohom acknowledged the existence of a God, ober their knowledge was based on external information; a tradition passed down, parent to child, since Odom. Avrohom, in contrast, arrived at the knowledge of an existence of a “supreme creator” on his own, without any external information.
Avrohom was taka a monotheist ober was he the first? Ver veyst. Says the Medrish that Avrohom broke his father’s getchkis (idols,) and we read this week that he “built an altar to the RBSO and called on the name of the Lord.” (Bereishis 12:8). But it’s far from clear that he was the first monotheist. In fact, back in the time of Enosh, the son of Shays (Seth, for the goyim readers, our common link back to Adam and Eve), people “began (huchal) to invoke the Lord by name” (4:26). Says Rashi, and who knew more or better: the word ‘huchal’ connotes negatively. In other words, they profaned the idea of the RBSO being the sole and higher power, and avada according to this view, Avrohom was, by definition, the first monotheist. Shoin! Are you halting kup or did I lose you? Avada not everyone agrees with Rashi, though he was taka a genius, and others including Ibn Ezra, Sforno and Unkelos – interpret the word ‘huchal’ favorably, meaning that even before Avrohom, people recognized the existence of one God. And says Unkelos: Noiach also “built an altar to the Lord” (8:20) on which he brought burnt offerings, a form of worship well known in the heylige Toirah. Was Noiach the first Yid?
Some say that Avrohom was quite prolific, and authored a 400-chapter book refuting idolatry. Efsher you can find an older copy on Amazon, ver veyst. And he endured all types of mockery and persecution for holding beliefs that were outside the box for his time, efsher also the first to be politically incorrect. In fact, the Toirah calls him “Avrohom Ha-Ivri” – Avrohom the Hebrew. HA-IVRI translates literally as “the one who stands on the other side.” The entire world stood on one side, with Avrohom standing firm on the other.
Others say that what makes Avrohom unique is not just that he recognized the RBSO, but that he understood the need to go out and share this with others. The Medrish likens spiritual knowledge to a bottle of perfume. If you leave the bottle of perfume corked and sitting in a corner, what good is it? Shem and Ever were like a closed bottle of perfume, off studying in a corner somewhere.
Avrohom went out and taught people about monotheism. He pitched his tent, which was open on all four sides, in the middle of an inter-city highway. Avrohom distinguished himself as being a lover of all humanity. When the RBSO sought to destroy the corrupt city of Sodom for their less than exemplary behavior, if you chap, a topic we’ll zicher cover next week, Avrohom was willing to stand up and argue with the RBSO that they should be spared. He cared about everyone, and viewed himself not as an individual trying to perfect himself, but as the progenitor of a movement to bring the RBSO’s existence into perfect clarity. Some say that his midos (character traits) uniquely qualify him as a role model for all humanity and as the first Yid.
So , was he or wasn’t he the first Yid? Ver veyst. There’s a good chance that Avrohom was the first humanitarian. From all we read, he was seemingly a good man, helped others, saved his nephew Loit, fought with kings, loved his wife, sometimes, at least, married his pilegesh, sent her off, took her back, and left a portion of his riches over to the children (seemingly at least a few) of his concubines. Doesn’t sound like a bad guy, and efsher for all those reasons Avrohom is considered the first Jew.
Others, as would seem logical, posit that Avrohom initially did have the halachic status of a non-Jewish Noahide, but that once he shortened his member, as commanded at the end of the parsha, he entered the covenant with the RBSO, and was considered a full-fledged Yid. His lifetime membership, though somewhat shorter, if you chap, has been passed on for generations since. Less is more, if you chap. However, most disagree and believe that he was never a goy. Shoin: it’s a tradition that Avrohom was the first Yid, and avada we must follow traditions: case closed!
Nu, I promised to refresh your memories about the events leading to Sorai being taken by King Paroy who was duped by Avrom into believing that she was his shvester (sister) and not his wife. How could Avrom tell such a lie and put his eishes chayil into such danger? What taka happened? Lommer lernin.
Avrom first settled in Shechem, but then moved southward. A severe famine induced him to go to Mitzrayim (Egypt- don’t you remember anything?) As they approached Mitzrayim, and worried that the Egyptians would kill him and take his beautiful wife Sorai, Avrom instructed her to say she is his sister, she agrees. Why was he worried? This was to protect him from the Egyptians who might lust after Sorai, and kill him if they were to know that he was her husband.
Why is it necessary for us to know that this discussion transpired as Avrohom and Sorai drew close to their destination? Why, in fact, was an issue of such gravity not discussed prior to their departure from their homeland? Says the Midrash (Tanchuma): as they neared their destination, Avrohom became aware of Sorai’s exceptional beauty. Why didn’t he notice her beauty earlier, ver veyst? And says the medrish: Mitzrayim was a country notorious for the immoral and lascivious behavior of its inhabitants; seemingly he had good reason for concern. Taka a lesson in life: stay away from the beauties; marry for personality, yichus or even wealth!
Can you just imagine trying to convince the eishes chayil to tell some stranger that she’s your sister so that your life can be spared? A nechtiger tug (fat chance, in fact- no chance). In a more believable and realistic scenario, the eishes chayil would be telling the king to shoot the husband dead on the spot: finished and kaput! And if not shoot to kill, she would likely tell him to follow the lead of yet another famous king, Dovid Hamelech who set his eyes on Batsheva, and sent her husband (Uriah) off to the front lines of the raging war, of course, never to be seen or heard from again. No doubt that most wives would rat out their husbands faster than the Rebbe slipped his hands into your pants, if you chap.
Nonetheless, the RBSO was impressed with Avrom’s acumen and chutzpah (moxie), and decided to bequeath him with a nice present: the beautiful land of K’nan. Who the hec needed K’nan. Nu, were he a better and more experienced trader, no doubt he would have requested a trade for a country with oil and gas reserves. Milk and honey? What was he thinking? Perhaps one day we’ll find out.
The ploy apparently worked; Sorai was taken into the king’s palace for the pleasure of the Paroy, minuvil that he was; it’s good to be the king. Avrom is rewarded, and acquires many animals and slaves, what a trade- givaldig! Let’s review: Avrom had a beauty, gave her up for animals and slaves!? Ver ken dus farshteyn (who can understand this trade)? Do his family members generations later work for the New York Jets? Veyter.
The RBSO however, afflicted the palace with a plague, Paroy discovers the lie and sends Sorai packing, and both Avrom and Sorai are expelled from Mitzrayim. Before any nefarious activity took place? We don’t know for sure and zicher this topic was hotly debated. What a strange, strange story on so many levels! What’s p’shat here? We need to dig teeff (deep) to explain why a) this happened, b) Avrom would do this, and efsher ,more importantly, c) why (or if) Sorai agreed or at least acquiesced to it and, d) how did she feel as a married woman getting close to the king’s scepter, if you chap. It’s a himmel gishriy (mamish mind boggling)! The Midrashim are, for the most part, mysteriously quiet on the subject, yikes! None of these questions are answered in the text, nor are they asked, even in the commentary.
One medrish with a very vivid and colorful imagination tells us that the Mitzrim, who were direct descendants of Cush, besides their reputation for being immoral, were known for their very ugly women! That’s why Avrom had to come up with a plan and a backup to smuggle Sorai across the Egyptian border. He instinctively knew that her beauty would bring trouble and he was right. Firstly, he stuffed her into a suitcase with clothes. But he knew that the customs agents would probably force him to open his suitcase. Even if they got across the border, eventually, someone would see her around town. He needed a plan and quick. He told Sorai to say that she was his sister. Just as Avrom predicted, at the border the customs agent noticed how heavy the suitcase was and got suspicious. He ordered Avrom to open the baggage. Avrom announced that he was willing to pay any duty they saw fit as long as he didn’t have to open the suit case.
“What if the suitcase is filled with gold?”, retorted the agent. “The duty will be very high.” “No problem! Just tell me who to make the check out to!” answered Avrom. “But maybe you’ve got precious stones in there! Double duty!” “Don’t worry, “I suspect you’re hiding lots of diamonds! How will you pay duty on all this bling?” They went back and forth all day until the sun was about to set. Finally, the customs agents whipped open the buckles and zipper of the suitcase and discovered socks, shirts, polka dot pajamas, and Sorai! She was so beautiful that her face seemed to glow in the twilight! And how do you like that? Of course, in no time at all, the Egyptian customs agents began to bid on her: “I’ll give you twelve kopeks and a goat!” “How about your own muchin tuchin restaurant?” Finally, the bidding ended as the customs agents realized that Sorai was too beautiful to belong to any commoner. Only Paroy, the king himself, could have this beautiful woman. And so, she was whisked off to the palace. We know the rest of the story, or do we?
The Ramban, however, in his commentary to these events, criticized Avrom’s behavior suggesting that efsher Avrom was lacking in emuna in the RBSO (faith,) and states that Avrom unwittingly sinned greatly, for he put his righteous wife in the position of being a stumbling block leading to wrongdoing because of his fear that he would be killed. You think? He ought to have trusted the RBSO to save him, his wife and all that belonged to him. Besides, how many slaves and animals does one couple need?
Ober said the Radak in rejecting the Ramban’s criticism, in no uncertain terms, that one should not judge until they’ve experienced a similar challenge. Taka very wise words, if only people would adhere to them. He states that it is fitting for any righteous person not to rely on a miracle when in a place of danger, but to protect himself using any device he can. Seemingly Avrom ran out of protection and devices and used Sorai as his foil. Let’s avada also keep in mind that the Chachomim (wise ones) stated that one should not rely on miracles, and when the king comes calling, be ready with a plan. As an aside, it’s avada givist (goes without saying) that an oisvorf like you shouldn’t even think about relying on a miracle from the RBSO, notwithstanding the myriad devices you have in your closet- you minuvil..
The Abarbanel stood up (others of course argue and say he was sitting) and asked: what elevated man would choose life with such terrible dishonor, seeking to benefit himself by having his wife commit adultery with others? At first I thought the Abarbanel was talking directly to you oisvorfs, but halt kup (pay attention), he wasn’t. Rather he was talking about Avrom Oveenu, the first Patriarch. He continues: It would have been more behooving had he chosen death, rather than do such a disgraceful thing. Seemingly, the Abarbanel understood that when the king calls, he also comes!
What do we learn from all of this? First, thank the RBSO that most of you didn’t marry beauties like Sorai, they’re mostly trouble. And for some of you, sadly, the king is not coming or calling. Remember that beauty is only skin deep, but ugliness…..right down to the bones (ok…old joke, couldn’t resist). Rather the heylige Toirah is an open book, just like Avrom’s marriage, about real people and their challenges. Notwithstanding their weaknesses at certain points in their lives (especially after the bris), these were good people, and the RBSO recognized that. Even you oisvorfs have potential. Let’s go find it.
A gitten shabbos….