Rabbi David Etengoff
Dedicated to the sacred memories of my mother, Miriam Tovah bat Aharon Hakohen, father-in-law, Levi ben Yitzhak, sister-in-law, Ruchama Rivka Sondra bat Yechiel, sister, Shulamit bat Menachem, Yehonatan Binyamin ben Mordechai Meir Halevi, Shoshana Elka bat Avraham, and the Pittsburgh Kedoshim, the refuah shlaimah of Yakir Ephraim ben Rachel Devorah, Mordechai ben Miriam Tovah, Yitzchak Moshe Alexander ben Chayeh Sarah, and the safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world.
Our parasha contains a crucial narrative in the lives of the Avot (Patriarchs) – a famine in the Land of Israel, and Isaac’s initial desire to follow in his father’s footsteps and travel to Egypt to avoid starvation. In this instance, however, Hashem reveals himself to Isaac and commands him to remain in Eretz Yisrael: “And the L-rd appeared to him, and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land that I will tell you.’” (Sefer Bereishit 26:2, this and all Bible and Rashi translations, The Judaica Press Complete Tanach) In addition to Hashem’s command to “dwell in the land that I will tell you,” He proclaims that Isaac will have numerous offspring, and that the covenant made with Abraham will be fulfilled through him:
Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and I will bless you, for to you and to your children will I give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham, your father. And I will multiply your children like the stars of the heavens, and I will give your children all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will bless themselves by your children. (26:3-4, emendations my own)
The Torah often refrains from providing a rationale for future events. In our case, however, Hashem explicitly tells Isaac the precise reason why he will receive these multiple berachot (blessings): “Because Abraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge (mishmarti), My commandments (mitzvotai), My statutes (chuchotai), and My instructions (torotai).” (26:5)
Rashi explains each of our terms in the following manner:
Mishmarti: [Referring to] decrees to distance [himself] from transgressing the warnings in the Torah, e.g. secondary prohibitions to prevent incest from occurring, and the Rabbinic decrees to safeguard the prohibitions of the Sabbath.
Mitzvotai: [Referring to] things, which, had they not been written, would have been fit to be commanded, e.g. [prohibitions against] robbery and bloodshed.
Chuchotai: [Referring to] things that the evil inclination and the nations of the world argue against, e.g. [the prohibitions against] eating pork and wearing garments of wool and linen for which no reason [is given], but [which are] the decree of the King and His statutes over His subjects.
Torotai: To include the Oral Law, the laws given to Moses from Sinai.
Rashi’s analysis is based upon a variety of Rabbinic sources that maintain that Abraham fulfilled the entire Torah, up to and including Rabbinic decrees and enactments – many generations before it was given at Mount Sinai. By way of illustration:
Rab said: “Our father Abraham kept the entire Torah, as it is said: ‘Because Abraham hearkened to My voice [kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My instructions].’” (Sefer Bereishit 26:5) …Raba or R. Ashi said: “Abraham, our father, kept even the law concerning the eruv tavshilin as it is said: ‘My Torahs:’ one being the Written Torah, the other the Oral Torah.” (Talmud Bavli, Yoma 28b, translation, The Soncino Talmud, with my emendations to enhance clarity)
At this juncture, we may well ask, “Why did Abraham fulfill the Torah if he was not commanded to do so?” My rebbe and mentor, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zatzal (1903-1993), known as “the Rav” by his students and followers, guides us toward an answer:
In many respects, G-d was closer to Abraham than He was to Moses. An intangible feeling of tenderness lingers over the relationship of G-d to Abraham. There is the creative ardor, moving devotion and a lack of tension. All that G-d requests of Abraham is destined to promote the latter’s happiness and greatness. (The Emergence of Ethical Man, Michael S. Berger, page 155)
The Rav notes that Abraham acquired the moral law, and I believe, by extension, the Halacha, through “the mahazeh, the prophetic vision, not the royal decree [as in the case of Moses].” He continues this theme by suggesting, “There is no imposition of divine authority… Only a bilateral covenant, which binds both man and G-d, was concluded.” According to the Rav, Abraham was Hashem’s friend; thus, once Abraham received his divine prophetic visions, he did everything in his power to comply with the Almighty’s every request:
G-d addresses Himself to Abraham not in the commanding, authoritative tone of the L-rd but in the comradely, friendly manner of a fellow wanderer. He [G-d] wants a covenant with him. G-d, as it were, is lonesome and He is anxious to find a companion. Fellowship between G-d and man is the motto of Abraham’s life. (154-155, all brackets and underlining my own)
Rav Soloveitchik’s statement that “G-d, as it were, is lonesome and He is anxious to find a companion” is a theological tour de force, teaching us that as much as we wish to encounter Hashem and draw close to Him, He, too, longs for the Jewish people’s embrace. In many ways, this concept is reminiscent of the first stanza of the stirring liturgical poem, “Yedid Nefesh,” that is often sung in Ashkenazi synagogues during Kabbalat Shabbat, and at Shalosh Seudot:
Beloved of the soul (yedid nefesh), Compassionate Father, draw Your servant to Your Will, then Your servant will hurry like a hart to bow before Your majesty; to him Your friendship will be sweeter than the dripping of the honeycomb and any taste. (Translation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yedid_Nefesh#Text)
May we ever strive to emulate Avraham Avinu (our father, Abraham) as we reach out to Hashem, our Yedid Nefesh, with heartfelt tefilot (prayers) and dedication to His holy Torah. V’chane yihi ratzon.
Past drashot may be found at my blog-website: http://reparashathashavuah.org
They may also be found on http://www.yutorah.org/ using the search criteria of Etengoff and the parasha’s name.
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*** My audio shiurim for Women on the topics of Tefilah and Tanach may be found at: http://tinyurl.com/8hsdpyd
*** I have posted 164 of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s English language audio shiurim (MP3 format) spanning the years 1958-1984. Please click on the highlighted link.
Talmid of Rabbi Soloveitchik zatzal