Ready to soak up some wisdom from the ex-chief!
Seen just now
The sunset at Rosh Hanikra tonight
Legend says that Abraham passed over the cliffs of Rosh Hanikra on how way to Israel from Mesopotamia.
In this week’s Parsha as Eliezer describes his master’s instructions to Rebecca’s family he quotes Abraham as saying
ויאמר אלי ה’ אשר התהלכתי לפניו ישלח מלאכו אתך והצליח דרכך ולקחת אשה לבני משפחתי ומבית אבי
And he said to me, 'The Lord, before Whom I walked, will send His angel with you and make your way prosper, and you shall take a wife for my son from my family and from my father’s house
This is not the first time in Genesis that the word התהלך has been used to describe the relationship between Abraham and God. In addition to this, the same term has been used to describe other people’s relationship to God.
I’ll be honest, as I’m writing this I have no idea what meaning I expect to find in the similarities and differences of the sources and what lessons can be extrapolated from this. Nevertheless,here’s a comparison!
Musaf Rashi refers us to Rashi’s commentary on Parshat Noah which discusses the difference between Abraham and Noah.
Noah’s relationship is described as as
את האלוקים התהלך נח
Noah walked with God
Here, Rashi comments and says
נח היה צריך סעד לתמכו אבל אברהם היה מתחזק ומהלך בצדקו מאליו
Noah needed God’s help to support him in his righteousness but Abraham strengthened himself and walked in his righteousness by himself.
The Bereishit Rabbah (30:10) explains the difference between Abraham and Noah through the analogy of a young child and an older child. Just like a father tells the smaller child to walk with him, so too Noah walked alongside God as he needed His support. In contrast to this, Abraham as the older child can be more independent and can follow his Father’s instructions without having to walk next to him.
While we understand that Abraham was stronger in his religious convictions than Noah, what does התהלך לפניו really mean?
In Parshat Lech Lecha the same term is used when God speaks to Abraham but in this case, it’s a command.
ויהי אברםבן תשעים שנה ותשע שנים וירא ה’ אל אברם ויאמר אליו אני אל שדי התהלך לפני והיה תמים
And Abram was ninety nine years old and God appeared to Abram. And God said to him, I am the Almighty God, walk before Me and be perfect
Rashi comments on the word התהלך and explains it to mean to cling to the service of God.
This term is used in reference to two more people in Genesis, Enoch and Joseph. Within the short space of two verses, Enoch is described as
ויתהלך חנוך את האלהים
And Enoch walked with God
Rashi explains that Enoch was a righteous man but had a weak mind and could have easily been persuaded to return to evil. In order to prevent this, God shortened his days so that he would remain a righteous person. In the Midrash Enoch is described as פעמים צדיק פעמים רשע sometimes righteous, sometimes evil (Bereishit Rabbah 25:1).
In contrast to this, in Jacob’s final blessing to his sons, he blessed Joseph saying
האלהים אשר התהלכו אבתי לפניו אברהם ויצחק האלהים הרעה אתי מעודי עד היום הזה
God, before Whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, God Who sustained me as long as I am alive, until this day
Sforno comments on the words האלהים אשר התהלכו אבתי and explains it to mean that God should do good for Joseph and fulfil his blessing in the merit of Abraham and Isaac, who walked before God.
The different times this phrase is used demonstrates different levels of commitments to God. Enoch, is at the lowest level as he sometimes does evil and would be very easily persuaded to return to his former ways, Noah is a level higher but needs God’s direct support to ensure he remains on the correct path and Abraham is on the highest level. Abraham not only fulfils God’s command and cleaves to his service of God, but he has strong religious convictions and is not influenced by the pagan forces surrounding him.
In this comparison, Joseph’s blessing appears to be irrelevant. It is not. Joseph’s blessing affirms Abraham’s high level as it is Abraham’s merit that will be invoked for Joseph. Furthermore, in modern times we as a nation can identify with Joseph. We are surrounded by foreign forces who worship different ideas to us; we are different yet we are expected to stand strong and remain Jewish. We are not supposed to be like Enoch who is easily influenced or Noah who is compared to a young child. As descendants of Abraham who have internalized his ‘spiritual DNA’ we aim to resist temptation and cling to God in spite of opposing external influences. In this sense, we are also like Joseph who remained firm in his religious convictions despite the depravity of Egypt.
While we may struggle to battle ideas that are foreign to ours and face a fight externally on a global scale and internally with our evil inclination, we remember Joseph’s blessing which invokes the merit of Abraham and the example of Abraham himself.
May we merit to replicate Abraham and Joseph’s examples and bring משיח במהרב בימינו אמן
Last Thursday I injured my foot while attempting to dance. I foolishly thought it was just a twisted ankle and would go away by itself. By the time Shabbat rolled around it was very swollen and bruised. I still thought it would heal itself. By Monday as the swelling and bruising increased my friends convinced me to go to nearby medical emergency centre even though it was no longer painful.
I explained to the Doctor what had happened and showed him my foot. He prodded it and kept on asking me if it hurt, each time I responded that it didn’t. He then asked me, “When did this happen?”
“Why are you only coming in now?”
“I was up North for a few days, only came home now”
“Well, it doesn’t hurt…why did you come in?”
“Because look at it!”
“Well, what do you want me to do?”
“I don’t know! You’re the doctor, you decide!”
“Do you want an x-ray?”
My foot is x-rayed a few times and about a half hour later another Doctor comes over and tells me I have a minor fracture. She said it’s very possible that some fractures don’t cause much pain at all. A nurse bandages it and tells me to make sure to see an orthopedist later on the week.
Over the next two days my bruising continues to spread but it does not hurt (bh) and I can walk on it.
Today, I visited the orthopedist. As I’m waiting in line at the desk a woman, expecting a walk in appointment enters and begins arguing with one of the receptionist. The woman said she’s been waiting for the receptionist to call her back for over an hour as she wants to see the Doctor when he’s free. The receptionist responds that she hadn’t called her back yet, as people who had booked appointments had arrived and took priority. They continued arguing for a good ten minutes and once the woman finally leaves the receptionist returns to her book, Fifty Shades of Grey.
My insurance and patient information is taken care of and I walk into the Doctor’s office. I show him my foot and he also begins prodding it and asking if it hurts. Again I say that it does not. Once again….
“Well, why are you here if it doesn’t hurt?”
“The doctors at the medical emergency centre told me to see an orthopaedist”
“If someone told you to go to Ireland right now, would you listen to them?”
No joke. That is actually what happened.
I managed to convince him to look at my x-rays and he said from one angle it looks like it might be fractured and from another it might not but he couldn’t give me a definite answer.
All in all, I’ve decided not to worry about it. If the bruising doesn’t go away within a week I’ll get it looked at again. But, I still think the Doctors in this country are hilarious…frustrating, but hilarious!
When I told my mother these stories she warned me that this is what I should expect when I make Aliyah, and that maybe I should consider my decision. I told her, Aliyah is most definitely still worth it, especially when the Doctors are such a good source of comedy!
Unfortunately I didn’t have the time this week I wrote a proper Dvar Torah this week….and for very good reasons too!
I was at 3 weddings and one Sheva brachot this week that seriously ate up my free time! I’m honored to be able to be part of the important mitzvah of משמח חתן וכלה.
Also, this week I’m able to fulfill one of the things HaShem commanded Abraham. HaShem tells Abraham
קום התהלך בארץ [לראות] ארכה ורחבה
Get up and walk through the land did Israel, see her length and her width.
This Shabbat I’m staying in tzfat, I’ve been hiking the Galil and trying to experience as much of Israel as I can - I’m working my way from east to west and north to south.
Shabbat shalom from the holy city of tzfat
שבת שלום ומבורך
בן ישראל שדר בחוצה לארץ דומה כמי שאין לו אלוה
A Jew that lives outside of Israel is like a person that doesn’t have a God
Abraham and Noah: A contrast
This week’s Parsha famously begins
אלה תולדות נח נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדורותיו את האלוקים התהלך בנוח
These are the generations of Noah, Noah was a righteous man he was perfect in his generations; Noah walked with God.
Rashi comments on the words “he was perfect in his generations” that
לפי דורו היה צדיק, ואלו היה בדורו של אברהם לא היה נחשב לכלום
Others interpret it derogatorily: In comparison with his generation he was righteous, but if he had been in Abraham’s generation, he would not have been considered of any importance. — [Sanh. 108a, Gen. Rabbah 30:9, Tan. Noach 5]:
The Baal Haturim explains the same idea through gematria. The words תמים היה have a gematria of 20. He contends that for the 20 generations between Adam and Abraham he was considered righteous but within Abraham’s generation, he would not be considered righteous.
Furthermore the Midrash explains
אמר ר’ אבא בר כהנא כי נחמתי כי עשיתים ונח מצא חן אתהמא אלא אפי’ נח שנשתייר מהם לא שהיה כדאי אלא שמצא חן
(בראשית רבה פכ”ח)
Noah really was not worthy of being saved from the flood. The only reason he was saved was because he found some sort of favour in God’s eyes. Essentially, this Midrash places a limit on Noah’s position as a righteous man in his generation.
Moreover, Rashi on the last word of the Parsha discusses the existence of a Nun Hafucha (a upside down nun) on the word חרן. (This nun is no longer seen in our versions of the text).
הנו”ן הפוכה, לומר לך עד אברם היה חרון אף של מקום בעולם:
The “nun” of חָרָן is inverted, to tell you that until Abram [appeared], the wrath of the Omnipresent was kindled (חֲרוֹן). [The inverted “nun” symbolizes the change from Divine anger to Divine mercy.] — [based on Sifrei, Ha’azinu 311]
This Rashi also invalidates Noah’s position as a righteous person as he was not able to help abate God’s anger. Furthermore, as only Abraham was able to do this it once again provides a contrast between the two of them. This one again demonstrates that Noah was not saved because of his value as a “righteous man”, rather just because of his חן.
The fundamental difference between Abraham and Noah is that Abraham was concerned for the welfare of the people in his generation and Noah was not. Throughout the entire story of the Ark, not once does Noah protest and pray for God to save the world. The text simply reads
ויעש נח בבל אשר צוה אתו אלוקים כן עשה
And Noah did everything God commanded him to do, so he did
ויעש נח כל אשר צוהו ה’
And Noah did everything God commaned him
In contrast to this, Abraham continued to pray to God to try and save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
ויגש אברהם ויאמר האף תספה צדיק עם רשע
Abraham came forward and said will You sweep away the innocent with the guilty?
This theme continues until the end of the chapter with Abraham bargaining with God to save the people of Sodom.
The Alshich and the Zohar quoted by Nechama Leibovitz explain that it is this difference in response that creates the chasm between Abraham and Noah, where Abraham is a righteous man and Noah is not. The response of Noah continues to be viewed as a negative thing throughout Tanakh. This is exemplified by a verse in this week’s Haftorah.
כי מי נח זאת לי אשר נשבעתי מעבור מי נח עוד על הארץ כן נשבעתי מקצף עליך ומגער בך
For this to Me is like the waters of Noah as I swore that the waters of Noah nevermore would flood the earth, so I swear that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you.
Rabbi Nebenzahl questions why the flood waters are called the waters of Noah. God is the one who decided to flood the world, why is Noah being blamed? The flood is called the waters of Noah because Noah did not even try to save the world and the people in his generation. As a result of this, it is as if the flood is his fault.
However, how can a human, even a righteous man like Abraham argue with God? Humans are finite, God is infinite, God has a master plan that humans cannot even begin to comprehend. What right does mere man have to debate God?
Rav Soloveitchik explains,
“The individual who frees himself from the rational principle and who casts off the yoke of objective thought will in the end turn destructive…’out of the depths I have called unto Thee O Lord’ (Psalms 130:1). Out of the straits of inner oppositions and incongruities, spiritual doubts and uncertainties, our of the depths of a psyche rent with antimonies and contradictions, out of the bottomless pit of a soul that struggles with its own torments I have called, I have called unto Thee O Lord”.
(Rav Soloveitchik Notes to P. 4 Halakhic Man)
Everyone has problems, doubts and conflicts within their religious experience. As humans, we cannot understand God’s plan, decisions and actions. However, there is no reason why we cannot discuss this with this God, call out to him and try to search for answer.
Ultimately, like Abraham we should protest respectfully when we think we see injustices in the world. It is this quality that makes Abraham the epitome of a Tzaddik and Noah’s silence that delegitimizes him. May we all have the courage to speak up when we see immorality and injustice and in our prayers receive clear answers from God.
Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem
The view from the Begin Heritage Centre in Jerusalem. I didn’t actually have the opportunity to enter the museum as I was there for a BM but it’s definitely on my list.
Jewish Sherlock memes!