Lech Lecha תשפא
This week’s portion introduces us to our Forefather Avraham.
Maimonides (Laws of Idol Worship 1:3) tells us of Avraham’s beginning and his greatness.
ג) כיון שנגמל איתן זה התחיל לשוטט בדעתו והוא קטן והתחיל לחשוב ביום ובלילה והיה תמיה היאך אפשר שיהיה הגלגל הזה נוהג תמיד ולא יהיה לו מנהיג ומי יסבב אותו, כי אי אפשר שיסבב את עצמו, ולא היה לו מלמד ולא מודיע דבר אלא מושקע באור כשדים בין עובדי כוכבים הטפשים ואביו ואמו וכל העם עובדי כוכבים והוא עובד עמהם ולבו משוטט ומבין עד שהשיג דרך האמת והבין קו הצדק מתבונתו הנכונה, וידע שיש שם אלוה אחד והוא מנהיג הגלגל והוא ברא הכל ואין בכל הנמצא אלוה חוץ ממנו, וידע שכל העולם טועים ודבר שגרם להם לטעות זה שעובדים את הכוכבים ואת הצורות עד שאבד האמת מדעתם, ובן ארבעים שנה הכיר אברהם את בוראו,
Avraham Avinu realized that there must be Hashem at the tender age of three years old. As he looked at the solar system he wondered, “How does this system work? Who is operating it? It can’t possibly operate itself! There must be a creator who controls it.” He had no one to teach him, and he and his parents and all the people of Ur Kasdim were immersed in idol worship, but he was always searching for the truth. Through clear and logical thinking, he finally arrived at the truth. There must be one G-d who controls the whole system; He created everything, and there is nothing but Him. Avraham was forty years of age when he came to recognize Hashem and all of His attributes.
Avraham was called (Genesis 14:13)אברהם העברי – The Ivri. The Midrash explains that עבר means a side. Avraham was on one side of the world, alone, and the entire world was against him, on the other side. This was when Nimrod convinced the entire civilized world to rebel against Hashem and build the Tower of Bavel. Although Shem and Eber were around and actually had a Yeshiva, they kept to themselves and did not oppose Nimrod. His sole opposition was Avraham.
Once Avraham realized the truth of Hashem, he didn’t keep it to himself. Rather, he set out to teach the entire world about Hashem and explain to them why they should abandon their idols and serve Hashem.
כיון שהכיר וידע התחיל להשיב תשובות על בני אור כשדים ולערוך דין עמהם ולומר שאין זו דרך האמת שאתם הולכים בה ושיבר הצלמים והתחיל להודיע לעם שאין ראוי לעבוד אלא לאלוה העולם ולו ראוי להשתחוות ולהקריב ולנסך
Once Avraham came to this conclusion, he started debating with the people of Ur Kasdim to teach them the true path to follow. He broke all the idols and began telling the people that it is inappropriate to serve them; rather, they should serve Hashem, Master of the universe, instead. To Him they should bow and bring sacrifices and libations.
Because of this, Nimrod, tried to kill Avraham by throwing him into a burning fire from which Hashem miraculously saved him.
In his book Guide to the Perplexed (Section 3 chapter 29), Maimonides mentions an ancient civilization called the “Tzaba” who wrote about Avraham Avinu in their history books. Because they were translated into Arabic, Maimonides could understand them. He quotes what they said about Avraham Avinu in their books.
ידוע ש’אברהם אבינו’ ע”ה גדל באמונת הצאבה ודעתם, שאין אלוה רק הכוכבים. וכשאודיעך בפרק הזה ספריהם הנמצאים עתה בידינו, אשר נעתקו ללשון הערב, ודברי הימים שלהם הקדומים, ואגלה לך דעתה מהם ועניניהם, יתבאר לך אמרם בבאור, שהכוכבים הם האלוהות ושהשמש הוא האלוה הגדול. וכן אמרו עוד, ששאר הכוכבים החמישה – אלוהות, אבל שני המאורים הם יותר גדולים. ותמצאם אומרים בבאור, שהשמש הוא אשר ינהיג העולם העליון והשפל – בזה הלשון אמרוהו:
It is known that Avraham Avinu grew up Kuta, where the people believed in the Tzaba religion. They believe that the only gods are the celestial beings. All the planets are gods, but the sun, which is the biggest, is the god that controls the world. They talk about Avraham Avinu in their books. Here is what they said about him.
אמנם אברהם, שגדל בכותא, כשחלק עם ההמון ואמר שיש שם עושה בלתי השמש, טענו עליו בכך וכך; וזכרו בטענותיהם מה שהוא מבואר נגלה מפעולות השמש במציאות, ואמר להם – רצונם לומר, אברהם – צדקתם, הוא כגרזן ביד החוצב בו. וסוף הענין ההוא זכרו שהמלך שם אותו בבית הכלא, ושהוא התמיד לטעון עליהם ימים רבים – והוא בבית כלאו. ואחר כן פחד המלך שיפסיד עליו ממלכתו וישיב בני אדם מאמונתם, ויגרשו המלך לקצה המזרח, אחר שלקח כל אשר לו.
“However, Avraham, who grew up in Kuta, argued with everyone and said that there is a force behind the sun. They (the Tzaba) argued against him with different forms of evidence from the obvious way the sun works. Avraham said to them. ‘You are correct; however, it is all like an axe in the hands of a woodchopper who controls the ax.’”
In the end, they tell how the king imprisoned Avraham because of his beliefs, but he continued to convince people from his prison cell, and because the king was afraid of losing his kingdom because of him, he banished him to the far east after taking all that he had from him.
The Midrash describes Avraham’s discovery of Hashem as follows.
מדרש רבה בראשית – פרשה לט פסקה א
אמר רבי יצחק משל לאחד שהיה עובר ממקום למקום וראה בירה אחת דולקת אמר תאמר שהבירה זו בלא מנהיג הציץ עליו בעל הבירה אמר לו אני הוא בעל הבירה כך לפי שהיה אבינו אברהם אומר תאמר שהעולם הזה בלא מנהיג הציץ עליו הקב”ה ואמר לו אני הוא בעל העולם
Rabbi Yitzchak said, it’s comparable to one who was travelling from one place to another when he saw a mansion on fire. He marveled, “Is it possible that this mansion has no owner?” The owner of the mansion then peeked out at him and told him, “I am the owner of the mansion!” Similarly, Avraham wondered, “How can the world work without anyone to control it?” Hashem peeked out at him and told him, “I am the Master of the world!”
What did Avraham see in the “burning mansion,” theבירה דולקת , that made him realize that Hashem was behind the scenes running the world?
When looking at the burning mansion, Avraham realized that for a fire to burn, there must be fuel. Although the flame of a burning candle looks so solid, and looks like it will last forever, we know that the moment that the fuel runs out, the flame will go out. This is because the flame that we observe now is the product of the fuel that gave existence to the flame a second ago. When there is no more fuel, the flame must go out.
The idea that something requires constant fuel to operate is nothing new to us. Most commonly, we experience this phenomenon with electric appliances. We know that for the pixels on our screen to light up, electricity must flow to them from an electrical source, either an outlet or the battery. When the plug is pulled, or the battery dies and there is no electricity to power the pixels, they all go dead. We experience this phenomenon most acutely when there is a power outage. We call it a blackout, because there are no lights lit anywhere.
In Avraham’s day, the only visible manifestation of something needing constant fuel was a flame; and from it, Avraham understood that the world at large must also have a source of power keeping it going. Nothing can create itself and power itself, so what is the source of the world and what keeps it going day after day?
There is yet another explanation of the בירה דולקת that Avraham saw. In this explanation, the word דולקת means chasing or running after. When Laban chased after his son-in-law Yaakov to annihilate him, Yaakov asked him (Genesis 31:37),
וַיֹּאמֶר לְלָבָן מַה פִּשְׁעִי מַה חַטָּאתִי כִּי דָלַקְתָּ אַחֲרָי
“What sin did I commit that you chased after me?”
In this context, Avraham saw a world that was headed somewhere. There was a purpose for its creation. If there is a purpose, there must be a creator with a mission for the world. Who is He, and what is the purpose of the world?
Realizing that there must be a Master and Creator, Avraham sought Hashem so intensely that Hashem appeared to him and created a relationship with him.
Avraham so loved Hashem that he made it his life’s goal to convince every person on the face of the earth to leave idol worship and serve Hashem only. He had a simple and logical strategy of how to get people to recognize and believe in Hashem: Avraham emulated Hashem! And through his every action, he demonstrated Hashem’s kind and loving ways.
To this end, Avraham built a five-star hotel at a busy crossroads and offered the best accommodations and food to any passerby. When at the end of their stay they thanked him and offered to pay him, he would tell them, “You owe me nothing! You owe our real host, Hashem. We are all guests in His world, and He provides for our every need.” In this way, through his kindness, he brought people to appreciate Hashem’s great kindness to them. If someone did not thank Avraham for his hospitality, he didn’t bother with him. He knew that if a person thinks he has everything coming to him, he will never acknowledge Hashem’s blessings to him.
The other way that Avraham demonstrated Hashem’s goodness to the world was by keeping all the laws of the Torah (even though it hadn’t yet been given!). The Torah tells us, (Genesis 26:5):
(ה) עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקֹלִי וַיִּשְׁמֹר מִשְׁמַרְתִּי מִצְוֹתַי חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי
5) (I will bless you, Yitzchak) because Avraham obeyed my voice and observed My safeguards (Rabbinic laws instituted to safeguard the commandments), My commandments (logical laws), My decrees (laws we do not understand), and My Torahs (Written and Oral).
This list includes all the commandments in the Torah as well as the Rabbinic safeguards. In this way, Avraham modeled a Godly way of life for all to see. Those who saw Avraham could have no doubt about Hashem’s agenda for man based on the Torah’s laws and decrees that they saw through Avraham.
The Midrash (Tanchuma Vayigash 11) asks, “From where did Avraham learn the Torah?” Rabbi Levi answers, “He learned it by himself.”
ומהיכן למד אברהם את התורה? ר’ לוי אמר מעצמו למד את התורה
But, where did he see the Torah? In the world around him. My late teacher, Rabbi Moshe Shapiro ,זצ”ל would explain it like this:
The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (5:1) teaches us that Hashem created the world with ten pronouncements. Yet only nine times in creation does the Torah say, ויאמר אלקים – “And Hashem said.” The answer is that the first word “Bereshit” also counts as a pronouncement. Through these ten pronouncements Hashem created the general categories of creations in the world, and within these general categories were pronouncements for every object in the world!
This is why the word for an object inלשון הקודש (The Holy Language) is a דבר – davar. Davar comes from the word dibur which means speech. What does an object have to do with speech? The answer is that each item in the world represents aדבור – an utterance from Hashem that created it and continues to sustain it.
The Sages derive from the verse in Psalms (119:89),
(פט) לְעוֹלָם יְדֹוָד דְּבָרְךָ נִצָּב בַּשָּׁמָיִם
89) Forever, Hashem, your word remains firm in the heavens,
that the original words that Hashem spoke – so to speak – to create the world and everything in it, are still extant, giving every creation its continued existence.
The Midrash tells us that Hashem put the recipes that He used to create the world into a book called ספר היצירה – The Book of Creation, and subsequently hid the recipes in the Torah.
אוצר המדרשים – פסיקתא חדתא דרוש לחג הפסח עמוד 487
וכשברא הקב”ה עולמו ברא ספר יצירה וצפה בו וממנו ברא עולמו כיון שסיים מלאכתו הניחו בתורה והראה לו לאברהם ספר יצירה ולא הבין בו דבר יצאה בת קול ואמרה האתה רוצה לדמות דעתך עם דעתי כלום אינך יכול להבין בו יחידי לך אצל שם ועבר הלך אצל שם ועבר והביטו בו ג’ שנים עד שידעו לצור עולם
When Hashem created His world, He created the “Book of Creation,” looked into it, and from it created His world. Once He finished His work, He placed it into the Torah and showed it to Avraham, who couldn’t understand one word of it. A voice came from heaven and said, “Do you want to understand my thinking? You can’t understand it alone, go to Shem and Eber!” He went to them, and they studied it for three years until they knew how to create a world.
The Talmud tells us (Sanhedrin 65b):
רבא ברא גברא שדריה לקמיה דרבי זירא הוה קא משתעי בהדיה ולא הוה קא מהדר ליה אמר ליה מן חבריא את הדר לעפריך רבי חנינא ורב אושעיא הוו יתבי כל מעלי שבתא ועסקי בספר יצירה ומיברו להו עיגלא תילתא ואכלי ליה
Rava created a man and sent it to Rabbi Zeira. Rabbi Zeira started talking to it, but it couldn’t respond. (Because only Hashem can put a soul into a person, and the power of speech comes from the soul, it couldn’t speak.) Rabbi Zeira concluded it must have been sent by Rava so he said, “You must be from my friend, return to dust!”
Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Oshia would dabble in the Book of Creation every Shabbat eve, and create a choice piece of beef and eat it on Shabbat.
The ספר היצירה – Book of Creation exists today, and Avraham Avinu is credited as the author. Rabbi Akiva is said to have edited it, but the original author is Avraham Avinu.
Putting it all together, the recipes for the creation of the world are in the Book of Creation and those recipes are also hidden in the Torah. This concept is included in the following teaching of the Zohar.
קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא אִסְתָּכַּל בְּאוֹרַיְיתָא, וּבָרָא עָלְמָא
Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world.
In this sense, the Torah is the blueprint for the world, for everything in the world has its source in a word in the Torah.
An architect creates a blueprint for the builder to follow when constructing a house. What if after the structure was built the blueprint was lost or destroyed? If the house is still standing, since it was built following the original blueprint, the original blueprint can easily be recreated using the existing building to determine what was in it.
This is how Avraham learned all the laws of the Torah. He “read” the world, and from it figured out the blueprint, the Torah.
Knowing how Hashem created the world gave Avraham an irrefutable proof against the Tzaba people who maintained that the world always existed and had no creator. He could easily prove to them that the world was created by simply creating something.
Two people wander deep into a jungle where they happen upon what looks like a crude hut; a few logs put together to enclose a small area. One of them marvels at how the logs happened to fall together such that it actually looks like someone could have made it. With no humans around, it must be the product of a coincidence. The other says, “Don’t be silly, if it looks like it was made by a person, it was made by a human!”
The argument continued until one of them picked up a tubular object. On inspection he noticed there was something inside of it. What he pulled out was the blueprint of the crude hut that they had discovered. You could see the walls drawn as they appeared in the building. Of course, the blueprint ended the argument on the spot! From the blueprint you see clearly that thought and planning went into the construction of the hut. There is no other option.
In the same way, from the Torah we know that Hashem created the world. The recipes for creation are in the Torah, and the Sages of the Talmud knew how to follow them and create things.
There are many stories of Sages of old creating a person with the Sefer HaYetzira. The most famous being the “golem” of Progue created by the Maharal – R. Yehudah Loeb b. R. Bezalel (1520-1609). (Because, by definition, the creature had no soul, it was called a גולם golem, which means a crude creation.)
Although the Sefer HaYetzira exists today, there are no Sages alive today who are capable of using it to create things. But, just knowing that it was possible is an irrefutable proof to the truth of the Torah and its account of creation, since the Torah is the blueprint for the earth.