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Wednesday
Oct312018

ABRAHAM’S SUCCESS STORY

A CRYPTIC MIDRASH

When the Torah discusses the marriage of Yitzchak to Rivka, it prefaces the entire narrative with the words:

“Abraham was old, well on in years [literally: “he came with his days”]; and G-d blessed Abraham with everything.”

A cryptic Midrashic source states: “This is the meaning of the verse, ’I am G-d your G-d who has taken you out of the Land of Egypt.’”

What connection is there between G-d blessing Abraham “with everything” and the first of the Ten Commandments, in which G-d declares His role as the liberator of the Jewish people from the Land of Egypt?

To decipher the enigmatic comment of the Midrash, we must read this verse in context. The Torah states that “Abraham was old, well on with his days and G-d had blessed him with everything.” This verse is then followed by Abraham’s instructions to his servant Eliezer to travel to Abraham’s homeland and find a wife for his son, Yitzchak.

Commentators have asked what is the connection between Abraham being blessed with everything and his sending Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak?

ABRAHAM’S DEPTH, BREADTH AND LENGTH

We can answer this question by reflecting on the fact that Abraham had a threefold goal in life, which paralleled the three dimensions of depth, breadth and length:

First, Abraham strove to reach the heights of love for G-d. Abraham is credited with reaching his spiritual potential. This is the deeper meaning of the words “he came with his days.” Every day of his life was filled with meaning and purpose. Here Abraham delved deeper into his soul to realize its full potential. His was a huge success story when it came to spiritual growth.

Second, Abraham’s life’s mission was not just focused on himself. He reached out to others, teaching them to believe in one G-d and follow the paths of righteousness and justice. According to our Sages, Abraham and Sarah attracted and converted thousands of souls to a monotheistic, moral and ethical lifestyle. In this regard, Abraham took on the challenge of broadening his influence. He was eminently successful.

Abraham was now ready for the third and arguably most important goal of his life.

Once Abraham mastered the depth and breadth of his soul’s potential, he was ready for the next dimension and challenge: to extend his legacy to the next generation, leading inexorably to the Revelation at Sinai. Abraham was focused on the future in his role as the progenitor of a family, the rootstock of a nation that would receive the Torah. Abraham foresaw a day when his progeny would stand at the foot of Mount Sinai and hear the words, “I am G-d your G-d who has taken you out of the Land of Egypt,” as they reverberated throughout the world. This experience set the foundation for the rest of Jewish history, leading ultimately to the Messianic Age.

THREE LESSONS FOR OUR TIME

Our Sages teach us that what happened to the Patriarchs contains an important lesson for us, their progeny. This is particularly true as we stand so close to completing Abraham’s goal of bringing the world to a state of perfection, with the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.

The lesson here is that we, too, have to be goal-oriented in these three dimensions.

We must delve more deeply into our soul to discover its hidden power. This includes delving more deeply into the teachings of the Torah to constantly find new vistas of Torah knowledge. [See the Rebbe’s talk in Seifer HaSichos 5752, Parshas Lech Lecha.]

We must also reach out (or; more accurately, reach in) across the breadth of all that separates us, to those in our sphere of influence to help them mine their hidden potential in all areas of Judaism.

And finally, we must place extraordinary attention on the length of time, the future, i.e., our children, and focus on the ultimate goal: bringing Moshiach.

REACHING THE NUMBER 50

Another approach to deciphering the cryptic Midrash which connects the opening statement of the Ten Commandments [“I am G-d your G-d…”] to the words “G-d blessed Abraham with everything” can be offered based on the question posed by a great philosopher and poet, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, directed to the Ibn Ezra: Why, in the Ten Commandments, does the Torah describe G-d as the Liberator and not as the Creator? Having created the universe ex nihilo is a far greater feat than redemption of the Jewish nation from bondage.

It may be suggested that the foregoing Midrash is proposing an answer to this question by connecting the Ten Commandments and the Exodus to the verse “G-d blessed Abraham with everything.” The word for “with everything” in Hebrew is ba-Kol. The numerical value of the word kol is 50, which alludes to the 50 gates of holiness and understanding of the Divine.

The number 50 is key to understanding the significant difference between G-d as Creator and G-d as Liberator. G-d as Creator endows us with a world that cannot go beyond the 49 gates of understanding; 49 is the number that represents the extent to which one can rise within the confines of the world of nature.

To explain: The world was created in seven days, corresponding to the seven emotional traits that make up the natural world. The Zohar translates the verse, “Six days G-d made heaven and earth” not as “in” six days, but “with” six days, i.e., six emotional Divine attributes or instruments that G-d created and vested in the world. (The seventh attribute is responsible for the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week.) There is no room in this lowly world to go beyond seven; after the week is over, nature begins a new cycle of seven. It’s like trying to go to the end of the universe. One cannot go outside of the physical universe. The universe, by definition, is finite; only G-d is infinite.

When G-d liberated the Jewish people from Egypt, it was a great miracle because a nation enslaved for centuries was able to subdue their Egyptian masters and reach freedom. But, even as great as the emancipation of the Hebrew slaves was, the Exodus represented a far greater achievement. It introduced a new dynamic into the world of nature; the Exodus allowed the world to break through the walls of the universe and touch the infinite Divine.

At the Exodus itself, G-d revealed His transcendent, supernatural self. After counting seven weeks, 7 days x 7, the freed slaves were finally able to reach the 50th and final gate of understanding, which transcends the parameters of nature. This was revealed to, and internalized by, the Jewish people through the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, after they finished counting 49 days from the Exodus.

Hence, when G-d introduces Himself to the Jewish people and instills His presence into their souls with the words, “I am G-d Your G-d…,” He refers not to His role as the Creator of nature, but as the generator of the potential to break out of the confines of nature.

HAVING EVERYTHING

This is what the word kol, with the gematria of 50, represents. Where did the process of rising above nature begin? The seeds were sown when G-d blessed Abraham with kol; the incipient energy of kol; the potential of attaining the 50th level. Indeed, the simple meaning of kol-everything points in that direction. There is always something missing from the realm of nature. Nature, by its very nature, is finite and temporal. Only when one is endowed with the power of kol can one touch the infinite and the realm of perfection.

This approach is consistent with Rashi’s comment that the word ba-kol is the numerical value of ben-a son. In which way did G-d’s supernatural presence manifest itself in Abraham’s life? It occurred when he was blessed with a son at the age of 100, which demonstrated his connection to a supernatural dynamic Divine force.

Although Abraham was already blessed with kol, it was just the beginning of his blessings. The power of rising above nature became a fixture of Jewish life with the Exodus and the subsequent revelation at Mount Sinai. However, exile conditions cloud our awareness of the incredible power we possess; only every now and then does G-d expose some of His infinite light. In the Messianic Age, consciousness of His light will pervade the entire world.

This too is hinted in the word kol. The Talmud (Bava Basra 16b) notes that the word kol is used in the Torah with regard to all three of our Patriarchs, each of whom G-d gave a taste of the World-to-Come. In the case of Abraham, it says ba-kol. In the case of Yitzchak is says mikol and with respect to Yaakov it says kol. Adding these three references to kol yields the number 192 which, according to the Chasam Sofer (in his commentary on that Talmudic passage), is the gematria of the word “kabetz-gather,” an allusion to the ingathering of the Jewish people in the Messianic Era.

This process of ingathering began with Abraham’s sending Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak and will culminate imminently with the revelation of Moshiach, who embodies the qualities of all three Patriarchs and who is connected to the dynamic of the 50 gates of understanding.

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