Parashas Lech-Lecha

This week’s parashah begins the Torah’s account of Avraham Avinu’s career as a servant of Hashem. At the “Covenant Between the Parts,” related in Bereishis Chapter 15, Hashem promises Avraham that his descendants would become a great nation and would inherit the Land of Israel. After reporting some further interchange between Hashem and Avraham, the Torah relates (Bereishis 15:12): “A deep sleep came over Avram, and the terror of a great darkness descended upon him.” The Maggid points out that this is puzzling, for sleep and terror usually do not go hand in hand. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 44:17 explains that Avraham saw during this sleep a vision of what would come upon his descendants over the course of history, and this vision struck him with terror. The Maggid offers a similar explanation, but taking a different direction from the one the Midrash takes.
During the initial stages of Jewish history, the people had prophets living among them, who would rebuke them for their sins. In times of trouble, the prophets would lead the people to repent, and Hashem would grant them relief. But now we no longer have prophets to tell us where we stand and prompt us to repent, and so we go about our lives in a mental fog, as the psalmist Asaf describes (Tehillim 74:9): “For we have not seen the signs of our destiny; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none in our midst who knows what lies in the end.” It is as if we are in a deep sleep. The suffering of exile presses upon us, yet we are not stirred to repent.
It is this spiritual slumber that is presaged in Avraham’s deep sleep. He was standing in Hashem’s Presence and listening to Hashem speak to him, and, then, while Hashem was still speaking, he fell asleep. Avraham was then struck with terror – over the very fact that he fell asleep while Hashem was speaking to him. He realized that this sleep was a sign of what would come upon his descendants, in line with the rule that the experiences of the forefathers are a omen for the descendants (maaseh avos siman la-banim). And He saw clearly what the sign meant: that while Hashem was calling out to us, we would fall asleep – and, as Hashem continued calling, we would continue sleeping.
The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 44:17 remarks that slumber brings degneration, for when a person is slumbering, he neither learns Torah nor does any useful work. The Midrash notes also that Rav listed three types of slumber: ordinary sleep, prophetic trance, and a comatose-like sleep. The Midrash describes this latter form of slumber in terms of the following verse (Shmuel Alef 26:12): “And no one saw, and no one knew, and no one awakened, for a deep sleep from Hashem had fallen upon them.” The Midrash then goes on to mention a fourth type of sleep – the sleep of insanity, which is linked to another passage (Yeshayah 29:9-10): “They were utterly blinded. They were drunk, but not from wine; they staggered, but not from liquor. For Hashem cast upon them a spirit of deep sleep, and He closed your eyes.”
Hashem, as Shlomo HaMelech teaches, is knocking at our door, crying out (Shir HaShirim 5:2): “Open up for Me!” But we pay no attention. We are so sunken in our slumber – a slumber that resembles a comatose-like sleep or a drunken stupor – that we are oblivious to Hashem’s call. Avraham prophetically beheld this state of affairs, and the sight of it struck him with utter terror.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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