Parashas Lech-Lecha

This week’s parashah begins the Torah’s discussion of the life of Avraham Avinu. In particular, it discuss the “Covenant Between the Parts,” where Hashem tells Avraham that He is going to grant Eretz Yisrael to his descendants. Avraham asks (Bereshis 15:8): “My Lord, God, through what will I know that I will inherit it?” Various commentators analyze why Avraham asked this question. Here, however, we will focus on Avraham’s addressing Hashem as “My Lord.” The Gemara states (Berachos 7b):
Said R. Shimon bar Yochai: “From the day the Holy One Blessed Be He created the world, no one called Him ‘Lord,’ until Avraham came and called Him ‘Lord,’ as it is written: ‘And he said, “My Lord, through what will I know that I will inherit it?”’” Said Rav: “Moreover, Daniel was answered only on account of Avraham. Daniel prayed (Daniel 9:17): ‘And now, our God, heed the prayer and supplications of Your servant, and cause Your countenance to shine upon Your desolate sanctuary, for the sake of my Lord.’ He should have said: ‘for Your sake.’ Rather, he was saying: ‘For the sake of Avraham, who called You “My Lord.”’”
The Maggid brings out the idea of this teaching with a parable. A nobleman inherited a city to rule over, but, having no prior familiarity with politics, he knew nothing about the matters one must deal with in running a city, such as setting regulations and collecting taxes. Someone approached the nobleman offering advice, and this man explained all these matters to him. In line with this advice, the nobleman instituted a tax law requiring each resident to pay a certain sum per year, and he set up a network of agents to collect the taxes, along with specified penalties for failure to pay. Some years later, the advisor’s grandson violated the tax law, and was put in jail. A certain elder, who recalled the events leading to the legislation of the tax law, approached the nobleman to plead for mercy on behalf of the offender. He said: “My lord, it is true that someone who violates your laws deserves to be punished. But I ask you, please, to remember how you were originally led to institute the tax law. It was this fellow’s grandfather who offered you his wise advice and told you to institute a tax law, which previously had not been in effect in this city. It is therefore only right to show his grandson mercy, beyond the letter of the law, and exempt him from punishment.”
The parallel is as follows. Before Avraham’s time, Hashem ran the world under a system of pure generosity, granting people free bounty without regard to their deeds. Avraham, however, recognized Hashem, accepted the yoke of Hashem’s sovereignty, and took it upon himself to serve Hashem through righteous conduct. He conferred on Hashem the title “Lord,” and Hashem has held that title ever since. From that time on, Hashem has run the world under a system of just recompense, no longer dispensing completely free bounty as He did before, but instead granting each person what he deserves according to his deeds, be they good or bad. Thus, the Midrash, expounding on the phrase עין משפט in Bereishis 14:7, calls Avraham “the eye that introduced the Attribute of Justice into the world” (Bereishis Rabbah 42:3). [Before Avraham, people were “blindly” unaware of Hashem and He therefore treated them graciously, but when Avraham came on the scene and went about calling people’s attention to Hashem’s existence, they no longer had any excuse for their improper conduct, and Hashem subjected them to justice.] Daniel, in his prayer, asked Hashem to show the Jewish People mercy for the sake of Avraham, who was the one who had given Him the title “Lord.” He was saying: “Behold, Avraham is the one who introduced the Attribute of Justice into the world. It is therefore fitting that You show favor to his offspring, beyond the letter of the law, and treat them with compassion.”
In memory of Kalonimus Kalman ben Shmuel, Rabbi Kalman Winter zt”l, devoted Rav of Southeast Hebrew Congregation of Silver Spring MD, and mesader kiddushin at my wedding, who passed away this week.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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