Abraham's Journey 2
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Abraham's Journey 2 is the third of four sets of lecture series that span the entire book of Genesis! Be sure to listen to it all! The first two set of lectures are found in the series titled: A Brief History Of The World: From Adam To Abraham and Abraham's Journey 1. The following lecture series is Jacob: Man of Truth?
Hello everybody, this is Rabbi David Fohrman, welcome back, we're beginning a new series tonight which I'm excited about. We're going to be looking at the second half of the Abraham narratives. Essentially the Abraham narratives which are read in Shul - in the Synagogue, during what's known as Parshas Vayeira. We did the first half of the Abraham narratives in our last session, Abraham's Journey 1, and hence the very imaginative title for this session, Abraham's Journey 2. We're going to try to look at the second half of the Abraham narratives and tie them together, leading up to the climactic event of the Akeidah - the Binding of Isaac.Let me take a few moments to kind of outline the goals of our series - the goal of this series as I see it now, and I'll just put it as a tentative goal, because these kinds of series have a way of taking on a life of their own and by the time I'm done with it, I end up with something quite different than what I expected when I began. But, that having been said, I guess I would say that my overarching goal is twofold. One is just on the simplest level to try to bring some kind of coherence and unity to the Abraham stories. I think when we read the Abraham stories in general it is easy to read them as a series of disconnected vignettes, short stories about a great man. And in this way it can resemble our reading of the Bible almost as if we were reading a bunch of short stories, and each short story is nice and maybe has its own inspirational point, but it's not a novel, or it's not a unified work, in the sense that it's all leading somewhere. Is the Abraham story a story or is it just a bunch of disconnected, smaller stories?
My theory is that it really is a story, there's an unfolding story, there are certain issues that are at play, there's a certain tension that's waiting to resolved. The vignettes are steps along the way, but they're all interconnected. So one of our challenges is how do we see these vignettes being connected to each other? We addressed that in our first series: Abraham's Journey number 1, and we're going to continue as we pick up with the story of Abraham and the guests here in Chapter - what is it, Chapter 18 - and we're again going to be looking at those questions. What ties together these narratives? How is narrative A - or narrative B connected to narrative A which precedes it, and narrative C which follows it? How do we understand the flow between these stories? So that is goal number 1, how do we understand the flow?
Goal number 2 is, I guess, a more ambitious goal, that goes beyond what we might call the level of the simple Pshat - the simple meaning of the text. That is that I'm sort of experimentally would like to continue this endeavor with you and just see how far it goes, that we began in our last series: Abraham's Journey 1, and even before that, the series before that: A Brief History of the World. Just to recap what that is, for those of you who haven't been with us for those series, and even for those of you who have. Basically we have been developing a - what I think is a remarkable theory, although perhaps a radical one. That theory is, is that there are certain undeniable parallels that exist between the Abraham story and the stories that precede it.
Or to be a little bit more precise, let me put it to you this way, it seems that the world goes through different ages. We have tentatively entitled some of those ages, the age of creation - the world from creation through the flood. The age of what we've come to call re-creation - the world of Noah, the world after the flood ending with the Tower of Babel. World number 3 or age number 3 - what we've come to call Abraham's journey, or Abraham's world. When you look at these three worlds or these three ages; the age of creation, the age of re-creation, and Abraham's age, there are certain undeniable parallels that seem to run through all of them. It's almost as if they're progressing along the same lines. That there are these certain epic struggles, primal struggles which mankind is bound to deal with, or struggle with, and these struggles and goals and milestones express themselves slightly differently in each world, but they're the same fundamental issues.
The Torah clues you into that by means of semantic clues, by means of language parallels. The way we saw this is we were going back, we saw that the world after the flood seems to progress along exactly the same lines or almost exactly the same lines as the first six days of creation. Everything that happens in creation happens again in re-creation. From the wind of G-d hovering over the waters, to the division between the upper and lower waters, and creation being mimicked by G-d stopping up the rain from the sky and stopping up the fountains of the deep in order to be able to stop the flood, to the receding of the water and the appearance of dry land. It's as if G-d is re-creating the world along the lines through which He created it to begin with.
We saw that those remarkable parallels extend beyond the six days of creation, all the way into the seventh day. We talked about the rainbow covenant being a mirror of the Sabbath - the seventh day, as if it's the seventh day in Noah's world. We continued back in our series: A Brief History of the World and we saw that quite remarkably the story which appears after the Sabbath, the creation of man and the planting of the garden and indeed the forbidden fruit story of the tree of knowledge, seems to be mimicked in the vineyard story with Noah. In which Noah plants a garden, begins creating a man, as it were - and again I refer you back to A Brief History of the World series for this in detail. Then, has his own encounter with forbidden fruit, which in this case is wine. We discussed why that is, and we went into that in great detail. We talked about the Tower of Babel as another mirror of the Garden of Eden story, all the linguistic cues going back to the Garden of Eden.
It seems that the Torah very deliberately goes out of its way to create these patterns, as if to suggest that there is - that the same - that they're not random. That somehow on a deep level, if you understand what the Garden of Eden story is then Noah has his own Garden of Eden story, it's the vineyard, and the world after Noah has its own Garden of Eden story and it's the tower. The same issues that are at play in the Garden of Eden with the tree of knowledge, are at play at some level with the tower and at some level with the vineyard. We talked about that - this essentially was the thesis of A Brief History of the World series.
When we continued after that we did the Abraham 1 series. In Abraham 1 we noticed that again, surprisingly - I at least feel it was surprising - these same kinds of parallels that we began to see between creation and re-creation, also exist in Abraham's world, linking us back to both creation and re-creation. So for example, just as in the sixth day, as it were, there is a promise to man in the world of creation that he is given dominion over the natural world (a), over the world, and (b) he is told Pru u'revu - be fruitful and multiply. In re-creation the same thing; Noach was given dominion over the world and was told to be fruitful and multiply, and Abraham over and over again is promised what throughout Parshat Lech Lecha? It begins that I'm going to make you into a great name, I'll make you into a great nation. This man who is childless is promised Pru u'revu - you will be fruitful and multiply, and I'll give you land. Now land in this case doesn't mean the whole world as it meant for Adam, it doesn't mean the whole world as it meant for Noach and his children. Instead it means a slice of the world, the land of Canaan. But the promise of land and children is there.
We continued, after the promise of land and children on the sixth day came the Sabbath covenant, where a covenant on creativity, where the Creator of the world stops creating, followed by a challenge of creativity, a creativity challenge, which we called the Etz Hada'at - the tree of knowledge. How does mankind deal with passion, with his overbearing drive to create? Again to talk about why it is that we see the tree of knowledge story as a story about dealing with passion and the drive to create is beyond the scope of our talk now, but I refer you back to the series: A Brief History of the World - if you'd like to look at that in depth.
Also, by the way, I should just mention I did just come out with a new book, and the book deals with this theme as well, the notion of the tree of knowledge story as a creativity challenge. The book is called: The Beast that Crouches at the Door, which actually takes its title from our struggle with creative passion, which when left untamed is like a beast that crouches at the door and can devour you. But when you can somehow direct this passion, then it becomes something which is vibrant and something which is the very engine of your life, it's what makes you go, your only job is to steer it with a steering wheel, as it were.
Anyway, be that as it may, we argued in our last series: Abraham's Journey 1, that interestingly enough, just as the world of creation and re-creation have their creativity covenant - the Sabbath as it were and the rainbow, so too the world of Abraham has its creativity covenant. Except this time it is Abraham, it is man, that is charged with ruling over creativity, rather than that responsibility belonging to G-d. In the previous worlds G-d, the Creator par excellence, Creator with a capital C, He is the one to rein in His creativity with the Sabbath, to say no, I'm only creating for the first six days, but from then on the world is done and I remove Myself from it and I'm no longer creating. He puts limits on His own creativity. He puts limits on His own destruction with the flood, and that's the rainbow, where He says, I've destroyed and I've destroyed but I'm not going to destroy again.
So this is - G-d has modeled what it means, as it were, to be a responsible creator. Not to create ad infinitum, because if you do you destroy the world just as surely as you're destroying it, you never have a world, you're never done with it, you can never allow it to achieve any modicum of independence. G-d, the disciplined Creator, puts limits to destruction and says, destruction is something we do very rarely and I'm not going to do it again. Also puts limits on creativity, and in so doing, models what it is to be a responsible creator.
Now the ball is in man's court. Abraham has a creativity covenant as well - and again we talked about the remarkable linguistic parallels between all of these. These words which appear over and over again, when the Torah is describing the Sabbath, when the Torah is describing the rainbow, when the Torah is describing the circumcision covenant, it's all the same words. And it's really, we argued, because it's all the same idea. The idea being that you need to channel creativity. It's not a coincidence that the Brit - the covenant of Milah, is with the reproductive organ of man. As if G-d is saying that the reproductive urge can't be allowed to be all-consuming, it needs to be directed in order to be ultimately productive. But this time, interestingly, man is charged with this role, it is not just G-d who is modeling this, it is man who is modeling this. That is - and the ball has sort of been put in man's court in the circumcision covenant.
Of course we had our Gan Eden story - we had our creativity challenge earlier on, and we argued that that was the story of Hagar and Ishmael and the birth of Ishmael, and how that works with Abraham and Sarah struggling with this very powerful desire to create or control their own legacy. We talked about that in Chapters 15 and 16.
Anyway, I realize all of that may sound very cryptic if you didn't listen to Abraham's story number 1. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I think you'll still be able to follow where it is that we're going to in Abraham's story number 2. If you're new to us and you want to hear more about these issues - I'm just giving you just this little quickie, five-minute's summary of something which was 10 lectures in our last Abraham series. I encourage you to go back and listen to the Abraham's Journey series and you'll know what it is I'm talking about in greater detail.
In any case, the task before us - I mentioned to you that there were two tasks that we were going to look at. One is to see if we can stitch together the Abraham stories so that they really are one developing story. The next thing is, is that do these very eerie parallels between the world of Abraham and the previous ages; the age of creation and re-creation, do they continue? We plotted so far from the very beginning of Abraham's story all the way through the circumcision covenant there seemed to be these parallels to the sixth day of creation, to the seventh day of creation, to the tree of knowledge story, do the parallels continue beyond the tree of knowledge story? As you keep on reading in Chapter 18, 19, 20 in the Abraham [story 14:45] do we keep on hearing echoes of creation, of these earlier worlds? We're already up to the tree of knowledge, do the echoes continue further? So that is the second kind of goal. And, if those echoes do continue, what do we make of them? How do we understand that? What does it all mean?
Okay, so those are our two goals, just I want to take a minute or two just to talk about format of the class for those of you who are new, and then we'll just sort of dive in. These classes consist of several different elements. The backbone is the lectures - the lecture series, the lecture is what you're listening to right now. Generally speaking I try to shoot for something within 50 minutes or so, somewhere in that range. Sometimes it tends to drag a little bit longer than that, but I try to keep it fairly close to about 50 minutes or so. I will be putting those up in MP3 format, you can take them, download them to your computer, you can do all sorts of things. You can listen to it on your computer, you can put them on your iPod, you can burn CDs, you can do all sorts of fun things, listen to this while you jog, whatever you like. This will be up for a week, and even beyond that, it will be up in the - on the home page for this particular series: Abraham's Journey 2. So you'll kind of be able to get back to it once you have access to it.
In addition to the lectures, those are going to be supplemented by a couple of other elements. I'm going to try to put up source notes every week, which just gives you the sources that I quote or the text that we'll be studying, in both Hebrew and English, so you can work off of that and look off of that. Print them out if you like. I'm also going to give you a lecture outline, which just gives you a basic outline of the lecture so you can - if you want to take your own notes you can just fill them in, in red pen next to my little outline and it maybe just makes the idea of note taking for those of you who want to note take a little bit easier. For those of you who don't want to note take but still want to see notes to be able to review or to prepare, then you can have a lecture outline, it may help you as well.
Also I'll be trying to put out to you every week or so a PowerPoint presentation, slides, which I'm going to pick an element from the lecture that I think could be best illustrated graphically and then try to create a little PowerPoint presentation which does just that. So you'll be able to look at the PowerPoints in addition too, and hopefully that will augment the lectures as well as the lecture outline and the source notes. All of those are intended to augment the lectures themselves.
In addition to that, there's also a discussion board which I encourage you to visit, you can 'lurk' or you can contribute, don't be bashful about contributing. We have the able services of our wonderful moderators, [Barry and Ruthy 17:33] - Barry out at Walnut Creek, California, Ruthy out in Baltimore, Maryland. Those people are just fantastic moderators, they're very nice, they don't bite, and I'll check in on the discussion boards now and then. Generally the discussion boards are very lively and exciting places to be, but they can be addictive and you can get no sleep if you follow them too aggressively [laughs]. But I find them very, very intriguing, so I encourage you all to contribute to those.
Okay that's pretty much it for our format, let's go and begin looking at the text and let's sort of jump in and see what we make of it. We're going to be picking up in this series from Genesis Chapter 18 reading that through. Let me give you this challenge, and I'll ask you to just kind of maybe take a few minutes to read through the text yourself, maybe turn me off. But basically quickly read over the Abraham narratives. If you haven't been with us over the last series, maybe just read over the Abraham narratives from where they begin in Parshas Lech Lecha back in - where was that - Chapter 12 or so, and read through 12 through 17. If you're already familiar with that then just take a quick read through 17, the circumcision covenant, and then go through 18 and maybe 19 or so. Then ask yourself this question, how do these stories stitch together? Are they anything more than disconnected vignettes?
You've got the circumcision covenant, immediately followed in Chapter 18 with the story of Abraham and the guests, and we'll talk about that soon, but we're just going to label it Abraham and the guests. Then we have the story at the very end of that, the surprise announcement that Sarah is going to have a child. Followed by the destruction of - the story - actually, G-d's announcement that He's considering destroying Sodom, followed by this debate, bargaining session between G-d and Abraham about that. Followed by the story of Lot and the two angels that come to Sodom. So these are kind of the stories, what do they have to do with anything? How do they relate to each other? This is, I guess the number 1 question that we're going to begin struggling with, and maybe just think about that, read them through, see if you can come up with any preliminary theories, and then we'll compare notes.
So I'll stop talking about here, I'll start a new segment in a second, see what you come up with.
Okay, so let's take a look at this text. Just to, again, put it in context, we've just gone through the circumcision covenant in Chapter 17, G-d comes out of the clouds, says for some reason that He has this deal with Abraham, that He wants him to undergo this strange kind of operation upon himself - he and him, and all of his legacy has to undergo circumcision. Immediately afterwards we have the story of Abraham and the guests, and the question again has to be, what the connection is? Is there a connection? Again, just because I'm asking these questions does not mean I necessarily have answers to all of them, but I mean, this is a question, how is this connected to the story of the guests? Of course, the answer may just be it's not connected, it may just be that this is just what happened next, that it's a chronological issue. The Torah is just, as a matter of fact, telling you what events happened after other events. But it also may be that there's a thematic connection. There's some sort of developing story.
Anyway, so just to read some of this text with you. Immediately after the circumcision narrative you have G-d appearing out of the clouds; Vayeira eilav Hashem b'Elonei Mamre - reading from Chapter 18, verse 1 - G-d then appears in the groves of Mamre to Abraham. V'hu yoshev petach ha'ohel k'chom hayom - and Abraham was sitting at the doorway to his tent in the heat of the day. Now; Vayisah einav vayar v'hinei shelosha anashim nitzavim alav - and then at this point he lifts up his eyes and he sees three men standing near him; Vayar vayaratz likratam - and he sees and he runs out to greet them from the doorway of this tent; Vayishtachavu artzah - and he bows down before them. Vayomar - and he says; Adonoy, im nah matzati chen b'einecha al nah ta'avor me'al avdecha - my master, if I have found favor in your eyes please don't leave your servant's presence. Yukach nah me'at mayim - please take a little bit of water and; V'rochatzu ragleichem - wash your legs; V'hisha'anu tachat ha'etz - and you can rest beneath the tree.
Then we have the whole story of how Abraham goes and entertains these guests and takes care of them.
So there are a couple of things that bear mention here, aside from just the issue of how this is connected to the circumcision covenant. One is that there was an event here which kind of gets lost - seems to get lost - and that is if you think about this, the story begins with G-d appearing to Abraham in the groves of Mamre, and we never know what He appears for and we in fact - it just seems like a dangling event. Because before we know it Abraham is involved in something else, it has nothing to do with G-d appearing to him. He's going and entertaining these guests and it sounds like he's forgotten all about G-d, sort of like G-d is on hold. It really seems like he's forgotten about Him, it sounds almost as if not just Abraham has forgotten about Him, but the narrator of the story has forgotten about the fact that G-d has appeared to him. We have this whole long story of Abraham entertaining these guests and we never get back to G-d.
This, I think, is where Rashi is coming from and where the Sages are coming from in their statement about - in verse 3; Vayomar, adonoy, im nah matzati chen b'einecha. There's a Midrashic approach to what Abraham says over here. At the simple level - the level of Pshat, when he says; Adonoy, im nah matzati chen b'einecha - my master if I found favor in your eyes please don't leave, he's speaking to the guests and he's addressing them as 'my master'. He says, please don't pass me by but stick around and I will take care of your needs. However, another way of reading it - or at least Midrashically - is that instead of addressing the guests he's addressing G-d. He's saying; Adon-oy - my Master, that is G-d Himself, if I have found favor in Your eyes please don't leave. In other words, I'm about to go G-d and entertain these guests, and I know You've just appeared to me, please don't leave. Just sort of chill out for a while, I'll be right back - which is just also surprising that he would speak to G-d that way.
So whether or not you go for the Midrash, you still really have the same question which is what is Abraham doing with G-d? Either implicitly or explicitly he's putting G-d on hold, how do you understand that?
Okay, so now moving on, Abraham entertains these guests and we have a very long and detailed story about how he takes care of their every need and provides them butter and provides them milk and they eat. The question also is, like why bother? Do I really need to know all of this? Why am I spending so much time talking about what Abraham is doing here for these guests? But that's what the Torah does.
And, before you know it the guests are asking for Sarah; Ayei Sarah ishtecha - where has Sarah gone? Where is Sarah? Abraham says she's there in the tent, and at that point the guests kind of reveal their cards, basically they're not just guests but they're there on a mission, they're angels, as it were. They tell Abraham and Sarah that they're going to be expecting a child, a biological child; V'hinei ben l'Sarah ishtecha - there's going to be a child to Sarah your wife. Now remember Sarah is very old - in fact, just the very next verse; V'Avraham v'Sarah zekeinim ba'im bayomim chadal lihiyot l'Sarah orach ka'nashim - Sarah was very, very old and at that point Sarah laughs inside her and says, is it possible that I'm going to become young again and have a child? To which G-d then catches Sarah in her laughter and says, why is Sarah laughing? Sarah says she doesn't laugh, Abraham says she laughed, ultimately the child's name is going to be 'laugh-y'.
I guess the question is also, is there any connection here to the hospitality story? Now obviously, again that sounds like a strange question because obviously there's a connection, Abraham extends hospitality towards his guests and then the guests turn around and say that Sarah is going to have a child. But I guess the question is, is there - the way I would put it, is there an essential connection? Did it have to be that way? Or was it just sort of a coincidence of the way that nature worked itself out, that yeah, he was taking care of these guests, and then lo and behold and one of them piped up and said, Sarah is going to have a child next year, and it just turned out that way? Or is there some sort of essential connection that for some reason there is a thematic connection that it makes a difference that Abraham was providing hospitality and that's essentially connected to this news that Sarah is going to be having a child? I'm not sure if I'm making myself entirely clear, but is it just coincidental or is not coincidental? Is there a real connection between the hospitality story and the news that Sarah is going to have children? I guess is my next connection-between-the-stories question; how does A link to B to C?
Anyway it gets worse, because after the hospitality story being connected to Sarah having children story, we then move on, we have an entirely different story which is a destruction of Sodom story. Or even before we get to the destruction of Sodom story we've got this very strange bargaining session and the bargaining session is prefaced by a very strange declaration by G-d. V'Hashem amar - G-d then says to Himself, as it were; Hamechaseh ani mei'Avraham asher ani oseh - can I possibly hide from Abraham what I'm doing? Abraham is going to be this great nation and here I'm thinking of doing this thing to Sodom, I really should tell Abraham about it. Then G-d says; Tza'akat Sodom va'Amorah ki rabah - the cries coming up to me from Sodom and Amorah are very great; V'chatatam ki kavdah me'od - their sin is very great; Erdah nah v'ereh - I'm going to go down and see; Hake'tza'akasah haba'ah elai asu koloh v'im loh eida'ah - if the screams coming from the city is sufficiently great to justify My wiping them out or not.
Then the angels head off to Sodom and Avraham is there speaking to G-d. And at that point; Vayigash Avraham - and Avraham steps forward and begins a discussion with G-d about the destruction of Sodom.
Again, the connection issue, is this story of the potential destruction of Sodom and G-d's revealing Himself to Abraham and telling him about this, is this connected in some essential way - which is - with what has just taken place, again the hospitality narrative and the idea that Sarah is going to have children? Or is it just like it's on to something else? So we have the question of connection. We also have the issue of where did - it seems very abrupt - in other words, just as we're talking about Sarah laughing because she's going to have children and she doesn't believe she's going to have children, all of a sudden G-d pipes in and says, could I possibly hide from Abraham what I'm doing? Then starts talking to Abraham. It's just very sudden. If you think about it, the suddenness kind of mirrors the suddenness with which in the beginning of this story Abraham left G-d and started dealing with the angels. So it's almost as if we're coming full circle here.
In other words, going back to that Midrash, it's almost as if G-d really has been put on hold and the end of the hold music is when we're finally dealing with this issue of Sarah laughing and then finally G-d gets in what He was going to say initially almost. Or maybe wasn't going to say it initially. But it's like, now it's G-d's turn. Okay, fine, G-d is off of hold now and then G-d pipes in and just says, I really should tell Abraham what's going on, and He tells Abraham what's going on. So maybe - one wonders was this the purpose of the original revelation, the original epiphany that was interrupted by the story of the guests?
In any case, there is this very sudden story, just doesn't seem to be obviously connected to what happened before. So we have the connection issue that's somewhat troubling with this story about this - the bargaining session with G-d. But we also have other questions, which is did it really have to be this way? G-d coming out of the clouds and saying, gee I really should talk to Abraham what I'm going to do. What do you mean, I really should talk to Abraham what I'm going to do? Is this the first decision G-d has made and all of a sudden He's talking to Abraham? It's like all the decisions that G-d makes about He runs the world, all of a sudden Abraham is involved? G-d has made lots of decisions, even greater than the destruction of Sodom, He destroyed the world and didn't consult Noah, why all of a sudden is He coming and consulting Abraham? But nevertheless G-d feels a need to do that.
Then, not only is that strange, but then we have this strange - really strange - bargaining session where Abraham has - displays, what can only be described as I think a great amount of Chutzpah. Abraham's response to this whole idea of destroying Sodom is; Ha'af tispeh tzadik im rasha - You're really going to wipe out the righteous along with the wicked? What if there's 50 righteous people in the city, You're going to destroy them? But no, that's not so strange, but listen to the argument that he makes, next verse, 25 (18:25). Challilah lecha mei'asot kadavar hazeh - it would be profane of You to do such a thing; Lehamit tzadik im rasha - to destroy the righteous along with the wicked and make the righteous like the wicked. Challilah lach - it would be profane of You; Hashofet kol ha'aretz loh ya'aseh mishpat - the Judge of the whole world can't do justice? So then G-d relents.
I mean, what is this? This is accusatory. I mean, can you imagine getting away with this? What are You G-d? It would be profane of You to do such a thing. Where does Abraham get off thinking that he can do this?
Then there's this long bargaining session; 50, 45, if I find 40 I won't destroy, finally we get down to 10, and then Abraham intuits that he can't go any further, and that's the end of the bargaining session. How did Abraham know that with 10 he should stop? What's the idea? Does Abraham really matter? Is G-d just sort of humoring him here? It's just a strange kind of bargaining session. If G-d thinks that He should be destroying, let Him be destroying, if He doesn't think it should be destroyed, let it not be destroyed. What - it sounds like it really matters what Abraham thinks over here, why?
All right, so these are some of the issues with the story as we go forward. Just moving on in the next story, after the bargaining session is over, the two angels head off to Sodom; V'Lot yoshev b'sha'ar Sodom - and Lot is sitting in the gateway of Sodom and then Lot runs out to greet them, invites them in to the house, they say, no, we'll stay in the street. We then have the story of Lot, as it were, entertaining the angels, followed by the angels' decision to destroy the city of Sodom. Over here we just have - the connection here is more obvious, the story is proceeding along the lines of what it said before which is the - G-d had said He was going to destroy Sodom and now it's actually coming to pass.
We have this very interesting subplot at this point which is Lot and Sodom. The question also is, why is the Torah doing this? It's really taking the spotlight off of Abraham. Until now in the Abraham story it's really all been about Abraham until now, we now have a whole chapter which is devoted not to Abraham but in fact to Lot. The question is why? Have we sort of forgotten about Abraham? Or have we figured it would be kind of interesting if we take this digression and focus on a minor character at this point? Why is it that we're focusing so much on the story of Lot? As if he takes center stage right now - and he sort of does with the whole story of Lot's interaction with the angels and how Lot is almost killed and he goes out and he runs - they run out of the city with the wife of Lot turning into this - the pillar of salt, and the whole story of Lot and his daughters, which is a very strange story in and of its own right. This incestuous story, and what are we supposed to make of that?
So we have a lot of issues here in the text, some of the issues are issues of chronology, how is it we understand the stories - how do we understand the connection between the stories? Some of the issues are just Pshat issues - issues that we struggle with as we try and figure the simple meaning of the text. So we really do have our work cut out for us as we jump into these stories.
We're going to get back to all of these issues, these are connection issues, how are these stories connected to each other, and Pshat issues. But now I'd like to go to that - I mentioned to you when we started here that we had sort of two goals in this series, one is to try to connect the dots in the Abraham stories, but the other is to try to go back and see if these very eerie and peculiar parallels between the Abraham story and the world of creation and the world of re-creation continue at all as past the circumcision covenant. We talked about the circumcision covenant being this parallel to the Sabbath story and we talked about the story of the - we talked about how the Hagar and Ishmael story which comes right before that seems very eerily like the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
To those of you who weren't with us in our last session, what I'm saying now sounds absolutely preposterous, but I invite you to listen to the last couple of lectures of our previous series: Abraham's Journey number 1, and I think you'll be convinced that there are some connections here.
So if you think about this, back in the world of creation we had the sixth day of creation, we had the Sabbath story, we have the Garden of Eden story, all of those events seem to have their parallels in the Abraham story, they all have their parallels leading up to the circumcision story and through the circumcision story. We're now past the circumcision story into the story of Abraham and the guests, are there any events here which again continue to remind us point by point of the creation and re-creation story? So then we just sort of have to take stock and ask ourselves, okay, where are we up to in the creation story? Ask ourselves, are we seeing any reflections of those elements in the Abraham story of where we're up to now?
So the parallels we've seen thus far have taken us all the way through the story of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, what are the events that take place after the tree of knowledge of good and evil? So we've got the story of Cain and Abel and all the genealogy, and then the next major story we have is the story of the flood, the story of Noah and the story of the flood. Is there anything about the story of Noah and the story of the flood which we're hearing echoes of now at this point in the Abraham story?
Well let's go back - let's go back actually even to the circumcision story. I think we hear the first hints of this in the circumcision story. Really very fascinating. Let's look at the introduction to the circumcision story for a second - let me see if I can find it. Going all the way back to Chapter 17, read with me for a moment. Vayehi Avram ben tishim shanah - Abraham was 90 years old - 99 years old; Tishim shanah v'teisha shanim. Vayeira Hashem el Avram - and G-d appears to him; Vayomer eilav - and says to him; Ani Kel Shakai - I am the G-d Shakai. Now listen to these words; Hit'halech lefanai v'heyai tamim - walk before Me and be perfect - be perfect with Me. Walk before Me and be perfect with Me. Very innocuous words, except when you start thinking about Noah these words are chilling, because these are Noah words. These are the words through which we're introduced to Noah just before or just as G-d is deciding to destroy the world.
Turn back to Noah and you see at the very beginning of Parshat Noach actually, you read these words; Eileh toldot Noach - these are the generations of Noah - I'm reading now from Chapter 6, I suppose, verse 9. Noach ish tzadik tamim hayah b'dorotav - Noach was an Ish Tzadik; Tamim hayah b'dorotav - he was perfect - Tamim - in his generations; Et ha'Elokim hit'halech Noach - Noach walked with G-d. I mean these are the same words. There's only one other time these kinds of words appear, it appears here with Abraham when G-d appears out of the clouds right before the circumcision covenant and says; Ani Kel Shakai - I am the G-d Shakai. Hit'halech lefanai - walk before Me; V'heyai tamim - and be perfect with Me. What do we make of this? It sure sounds very Noah-like. Well do the Noah parallels continue?
So you read over the whole circumcision story and you have that dangling reference to something Noah-like about Abraham, as it were. And you finish the circumcision covenant, Abraham circumcises Isaac and all of a sudden; Vayeira eilav Hashem b'Elonei Mamre v'hu yoshev petach ha'ohel k'chom hayom. Vayisah einav vayar v'hinei shelosha anashim nitzavim alav. Abraham lifts up his eyes and sees; Vayisah einav vayar v'hinei shelosha anashim - lifts up his eyes and sees and behold there's three people standing before him. Vayar…V'hinei, Vayar V'hinei - and he sees and behold. Sees and behold. There's one other time by the way - very shortly thereafter - in which we also have this language Abraham seeing and behold. The next time we have Abraham seeing and beholding, is when he sees the destruction of Sodom, after Sodom is actually destroyed Abraham surveys the damage. Wakes up in the morning; Vayar v'hinei - and he goes and he sees; V'hinei alah kitor ha'aretz ke'kitor ha'kivshan - the smoke coming up from the ground is like the smoke of the furnace. Vayar V'hinei.
These words Vayar V'hinei, when was the last time we had Vayar V'hinei? The last time you have Vayar V'hinei in the Torah - let's go back to Noah, do we have these words back in Noah? Anybody? Where do we have Vayar V'hinei with Noach? Let's just follow along with me. Vayar Elokim et ha'aretz v'hinei nishchata - and G-d sees the land; V'hinei nishchata - and in fact the land has corrupted itself. Again, back to Chapter 6, verse 12; Vayar…V'hinei. So the last Vayar V'hinei I have is in the flood, G-d sees and behold the world is destroyed and then Abraham sees and behold their guests, face value. No connection whatsoever thematically between the idea of seeing guests and seeing the world that is destroyed. Kind of odd. But the linguistic connection is there. If anything, there seems to be a connection between maybe the Vayar V'hinei of G-d seeing the world destroyed and then Abraham seeing Lot - not seeing Lot, seeing the destruction of Sodom, looking out; Vayar V'hinei, and seeing the smoke coming up from Sodom.
But again, that strange Vayar V'hinei connection, and we might want to talk about that also. If you even go back and trace are there any earlier Vayar V'hinei - and by the way there is one, there's a Vayar V'hinei all the way back in creation. There's a Vayar V'hinei in creation and a Vayar V'hinei in re-creation and a Vayar V'hinei in Abraham's world. What's the Vayar V'hinei back in creation? It's Vayar Elokim et [kol asher asah 45:41] v'hinei tov me'od - G-d looks at the world and it's very good and G-d says it's a good thing what I've made, this universe, and decides to keep it. But then there's one other Vayar V'hinei in creation which is not as nice. Which is, again, this one, which is leading into the destruction of Noah; Vayar Elokim et ha'aretz v'hinei nishchata - when G-d sees the land and indeed it's ruined.
So a question to think about are there any links that link all of these Vayar V'hinei together? Or are we just making a mountain out of a molehill? I think if we think about these five Vayar V'hinei they are very intimately linked to each other, there's a real connection between them, I want you to think about that for next week, we'll come back and analyze that some more.
So okay, so going back to the Abraham story, so what are - any other connections back to the story of Noah? It sounds a little Noah-like. Then, what do you know? You've got this long story of hospitality which doesn't seem to have anything to do with Noah, except that the story of the hospitality seems to establish Abraham's righteousness, and what's the first thing we're told about Noah? Noach ish tzadik tamim hayah b'dorotav - Noach was a righteous man in his generation. Is this the story of Abraham's righteousness that makes Abraham an Ish Tzadik? Just something to think about.
What happens after the hospitality narrative? After the hospitality narrative all of a sudden G-d comes out of the clouds and starts contemplating, of all things, destroying. Destroying a whole civilization. That sounds familiar, G-d destroying a whole civilization. G-d came out of the clouds, as it were, and told Noah that He was going to destroy a whole civilization, now He's telling Abraham. But there's a difference. [When He was 47:24] telling with Noah it was a fait accompli, Noah, I'm going to destroy the world. Keitz kol basar bah lefanai ki malah ha'aretz chamas mipneihem - the end of the world is coming before Me because everything - the world has corrupted itself. If you think about the language for corruption, by the way; Ki hishchit kol basar et darko al ha'aretz - because the earth has corrupted its ways before G-d, that language appears with Sodom too. Lifnei shacheit Hashem et [Sodom v'et Amorah] k'gan Hashem - when we talk about G-d as Shacheit - as destroying, twisting humanity off the face of the world. That language is the language which is used to describe the destruction of Sodom too.
Is Sodom a mini flood? Well it doesn't - not very wet in Sodom. If anything, it's very dry in Sodom. But destruction there is nevertheless. It seems to be a mini destruction story. A destruction of the civilization. And just as G-d contemplates destroying so G-d contemplates destroying not just in the Noah story but in the Abraham story, but it's not a fait accompli, instead it's like maybe I'll do this. G-d for some reason brings Abraham into it, it's not just by way of informing Abraham, but by way of giving Abraham a chance really to respond. Then we have a whole bargaining story which we certainly don't have in the Noah narrative.
Any other connections? So I'll give you just one or two other things that come to mind. What is the great signal of destruction with the flood? The convening of clouds. G-d makes the clouds come and all of a sudden there's rain. A very strange sentence here right before the destruction of Sodom, let me just see if I can find it. What's the last ominous sentence - not in the flood but in the destruction of Sodom? Look at Chapter 19, verse 23, Lot is getting himself out of Sodom and all of a sudden we have this strange sentence here, Chapter 19, verse 23. Hashemesh yatzah al ha'aretz - the sun came out upon the earth, it was like sunrise as Lot was coming to Tzo'ar. Then the very next words are G-d raining down fire and brimstone on Sodom. Sun coming out? When is the sun coming out? It's almost as if the sun coming out for Sodom is what the clouds coming out to cover the sun were for the flood. The last desperate act, the last act which signifies the horrific destruction to come, that they're mirror images of each other. In one case it's clouds covering the sun, in this case it's the sun.
But what's the force of destruction? It's not going to be rain this time - or actually it is rain, but it's not liquid rain, it's fire rain, the opposite of liquid. It is fire raining down from the sky, but the language of raining is the same; VaHashem himtir al Sodom v'al Amorah - look at verse 24 - G-d causes rain to fall, rain fire to come down upon Sodom and upon Amorah; Gafrit va'eish mei'eit Hashem min hashomayim - fire coming down from G-d from the sky. But the language is the same as the flood. Look at the very next verses of the flood; Ki l'yamim od shivah - verse 4, Chapter 7, in seven more days; Onochi mamtir al ha'aretz - I'm going to cause to rain on the ground for 40 days and 40 nights. Mamtir - G-d causing like dew to fall, Mamtir, Matar, precipitation. But there's rain precipitation and there's fire precipitation.
It's fascinating, it seems to be this mirror sort of image. What do we make of this? It's like a flood story all over, and it's exactly where we would expect the flood story, it's the very next thing. It's as if creation continues and creation is now folding into the Noah story. And it's all being paralleled in the Abraham story. Just as you have the sixth day, you have the Sabbath, you have the Garden of Eden and then before you know it you have a destruction story which is sure sounding a lot like Noach. What do we make out of all these parallels? How do they shed light upon the Pshat - upon the meaning of the story that's unfolding? How does it shed light upon the connections which puzzled us between all of these stories?
These are the questions I want you to think about. These are the questions we'll come back and talk about next week. We certainly do have a lot to talk about. I wish you a happy week of thinking about them and we'll pick up and see what we come up with when we return.
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