In the Tower's Shadow
Abraham's Journey 1
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
All Shem and Yefet can do is safeguard the dignity of their father. They are powerless to Cham’s endangered legacy, or the plight of nephew Canaan, who has been cursed by Noach, in an act of questionable wisdom.
Hi everybody! Welcome back; this is Rabbi David Fohrman speaking to you. This is the first in the series of lectures that we are doing on the life of Abraham and trying to get our hands around Abraham's journey, as it were. What was this man trying to accomplish? What was his mission; in his eyes, and perhaps, in God's eyes? There are a lot of Abraham stories - a lot of pieces, a lot of short stories in the Abraham saga. I guess the central challenge - I'd like to try to do, in this little series, is to try to see if this fit into a coherent hole. If these are not just scattered vignettes but are pieces of a larger story. If so, what is the plot of that story? What is it really all about?
We began to take some of the steps in this direction in our last series, and in the series before that. In this, in a certain way, I hope will be the final brick - as it were in that 'Eliphas [00:00:59]'. This may be the kind of 'Eliphas [00:01:02]' which never really does have a final brick; but at least a close-to-final brick, perhaps some penultimate final brick, if that makes any sense.
To briefly review, what I was trying to do is, spend a little bit of time here, in capsulating the relevant information for this series that comes from the previous discussions that we have had in the last two series. Those two series were the 'Phantom Achaida [00:01:27]' and a brief history of the world from Adam to Abraham. A very briefly kind of review about what these were about, and where it is that we are up to; sort of set the stage for looking at Abraham's life, as we are going to begin to in this lecture.
In the last two series of the 'Phantom Akedah [00:01:46]', we've looked at the end of Abraham's life, the Akedah story, the story of the 'binding of lives' where God comes and tells Abraham to take his child to the top of the mountain and kill him, only to retract and say that he really doesn't want Abraham to do it at the last moment. We've looked at a number of other Akedah stories - other stories that seem to bear the hallmarks of this sort of central episode in Abraham's life. And we've looked at the stories of Ishmael which we'll be coming back to a little bit in this series, and some other stories - the sale of 'Yosef [00:02:25]' and some other pieces that seem to cast a new light, as it were, on the story of the Akedah and the 'binding of Isaac [00:02:31]'; and I think, as we continue to develop those things in this series, we'll continue to develop perhaps the texture of that theory, regarding the Akedah, the binding of Isaac.
The second theory is the most recent theory, which we just completed in an 11 part series entitled a 'Brief history of the world, from Adam to Abraham' - took us, as the title suggests, from Adam and Eve to the story of Abraham. What we did in the series is we essentially argued that there are different worlds, so to speak, in Jewish history, even more than Jewish history - the history of humankind. And that, in some strange eerie ways, the development of these different worlds seems to parallel each other in sort of contrast play-offs of each other. Again, if you haven't listened to that series, I think it'll be a great thing to do if you have some time on your hands - to go back and listen, but I'm just going to give you a brief thumbnail of some of the things I'm talking about.
We argue back in that series, that there were essentially several worlds. One world, we called the 'world of Creation', the world of Adam and Eve through the flood - that world gets destroyed in the huge flood that 'Inaudible [00:03:50]' but the reCreation of the world, after the Flood, we know that it seems to mirror the story of Creation itself. The way the world seems to come back into a functioning entity seems, in many many ways, to parallel the development of the six days of Creation in the first place. We went through this in the first couple of lectures, point by point, and try to show how that was true. This is true to such an extent that the same that there seems to be a Sabbath story, as it were.
On the seventh day of Creation, there is a Sabbath story in the story of reCreation of the world after the flood. That the story of the 'Noah and the rainbow' seems to bear the hallmark of the Sabbath and seems, in a very interesting kind of way, to be the reflection of the Sabbath. It's almost as if what the Sabbath was to the world's Creation, the covenant of the rainbow was to the reCreation. I'm not going to get into that in detail, but just that its an illustration of the kinds of ways in which Creation becomes mirrored in reCreation. The end of these mirrors - the point in which the Torah seems to finalize its comparisons, as it were - between the story of Creation and reCreation. It seems to occur with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden seems to be the last act in the act of Creation, before the flood, which finds its Echo in the world of reCreation, the world after the flood.
What we argued in the last series was that there are, interestingly enough, two stories in reCreation; and in the world after the flood, they bear the hallmarks - they bear the echoes - of the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. Those two stories, in short, are the stories of the 'vineyard and the tower [00:05:37]'. The stories of vineyard is that strange story tracked away after the flood in which Noah gets drunk - plants a vineyard, gets drunk and his son 'Ham [00:05:49]' sees his nakedness - whatever this means. There are 'Midrashans [00:05:53]' that seem to suggest that he didn't more than simply see his nakedness, but there was perhaps an act of sodomy, perhaps, or castration, or something along these lines. That, Noah wakes up, sees what was done to him, and curses - interestingly enough, not his son Ham who apparently did the act, but Ham's own son 'Canaan [00:06:15]' and blesses, on contrast, 'Shem and Japheth [00:06:20]'s response to Ham's actions - Ham's actions of seeing the nakedness of his father, to take a cloak and to cover their father in such a way that they do not view his nakedness and they preserve his dignity. When Noah becomes aware of what they have done, he blesses Shem and Japheth in cryptic kinds of terms that we'll come back to over the course of these lectures. It's just the beauty of Japheth that we'll dwell on the 'Inaudible [00:06:48]' of Shem, and it's not clear what that means; and at the end of the story, Noah dies.
We argued back in lecture 8 or 9 of our series that in many ways, the story of the Garden finds its echo in the story of the vineyard, on the theme of nakedness. In both stories, the theme of becoming naked is a story of eating from a forbidden fruit. Adam's forbidden fruit was a fruit that God plants; Noah's forbidden fruit was a fruit that he himself plants and eats. The forbidden fruit creates this altered state of consciousness. The fruit gives you, in the original 'Tree of Knowledge', the knowledge of good and evil; the wine that Noah makes in his own world gives him an altered state of consciousness. IT changes the way he looks at things. In both cases, there comes a moment of realization where you realize that you are naked in both stories, and you confront that. In both cases, there are these curses which are dealt with the apparent instigators of the problem. God curses the snake; Noah curses the instigator Ham, in his case, or Canaan, as it were.
In these two stories, we seem to find echoes, or an echo, in the story of the vineyard from the story of the garden, and I don't want to get involved in this too much. I'd refer you back to the past series. The other story where we suggested echoes the garden is the story of the tower, the story of the 'Tower of Babel [00:08:25]'.
When people build themself, this huge monument, and ultimately, it's a monument to their own creativity, to their own creative drive, and make a name for themselves, focusing on that creative drive and naming themselves after it. They are the tower-builders and this is what they created. The purpose of the tower is "'Hebrew [00:08:48]' - Let us make a name for ourselves." In fact, that too, seems to echo the garden. The Garden, if you really think about it - and we have talked about this, again, in the later lectures of our last series. The central sin, as it were, of eating from the 'Tree of Knowledge' in the 'Inaudible [00:09:04]' seems to be an over-indulgence of an unhealthy misidentification of self, as it were.
With the creative drive, one of the deepest and the strongest passion we have is the drive to create. When we mistake that drive for what we are, that is when we get stuck. When we over-identify with that drive, and see that it's not just a drive that we have, that we possess that is valuable, but is our central essence. In a nutshell, that's what we are. The central difficulty with the 'Tree of Knowledge' is - the Tree of Knowledge seems to be the tree of desire; the fruit seems to be dripping with desire. When you bring that desire, when you bring that fruit inside of you, you identify with that desire. Things look different to that point, you are off balance at that point; nakedness becomes a problem. How you identify with sensuality - sexuality - gets to be off 'Inaudible [00:10:09]'. It's no longer sort of a natural part of existence for you; it was before, but I am off balance because I have over-identified with it.
Sexuality is nothing but the biological manifestation of the drive to create; the tower is nothing but the technological manifestation of the drive to create. There are many manifestations of the drive to create. There's, of course, the agricultural drive to create, which we will see in the very next story after the Garden story, in the story of 'Cain and Abel [00:10:32]'. When Cain becomes intoxicated with the fruits of his labor - he has planted seeds in the ground, he has cultivated these seeds and he has become a partner with God and he has created this new life and he doesn't want to let go - that, essentially, is the legacy of the Tree of Knowledge: "Can you let go? Can you safely yield this drive to create? Do it in a way that doesn't destroy, or that doesn't become destructive? That it doesn't become self-obsessed? That it doesn't become narcissistic?"
The story of the tower is a story about naming yourself; it's about your legacy. Our legacy, that people say are "'Hebrew [00:11:11]' - Our legacy is that we are the tower builders. We are the technologically creative ones." God looks at that and says, "Hebrew [00:11:21]'". What God said, back in the Garden of Eden, "Now mankind has become like one of us, knowing good and evil." 'Inaudible [00:11:33]'. We find those echoes in the tower story, when God says, "'Hebrew[00:11:38] - now, look! This is one nation and this is what they've begun to do. Now less they continue doing it, and they'll never stop." The language, Hebrew, is almost a precise echo of the garden story. God sees a need to put an end to this, and does so in the same way, by the way - through exile in both stories. Exile from Eden in the Eden story, and in Eden's reflections from the tower, scattering, disbursal to the sight of the tower building.
So, these sort of two stories - and I made the argument back in the last series - that, it's not really just the tower stories which is about an unhealthy focus on creativity, but even in a deep kind of way in the Noah story, it's about unhealthy focus on creativity; it's about seeing things differently when you see things through the lens of your own threatened creativity. Noah looks at Ham and doesn't see his own involvement, doesn't see the fact that he himself got drunk, doesn't see the fact that he got himself naked. All he sees is the instigator here, that "Look at what Ham did!" and sort of assumes the God role and curses - the same way that God cursed the snake. Noah curses Ham and Noah is playing the roles, so to speak, of God; Noah, in his own world, is acting like God. But he is also the person who ate from the tree, who ate from the vineyard. He has that sort of dual role and the question is how to distinguish between them.
Anyway, we've talked about these issues really, back in our last series. We're not going to revisit them in detail right now. For the time being, just suffice it to say that it seems that the Garden story, that the Garden of Eden story, finds its echoes in reCreation stories - in the story of the tower and the vineyard.
Now, all of this is important for many reasons. Again, to fully really appreciate any of that, I once again recommend you go back to the last series. If you haven't listened to it, go back and listen to it. but one of the reason that it's important is because it sheds light upon the Abraham story. If you look at the development of the world, from the Garden forward, the development of the world, is essentially - if you look at the essential downfall of everything - the essential downfall of Adam and Even, of Cain and Abel, of the tower, of the vineyard - of all these, the rotten legacy of the Tree of Knowledge is not so difficult to discern this sort of narcissistic focus on guarding my own creativity. Its really to be seen everywhere. It's first seen with Cain and Abel, when Cain won't let go of the fruits of his creativity.
It's actually also seen before that. It's seen in Adam's naming of his wife. We mentioned the naming is central to the story of the tower. They said, "Let us build a name for ourselves." Well, that too, is an echo of the Garden story. There's naming in the Garden story. The naming is not the naming of Adam, it's the naming of Eve. Adam begins the story of the Garden by naming his wife 'Ishah [00:15:06]' and ends it by naming her 'Eve'. We have talked about this is great length in our series. But in a nutshell, the important thing to remember is that the name 'Eve' comes after the Tree of Knowledge. The name 'Ishah' - the name 'Woman' comes before. 'Woman' is a more natural understanding, as it were, of the role of women. Man looks at woman and sees in her essence, the other part of him. 'Hebrew [00:15:33]' - he calls her 'Ishah' - 'from man', literally, is what it means. 'Hebrew [00:15:39]' - because she was taken from man. That is a true description of who she is. She was taken from men, that's a biologically correct description, and that is what she is. She is his lost feminine side, as it were. Why doesn't he want to come together with her?
But in the wake of the eating from the tree and the wake of sort of internalizing the sense of desire, becoming over-awed with one's own sense of creativity - he becomes over awed with his wife's ability to create as well. He names her 'Khavah [00:16:14]'; 'Hebrew [00:16:17]', because she is the mother of all living flesh. It is an amazing thing to be the mother of all living flesh.
Interestingly enough, the Torah pairs that. Immediately after naming her 'Khavah', that's when they become embarrassed of their nakedness and they need clothes and they have to hide. They seem to be linked - that idea of needing clothes and being uncomfortable with nakedness, and naming her Khavah. It's the existance that who she is essentially is her creative potential. Perhaps a misidentification of who she essentially is. She is more than that; she is not just the ability to create, she is also a woman. But that's not being recognized. In that misidentification, perhaps, of the essential core of herself, also comes along with the embarrassment of nakedness, with the uncomfortableness, with relating to one's own, with sexuality of one's own, the ability to create, sort of being off-balance with respect to that.
Eve, then, in the story of Cain and Abel, says, "'Hebrew [00:17:21]'" - You can hear that identification of creativity in her declaration - "I have acquired a man with God" - the very first childbirth of the Torah described in terms suffused with the thrall of creativity, and not just the thrall of creativity, but the possessive aspect of it. "How do you let go? This is my child! I have acquired a man with God!" That would not have been how you would have said "I've created a man with God; I've formed a man with God." I've acquired a man with God! There's a kind of possessiveness there, which seems to find its echo in Cain himself, the person named after the word 'acquire'.
'Hebrew [00:17:57]' - Cain, I have acquired a man with God' yields the person devoted to acquisition who can't let go of his acquisitions, who can't let go of the products of his own creativity. He mimics his own mother; his mother has a child. He's not a woman, he can't have a child but he can have agricultural creativity. When he can't let go of his agricultural creativity, when he can't give God the best of what he has, then Cain falls as well.
These echos continue in the story of reCreation, in the story of the tower, in the story of the vineyard, and they come to an apex where they come to - I would even argue - a kind of redemption, in the beginning of the story of Abraham, which takes us to the beginning of this lecture series, and the very end of last lecture series.
We began the last lecture in our series, lecture 11, a brief history of the world from Adam to Abraham, by asking what I think is one of the most crucial questions that one can possibly ask about the book of Genesis. That is, the very simple question and easy to overlook question: why was Abraham chosen? Such a simple question! Why was Abraham chosen? Who was this guy? What did he do to merit being chosen? What's the deal? With Noah, at least we hear 'Hebrew [00:19:21]' - Noah was a righteous man; he walked with God. All right! Fine, we know exactly what he did; he did something.
Abraham - what did the man do? Before you know it, 'Hebrew [00:19:34]' - he's off! He's running. God tells him to go forth: "You're going to be a great nation. You are going to be wonderful. You're going to be everything." What happened? And, even more madelant, right when we would have expect to hear, why Abraham was chosen, we instead get six verses with nothing but what appears to be mind-numbing genealogy, which gives us no clue about anything: who married who, who went there, where they went, what they did - all of that. It's all very odd; it's all very strange. Why is it that we hear those mind-numbing verses of genealogy?
Well, in essence, the argument that we made in our last lecture was that if you look very carefully at the genealogy that precedes 'Hebrew [00:20:16]', if you look very carefully at the genealogy at the very end of Chapter 11 in Genesis, it's not the kind of thing that you would want to breeze through quickly. There's actually a story hidden in the genealogy, and learning that story, is a fantastic endeavor which I think ends in incredible new light on the question of why Abraham was chosen. And essentially what happens is that, there seems to be a beginning of a third world as it were - the beginning of Abraham's world, ties together these things with the Garden. What we seem to have here is another reflection of the Garden story, or to put it more accurately, a reflection of the tower and the vineyard story.
As you listen to this genealogy, if you listen very carefully, you will hear the echoes of the tower, you will hear echoes of the vineyard. Whereas in the Garden story, the story of the Creation [00:21:07] splits, in reCreation, into two stories that mirror the Garden - the story of the tower and the story of the vineyard. Those two stories come back together in Abraham's world, in this story that seems to bear the hallmark of both of them. And seems to be the first steps in putting back the problems with the Tree of Knowledge. If you see what the Tree of Knowledge, as essentially, an unhealthy focus, an unhealthy centering of oneself, in one's creative desire and one's legacy and one's ability to create, in one's legacy of having created - whether that's the product of one's sexual union, children; whether its the product of some agricultural union, and in fruits or the products of technological creativity, the tower. Whatever it is, if you see that as the essential difficulty with the Tree of Knowledge, what you see here is the genealogy story that proceeds 'Hebrew [00:22:00]' in the very first Abraham story is perhaps the first baby steps towards a solution to that problem. And it is perhaps, because of those babysteps, that God chooses Abraham for the mission, which will define his life.
Going back to Lecture 11, I am going to post Lecture 11 along with this one, so if you go back and listen to it, I am not going to give a detailed rendition of it. All I'm going to say is that, if you haven't listened to it, as part of last series, I do recommend that you get back to it here.
Here, though, is a brief synopsis of the main point that we made when we looked at Abraham prologue these six verses of genealogy that immediately precede God choosing Abraham at the beginning of 'Hebrew [00:22:43]'. You want to follow along with me in the text; we're looking at - let's see - it should be Genesis, Chapter 11, verse 26, or so. We have 6 verses here. Again, the challenge is to see the story behind the mind-numbing genealogy. So, here's the story.
'Hebrew [00:23:01]' - these are the generations of 'Terakh [00:23:05]'. Terakh gives birth to Abraham; 'Hebrew [00:23:05]'. Now you have to keep this in mind: there's a father here, and three sons. The three sons were Abraham, 'Nahor and Haran [00:23:13]'. And then, we were told, 'Hebrew [00:23:16]'; we are told of the youngest son giving birth to a child himself, a child by the name of 'Lot [00:23:21]'. Now, one of the things that I want you to do in trying to discern the story here, as you are listening to this genealogy, ask yourself: where have we heard this before? What story does this remind you of?
So, what story does this remind you off that occurs earlier in the Torah? The story like this, which also begins with a father and three children; that also begins with the child of the youngest of those three children being discussed. In this case, it is Lot - the child of the youngest of Terakh's children, Horan. Then, immediately after we hear about the first three children, tragedy falls. 'Hebrew [00:23:54]' - tragedy befalls the youngest son. Haran dies in the face of his father, in the presence of his father. 'Hebrew [00:24:06]' in the land in which he was born and 'Inaudible [00:24:10]' him. Then, 'Hebrew [00:24:11]' - the two brothers spring into action. What story is this reminding you off? Abraham and Nahor spring into action marrying wives - we'll talk a little bit about that. But the story which I am talking about , the story which this refers to, can go back. We're trying to post this in a powerpoint - it was awesome, Lecture 11. We'll re-copy it here.
The story which we are hearing echoes of here, in this genealogy, is the story of Noah. Ten generations earlier, there is a very similar story. A story that proceeds along similar lines, which occurs with another father figure. In this case, not Terakh; but Noah has three children and Noah's children are not Abraham, Nahor and Haran but rather they're Shem, Ham and Japheth. Ham is the youngest son and interestingly, when we are reintroduced to these children in the story of the vineyard and the story of Noah, and the vineyard which we talked about earlier, in that story, we were told about a child of the youngest son. Ham has a child; his name is Canaan, and we are told about Canaan. And that is a foreshadow of terrible things to follow, because Canaan is cursed, is destroyed by his father. Noah curses his at the end of that story, and indeed in this story too, tragedy befalls this youngest child, Lot. Haran dies. In both cases, the child - the youngest child - Haran, gives birth to Lot; Ham, gives birth to Canaan. Both Canaan and Lot suffer through the deaths of their fathers. They are the ones that bear the burden of this death.
Now, ten generations before, immediately after the deaths, so to speak, or the curses of Ham, or 'Inaudible [00:25:51]' the curses of Ham - of the two brothers that sprung into action, Shem and Japheth had spread the cloak over their father's nakedness. There was nothing they could do for Ham, but they could do something for their father's dignity, and they covered their father. Ham had seen the nakedness of their father when Noah was drunk, and Shem and Japheth cover that nakedness of Noah, with the cloak. Here too, in our story with Abraham, immediately after the death of Haran, the two brothers spring into action. Those two brothers were Abraham and Nahor. And what do they do? They marry wives.
The question is that, is there a parallel between the marrying of wives of Abraham and Nahor, and the spreading of the cloak? This is what we talked about in Lecture 11 that we briefly review now. I do believe that such a parallel exists. I think that essentially what Shem and Japheth were seeking to do - they couldn't do anything for the lost legacy of their brother Ham. But Abraham and Nahor can do something for the lost legacy of their brother Haran.
If you look carefully at what Abraham and Nahor are doing, at the wives who they marry - that is the key. Who do Abraham and Nahor marry? The torah says that Abraham marries a woman by the name of 'Sarai [00:27:16]' and Nahor marries a woman by the name of 'Milcah [00:27:18]'. But it tells us who Milcah is. Milcah is the daughter of Haran. Okay? So that means that Nahor - listen carefully - is marrying his niece, is marrying the daughter of his deceased brother. So, why is he doing that? His brother just died and now, all of a sudden, he is marrying the daughter of his deceased brother. Why would he be doing that?
Apparently, he is trying to take care of her. Really? That's 'Inaudible [00:27:46]' trying to take care of her; he's trying to do something deeper. I think he is trying to perpetuate the legacy of his dead brother. If you think about what - this reminds us actually of law in the Torah. It reminds us of the law of 'levirate [00:27:58]' marriage. The Torah, and the 'Deuteronomy [00:28:01]' talks about two brothers that lived together. And then one dies, and he doesn't have any children. so the brother that remains seems to perpetuate the legacy of the brother that is dead by marrying - in the Torah's case - his wife, the widow of the deceased. The child that comes from that is a child called after the deceased. He is seen as the perpetuation of the legacy of the deceased. If you think about it - this, I think is a good way.
The 'Yibum [00:28:31]' - the law in the Torah is called 'Yibum [00:28:34]', levirate marriage - is seen as a very concentrated form of 'Hebrew [00:28:37]'. To just get an idea to wrap your mind around 'why', you need to think about the following: who is the most vulnerable person in the world? The most vulnerable person in the world? I think the most vulnerable person in the world is somebody who is dead. If you are dead, you still have some interest in the world; you just can't look after them. You are very vulnerable. What if the person who is the closest to you - the closest person to you in the world is your brother; what's the greatest gift that you can possibly share with somebody? The most personal gift you could possibly share with someone - your own children. That's what Yibum is about, that's what levirate marriage is about. It's when the most vulnerable person in the world is the most closest person in the world to you - your brother. You share with them the most special personal gift in the world, which is your own children to perpetuate his legacy, to take care of his vulnerability. It's not just your legacy that you bear your children; it will be your brother's legacy too. It's the greatest possible gift that you can give to the closest, most vulnerable person in the world.
And this is what Nahor begins to do. He does not marry the wife of the deceased, but he marries the daughter of the deceased apparently, trying to perpetuate the name of Haran. Now, the 'sages [00:29:53]' say, that Abraham married Sarai but Sarai was, in fact, 'Iscah [00:29:58]'. The Torah identifies Iscah as the sister of Milcah. In other words, the other daughter of the deceased Haran. According to the 'Sages [00:30:08]', Abraham and Nahor are both marrying daughters of the deceased. Now, the proof for this seems to be the singular verb 'Hebrew [00:30:17]'. It's a strange one; when it talks about Abraham and Nahor marrying these wives, even though both Abram and Nahor marry wives, the verb is singular: 'Hebrew [00:30:30]'. It should have been a plural verb because the subject of the verb is 'two men'. Nevertheless, the singular verb!
It turns out that earlier, in the story which this mimics - the story of the vineyard - we also have a similar singular verb: 'Hebrew [00:30:44]'. That Shem and Japheth together take the cloak, but it's singular. And 'Rashi [00:30:49]' over there, comments on the singular use of the verb 'take' and says a fascinating thing, and says that what it suggests is that the real acting party of the story, was in fact, Abram. Because the real acting party was, in fact Shem. The way to read this is: 'Hebrew [00:31:08]'- Shem took, along with Japheth -'. It's suggesting a primacy of Shem's action.
Here, too. Abram is the prime actor, and Nahor tags along. Now what is the action that they are doing? The action of marrying nieces - that's what Nahor does. It follows that, that was what Abram was doing too, that Iscah and Sarai are the same people. As I mentioned in Lecture 11, Iscah and Sarai mean the same. They both mean 'princess'; they mean the same things. The great act that Abram and Nahor are doing, is that they're marrying the daughters of the deceased in an attempt to perpetuate the legacy, to 'Inaudible[00:31:46]' the shame, to perpetuate the name of their dead brother. They're sharing their greatest gift, the gift of their on biological creativity - their own children. If you think about this in the context of what's been happening in World number 1 and world number 2, we have seen this sort of obsession with personal creativity, this obsession with one's own legacy, starting with the tower - not starting with the tower, starting with the garden, as we discussed, continuing with the tower and the vineyard. The chain is broken, the chain is redeemed, as it were, with Abram and Nahor.
Shem and Japheth do a good job. Shem and Japheth, in the story which this mimics, ten generations earlier. But you know, they also tried to rectify things. They tried to rectify damage but they couldn't do anything for the lost legacy of Ham. Ham was cursed; there was nothing they could do about it. The best they could do was to try to help their father, and to cover his nakedness. But here, finally, after all this generations, we have brother acting for brother: Abram and Nahor standing up for Haran, a dead brother, and giving the greatest possible gift you can give. This seems to be a very special act. Now, just to finish the story, what happens? The very next thing that we are told is that Sarai is 'Hebrew [00:33:02]'; she is barren. She can't have children. Now, if you think about that: when Sarai is barren and she can't have children, it puts Abram in a terrible quandary. Here he is, he was ready to sacrifice everything and to try to somewhat perpetuate the legacy of their brother, whereas Nahor might have done it successfully. Abraham couldn't do it. It was the best laid plans of 'Inaudible [00:33:25]'; he tried but she couldn't give birth, they couldn't have children.
Now if you are a man, and you marry this woman, and you try to somehow keep the name of your brother going by and she can't have children, at that point: what do you do? Well, this is what I think is the very first hint of the great challenge of what I am going to argue as Abraham's journey in this series.
I think the real issue that Abraham struggle with is, that can he keep his eye on the ball? Can He maintain this vision? This vision of selflessness, this vision of not becoming obsessed, not becoming narcissistic, not become wrapped up in your own name - this devotion to the legacy of others. Can he continue it? The challenge that Abraham has faced is, "She can't have children, I tried. Maybe it's time to focus on my own legacy. Enough with Sarai, enough with poor Iscah! Maybe I should marry somebody else and have my own children." This is a normal thing to be faced with. Here, I think, it echoed a very chilling thing that happens next. Immediately after we are told that Sarai doesn't have any children, the next verse that we hear is - let's just read it here - Sarai is 'Hebrew [00:34:38]', she doesn't have children. And then Terakh goes, with Lot; and everyone goes, and they leave 'Hebrew [00:34:43]' and they go to Canaan, this very special place, but they don't get there. They only get as far as Haran.
'Hebrew [00:34:49]' - and then they settle there. Now, if they settle there, it means that they are not travelling anymore. They were going to Canaan - by the way, Canaan, ten generations ago, was the brother that was cursed. In a metaphor, it says that they really are going to Canaan. They are going to the Canaan in their own family. They're going to Lot, they are going to Haran. They're going to try to resuscitate his name. But they don't get there; they fail. Terakh dies; he tries to take care of Lot and go with them, but he can't. Abraham marries a 'womb [00:35:19]' but can't have children. They try to go to Canaan, but they can't go there. They're stuck at Haran, but 'Hebrew [00:35:24]'. 'Hebrew [00:35:26]' - they settle there. When they settle somewhere, you are not travelling anymore. It means that you are on the verge of giving up the quest.
Giving up the quest, right? There's something very chilling here. 'Hebrew [00:35:34]' only appears one other time: they settled there. As I mentioned in Lecture 11, it only appears one other time in the Bible, in the 5 books of Moses, in 'Hebrew [00:35:47]'. The other time is just a mere 20 or so verses earlier in the tower story. There too, there was interrupted travel. There, too, people were on one place and have destination in mind, but they didn't get there. 'Hebrew [00:36:01]' - there, people were of one language, and 'Hebrew [00:36:07]' - they were travelling from the East. But then, they stopped. 'Hebrew [00:36:11]' - they happened to find a valley; 'Hebrew [00:36:14]' - and they settled there. 'And they settled there' - the only other time it appears is in the tower. What did the tower people devote themselves to? They devoted themselves to making a tower that is nothing but - what? 'Hebrew [00:36:30]' - that's their goal: 'Let us make a name for ourself'.
This is the challenge of Abraham. Will he succumb to the challenge of the tower? When you try to selflessly devote yourself to the legacy of your brother and it doesn't work, you can't have children. Maybe its time for your own legacy? 'Hebrew [00:36:46]'. You're stuck; maybe now its the time to think of making our own name. I think this is Abraham's challenge.
Enter God. Right? 'Hebrew [00:36:59]' - Keep the quest going. And this is the beginning of Abraham's journey. I believe this is Abraham's journey. "It was a good idea," God says, "Keep on going to Canaan." But this is his journey; and I think this is where we will see in the story ahead. Everything I think of the story ahead is going to revolve around this journey. The journey is going to Canaan; the journey is going to not just the land of Canaan - that's one Canaan - but also going to the Canaan in your own family. And it's not taking your eye off the ball. Abraham had a dream to perpetuate the legacy of his brother, selflessly dedicate himself to the perpetuation of a threatened legacy for his very own brother. And he had that dream, and Nahor followed that dream, and that's the plan. And the idea is to keep on going there.
I think that everything that Abraham does is kind of measured against that. But what Abraham is doing, I think, is very key. He has been asked to built the nation. And let's even look at these first versions of 'Hebrew [00:38:03]'. 'Hebrew [00:38:05]' - in the beginning of Chapter 12: "Go forth to your father's house, to the land that I will show you." And now listen to these words, they are very chilling. Keep the tower in mind, the last story that we have. "'Hebrew [00:38:20]' - I will make you into a great nation. 'Hebrew [00:38:23]' - and I will bless you, and I will make your name great. 'Hebrew [00:38:28]'."
After the tower, history changed. No longer was God dealing with a united humanity; God was dealing with a fragmented humanity. In a fragmented humanity, there needs to be a new plan. No longer can God relate one-on-one with the whole world. There are different families, and God needs to relate to those different families. How does that work? So, the new plan is: let's take one family. Let's build them up into a nation, and let's somehow make it work with that nation. LEt that nation become a model, and through that, 'Inaudible [00:39:01]' dedication to God spread. We have to start somewhere; a new agenda is required in the wake of the tower, and who are you going to pick?
God settles on Abraham. Why? Because there's a great danger with nationhood, especially given the past experience with humanity. The legacy of the 'Tree of Knowledge' - the terrible legacy of the Tree of Knowledge is obsession with your own creativity, obsession with your own narcissism, obsession with your own name. Well, if you are going to build one family up into one nation, what's the challenge? It's very easy for that nation to be inwardly focused, very easily. For that nation to think that it's all about them. You need a nation that's devoted outwards to as selfless cause, that does not see it as all about them. That, I think, is what you hear in the Abraham story.
Now, listen to the beginning of the Abraham story: 'Hebrew [00:39:57]' - to make you into a great nation; 'Hebrew[00:40:01]' - I'll bless you; 'Hebrew [00:40:03]' - I'll make your name very great." A great name? In the wake of the tower? "Let us make a name for ourselves." Who are you going to give a great name? That's a very scary thing. And this is the great challenge, by the way, for Abraham. It's a great challenge for his nation, not just for Abraham, for his nation. How do you not become self-absorbed with a great name? You need a great name; the nation has to have a high profile in the world. It's got to impact the whole world. But they can't become self-absorbed. They can't become absorbed in themselves. 'Hebrew [00:40:31]'; interestingly, 'Hebrew[00:40:33]' means an outpouring. It will be a blessing, that you will be a great name. It's not just going to be a great name, it's going to be a great name that influences the world. 'Hebrew[00:40:42]' - there is this interaction between the worlds. "I will bless those who bless you; I will curse those who curse you. 'Hebrew [00:40:50]' - through you, all of the nations of the Earth will be blessed." This is going to be the key. This nation will be the key. But in order for this nation to be the key, the nation can't become focused on it's own name.
Abraham has laid the groundwork to making that work. But, it is not a done deal. It is a journey, and Abraham goes through a terrible journey on the way towards realizing this goal. What is the nature of that journey? It is a struggle, I think, with this issue, with not becoming self-absorbed in your shame, with a selfless dedication. Selfless dedication to who? A dedication to those close to you, to those around you? To you brother? And a dedication to God. You know, the 'Medrish [00:41:34]' says that Abraham got himself thrown into the furnace, and tells the famous story - its not a story that's written in Tanakh, but it's a story that the 'Medrish [00:41:46]' tells. It's the story of Abraham being thrown into the fiery furnaces. And when Abraham is thrown into the fiery furnaces for refusal to recognize idology and to cling to monotheism.
So, you would think that this is the Torah tells us about. The Torah doesn't tell us about this, the Medrish tells us about it. But if you think about what the Medrish is telling, it's telling a complimentary story to the story that the Torah tells. The story that the Torah tells is the story of Abraham who is willing to put his legacy on the line for other's legacy, for his brother's legacy. All that Medrish is telling us is that not only does Abraham put his life on the line for his brother's legacy, he puts his life on the line, his legacy on the line for God's legacy, as well.
This is the hallmark of really great people. I think, it's because their greatness is expressed simultaneously in all their relationships, and their relationships with God. And in the relationship with their brothers and their relationships with their family,and their relationships with their fellow men. This is Abraham's greatness, but this is also his challenge. Throughout his life, I believe, the challenges of the Garden, the challenges of the tower, the challenges of the vineyard, will always be lurking in the shadow. Will you give into those challenges? As we reap through the stories, that will be the question that I think that will face us, front and center. What are those challenges?
So, here's my assignment that I want to give you. I would like you to read through the Abraham story; I'd like you to go through Chapter 12, Chapter 13. go through the story, and keep the story of the tower and the story of the vineyard in mind. Keep the garden in mind; keep all of this in mind. What do you see? What do you see in terms of the issues that Abraham is struggling with? You will see it in the words; you will see it in the concepts, you will see it in the ideas, you will see it in the themes. And what is the story that develops? These are not just a bunch of short stories. His interaction with Lot, his interaction with the angels - all of these things are not just isolated short stories, they are part of a developing novel. They're part of a developing plot, they are stages of the development of a plot.
You will see apparent repetition that's not really repetition. There are stories that seem to repeat themselves. God's promises to Abraham repeating themselves over and over; but if you look carefully, they're not repeating themselves. There's a development in the stories. Our challenge will be to trace that development. If you can, over the next week, look through these Abraham stories. Try to catalog them, try to outline them in your own mind: what's happening? And try to see and project that development.
We'll come back next week and we will compare notes. I look forward to seeing you then.