סדר לך לך

לך לך מארצך וממוֹלדתך ומבית אביך

Go for yourself from your country, from your kindred and from your father’s house

Genesis 12:2

The verse seems out of order; it would have been more appropriate to write: “מבית אביך וממולדתך ומארצך”. And our master suggested that the order of the verse was the basis for the Midrash Rabbah (39) to relate this verse to the one in Psalms (45:11): “שמעי בת וראי והטי אזנך ושׁכחי עמך ובית אביך” (Listen, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear; forget your own people and your father’s house). Because an individual, before forgetting his father’s house, is likely to forget his homeland and the customs of his country, the Scripture writes: “לך לך” (go for yourself), the intent being that Abraham, in the normal progression of forgetting, would abandon and forget first his country, then his kindred, and finally his father’s house. 

However, according to Rashi, who explains that Abraham had already left his country, it must be that God commanded him to move even further away and to leave his father’s house. The order of the verse is therefore correct, because Abraham had already left his country and settled in Haran. It was in Haran that God commanded Abraham to move again, even further away from his country and from his kindred, and, his father having settled in Haran, to leave his father’s house as well.

Our master further explained, in the name of his father the gaon (R. Abraham Glasner, 1826-78), the reversal of the order in this verse as follows. The Scripture wanted to explain why God commanded Abraham to leave his homeland when Abraham’s great achievement had been to proclaim the name of God and to bring people closer to monotheism. Surely the most appropriate place for Abraham to reside in would have been in his native country where, according to the tradition of our Sages, he had miraculously survived being thrown into a fiery furnace. However, someone who had been sent by God to admonish his contemporaries about their beliefs should, above of all, see to it that members of his own household and his own family should also incline toward his beliefs and follow his path. But if members of his own family departed from his ways, and, ignoring his rebuke, betray him, the public would conclude that he is insincere. For if he were sincere, how could his own household and his own family disregard his words? We know that the members of the household of Abraham’s father were wicked, and that Abraham’s own brother Haran just stood aside in detached silence while Avraham was confronting his contemporaries. That is why the Scripture writes ”לך לך מארצך” (go for yourself from you country). The reason for going is to leave “ממולדתך ומבית אביך“ (your kindred and your father’s house). Abraham was obliged to depart from there, because his kindred and his father’s house were impeding his mission, because their bad example was preventing his words from influencing those who were not connected to him.

ויעתק משם וכו’ ויט אהלה

And he moved from there . . . and pitched his tent

Genesis 12:8

Rashi comments that the text is written “אהלה” even though it is read “אהלו” (his tent) to teach us that Abraham pitched Sarah’s tent before pitching his own tent. The Siftei Hakhamim asks how Rashi knew which tent Abraham pitched first. And it appears to our master that since the text had to be written before it could be read, Rashi deduced that Abraham pitched Sarah’s tent (“אהלה”) before pitching his own (“אהלו”).

As the Siftei Hakhamim noted, Abraham accorded his wife greater honor than he accorded himself. For even though Abraham presumably stayed in Sarah’s tent until his own tent was pitched, he nevertheless acted deferentially toward her inasmuch as she stayed only in her own tent while Avraham had to go from one tent to the other. 

ולאברם היטיב בעבורה

And he treated Abram well for her sake

Genesis 12:16

Our Sages say that this verse teaches us that no blessing is found in a man’s house except because of his wife. But one must wonder whether anyone would hope for a blessing such as this ­– to receive presents because his wife had been taken away from him. And our master explained in the name of his father the gaon that the teaching must be deduced from the next part of the verse “ויהי לו צאן ובקר וחמרִים ועבדים ושפחת ואתנת וגמלים” (and he had sheep, and oxen, and he-asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she-asses, and camels). But the Scripture does not say that Pharaoh gave these to Abraham. Nor would it have been the practice of a king to give presents in kind, instead giving only gold and silver which would be readily available in his treasury. Where would Pharaoh have even found the sheep and oxen to give Avraham? We also see that Avimelekh gave Avraham a thousand pieces of silver after taking Sarah. In those days kings were not involved in working the land, so they did not have large herds of cattle or teams of servants at their ready disposal.

So, it seems clear that Pharaoh gave Abraham a substantial sum of gold and silver, and Abraham then gave the funds to his wife, the mainstay of his house, to use as she saw fit. He did so in particular because the funds came into his possession only on her account. Now, if Sarah had preferred vanity and emptiness, or silk and embroidered clothes, or the finest serving dishes and utensils, all this wealth would have been dissipated. But she truly was the mainstay of Abraham’s house, so she used the funds from Pharaoh to buy servants and cattle that would enrich their owners. This is what the Scripture meant by saying “ולאברם היטיב בעבורה” )and he treated Abram well for her sake). In other words, Abraham was benefitted “for her sake,” because Abraham was benefitted and blessed by the estate that he received from Pharaoh only because of her and through her. The Scripture goes on to explain that “he had sheep and cattle . . .” which means that the gold and silver that he received from Pharaoh were exchanged for cattle and sheep and servants, because Sarah did not dissipate the newly acquired wealth on unproductive things. Our Sages evidently understood the verse properly when observing that the verse shows that a blessing is found in a man’s house only because of his wife, for we see that, but for Sarah, even royal gifts would not have enriched Abraham.

ואברם בן שמונים ושש שנים בלדת הגר את ישמעאל לאברם

And Abram was eighty six years old, when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram

Genesis 16:16

Rashi comments that this verse is written in praise of Ishmael – that although he was thirteen years old when he was circumcised, he did not resist. And many have seen this and been perplexed, for is it not written explicitly (Genesis 17:25) וישמעאל בנוֹ בן שלשׁ עשרה שנה בהמֹלוֹ את בשר ערלתוֹ (And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin)? So why was it necessary to provide yet another indication that he was thirteen when he was circumcised?

The Siftei Hakhamim answers this question in two ways: (1) since his age is mentioned twice, we may infer that Ishmael submitted to circumcision, because God commanded him to do so, not because he was afraid of his father; (2) the Scripture wanted to teach us that Ishmael was exactly thirteen years old, and that this is the age of adulthood for all Jewish males.

However, our master rejected the words of the Siftei Hakhamim, there being no need to repeat Ishmael’s age to teach us that he was exactly thirteen years old. Once would have been enough. Nor does the age of adulthood for Noahides depend on chronological age, because no specific quantities were given to Gentiles. Rather, we assess a person’s judgment to determine whether he has attained an adult’s level of judgment. Nor is it correct, as the Siftei Hakhamim maintains, that Ishmael willingly allowed himself be circumcised to fulfill the commandment of God, because, as the Talmud tells us (Sanhedrin 59b), Ishmael and Esau were not included among the progeny of Abraham. The commandment to be circumcised, therefore, did not apply to Ishmael. Nor was he, even though the son of a maidservant, considered to have been “born in his house” (יליד ביתו) or “bought with his money” (מקנת כספו), because Abraham, before circumcision, had the status, according to all opinions, of a Noahide, and a Noahide cannot acquire a property right in the person of a slave. Therefore, if a Noahide has a son from a maidservant, the boy has the status of a son, not a slave, as our master has fully explained in his pamphlet חקור דבר. Nor did Abraham have any right to force his adult slaves to be circumcised against their will, just as the slave of a Jew acquired from a Gentile, who is unwilling to be circumcised, may not be circumcised, and may remain in the household of the Jew for twelve months without being circumcised, as the Talmud explains in Yevamot. A Jew could circumcise minor slaves born in his household (ילידי ביתו) or purchased with money (מקנת כספו) only if their mothers gave their consent for their sons to be circumcised to a Jewish court, because only a Jewish court may authorize the conversion of a minor.

Our master therefore explained that what the Scripture wished to teach us by indicating Ishmael’s age twice was precisely that not only had Ishmael reached the age of thirteen, but that he also had achieved sufficient maturity to make his own decision for himself with no one else exercising control over him. Nevertheless, he consented to be circumcised with a willing heart and soul. The Scripture therefore writes (Genesis 17:23) ויקח אברהם את ישמעאל בנו ואת כל יליד בית (And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house) to teach us that he took them with words (by persuasion), as they say about the verse (Numbers 16:1) ויקח קרח (And Korah took), that he took them with words (by persuasion). Abraham spoke words of persuasion and conciliation which induced all the adult males in Abraham’s household (באנשי ביתו) to enter into the covenant, for only an adult is called a man (איש).

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