1) Rashi comments on “Eileh toldos Noach” that the toldos, the offspring or fruits of a tzadik, are his torah and good deeds. Now we understand, writes the Shem m’Shmuel, what we mean in our musaf for Rosh Chodesh when we say it is “zman kaparah l’chol toldosam.” We need a kaparah even for our toldos, our good deeds and Torah, that may have been done in a rushed, careless way. (I meant to post this earlier in the week around Rosh Chodesh, but better later than never.)
2) I wrote earlier in the week that sometimes an individual may find that a specific mitzvah resonates with him/her. By “coincidence” this week my daughter’s H.S. distributed an information packet about various seminaries and I noticed that R’ Copperman from Michlala refers to this idea in his letter. He quotes the Netziv’s Harchev Davar at the end of P’ Shelach who explains the Mishna in Avos, “Eizehu derech yeshasah she’yavor lo ha’adam,” as meaning that an individual has to choose their own direction in avodas Hashem. Aside from that path being “tiferes lo min Shamayim,” pleasing in G-d’s eyes, it also has to be “tiferes lo min ha’adam,” something that appeals to him/her as an individual, something that resonates with his/her neshoma. Some people are drawn to chessed; some people are drawn to learning; some people are drawn to other good deeds. We each have our own task to fulfill.
3) In our parsha we read that Hashem struck Pharoah “al dvar Sarai eishes Avram.” (12:17) From the emphasis placed on Sarah’s being “eishes Avram” it sounds like Sarah was spared from harm only because she was Avraham’s wife. The Netziv asks: did Sarah not have zechuyos of her own ? Is it only her being Avraham’s wife -- Avraham’s merits -- that earned Hashem’s intervention?
The Netziv answers by setting down a yesod that runs though his commentary in many places and something worth keeping in mind in looking at the upcoming parshiyos. Just as each of us has our own path in avodas Hashem, the same was true of the Avos, each of whom excelled at a particular aspect of avodah: for Avraham it was Torah, for Yitzchak it was avodah/tefilah, for Ya’akov it was gemilus chassadim. In turn, each of the Avos received a different type of reward/merit and faced different types of challenges. The reward for Ya’akov’s chessed was shalom; that’s where he ran into challenges and that’s where he would ultimately find the greatest success. The reward for avodah is wealth, and we that Yitzchak instituted ma’asros as a means of thanking Hashem for his enormous fortune. Torah is compared to a sword, and Avraham’s success was in waging war against anything that stood in his path, whether it be an internal or an external enemy, e.g. Avraham’s war against the kings mentioned later in our parsha.
The miracle of Avraham being saved from the furnace of Nimrod is never mentioned in the Torah (a question raised by the Rishonim) according to Netziv because at the time that miracle happened Avraham was not yet the master of Torah that he would later become. Avraham was saved from Nimrod, but Nimrod was not defeated – which is what would have happened had Avraham been able to invoke the sword of Torah that would later characterize his behavior. The Torah is not a story book, it’s not a history of the Avos, it’s not a book of miracles that happened to tzadikim. The Torah relates events that help portray the Avos as archetypes, not every biographical detail of their lives. (We need to look at the later parshiyos and see how this thesis fits – I am sure questions spring to mind.)
Sarah certainly could have been saved from Pharoah in her own merit, independent of Avraham’s zechuyos. However, the Torah calls our attention to Avraham’s merits because Sarah was not only saved, but Pharoah was struck down in the process. That’s the sword at work, the merit of Torah – that was Avraham’s unique hallmark.
4) All this talk about individuality is warm up for an amazing Maor vaShemesh: Avraham beseeches Hashem for a son (15:2) and complains that the only one who he has to pass his legacy on to is “Damesek Eliezer.” Chazal interpret the word Damesek not as the place Eliezer came from – why would that be relevant to mention here? – but rather as an abbreviation for “doleh u’mashkeh toras rabbo l’acheirim.” Eliezer faithfully passed the teachings of Avraham to others like a person drawing from a well so others could drink. It’s a wonderful description of Eliezer, but, asks the Maor v’Shemesh, doesn’t it undermine Avraham’s point? Doesn’t Avraham weaken his case for needing a worthy heir by mentioning that Eliezer is such a faithful student, someone who spreads his Torah everywhere?
We have to read Chazal carefully. Eliezer was “doleh u’mashkeh toras rabbo,” he spread his rebbi’s Torah to others – Eliezer was a duplicating machine who saw his mission as getting others to be little Avraham Avinus. It’s like the story of the Rosh Yeshiva who moved the broom away from his doorway to get to his Chanukah menorah and made sure to tell his students that it’s not a minhag, only to see them year after year move brooms away from their doorways and say it’s not a minhag. Avodas Hashem is not about being a mimic. It’s not about copying “toras rabbo,” but about taking its lessons to heart and developing **your** torah. Avraham wanted an heir that would internalize his teachings and make them into something of their own, not simply copy them and force themselves to conform to his model.
Hashem’s response to Avraham is to lift him above the Heavens to see the stars, each of which is its own source of energy and light. So too, each one of us brings our own light, our own unique, individual perspective, into the world.