Monday, November 06, 2017

better than a free gift

After passing the test of the akeidah Avraham is told his reward: "V'hisbarchu b'zaracha kol goyei ha'aretz eikev asher shamata b'koli." (22:18)

Some of the meforshim ask: what kind of a reward is this?  Avraham had already been promised this by G-d at the beginning of Lech Lecha: "V'nivrechu becha kol mishp'chos ha'adamah." (12:3)  Now, ten tests later, he is promised the same thing all over again -- that's it?! 

I want to suggest a solution based on a beautiful Netziv elsewhere in our parsha.  B'pashtus, the story of the angels being welcomed by Lot and being invited into his home in contrast to the attack upon them by the rest of the populace of Sdom serves to establish a zechus for Lot so that he would merit being saved and seals the fate of the people of Sdom by their wickedness.  Yet that can't be.  As we discussed last post, the fate of Sdom was already sealed before the malachim even got there.  Hashem had already refused Avraham's prayers on their behalf and one the angels was on a mission to destroy the city.  The other angel that came to Sdom was there to save Lot, so his fate too was already sealed.  The reaction of Lot and the reaction of the people of Sdom to the arrival of the angels did not make any difference to the outcome.  So why is this story interjected?

Netziv (Harchev Davar) answers that there is something even better than G-d given you a free favor and rescuing you in a time of need.  What's even better is earning that gift and reward.  G-d would certainly have saved Lot no matter what; Sdom would have been destroyed in any case.  However, by sending the angels, Hashem provided Lot with the opportunity to do chessed and earn the rescue that he was going to be given (see also Ohr haChaim 19:1).  Hashem have the people of Sdom the opportunity to demonstrate their wickedness so that there was no question of their deserving everything they got. 

The greatest gift that Hashem can give is the opportunity to serve him and earn the bracha and yeshu'a that is needed and not have to get it as a handout.

Perhaps the key difference between the bracha in parshas Lech Lecha and the bracha in VaYeira is the end of the pasuk: "Eikev asher shamata b'koli."   EIkev means you've earned it; it's not a favor, but rather it's a justified outcome.  That could only come after the tenth test. 


  1. (only after one declares three flagrant distinctions* between the two pesukim muktzeh--)

    1) did Hashem at 12:3 trust that Avraham would past his ultimate test, and with that faith, rather than offer an initial "favor", simply present what was in His mind an all but certain "reward" in advance? and did Avraham realize this upon hearing 22:18 and so say to Hashem, 'raba emunahsecha!' (great has been Your faith in the strength of my commitment from the outset)?

    2) the interpretation given above would seem to require a corresponding adjustment in the first part of 12:3, 'I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you I will curse'-- isn't this outright favoritism? for what if the blessing given Avraham (or his seed) is completely undeserved? the blesser is incentivized to bless anyway, as to do so redounds to his benefit! and what if a curse of Avraham (or his seed) is called for (G-d forbid)? the potential curser will hesitate/forego, so as to avoid a (unjust!?) rebound on his own head! after test ten as read above, the pasuk should be retroactively understood to read, 'I will bless those who rightfully** bless you, and him who wrongfully curses you I will curse'-- justice, not favor...

    *you/your seed, families/nations, and perhaps less starkly, ha'adama/ha'aretz

    **with discretion, with cause

    1. (rightfully bless-- not only that Israel is discerned to be somehow deserving, but that the blesser be sincere, that he(they) blesses lishma and not just for the resulting reward;
      thus would blessings upon Israel need to pass a test

      wrongfully curses-- not only that the curse be unwarranted, but that it be issued with malice ((the curser might have mistakenly thought a curse was due, a lesser though hardly benign offense)); likewise a curse warranted yet malicious would be subject to Omniscient evaluation, tested before He curse in turn)