Lech Leha

Torah Fax

Friday, November 7, 2003 - 12 MarCheshvan, 5764

Torah Reading:Lech Lecha (Genesis  12:1 - 17:27)
Candle Lighting Time: 4:27 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:28 PM  

Dusty Stars

Abraham is singled out in the Torah as a man of exceptional faith. Yet, in this week's parsha, a rather unusual exchange between Abraham and G‑d ensues that seems to belie his identification with faith. When G‑d promises him Divine protection and great reward, Abraham demurs and states (Gen 15:2-3): "What can you give me, when I am going childless.. Behold you have not given me children..." In other words, Abraham turned down G‑d's gifts because, without children, he views those blessings as worthless.

Or Hachaim (a great commentator of the 18th century) raises a strong question. Had not G‑d already promised him children? Did G‑d not say to him: "And I will make your seed as plentiful as the dust of the earth?" Why did he now doubt G‑d's words? And, most importantly, how does this square with the characterization of Abraham as a man of faith in this very narrative, when it appears that he did not have faith in G‑d's promise to him that he would have children?

Or Hachaim raises an additional question, which he says holds the key to answering the first one: Why does Abraham emphasize (in verse 15:3) that "You [G‑d] have not given me children?' It would have sufficed for Abraham to have said, "You have not given." Abraham had already mentioned (in 15:2) that he was childless and at the end of this verse he mentions that the only one to inherit him is his servant Eliezer of Damascus. Why the need to underscore that G‑d had not given him children yet again?

Or Hachaim's answer to these questions is that when G‑d promised Abraham that he would have numerous children, He described them as being as many as the "dust of the earth." In Abraham's mind this was not only an expression of abundance, but it also portended that they his descendants might be as lowly as the dust of earth. In other words, Abraham knew he had been blessed with a large number of offspring - the question remained in his mind, however, as to the spiritual heights these children might be able to attain.  

Abraham was clearly not completely content with this blessing. That is why, Or Hachaim explains, Abraham stressed the word "me" when he stated that "You have not given me children." What Abraham was saying was that while G‑d had indeed promised him children in great numbers, he nevertheless was apprehensive that they were going to be his children just in name, not in spirit. While he might be their biological father, Abraham feared that his children would be under the influence of others whose less than ideal and lofty ways would rub off on them and render them unworthy of carrying on Abraham's legacy. Only when G‑d promised him, in this parsha, that his children would be like the stars of the heavens was Abraham mollified.

The question, however, can be raised. If G‑d really intended for Abraham's children to be like the stars of the heaven, exalted and lofty souls, why did he previously use the metaphor of dust of the earth? Furthermore, as Or Hachaim notes, G‑d repeats the very blessing of "your seed shall be as dust of the earth" to Abraham's grandson Jacob together with the blessing for his progeny to be like the stars of the heaven. If "dust of the earth" has a negative connotation, why did he repeat it to Jacob?

Or Hachaim explains that, independently the "dust of the earth" metaphor can, indeed, be understood negatively. However, once G‑d invoked the "stars of the heaven" metaphor, it shed new light on the comparison of Jews to the dust of the earth in a positive light. When one attains the status of a "star", and they also possess the humility that is represented by dust, they are indeed worthy of the tile "children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" who personified these very traits.

On a deeper plane, dust is lowly to one who does not possess the perspective of the "stars." When one sees things from a heavenly vantage point, they can see the value in the dust as well. As Rabbi Sholom Dovber (the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose birthday we will be observing next Shabbat), once commented to a person who didn’t see the qualities in simple folk: To appreciate their exquisite beauty one must be a connoisseur, just as one must be highly trained eye to appreciate the beauty of a precious diamond.

Perhaps this explains Maimonides' description of the proliferation of physical delights in the future Messianic Age, that they will be as abundant as the "dust of the earth." On the one hand, it suggests that physical delights will be as available to us in an unlimited way, even more than one could possibly desire. On the other hand, because we will then attain the "star like" exalted status, we will be afforded the opportunity to better appreciate the incredible beauty and spiritual value of even the most prosaic and humble aspects of our existence-the dust of the earth. The higher we will reach, the more we will appreciate the true value of those things that appear at the bottom of the hierarchy of treasured things.  

Moshiach Matters

The Midrash tells us that G‑d complained to the Jewish people, “You have loved my Torah and not awaited my kingdom?!” The foundation of everything is the belief in Moshiach. We are obligated to wait, yearn and beseech, “When will You reign in Zion?!” (The Chofetz Chaim on the Torah, Noach)

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