Genesis – Chapter 27

27:1  Isaac’s Blessing   “And it came to pass, when Isaac had become old,..”  – Isaac was 123 years old at this time.  This is based on Seder Olam’s chronology that Jacob was 63 when he was blessed.  Add to this Isaac’s age of 60 when Jacob was born (25:26) and you arrive at 123.  The year, accordingly, was 2171 from Creation.

“..and his eyesight dimmed from seeing.”  – One reason could be that Isaac’s blindness was the curse given by Abimelech to Sarah.  This curse: ‘May you have children of covered eyes’ (20:16), was fulfilled in Sarah’s offspring.

The Midrash offers additional reasons:  Providence caused Isaac to go blind so that he would not see Esau’s wicked deeds.  Further, so that Isaac’s blindness would cause him to remain indoors and not suffer the shame of mingling with people and being constantly pointed out as the father of the wicked Esau.  Similarly, God caused Ahijah the Shilonite to go blind in old age (I Kings 14:4) because he raised a wicked disciple.

There is also the sentiment in the commentaries that Isaac’s blindness was in punishment for his failure to restrain Esau’s wickedness.  The same punishment befell Eli who also did not restrain his wicked children.  (I Samuel 3:12)  (Sforno)

“..he summoned Esau,..”  – Isaac summoned Esau with the intent of blessing him since he was the first born.  Presumably, Rebecca never told Isaac of the prophecy she had received during pregnancy that the elder shall serve the younger, nor did she reveal it to him now because she knew that in Isaac’s great love for Esau, he would leave everything to Providence instead of blessing Jacob.  Therefore, she maintained her silence but arranged matters so that Isaac would in effect bless Jacob with an undivided heart.  (Ramban)

27:2  “I know not the day of my death.”  – The Midrash notes:  When a man reaches within five years before and after the age of which his parents died, he should be concerned about his own death.  Now, Isaac was 123 years old – about five years younger than his mother at the time of her death at 127, and he was apprehensive that he might only reach her age.  He therefore said, “I do not know the day of my death: perhaps I may only reach my mother’s age; or perhaps I may reach my father’s age of 175 (25:7) in which case there is much time.  Accordingly, Isaac lived to be 180 years old (38:28), five years more than Abraham whose life was shortened – as noted in commentary to 25:30.

27:3  “..and hunt game for me.”  – Although Isaac considered Esau trustworthy in such matters, he cautioned him to be extra-scrupulous in making certain that he hunt far away from private lands and hunt only ownerless game – since if he were to sin even unintentionally, the blessings would not be effective since God is not with sinners.  (Gur Aryeh)

27:4  What was Isaac’s purpose in sending Esau to bring him delicacies prior to blessing him?  Ramban (in 25:34) comments simply that the blessings are not to be construed as recompense for the food.  Rather, Isaac’s desire for food preliminary to blessing Esau was in order to derive a benefit from him so the blessing would be bestowed wholeheartedly.  Perhaps Isaac discerned that he would be joyful and the Holy Inspiration would descend upon him, after he enjoyed the delicacies, as in the case of Elisha who said (II Kings 3:15), but now, bring me a minstrel.  And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of Hashem came upon him.

“ that I may give you my innermost blessing.” (lit. so that my soul may bless you)  – The expression that my soul may bless you is used because a blessing, as the Translation signifies, must emanate from man’s soul and flow from the innermost recesses of one’s being.  (Hoffmann)

27:5  Rebecca’s scheme  “Now Rebecca was listening while Isaac spoke..”  – The Torah informs us she always overheard Isaac’s conversations though they were not in her presence, for she had prophetic inspiration.  Perhaps, Isaac spoke to Esau in a hushed voice to prevent being overheard (not realizing that Rebecca overheard him in any event).  Accordingly, he unquestioningly assumed that the one who came to receive the blessings was Esau.  (Or HaChaim)

This follows the Tanchuma which specifically attributes Rebecca’s ‘hearing’ in this case to her prophetic spirit.

“..and Esau went to the field to hunt game.”  – He had departed immediately to do his father’s bidding and this convinced Rebecca not to enter into a dialogue with Isaac to dissuade him; time was of the essence and she had to act immediately.  (Abarbanel; Malbim)

What she did not know, however, was that Providence caused Esdau to be delayed.  He repeatedly trapped animals, but angels released them to allow sufficient time for Jacob to carry out Rebecca’s instructions and receive the blessings.  (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer; Tanchuma)

27:7  “..and I will bless you in the Presence of Hashem before my death.”  – HaKsav V’haKabbalah explains that Rebecca’s deception may be accounted for by Isaac’s intention to submit himself to God’s will.  Since she knew that God wanted Jacob to receive the blessings – for she had received the prophecy that the older son would be subservient to the younger – it became her duty not to permit Isaac to violate God’s will by conferring the blessings upon Esau.  (See the Overview)

Rebecca added the words, “in the Presence of Hashem” to impress upon Jacob the immensity of his father’s blessing inasmuch as it would be in the presence of Hashem, that is, with the prophetic spirit that would descend upon him while he would utter the benedictions.  (Radak)

As Malbim explains, Rebecca meant to allay Jacob’s concern that a blessing obtained through deception would not be efficacious in any case, because if Isaac intended to bless Esau, the blessing could not rest upon Jacob.  Rebecca, therefore, added that the blessing is before Hashem – the prophet is merely God’s tool.  The blessing is God’s, not Isaac’s.  If such is God’s will, than the blessing will be Jacob’s despite Isaac’s intention, since Isaac is merely the conduit which God’s Will would be manifested.

27:8  “  to that which I command you.”  – Rebecca perceived Jacob’s reluctance to participate in this devious scheme.  She therefore emphasized that he was to ‘listen to that which I, your mother, command you.  (Divrei Yirmiyah)

27:9  “Fetch me from there two young kids of the goats,..”  – It was Passover eve and one goat would serve as the Passover sacrifice, and the other as the delicacy.  (Rashi)

Since of all the domestic animals Rebecca could have instructed Jacob to bring, the goat tastes most like deer (venison) which Isaac loved.  (Rashi)  Furthermore, as Rashbam notes, goats were chosen over sheep because goats’ wiry hair more resemble a human’s.

27:11  “And Jacob replied to Rebecca, his mother,..”  – The phrase his mother is repeated throughout these verses to emphasize that Jacob complied with a deception that he considered to be onerous for only one reason: his mother demanded obedience of him, and as a son he obeyed.  (Hirsh)

27:12  “Perhaps Father will feel me..”    Not suspiciously, but in affectionately caress me, and he will discover that I am smooth-skinned.  It is noteworthy that Jacob was not afraid that Isaac would recognize his voice.  Perhaps their voices were similar or Jacob could imitate Esau’s voice.  (Ramban)

“  I shall appear as a mocker;..”  – Hirsch observes that Jacob used the prefix ‘like’.  He was not a cheat but would appear like one.  Isaac would be outraged and, without giving him time to explain, might curse him.

Note:  Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk homiletically interpreted this and the next verse as a dialogue between Jacob and the Shechinah speaking through the mouth of Rebecca. 

Isaac intended to bless Esau with material wealth and give only spiritual riches to Jacob.  The Shechinah, however, wanted Jacob to have wealth in This World as well.  Jacob argued that the temptation of material wealth might cause flaws to develop in his erstwhile innocence.  ‘Perhaps my Father (in heaven) will feel me (detect my unworthiness) and thus, by taking blessings for which I am unqualified, I will bring a curse upon myself.’

The Shechinah replied that it would take responsibility for the curse.  As long as Jacob would obey its voice by devoting his material wealth to the performance of good deeds and the giving of charity, he need feel no ill effects.

27:14  “So he went, fetched, and brought them to his mother,..”  Jacob undoubtedly valued the blessings and under the circumstance he certainly had need to hurry and bring the delicacies to his father.  There should then, be some allusion to this haste as there was in the case of Abraham where the text notes he ran to meet his guests (18:2), and the many other references to his haste in the narrative there. Similarly in the case of Eliezer and Rebecca the text often notes their haste.  Therefore, the text here, too, should have said Jacob ran, and brought them to his mother.  The verse, as it is written, indicates clearly that Jacob did not apply himself enthusiastically to this scheme but reluctantly carried out his mother’s request.  (HaKsav V’haKaballah)

27:15  The disguise  “..Esau’s clean garments..” (lit: ‘treasured’)  – These were the precious garments which (Esau would wear while he waited upon his father.  (Rashbam)

He kept them in fragrant grasses so they had a pleasant odor.  This is why his fragrance was easily recognizable and Rebecca chose them for that very reason.  (Radak)

“..which were with her in the house,”  – This provides an insight into Esau’s married life.  He left his best treasurers in his mother’s keeping because he knew his wives’ ways and did not entirely trust them.  (Rashi)

“..her younger son.”  – That narrative describes Esau as the older and Jacob as the younger is to the credit of Rebecca.  Although a mother would normally recognize that the blessings belonged to the firstborn, she was determined that they go to Jacob because she perceived Esau’s unfitness for them.  (Ramban)

27:17  “into the hand of her son, Jacob.”  – Symbolic of Jacob’s lack of enthusiasm for the scheme.  His mother had to place it into his very hand; it was only by birtue of faithful devotion to her, her son, that he took it.  He was passive and tearful throughout the preparation and she accompanied him as far as Isaac’s door.  (Midrash)

27:18 “and said “Father”..”  – Jacob called out this one word to test whether his father would recognize his voice.  Were Isaac to recognize his voice, Jacob would have abandoned the scheme and pose as if he merely came to visit.  (Alshich)

27:19  “It is I, Esau, your first-born.”  – (The commentators take pains to show that Jacob remained as close as possible to the truth during the course of his conversation with Isaac.  Some of the interpretations seem very strained in the light of the translation.  It should be borne in mind, however, that the construction of the Hebrew allows for such interpretation even where the English does not.)

However, it must be understood that only the Divinely ordained nature of the mission justified Jacob’s clever choice of words to avoid an outright lie.  He did mislead his father, and in everyday affairs such behavior would be forbidden as deceptive.  Rather, Jacob’s behavior must be understood as an attempt to remain as close as possible to the truth even in a situation where deception was not only unavoidable, but required.  (Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz of Mir)

“I have done as you told me.”  – According to Or HaChaim, Jacob’s rationale was that since he had purchased the birthright the blessings were legitimately his; therefore, Isaac’s instructions to Esau should rightfully have been addressed to Jacob.  Accordingly, Jacob now said that he complied with the request since as the ‘owner of the birthright’, the request is considered as if it had been addressed to him.

27:20  “Isaac said to his son,”  – The general term ‘his son’ reflects Isaac’s continued uncertainty.  Apparently, there was something in the voice that aroused Isaac’s suspicions and inspired him to make further inquiry as described in this and succeeding verses.  (Radak)

27:21  “And Isaac said to Jacob,”  – This time the narrative refers to him as Jacob rather than vaguely as his son.  At this point Isaac was very suspicious that it might not be Esau who was standing before him, but Jacob.  (Alshich)

“Come close, if you please, so I can feel you, my son.”  – Isaac’s suspicions were aroused since he knew that it was not characteristic of Esau to mention God’s name so readily as did the person who now stood before him (v20).  (Rashi)

However, in the literal sense of the narrative, Ramban concludes that it was Jacob’s voice that made Isaac suspicious.  (For although, as Ramban notes in v.12, Jacob and Esau had similar voices, or Jacob disguised his voice, it would seem that the unusual circumstances – such as the swiftness of his return; the mention of God’s Name; and now the voice – combined to arouse Isaac’s suspicions.)

27:22  “..Jacob drew close to Isaac..”  – ‘Perspiration poured over his legs and his heart melted like wax.  But the Holy One, Blessed be He, sent him two angels, one at his right side and one at his eft who supported him by his elbows so that he should not fall.’  (Midrash)

“,,but the hands are Esau’s hands.”  – Since there is really little resemblance between animal skin and hairy human arms, it would appear from Isaac’s response that either much effort went into preparing the disguise, or Isaac’s sense of touch had greatly deteriorated.  (Sforno)

27:23  “so he blessed him.”  – He resolved to bless him.  The actual wording of the blessing is given in verse 28 (HaKsav V’haKaballah)

27:24  “You are, indeed, my son Esau!”  – Haamek Davar maintains that Isaac was sure that the one who stood before him was Esau.  Had he been suspicious, he could not have been satisfied by Jacob’s repeated affirmations, that he was indeed Esau.  Rather, a prerequisite to blessing is that the one who confers it must feel love for the object of his blessing.  Mentioning and hearing his name assists in arousing such warm feelings, as we find in 48:8 where Jacob used this device to further arouse his love for Ephraim and Menashe prior to blessing them.

“I am.”  – He did not utter an actual falsehood by saying “I am Esau”, but simply said “I am.”  (Rashi)

27:27  “He smelled the fragrance of the garments..”  – While Isaac was kissing Jacob, he inhaled the fine fragrance of his garments, for as we noted earlier (v. 15) the garments were kept in fragrant grasses and so had a pleasant odor.  Isaac did not perceive it from afar but smelled it as soon as Jacob drew near to kiss him.  (Radak)

“..and blessed him.”  – only after first acknowledging the fragrant aroma.  Isaac thereby informed his son that the food, drink, and fragrant aroma had made him joyous.  As a result, the Divine Inspiration descended upon him and he conferred the blessing.  (Radak)

“..the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field which Hasham had blessed.”  – Sforno observes that the sustenance and prosperity afforded by a field are one blessing; the expansiveness of spirit afforded by the ‘pleasant, exhilarating scent’ is a further blessing.  By referring to both dimensions of God’s blessed field, Isaac introduced his blessing to Jacob, implying that such was the nature of the bounty which God would bestow in the future.

27:28  “..of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth, and abundant grain and wine.”  – The blessing was not the dew per se, since God causes dew to descend universally in any event.  Rather, this is a blessing of increase and abundance.  “Just as He has blessed you with success in the field, so may He bless you uninterruptedly for the extent of your days on the land with the abundance generated by the dew of the heavens and the most fertile areas of the earth.  (Rambam)

Note:  In blessing Jacob, it was Isaac’s intention to annul the curse placed upon Adam after his sin, and thereby to restore the world to its former beauty.

In contrast to Adam’s curse (3:18): accursed is the ground because of you, Isaac said: May Hashem give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fat of the earth.  This will bring joy in the world unlike the sadness caused by drought and famine which was inherent in Adam’s curse: in suffering shall you eat of it.

Contrasting thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you, Isaac blessed him with abundant grain and wine, this further contrasting the curse given Adam of you shall eat the wild herbs of the field.

Contrasting by the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat since no one will help you with the farming, Jacob was told peoples will serve you – i.e. will till the ground for you, as in Isaiah 61:6 sons of alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers.

Contrasting the curse, for dust you are and to dust shall you return humiliated and despised, Isaac now said, be a lord to your brothers.

Thus, Jacob is now divested of the curses of Adam and garbed in blessing.  But moreover, he was now given the right to bring blessings and cures upon others as it says, cursed be they who curse you, and blessed are they who bless you.  (Tzor HaMor)

27:29  “Be a lord to your brothers..”  – Sforno observes that since Isaac thought he was blessing Esau it is plain that he intended Esau to exercise mastery over Jacob.  He intended this for Jacob’s benefit because Isaac did not want him to be encumbered by material responsibilities which would hinder his spiritual development.  Thus, Jacob would have inherited Eretz Yisrael and been free to serve God within its holiness, while Esau, upon whom Jacob would be dependent, would rule the land and provide for its inhabitants.

Sforno continues that Isaac feared that Jacob’s descendants would become corrupted by too much material wealth, success, and power – as indeed, we find the prophet Amos proclaiming ‘I (God) despise the pride of Jacob’ (Amos 6:8).  That Isaac always intended Jacob to have Eretz Yisrael and the spiritual blessings of Abraham is apparent from two facts: In these blessings which were intended for Esau, neither Eretz Yisrael nor Abraham are mentioned.  In 28:4 where Isaac blessed Jacob directly, both blessings are specified.

“Cursed be they who curse you, and blessed be they who bless you.”  – Ramban observes that in connection with Abraham, God said (12:3) I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you (first mentioning the blessing and then the curse.  He answers that by pointing out the contrast which is explained there: the blessing in 12:3 is expressed in the plural ‘those’ who bless you, while the curse is expressed in the singular ‘he’ who curses you.  The verse gives priority to the many who will universally bless Abraham, and only then goes on to mention the rare individual who might curse him.  Or, that sequence is used in Abraham’s case since in that passage curse is not the concluding thought since God continues: and all families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.  Thus, God’s statement to Abraham begins and ends with blessing.

27:30  Esau returns.  The Midrash notes in this context that Providence arranged for Esau to be less successful than usual in his hunt ‘so that Jacob who was the glory of the world might come and receive the blessings which had been determined as his from the very beginning of the world.’

27:32  “Who are you?”  – Isaac thought that this might be Jacob who, having heard that Esau was to be blessed, also prepared and brought delicacies so that he, too, would be blessed.  (Ramban)

27:33  “Then Isaac trembled in very great perplexity..”  – According to Midrash Tanchuma, Isaac had intended to bless both his sons, but he had summoned Esau first because he was the firstborn.  But when he realized that the younger had taken the blessing of the firstborn which was a serious matter (see Deuteronomy 21:16-17), he was seized with terror. Thinking: How have I sinned that I reversed the normal order by blessing the younger before the elder?  (Rashi)

“Who – where – is the one who hunted game, brought it to me..”  – Another manifestation of the Divine Providence which was explicit throughout.  Who came in so stealthily and unidentified; where could he have disappeared so quickly; how could one have hunted game so quickly, even faster than you, who are such a skilled hunter; how could he have known to bring it to me – I did not instruct him to do so?  (Malbim)

“..and I blessed him?”  Indeed, he shall remain blessed.”  – Isaac thus confirmed his blessing.  Lest one think that Jacob would not have been blessed had he not engaged in deception, Isaac confirmed it, blessing him now of his own free will.  (Midrash; Rashi)

Note:  The Midrash notes that Isaac’s first reaction was to curse Jacob, but he was told through Divine Inspiration that if he were to do so, he would be cursing himself since he had said (v. 29) Cursed be they who curse you.  So, as we see, Isaac blessed him instead.  Thus, it was due to Divine intervention that Jacob was spared, for Isaac’s consternation might easily have resulted in his cursing Jacob upon finding out the scheme.   But Jacob trusted in God Who inspired Isaac to bless him instead.

27:34  “When Esau heard his father’s words…”    According to Akeidas Yitzchak the wording of this verse attests that it was not Esau’s recognition of the importance of the blessing that made him cry out in bitter anguish.  It was only Isaac’s response and his anxiety and terror at the truth of events that impressed upon Esau the greatness of the blessings.  However, he still did not comprehend their true mystery or he would have known that such a blessing could not be shared among two individuals.

“..he cried out an exceedingly great and bitter cry..”  – The Sages compare Esau’s bitter lament to Mordechai’s outcry when he heard of Haman and Ahasuerus’ edict to exterminate his people.

27:36  “Is it because he was named Jacob that he should outwit me these two times?”  – Rashbam writes – Since he is younger than I, his share of the inheritance should have been only half of my firstborn’s double portion.  Is it because he was given a name suggesting deception that he has the right to cheat me of my rightful inheritance and to take for himself the double portion of the first-born?

Alshich cites the view that at birth, God named him Jacob and Esau accordingly did not say: Is it because you (father) named him Jacob, but said “Is it because of this that He (God) named him Jacob?’  Now I understand why He gave him that name.  It was not because Jacob had, at birth, grasped me by the heel, as commonly thought, but as a portent that he would outwit me.  But does that divine portent give him the right to do so twice?

“He took away my birthright..”  – The wicked Esau had the audacity to lie to his father’s face about Jacob ‘taking’ his birthright when in reality it was Esau himself who sold it under oath and thereby flagrantly despised it as the Torah attests (25:34).

But his own mouth caused him to testify against himself by admitting that the birthright was now Jacob’s.  (Chizkuni)

Rashi cites Midrash Tanchuma that Isaac was seized with terror (v33) because he thought he committed a serious transgression in blessing the younger before the elder.  (See Deut. 21:16-17)  When Esau cried out, He outwitted me these two times, Isaac asked ‘How?’  When Esau replied, He took away my birthright, Isaac was relieved and said, ‘It was on this account that I had feared I had overstepped the line of strict justice, but now that you tell me he has the birthright I realize that I actually blessed the firstborn. 

“ he took away my blessing”  – Since Rebecca has been told that the elder son would serve the younger one (25:23) Jacob’s purchase of the birthright had the added effect of making him subservient to Esau who had been left with the status of the younger son.  Now, however, Esau had the further complaint that Jacob had deceptively usurped the blessing of being a lord to his brothers (v. 29), with the result that he would dominate Esau.  (Malbim)

27:37  “Behold, a lord have I made him over you, ..”  – This was the seventh in the series of blessings Isaac gave Jacob (see verses 28-29); why does Isaac single it out as if it were the primary blessing?

Isaac’s intention was to emphasize to Esau that the blessing of lordship had already been given Jacob, so whatever property Esau would acquire would automatically revert to Jacob in accordance with the rule – whatever a servant acquires belongs to his master.  (Thus in a sense this blessing superseded the others.)

“..and all his kin I have given him as servants.”  – Kis kin, referring to the descendants of Ishmael and of Keturah.

27:39  Esau’s Blessing  “So Isaac his father answered..”  – The Torah thus implicitly tell us why Isaac as his father, relented.  His fatherly compassion was aroused by Esau’s tears – and so he blessed him.  (Or HaChaim)

“Behold, of the fat of the earth shall be your dwelling.”  – i.e. May the land you inherit be the most fertile region on earth.  (Radak)

And the dew of the heavens from above.”  – There was no conflict in the blessing since God’s natural blessing is abundant enough for both of them.  Furthermore, as noted in 28:4, as Abraham’s heir, Jacob would realize his blessing in the land of Canaan, while Esau would realize his in another land.  However, Isaac did not bless Esau with abundant grain and wine as he did Jacob since he wanted to honor the one who was blessed first.  (Ramban)

Tur adds that God’s name is not invoked here since Esau himself made no reference to God as did Jacob. (v. 20)

27:40  “By your sword you shall live..”  – Esau’s descendants would conquer other nations, and ultimately rule the entire world by the force of their sword; the fulfillment of this prophecy is well-known.  (Abarbanel)

The implication was not that Esau would be forced to become a brigand and plunderer with his sword, for he was blessed with sustenance from the fatness of the earth and dew of heaven.  Rather, the blessing was that he be victorious in war and survive his battles.  Ramban)

“..but your brother you shall serve.”  – The translation ‘but’, perceiving this as a qualification of the preceding blessing, follows Ramban who explains that although Esau was blessed with victory in battle, he was served notice that he would remain subservient to his brother.  Esau would not prevail over his brother; instead, Jacob would prevail over Esau (depending, as Isaac continued, upon Jacob’s remaining righteousness.)

Esau was not bidden to do menial chores for his brother; this ‘serving’ was with dignity.  Esau was to act as Jacob’s sword bearer in the sense of protecting him while leaving him free to attain the spiritual goals destined for him and his descendants.  (Rav Saadiah Gaon)

“Yet it shall be that when you are aggrieved,..”  – i.e. When Israel shall transgress the Torah so that you have a valid reason to be aggrieved over his having taken the blessings, then you may cast off his yoke from your neck.  (Rashi)

Hirsch follows a different approach.  Esau’s strength of sword and his world-conquest are for the ultimate purpose of his final submission to Jacob in acknowledgment that the sword is the servant of the spirit.  Esau’s greatest hope is ‘when you ‘humble yourself’ to Jacob, by submitting yourself to his ideals – then you will no longer be subservient to him.  Then you will be his equal partner in carrying out God’s will.

“ may cast off his yoke from upon your neck.”  – i.e.  God will then have compassion on your plight, and you will be successful in casting off Jacob’s yoke from your neck.  (Ibn Ezra; Ralbag)

As the Midrash notes: When the voice is not the voice of Jacob (i.e., when Israel’s voice is not heard in the study of Torah and in prayer) then the hands are the hands of Esau.  (Malbim)

27:41  Esau’s Hatred  “Now Esau harbored hatred toward Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father had blessed him.”  The pronoun ‘him’ is ambiguous: Does it refer to the blessing given Jacob or the one given Esau?  Esau’s hatred may have resulted from the blessing Jacob gained deceptively, or he may have hated Jacob for having caused him, Esau, to receive only an ‘inferior blessing’.

Alshich takes the former view, while Malbim suggests that Esau was angered at his father for confirming Jacob’s blessing (v.33), and for telling him You shall serve your borther, in effect making Esau subordinate to Jacob.

“And Esau thought,..” – This translation follows the implication of Rashi and Midrash which assume that Esau revealed his plan to no one.  The fact that Rebecca was told of the scheme (next verse) implies that it was revealed to her by Divine Inspiration.

“..the days of my mourning for my father draw near..”  – The commentators emphasize that Rashi’s interpretation of Esau’s intention in this statement being to spare Isaac aggravation was based on Rashi’s opinion that Esau retained – even now – his faithful honor.  This is supported by Esau’s respectful and obedient reaction to his father’s displeasure with the Canaanite women whom Esau married. ( 28:8,9)

27:42  “When Rebecca was told of the words of her older son Esau..”  – Esau’s intention was revealed to her by Divine Inspiration.  (Rashi)  How else could she have become aware of his thoughts?

“..she sent for and summoned Jacob..”  – Jacob had gone into hiding, either out of fear or shame, from his brother Esau who was complaining about him.  (Ramban)

“Behold, your brother Esau is consoling himself regarding you to kill you.”  – He comforts himself in the notion that by killing you the birthright and blessings will revert to him.  (HaChaim)

“..your brother..”  – Whatever the extent of his evil, you may never forget that he is your brother.  (Hirsch)

27:43  Jacob advised to flee to Laban  “So now, my son, heed my voice…”  – Although Esau implied that he would not carry out his intention until Isaac died, Rebecca could not be sure when that would happen.  She therefore ordered Jacob not to procrastinate until it would be too late, but “now my son…flee immediately.”

“ my brother Laban, to Charan.”  – He will protect you if Esau attacks.  (Or HaChaim)

27:44  “and remain with him a short while..”  – Her hope was that things would soon be smoothed over, but in fact, she never saw him again.  (Adeidas Yitzchak)

27:45  “..until your brother’s anger against you subsides.”   The implication of Rebecca’s remark was: ‘We should not be satisfied merely with the cooling of Esau’s burning wrath.  Let us wait until even his anger subsides to the point where we need not fear even unfriendliness on his part.  (Hirsch)

“..and he forgets what you have done to him.”  – Obviously, Rebecca had a high opinion of Esau.  She thought that with time, he would forget the wrong which had been done him.  (Hirsch)

“Why should I be bereaved of both of you on the same day?”  –  If Esau attacks you, you are certain to die, for even if you succeed in killing him, his children will rise and kill you.  A divine inspiration was ‘sprinkled on her’ and she prophesied that they would die on one day.  As stated in Sotah 13a, such was indeed the case.  (Rashi)

Note:  The Talmud notes that when Jacob was brought by his family for burial in the Cave of Machpelah, Esau came and challenged their right to bury him there, claiming to have retained the right of the firstborn.  Among those present was Chushim, sone of Dan, who took a club and struck Esau on the head so that his eyes fell out and rolled to the feet of Jacob.  At that time was the prophecy of Rebecca filled, as it is written, “why should I be bereaved of both of you on the same day?  For though the death of the two of them did not occur on the same day (obviously Jacob died first if Esau was attending his funeral), still their burial took place on the same day.

27:46  “..on account of the daughters of Heth..”  – A reference to Esau’s wives.

“..if Jacob takes a wife..”  – Rather than tell Isaac that she wanted Jacob to leave home because his life was in danger, she used the unsuitability of the Hittite women as a pretext for her decision.  (Rashbam)

Righteous Rebecca did not utilize the opportunity to justify her deception by telling Isaac that Esau was a potential murderer and, therefore, clearly undeserving of the blessings.  Instead, she preferred to give a natural and reasonable purpose for Jacob’s journey to Paddan Aram.  (Hirsch)

“..why need I live?”  – She thus made it perfectly clear that she could not consider life worth living if her son married anyone other than her kin.  (Abarbanel)

Genesis – Chapter 26

26:1  Isaac Becomes an Alien  –  “Aside from the first famine that was in the days of Abraham.”  –  Midrash Lekach Tov and the commentators observe how this is yet another example of the great similarities between the lives of Abraham and Isaac… There was a famine in the life of Abraham, and in that of Isaac.

This famine was far more severe than that in Abraham’s time.  But there was a far more significant difference between them: the first famine was sent to test Abraham, and this famine was to demonstrate God’s omniscient providence to Isaac.

Further, it manifested His compassionate kindness in that He does not forsake the righteous during a famine nor does He forsake their children, as it is written (Psalms 37:25) “I have not seen a righteous man forsaken, with his children begging for bread.”  Instead, when a famine broke out in Eretz Yisrael, God made a simple provision for Isaac and his family. (Tanchuma)

Ramban notes that the term, ‘the first famine’, might suggest that the famine in Abraham’s time was indeed the first since Creation and therefore the Torah uses it as a reference point.

R’Bachya agrees with Ramban’s implication that the word should be rendered in the relative sense: the earlier famine.  Everyone remembered how Abraham descended to Egypt then, and the great honor God did him.

“And Isaac went to Abimelech..” –  Either this was the same king as in the time of Abraham (chapter 20), or this was the dynastic name of the Philistine monarchy, for in David’s time, the Philistine king was also called Abimelech. (See Psalms 34:1)  (Ramban)

Why did Isaac go to Abimelech in Gerar?  According to Rashbam, the verse implies that Isaac followed the earlier example of Abraham in going to Egypt to escape the famine.  While Isaac was en route to Egypt, God appeared to him, and commanded him not to leave Eretz Yisrael (v.2).

Until commanded not to do so by God, it was Isaac’s intention to follow in his father’s footsteps and go to Egypt.  However, he first went to Abimelech, his father’s ally, to see (in light of the mutual covenant he had with his father – extending to son and grandson (see 21:23) (Radak) whether special arrangements could be made during the duration of the famine to avert the necessity of going down to Egypt. (Ramban)

26:2  “Do not descend into Egypt.” –  For such had indeed been Isaac’s intent following, as he was, the example set by his father, to go down to Egypt in time of the famine.  God accordingly said to him: “Do not go down to Egypt for you are an unblemished offspring, and residence outside the Land does not befit you’. (Rashi)

In other words, having been consecrated as an offering to God on the altar at the Akeidah, Isaac was compared to a perfect offering without a blemish.  Just as an offering becomes unfit if it passes beyond the Temple enclosures, so would Isaac become ‘unfit’ if he left the environs of the Land. (Midrash)

“Dwell in a land that I shall indicate to you.”  –  That is, as a general rule, establish residence throughout your life only in those places that I shall indicate to you from time to time.  (Ramban)  In other words, do not take into your own hands the right to decide where to go, to escape famine; rely on My Providence to direct you.

26:3  “Sojourn in this land..”  – Following Ramban’s primary interpretation: ‘I will indicate to you from time to time where to establish residence, but for the time being, stay a while in this land.’ 

“I will be with you and bless you;..’ –  Although the land of Canaan is suffering famine “I will be with you” and assure that you do not lack pasture, and “I will bless you” with wealth and possessions.  (Sforno)

The expression I will be with you, is echoed often throughout Scripture and said also to Jacob (28:15); to Moses (Exodus 3:12); and Joshua (Joshua 1:5) and in different form to Abraham (15:1).  All are explicit affirmations of Providence watching over the details of their various activities according to the measure of their perfection. (Rambam)

“for to you..”  –  God proceeds to tell Isaac why He is ordering him to sojourn in Philistia rather than Egypt: “because to you and your offspring will I give all these lands.”  You must establish your presence there and show your love for the land which is inherently yours and your offspring’s.  (Alshich; Haamek Davar)

“I will give all these lands..”  –  Philistia is included among these promised lands.  And since this land is included in the Promised Land, your remaining here does not constitute a forbidden departure from the Holy Land.  (Adeidas Yitzchak)

“and establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.”  –  The Hebrew word here could mean either I will fulfill or I will establish.  Abraham had no offspring other then Isaac upon whom a covenant had been established with God.  This is unlike the case of Jacob where (35:12) God did have to give an assurance that the Abrahamitic oath would be fulfilled in Jacob and not Esau.

Since the Torah often refers to oaths made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and we find no other oath made exclusively to Isaac, Ramban concludes that this phrase denotes a fresh oath with Isaac, since it was God’s desire to establish a separate oath with each of the Patriarchs individually to demonstrate each one’s worthiness to have the covenant made with him alone.  For though the previous oath suffices, it is an additional benefit to their descendants that each Patriarch’s merit combines with that of the other two.  Thus, it is to this distinction that God refers when He says (Lev 26:42): I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember, and the Land will I also remember.

26:4  “I will increase your offspring like the stars of the heavens;”   –  Abarbanel suggests that this verse amplifies the previous one, the implication being: Lest you wonder how as a small number of people like your family will be able to take possession of all these lands, know that first, I will increase your offspring like the stars of the heavens and then I will give to your offspring all these lands.

“and I will give to your offspring all these lands;”  –  Compare this to the promise to Abraham in 13:15: For all the land that you see, to you will I give it, and to your descendants forever.  Also compare the additional promises of the land in 12:7, 13:6, 9; 15:7, 18; and 24:7.

In using the term, to your offspring, God alluded to His promise to Abraham in 21:12 where He declared that only part of Isaac’s offspring would be considered offspring of Abraham to qualify for the heritage of the land.  Thus the descendants of both Ishmael and Esau were excluded.

”,,And all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your offspring.”  –  God was now also intimating that the blessing to Abraham that all the nations of the earth will bless themselves by his offspring (22:18) would now be realized in Isaac himself.  It was later reiterated to Jacob (28:14).  (Ramban)

26:5  “Because Abraham obeyed My voice,..”  –  God did not want him to think that all these blessings were granted only to induce him not to descend to Egypt.  They were already decreed in Abraham’s days as the consequence of one thing:  Abraham obeyed My voice.

“..and safeguarded My Ordinances,..”  –  Hirsch explains it as a general term stating our obligation toward the Torah transmitted to us from God.  It is a treasure which we are to guard and use according to the Will of it’s Owner.  This involved two duties: (1) the positive one of study and care to fulfill its obligations and precepts; (2) to institute such protective ordinances as are necessary and desirable to prevent the violation of its laws.

“  My Commandments,..”  Such as those laws which the moral sense would have enacted even if they were not written in the Torah.  (Rashi) Which also includes all God had commanded him:  to leave home (12:1), sacrifice his son (22:1), and expel Hagar and her son (21:12).

”..My Decrees..”  –  Laws which our Evil Inclinations and heathen nations would promptly disagree with, for example the prohibition against eating swine’s flesh, and the wearing of shaatnez (garments made of a mixture of linen and wool) – laws for which reason can provide no explanation, and which are thus, as it were, royal decrees enacted on His subjects.  (Rashi)

“..and My Torahs.”  The word Torah is usually derived from the word “teaching”.   The plural number of “Torahs” – both of written and the Oral – which includes those rules and interpretations transmitted to Moses at Sinai.  (Rashi)

26:6  “So Isaac settled in Gerar.”  –  For though Abimelech made no offers of assistance as Isaac had hoped he would, nevertheless Isaac trusted in God’s promise and took up permanent residence there.  (Ha’amek Davar)

26:7  “When the men of the place asked about his wife..”  – Abimelech, because of his covenant with Abraham, showed Isaac no malice.  It was the residents who inquired out of curiosity about the identity of the woman he was with.  (Ramban)

“..he said, “She is my sister.”  – Ramban, in expounding on the episode of Abraham in Egypt (12:11), suggests that from the time he had left Charan, Abraham commonly identified Sarah as his sister, because he knew they would often find themselves in strange and dangerous surroundings (20:13).  The Torah mentioned this strategy only on the two occasions that something unusual happened.  Isaac, on the other hand, felt secure in his own surroundings, and had no need for the ruse.  Only when he came to the land of the Philistines did he adopt his father’s plan.

“..’Lest the men of the place kill me because of Rebecca.”  – As Abraham explained to Abimelech nearly a century earlier (20:11): There is but no fear of God in this place.”  It would not be beyond them therefore to slay him because of his wife, for only the fear of God acts as a deterrent to unrestrained lust.  Thus, although Abraham doubtless told Isaac of all the occurred, Isaac, too, could expect no safety in a place where there is no fear of God.  This apparently motivated him to repeat the scenario, and resort to the same device.

26:8  “..Abimelech,..gazed down.. and saw Isaac was jesting with his wife Rebecca.”   – All commentators agree that the term – jesting – which is the same term used of Ishmael in 21:9 – is, a euphemism for intimate relations (Rashi); physical closeness (Chizkuni); or at least undue familiarity which would be inappropriate between brother and sister (Abarbanel).

26:9  “..Because I was apprehensive that I would be killed because of her.”  – Isaac could not offer the rationale given by Abraham; that she was indeed his ‘sister’; or that he always claimed her as his sister when he arrived at a new place and did not yet know the nature of the people.  This, then was the only response he could honestly give to defend his action.

26:10  “One of the people has nearly lain with your wife….and you would have brought guilt down upon us.”  – We would all have been punished on your account, for you are great and beloved of God.  (Radak)

26:11  “Abimelech then warned..”  – Abimelech realized that no husband of a beautiful woman was safe in his land, and therefore found it necessary to assure Isaac’s safety by issuing a royal decree on Isaac’s behalf.  What a testimony this bears to vindicate Isaac’s initial apprehensions when entering this Godless country.

“Whoever molests this man or his wife shall surely die.”  – This exemplified God’s beneficent Providence.  Not only did Abimelech not become vindictive against Isaac for his deception, but he went so far as to issue the proclamation, to protect him and did not even expel him from his land.  (Malbim).

26:12  “Isaac sowed the land and in that year he reaped..”  – In that land and in that year – a difficult year of drought.  As the Midrash notes, the verses emphasizes the miraculous nature of Isaac’s prosperity against two obstacles: the soil was hard, and the year was generally unfavorable.  (Rashi)

“..a hundredfold:”  – Rabbi Yitzchak Vorkei commented homiletically that God was pleased with Isaac for working the land in spite of the drought.  Because he did so, God was able to provide for him in the natural way.  Had Isaac not engaged in working his fields, however, God would have had to perform obvious miracles to provide for him.  As his reward, God blessed him with hundred-fold prosperity.

Because Isaac did not selfishly hoard the crop until the price went up in that famine-stricken year, but instead brought it generously to the markets and used his blessing for the general good, he became recognized as the an blessed by God.

26:13  “The man prospered and continually flourished until he was very prosperous.”  – The Dubna Maggid comments that this verse implies that Isaac’s prosperity came upon him in a natural manner, gradually increasing by the day, rather than in one great thrust.  The gradual nature of his growing prosperity was part of God’s blessing because the sudden acquisition of great wealth presents a person with exceedingly difficult challenges.  Many people cannot cope with the temptation that wealth brings within their grasp.  As God saw that Isaac could handle increasing wealth, He kept giving him more.  (Yalkut Yehudah)

26:14  “..and the Philistines envied him.”  – He was especially hated by those who lived in Gerar, the capital city.  Presumably many wealthy persons resided in the capital; one rich man is envious of another, particularly if the latter is a Jew.  (Ha’amek Davar)

Hirsch believes that their envy was directed more at the man than the riches.  They felt themselves threatened by the position and respect that his wealth brought him.

26:15  “All the wells that his father’s servants had dug…the Philistines…filled them with dirt.”  – There are many thoughts on when the wells had been stopped and filled with dirt.  However, regardless of when, it must be emphasized that the Philistines thereby desecrated the covenant Abimelech made with Abraham (21:27).

26:16  “..for you have become much mightier than we.”  – In spite of the fact that Isaac sowed that land with his own seed and received in that year of drought a hundredfold, and that he enriched himself by his own toil and the blessing of God and not by exploiting any other man, Abimelech accused him of deriving his wealth from him and his citizens.  *Akeidas Yitzchak)

26:17  “…and encamped in the valley of Gerar.”  – Radak and Ramban suggest the place was called Gerar Valley which was not part of Abimelech’s domain although it was in Philistine land, or that possibly the valley by that name extended from Gerar to another land.

26:18  “..and he called them the same names that his father had called them.”  – HaKsav V’haKaballah suggests that Abraham had carefully given his wells names that would evoke recognition of the supremacy of the One God and draw people near Him.  Thus, we find that the Patriarchs used names like Hashem Yireh, Beth El, Hashem Nisi, LaChai Ro’I – in order to evoke God’s Name to passersby who would stop to drink at their wells.  People would then be engaged in conversation and persuaded to abandon their idolatry and believe in the Creator.

Therefore, the Philistines who reverted to their idolatrous ways after Abraham’s death stopped up the wells in order to eradicate evidence of Abraham’s religion. 

That is why Isaac made it a point to reestablish the significance of the wells by returning to them their original names.

According to R’Bachya, Isaac’s motivation was one of respect for his father.  There is a great moral lesson in the fact that the Torah informs us of this meritorious act.  It serves to teach us to what lengths one must go not to deviate from his father’s ways since Isaac did not even wish to change the names that his father had given wells.  This exemplifies the scrupulous manner in which the Patriarchs conducted their lives.  Perhaps it was in the merit of this loyalty to his father’s choice of names that Isaac was the only Patriarch whose own name was not changed.

26:19 The Dispute over the wells.   “..and found a well of fresh water.”  – After digging they uncovered an earlier well flowing with living water.  That is why the verse speaks of finding a well rather than finding water.  (Radak)

26:20  “The water is ours!”  – Philistine law provided that everything – even the underground – belonged to the king, while Isaac’s herdsmen claimed that the waters of the deep should be considered ownerless and become the property of anyone who discovers them.  (Malbim).

They quibbled in the exact style that had been used against the Jews in Exile throughout the centuries: ‘Yes, you dug the well; the hole belongs to you, but the water is ours!”  (Hirsch)

26:22  “He relocated from there..”  – In order to remove himself from conflict, he moved to a place where the residents were not so wicked.  By moving he also made certain that he would no longer be in an area where they could contend that he was digging in their land.  (HaGadol, Haamek Davar, Radak)

“For now Hashem has granted us ample space and we can be fruitful in the land.”  – Hashem’s Name is now mentioned because of the positive aspects of this venture.  (Akeidas Yitzchak)  They can now thrive without hindrance or discord.  (Radak)

26:23 Isaac Returns to Beer Sheba  – The significance of the following narrative impresses that in the more central area of Eretz Yisrael which was the heritage of Isaac’s descendants, Isaac lived in security and was not harassed by the local populace as he was in Gerar which, though also technically part of the Promised Land, would not be conquered by his descendants until future times.  (Radak)

26:24  “I am the God of your father Abraham.  Fear not, for I am with you..”  – God’s promise of being ‘with’ the Patriarchs is an affirmation of His Providence in watching over the details of their various activities according to the measure of their perfection, as noted in the commentary of verse 3 “I will be with you”.

The fulfillment of this assurance can be recognized in the following episode.  Providence influenced Abimelech to show Isaac even greater honor than he had shown Abraham, for, when he came to conclude a treaty with Isaac he was accomplished by Pichol.  (Ramban)

“I will bless you … because of Abraham my servant.”  – The blessing will come to you by merit of your father Abraham which abides by you in This World.  It is your own merit however, as a righteous son of a righteous father, which will secure you your place in the World to Come.  (Midrash HaGadol)

26:25  “He built an altar there,”  – To acknowledge God’s beneficence and express gratitude for the prophecy God had just given him, as Abraham did in 12:7 and 13:18.  (Abarbanel)

After God’s earlier revelation in verse 3, however, Isaac made no such open display of gratitude because he was afraid to publicize that he had been promised the lands of his neighbors, lest he arouse their enmity, for Isaac has been a wholesome man (25:27) who had never engaged in warfare.   Because this blessing was more general, however, he had no fears of publicizing it, so he built an altar.  It was to this prophetic revelation that Abimelech later referred when he said (v28): We have indeed seen that Hashem has been with you.  (Meshech Chochmah)

“..there Isaac’s servants began digging a well.”  – This was the well he subsequently named Shibah when, after Abimelech departed, his servants apprised him that they had completed digging it.  (v32)  (Rashbam)

26:26  Abimelech’s Visit – The Reaffirmation of the Treaty.  Abimelech went to him from Gerar with a group of friends and Pichol.  Either Pichol was his name, or it was a title descriptive of his military position which the Midrash here interprets to mean: the mouth, responsible for the weapons of all Abimelech’s troops.

26:27  “Why have you come to me?”  – Isaac’s cynical reception is certainly motivated by a common sense appraisal of Abimelech’s credibility.  This very same Philistine king – or his father; it does not really matter – came in great urgency to Abraham and made a treaty with him that was to last for generations.  But the king does not find it feasible to make proper arrangements for his covenant-brother’s son even in time of famine, and the king’s servants even stopped up his wells.  This made it plain that a pact with Philistines was useless, and Isaac reacted to their overtures accordingly.  (Abarbanel)

26:28  “We have indeed seen that Hashem has been with you,..”  – We saw it with your father, and we have seen it with you also (Rashi); and glorious is the son who fills the role of his father!  (Pesikta Zutresa)

“Let the oath between ourselves now be between us and you,..”  – The translation follows Rashi and Rashbam who interpret the gesture as suggesting that the oath which had existed between ourselves since the days of your father, now be renewed between us and you.

“And let us make a covenant with you.”  – They were apprehensive – not that Isaac himself constituted a military threat to them – but that his descendants might not consider themselves bound by the pact.  They had violated the covenant with Abraham and they were apprehensive that Isaac would retaliate by annulling his part of the covenant.  His descendants would thus be free to drive Abimelech’s descendants from the land.  Therefore, they excused themselves and emphasized that not only did they not annul the previous covenant, but they have done him only good!  It is conceivable, however, that they recalled Abraham’s God-given military successes against the four kings (Chapter 14), and they were afraid that Isaac, too, would be able to defeat them since such an action would require a much smaller force.  They might also have heard of the prophecy that God had promised the land to Abraham and feared that by expelling Isaac from the land, they might have aroused his ill will and he was harboring thoughts of retaliation.  (Ramban v29)

26:29  “..just as we have done with you only good, and sent you away in peace…”   The Midrash perceives the hypocrisy of those gentile nations who insist that Israel was indebted to them merely because of their ‘benevolence’ in allowing Israel to dwell among them unmolested.

     The Midrash cites the parable of a wild lion that killed an animal and a bone stuck in his throat.  He was unable to find any animal willing to extract it.  He then promised to amply reward anyone who removes the bone.

     A long-necked stork came.  It placed its head in the lion’s mouth and pulled out the offending bone.  When he demanded his reward, the lion said, ‘What?  You want a reward too?  Go!  It is reward enough for you that you will be able to go about and boast that you put your head into a lion’s mouth and came out in peace unscathed!’

26:30  “He made them a feast and they ate and drank.”  – Since gentlemen partake of a meal after concluding a transaction, Isaac prepared the feast to consummate the mutual acceptance of the pact.  (Radak and Tur)

26:31  “The awoke early in the morning..”  – Specifically in the morning, after they had slept off the effects of the dinner wine so that no one could claim that the oath was undertaken in anything less than an alert, sober state.  (Torah Sheleimah, 126 note)

“..and swore to one another.”  – According to Pirkei d/Rabbi Eliezer 31, the covenant stipulated that Isaac’s descendants would not take possession of the land of the Philistines.

To ratify the covenant, Isaac cut off a cubit of the bridle-rein of the donkey he was riding and gave it to them as a token of the covenant and oath between them.

Centuries later, when David became king and wished to enter the land of the Philistines, he was prevented from doing so because of this symbol of the covenant’s ratification.  He remained unable to enter until he first took from them this sign of Isaac’s oath, as it is written: David struck the Philistines and subdued them; and David took the cubit of the bridle-rein out of the hand of the Philistines.

They swore not to harass each other’s descendants, but the Philistines violated the oath when they warred against Israel in the days of the Judges and King Saul.  (Midrash Or HaAfeilah)

26:32  “And it was on that very day..”  – While Abimelech was still with Isaac; this newly discovered prosperity was another sign of God’s Providential beneficence toward Isaac so that the Philistine nobles should be impressed and stand in awe of him.  (Radak)

“..and they had told him about the well they had dug,..”  – They had begun digging the well before Abimelech came (v. 25) and they had now finished digging.  On the day of his departure they came to Isaac with the news that they found water.  (Ramban)

“We have found water!”  – Without strife or quarreling, Thus was Isaac’s every effort successful in Eretz Yisrael.  (Radak)

26:33  “…forty years old..”  – So was it with Esau: For forty years he had been living an immoral life – enticing married women from their husbands – and when he reached the age of forty he hypocritically said that he would follow the example of his father who married at that age.  (see 25:20)

“…Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite.”  – Hittite is mentioned to emphasize that Isaac was not as careful as was his father in seeing that his son married a fitting wife, or that he not marry a Hittite (Canaanite).  (Sforno)

But the punishment for the failure to oversee their sons’ activity came quick: Esau’s wife immediately proved to be a source of spiritual rebellion and introduced idolatrous practices into the house to the utter frustration of Isaac and Rebecca.  (Hoffmann)

Ibn Ezra suggests that Esau had no children from Judith and she is therefore not mentioned with his other wives in the listing of his genealogy (36:2).

“..and Basemath, daughter of Elon the Hittite.”  – With this marriage, accordingly, Esau set the seal on his complete unfitness to be the one who was to carry on the mission of Abraham.  In a home ruled by two Hittite women, the Abrahamitic ideal lays buried.  (Hirsch)

26:35  “…a source of spiritual rebellion..”  – Targum Yonasan renders: “They set themselves to rebel in their evil conduct against Isaac and Rebecca”.

They were in complete opposition to the spirit that dominated Isaac and Rebecca.  (Hirsch)

“ Isaac and to Rebecca.”  – Sforno notes that despite Esau’s brazenness in marrying such women and in not controlling their idolatrous behavior, Isaac still refused to recognize the evil nature of his son.  As a result, he wished to bless him and even after having conferred the blessings on Jacob, Isaac blessed Esau to a certain extent.  As a result, Jacob had to flee, and his descendants suffer from Esau’s offspring to this day.  Thus, these verses are a prelude to the next chapter.

Hirsch, too, sees this episode as setting the stage for the blessings.  Esau’s wives were in total contradiction to the feelings and principles of Isaac and Rebecca.  Significantly Isaac is mentioned first: even the loving father was repelled by the behavior of his daughters-in-law.

Genesis – Chapter 25

25:1  Abraham remarries – That Abraham married again is not surprising when we remember that he survived Sarah by thirty-eight years. Apart from that, our Sages teach that man is not ‘whole’ without a wife, a human being’s mission is too great to be fully accomplished by one person alone. (Hirsch)

The Midrash and Rashi interpret the verse to include the word ‘again’. The Zohar specifically states that the term ‘and he again added’ here indicates not that Abraham took another wife, but that he took again his former spouse whom he had driven out with Ishmael.

Keturah is Hagar, who received this name because her deeds were as beautiful as incense (ketores); also because she remained chaste from the time she had separated from Abraham.

In 21:14 Rashi comments that Hagar reverted to idolatry of her father’s house. How then does he now call her action ‘beautiful as incense’? Rather, when she was expelled from Abraham’s household, she felt forsaken even by his God and she intended to revert to her idolatrous ways. But when the miracle occurred at the well, she repented.

The Zohar similarly comments that although she had relapsed into her ancestral idolatry, she later repented and changed her name, after which Abraham sent for and married her. From this we see that a change of name makes atonement for guilt, for she made this change of name symbolic of her change of behavior.

Although Hagar/Keturah was a first generation Egyptian (16:1) and therefore forbidden in marriage (Deuteronomy 23:9), nevertheless, since his first marriage to her was God’s sanction, she remained permissible to him for remarriage as well. Furthermore, the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 60:4) specificially states that Abraham remarried Keturah/Hagar by Divine Command.

25:2 “..Midian, Ishbak and Shuah.” – Midian is a tribal name that frequently appears in the Bible. Further, (Exodus 3:1) we find Hethro (later Moses’ father-in-law), as the prist of Midian, while in Number 22 and 31 the Midianites appear as enemies of Israel. In Judges 6 we are told that they ruled Israel for a period of seven years until Gideon prevailed over them. Ishbak is unknown, and Shuah, ~the tribe of Job’s friend, Bildad~ is mentioned in Job 2:11 as a tribe of the land of Utz. (Hoffmann)

25:4 “All these were the descendants of Keturah.” – This expression means that all these were the sons of Keturah along with the grandchildren who lived during her lifetime. They are referred to as the descendants of Keturah since in fact, they are not reckoned in the Abrahamitic genealogy. (Malbim)

25:5 Since Abraham’s primary progeny was Isaac, Abraham distinguished him from his other children by giving him his physical and spiritual possessions. (Malbim)

In 24:6 Eliezer specifically states that Abraham bequeathed all his possessions to Isaac.

Abraham also gave Isaac ‘the blessing’ as a legacy God had told Abraham (12:2) ‘and you shall be a blessing’ which means ~ having the privilege of blessing whomever you wish. It was this that Abraham now bestowed upon Isaac.

25:7 The death of Abraham – Chronologically, Abraham lived until his grandson Jacob was fifteen years old and accordingly, his death took place after the events of the upcoming chapters. But in accordance with the Torah’s usual method of narration, it bids farewell, so to speak, to Abraham when there is nothing further of his life that needed to be narrated. Similarly, the Torah gives us whatever information it deems necessary about Ishmael’s family. Then it can go on uninterrupted to the central figure of the succeeding narrative, Isaac.

In the same way, Noah’s death is recorded in 9:29 before the history of his sons is mentioned although Noah was still alive well into the days of Abraham, and his son Shem lived to see Jacob. The passing of Terach (11:32) is recorded before the story of Abraham, although he lived another sixty years and the death of Isaac (35:28-29) before the narrations of Esau and Jacob, although Isaac was still alive when Joseph was sold into slavery.

25:8 Abraham died in the year of 2123 from Creation. (Seder Olam)

In the commentary to 15:15, Abraham was destined to live 180 years like his son but God caused him to die five years earlier so that he would not witness Esau’s evil conduct. For, as it is written in the Midrash Aggadah, the five years corresponds to the five sins Esau committed on the very day Abraham died for had Abraham lived he would have witnessed them. Esau stole, raped a betrothed maiden, murdered, denied the fundamental Principle (the existence of God), and despised the birthright. God therefore said, ‘I promised Abraham, ‘you shall be buried in a good old age. Is it good old age when he sees his grandson commit adultery, and murder? Better to let him die in peace.’

“..he was gathered to his people.’ – Most connect this expression specifically to the soul, for while it is in the body it is in isolation (from the Upper worlds); when the soul leaves the body, it rejoins the Source and is gathered back to its glory.

In the manner of a soul returning to its source, we find many similar expressions in Scripture: ‘You will come to your forefathers’ (15:15); ‘gathered in to his forefathers’ (Judges 2:10). Such expressions prove that belief in the Hereafter is an integral part of the Jewish faith. Death, therefore, is viewed as a reunification with earlier generations.

25:9 “His sons Isaac and Ishmael..” – Normally the oldest son is mentioned first. From this it can be concluded that Ishmael had repented and gave precedence to Isaac.

Perhaps the Torah mentions Isaac first because he is the son of Abraham’s wife Sarah and as such clearly merited precedence over Ishmael, the son of a maidservant. But the traditional hatred of the wicked for the righteous is so intense, and so defied the norm of dignified conduct, that if Ishmael were still wicked, he would never ~ under any circumstances ~ have allowed the righteous Isaac, to precede him. Therefore, the Sages derive from this verse that Ishmael had repented.

25:11 What does it mean ‘God blessed Isaac’? By ‘bless’ is meant that God comforted him in his mourning. Rashi also had another possible explanation. Although God had empowered Abraham to bless whomever he wished, he feared to bless Isaac because he foresaw that Esau would descend from him and he was apprehensive that Isaac would in turn prefer to pass on these blessings upon his favorite son, Esau, rather than Jacob. According to this interpretation we must assume that although Abraham was spared the ordeal of witnessing Esau’s public sinfulness, he nevertheless foresaw that Esau would be wicked. Abraham had therefore said, ‘Let the Master of the Blessings come Himself and bless Whomever He sees fit.’ God now came and blessed him since God knew that Jacob, and not Esau, would be the recipient of the Blessings.

According to Radak, the verse simply means that God prospered Isaac’s endeavors.

25:12-16 Ishmael’s Genealogy Verse 16 is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham in 17:20 ~ ’He shall begat twelve chieftains (princes), and I will make him a great nation.’ Each of the twelve was a prince and the ancestor of a large family which carried his name as we see the names do appear later in Scripture ~ representing distinct family clans.

25:17 Ishmael’s age is given because it assists in calculations with respect to dating the various events which occurred in the life of Jacob.

Rashi explains that we calculate from Ishmael’s age at his death that Jacob attended the Academy of Eber for fourteen years from the time he left his father’s house ~ which coincides with Ishmael’s death (28:9) to the time he arrived at Laban’s house. (Megillah 17a)

According to the data cited in Megillah 17a, when Jacob stood before Pharaoh, he should have been a hundred and sixteen years old, yet Jacob himself gave his age at one hundred and thirty (47:9) The discrepancy is explained by the fact that he spent fourteen years at the Academy of Eber after leaving his father’s house.

According to the parallel explanation in the Midrash, Ishmael’s lifespan is given in order to assist in calculating Jacob’s age when he was blessed. Jacob received the blessings from Isaac at the time Ishmael died (28:9). Ishmael was 137 years old when he died. Isaac was Ishmael’s junior by fourteen years, since Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born and 100 years old when Isaac was born (21:5)

Therefore, since Isaac was 123 years old at Ishmael’s death, Jacob who was 60 years younger than Isaac (25:26) was 63 years old when he received the blessings.

Next: The Overview of Isaac

25:19  “..Abraham begot Isaac.”  – The Torah felt compelled to add that Abraham begot Isaac to allude to the fact that the cynics of Abraham’s generation had been saying that Sarah, who had lived so long with Abraham without bearing a child, must have become pregnant by Abimalech.  In order to refute this slander, God made Isaac’s features so undeniably similar to Abraham’s that even the scoffers had to admit that it was indeed Abraham who had begotten Isaac!

According to the literal sense of the narrative, however, since the Torah identifies Ishmael as the son ‘whom Hagar the Egyptian, servant of Sarah, had borne to Abraham’, it now identifies Isaac as Abraham’s primary son, whom Abraham had begotten from his true wife … Similarly in Chronicles after listing Abraham’s descendants as Isaac, Ishmael, and the children of Kenturah, the text reverts and mentions ‘Abraham begot Isaac’.  See I Chronicles 1:34.

25:20  “..forty years old..”  – According to the traditional Rabbinic chronology of Seder Olam followed by Rashi, Isaac was thirty-seven years old at the Akeidah ~ at which time Rebecca was born.  He waited until she was physically capable of marriage ~ three years ~ and he married when he was forty.  After the Akeidah, Abraham was informed that Isaac’s bride – Rebecca – had been born.  Isaac then waited the necessary three years and married her although she was not yet physically fit to bear children.  (Mizrachi)

“..daughter of Bethuel..”  – Although we are already aware of her family background and native land, the Torah repeats these facts to proclaim her praise: She was the daughter of a wicked man, sister of a wicked man, and her native place was one of wicked people, yet Rebecca did not emulate their wicked ways.

25:21  It was in the twentieth year of their marriage that they began praying.  When Isaac married Rebecca, she was, according to most opinions three years old.  Until she was thirteen, she could not considered able to bear children since one does not usually bear children below the age of thirteen.  They waited ten additional years as the halachah required, and only then did they begin to storm the gates of heaven with prayers.

Isaac prayed, ‘Hashem, God of heaven and earth, Whose goodness and mercies fill the earth, You took my father from his ancestral home and birthplace and brought him to this land.  You said to him: ‘To your offspring will I give this land’ and You promised him, ‘I will multiply your seeds as the stars of heaven and as the sand of the sea.’  Now, may Your words which You spoke to my father be verified, for our eyes are directed to You only.’  (Sefer HaYashar)

He was certain that he would have children because God had promised him descendants.  But he began to doubt that the Covenant of Abraham would be carried on by the offspring of someone from Laban’s family.  Therefore, he prayed particularly referring to his wife, Rebecca.  (Hirsch)

“..because she was barren.”  – Why was Rebecca barren?  Providence caused Rebecca to remain barren so long lest her heathen relatives maintain that it was their prayers and blessings (given her before she departed with Eliezer in 24:60) that had been instrumental in her fruitfulness.  Therefore, as this verse makes clear, Hashem allowed Himself to be prevailed upon by him: Rebecca conceived as a direct result of God’s response to Isaac’s prayer.

Note:  Of the four Matriarchs, three were barren:

  • Sarah: to allow Ishmael to be born from Abraham (16:2) and to allow for her change of name, with its esoteric implications;
  • Rebecca: to delay the wicked Esau’s birth until Abraham reached ripe old age, for it is known that Abraham was to die before Esau took to wicked ways;
  • Rachel: to provide a reason for marrying Bilhah and Zilpah from whom were born, Dan, Naftali, Gad, and Asher.

“..and his wife Rebecca conceived.”  – The Torah mentions her name here to accentuate that it was as ‘Rebecca’ that she conceived; unlike Sarah, her name did not have to be changed before she could bear a child.

25:22  “The children agitated within her..”  – The Rabbis explain that agitated is derived from the root ‘to run’: When Rebecca passed the Torah academy conducted by Shem and Eber, Jacob ‘ran’ and struggled to come forth; and when she passed a temple of idol worship, Esau ‘ran’ and struggled to come forth.  (Midrash) 

Gur Aryek explains that this embryonic Jacob-Esau struggle was not influenced by their personal Good and Evil Inclination, for they were not present before birth.  Rather, Jacob and Esau represented cosmic forces in Creation, forces that transcended the normal course of personality development, and that existed even before birth.

“..she went to inquire..”  – She went to the academy of Shem, a prophet, who could inquire of God on her behalf.  She kept her predicament from Isaac and Abraham for fear that they might deem her suffering to be a sign of sinfulness on her part.  (Gur Aryeh)

As indicated in the next verse, Hashem conveyed the significance of her frightening symptoms only to her and not to Isaac.  Since God did not reveal this prophecy to Isaac, Rebecca felt she did not have the right to do so, even years later when she conspired to win Isaac’s blessings for Jacob over Esau.  Chizhuni explains that this is why Isaac could not imagine Esau to be a sinner.  For though Isaac was a prophet, the mystery of the entire matter of Jacob and Esau remained unrevealed to him…. It would seem that Rebecca was specifically bidden to withhold the matter from Isaac, in order that he not despair of educating Esau to serve God.  Had Isaac not devoted himself equally to Jacob and to Esau, the latter would have had an excuse to ignore his obligations to God.

25:23  ‘Hashem said to her…”  – Through Shem, God conveyed to her that the unborn infants represented two nations and two conflicting ideologies ~ Israel and Edom ~ and that their struggle in the womb symbolized the future rivalries between them, which would end up with the younger prevailing over the older (Hoffman).  Thus, the turmoil within her was due to the irreconcilable conflict between the two nations that was already taking shape.  (Mizrachi)

The Sages teach that the two of them will never be mighty simultaneously; when one falls, the other will rise (Megillah 6a).  History has demonstrated this prophecy in practice.  Two regimes, one embracing morality and justice and the other standing for barbarity and cruelty cannot coexist for long.  They must always be in conflict until one comes to dominate the other, whether through victory on the battlefield or in the contest for men’s minds.

“..and the elder shall serve the younger.”  – According to the Midrash, Or HaAfeilah, this prophecy will be fulfilled in the days of the Messiah.

When Jacob in later addressing Esau referred to himself as ‘your servant Jacob’ (32:5).  God said to him, not only have you profaned the holy (by referring to yourself as his ‘servant’ and addressing him as ‘my lord Esau’), but additionally you thereby disregard My promise that the ‘elder shall serve the younger’.  By your life!!  Your own words shall materialize: Esau will dominate you in this world, but you will dominate him in the World to Come.

25:24  Hirsch comments that, in view of the sharp differences prophesized for the children, it was anticipated that they would be dissimilar from birth.  Unexpectedly, however, they were identical twins except that Esau was more developed physically.  This external similarity combined with their divergent personalities and futures, and draws attention to the fact that the seeds of the future conflict lay deep beneath the surface and require intensive study.

If they were intended to be so dissimilar, why were they born as twins?  There is no chaff without wheat, and no wheat without chaff.  Of Esau it is written (Ovadiah 1:18) ‘the house of Esau shall be the chaff; and of Jacob it is written (Jeremiah 2:3) ‘Israel is holy to Hashem, the first fruits of His harvest (wheat).  (Chizkuni)

25:25  “The first one emerged red,..”  – His complexion was ruddy and he was as hairy as a woolen garment.  The redness of his complexion portended his murderous nature (Rashi), since there is no other reason for the Torah to have mentioned it.  (Mizrachi)

The young King David, too, was ruddy, and Samuel feared that this might indicate a tendency toward bloodshed on his part.   But God reassured him, saying that David had beautiful eyes (I Samuel 16:12), meaning that he would kill only upon the ruling of the Sanhedrin, which acts as the ‘eyes of the nation’, whereas Esau would kill whenever the mood moved him (Midrash).

All character traits can be used for good.  Man must harness his nature and not let his nature harness him.  David and Esau had similar personalities, but David utilized it for good and became one of the greatest people whoever lived.  Esau let his nature run rampart, and became the eternal symbol of evil and cruelty.

Since Scripture nowhere states that Esau was circumcised, as it does, by implication of Jacob and his sons (34:15), Da’as Zekeinum preserves a tradition that Isaac hesitated to circumcise Esau on the eighth day because his ruddiness might have been symptomatic of ill health in which case circumcision should be delayed.  When it became apparent that ruddiness was his nature, Isaac decided to wait to circumcise him until his thirteenth birthday, the age at which Ishmael was circumcised.  But at the age of thirteen, Esau stopped it.

25:26  “After that his brother emerged”  – Rashi is troubled by why Jacob was born second or according to Levush, why this verse does not read ‘the second emerged’ which stylistically would agree with the previous verse which reads ‘the first one emerged.’

Rashi comments, “I heard a Midrash (Rabbah 63:8) which expounds this literally: Jacob was justified in trying to prevent Esau from issuing first, since Jacob had been conceived first and Esau second.  Consider a narrow tube into which two stones are inserted in succession.  The one inserted first will emerge last, and vice versa.  Accordingly, Esau, who was formed last emerged first, and Jacob who had really been formed first, emerged last.  Accordingly, Jacob’s hand was grasping onto Esau’s heel, since he wanted to emerge first, as the first one conceived, and legally be claimed first born.  Thus, as Levush concludes, the verse does not refer to Jacob as second but simply as brother since in terms of conception he was first.

“Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.”  – Ten years passed from their marriage until she reached the age of thirteen and became capable of bearing children.  He waited these ten years as his father Abraham did in regard to Sarah.  When she still did not conceive, he realized she was barren and prayed for her.  But he did not want to marry one of his maids (as Abraham did in the case of Sarah) because he had been sanctified on Mount Mariah to be an unblemished offering and could therefore not marry a slave.

25:27  “And Esau became one who knows hunting,”  – The figurative Midrashic interpretation which Rashi follows is not opposed to the literal sense but reflects a profound perception into the nature of Esau.  The term, one who knows hunting signifies, as Hirsch points out, that “the hunter, must understand the art of stalking; he must be able to appear quite innocent and still have in his heart the thought of killing.  It is the complete exercise of trickery, insidiousness….”  Hence, apparently, Rashi accepted as the underlying simple sense of the phrase, the Midrashic interpretation that the phrase implies Esau’s devious character in deceiving his father.

Yalkut Shimoni preserves a Midrash that Esau’s skill as a hunter was directly attributable to a tunic which Esau took from Nimrod.  This garment, originally made for Adam, passed on to Cush, who in turn passed it on to his son, Nimrod.  It was embroidered with animals and birds, and it was to this that Nimrod owned his prowess and renown. 

As Hadar Zekeinim and Da’as Zekeinim record, Esau and Nimrod had been engaged in a bitter feud for a long time and finally resolved to leave the decision to a duel.  Jacob, knowing that Nimrod was invulnerable as long as he was clad in Adam’s garments, advised his brother not to enter into combat before his adversary had removed these garments.  Whereupon Esau put those garments on stealthily and killed Nimrod in the duel.  This made Esau, too, a cunning hunter.  These were the coveted garments of Esau (referred to in 27:15) which Jacob wore when he received Isaac’s blessings.

“But Jacob was a wholesome man”  – The description of Jacob as, simple man,contrasts with Esau as, a man who knows hunting; Jacob’s, abiding in tents, contrasts with Esau as, a man of the field, again emphasizing the starkness of their diametrically opposed characteristics.  (Ibn Ezra; Abarbanel)

“..abiding in tents.”  – In the tents (schools) of Shem and Eber (Rashi).  According to Radak, the intent of the plural is that he studied with every sage he encountered, this being his sole desire; and he was simple.  According to Racanati, he dwelt among the tents of Abraham and Isaac and received instruction from both of them.

25:28  “..but Rebecca loved Jacob.”  –  Rebecca’s love for Jacob was earned; she was not ‘deceived’ into loving him.  Rather, he earned her love. (Hirsch)  She loved only him.  She recognized how Jacob clung to the path of Torah, wisdom and life, and how Esau rejected these and chose instead a dangerous occupation, acted wantonly, and plundered.  Isaac, who was aged and of poor sight, remained at home and to the extent that he was unaware of Esau’s wickedness.  The Torah mentioned this detail to prepare us for the sale of the birthright as a display of Esau’s recklessness. (Radak)

It may be asked, seeing that the Shechinah was with Isaac, how is it that he was unaware of Esau’s evil deeds?  The truth is that the Shechinah,although continually with Isaac, did not reveal to him Esau’s evil career in order that Jacob should receive his blessing not by the will of Isaac, but by the will of the Holy One, Blessed by He.  So it was destined to be, and when Jacob entered the presence of his father, the Shechinah accompanied him, and Isaac thus felt that there was before him one who was worthy of being blessed; and blessed he was by the will of the Shechinah.  (Zohar)

Furthermore, it must be remembered that Rebecca, and not Isaac, was the recipient of the prophecy regarding the elder serving the younger and hence had a God-given truer perspective of the characteristics of her sons.  (Rashbam)

25:29  The Sale of the Birthright  –  Abraham died that day and Jacob cooked a stew of lentils to provide his father with the traditional mourner’s meal.

“  and Esau came in from the field.”  –  The day of mourning for Abraham has arrived.  Isaac and Rebecca weep; Jacob weeps; heaven and earth weep.  The sick people Abraham had healed and all those upon whom he had showered hospitality – all mourn for him.  The great of all the nations stood in the mourner’s row and lamented.  “Woe to the world that has lost its leader; woe to the ship that has lost it’s pilot!”  (Bava Basra 91b)  Even Ishmael who had repented mourns the great father he had just helped bury (se 25:7-9).

They return from the Cave of Machpelah – Isaac sits on the ground and mourns while Jacob prepares the customary mourner’s meal from his own lentils since a mourner may not eat the first meal from his own food, but only from that of others.

Where was Esau?  Esau, in contrast, is portrayed as going about his evil business as usual, uninvolved, as it were, in his family’s bereavement: “Esau came in from the field.”  For on that day, he slew Nimrod and committed five heinous sins.

25:30  “..pour into me now..”  –  The Hebrew which is in the transitive has a very forceful connotation.  The sense of the expression, as Rashi explains it, is: I will open my mouth; pour a lot into it!  The expression, as Rashi points out citing the Mishnah in Shabbos 155b, is normally used for feeding animals. 

Rashi comments: Abraham had died on that day in order to be spared seeing his grandson Esau enter upon a career of wickedness (for as the Talmud, Bava Basra 16b notes, on the day Abraham died, Esau began his sinful career (so in effect Abraham was spared witnessing it).  Esau committed five crimes on that day: he violated a betrothed maiden; committed murder; denied God; denied resurrection of the dead; and spurned the birthright.)  For had Abraham lived to see this, he would not have enjoyed the good old age promised him by God.  Therefore, God cut his life short by five years – for he lived five years less than his son Isaac.  Jacob was now preparing this lentil stew for the customary mourner’s meal. 

“..for I am exhausted.”  –  I have no strength to feed myself.  (Ralbag)

“He was therefore named Edom.”  –  Edom mean ‘red’.  He was ruddy and desired red food for the sake of which he sold his birthright.  Thus Edom was a term of contempt.  (Rashbam; Ramban)

Haamek Davar interprets:  Esau, by his very act of referring to the stew as adom, caused himself to be so referred to after this episode.  This was part of the Divine Plan so that everyone should become aware of what transpired and the matter would accordingly be ratified and not subject to change.  Furthermore, the name Edom in itself was appropriate to him as the Midrash comments: He was red, his food red, his land red (32:4), his warriors were red and their garments were red.

25:31  “Jacob said, ‘Sell, as this day,..”  –  Rashbam renders: Sell your share of our father’s inheritance to me as this day, i.e. immediately, for a sum of money which I shall give you.  Then I will give you the food as testimony and ratification of the deal.  We find that food was used to signify conclusion of agreements as in (31:46) they ate by the heap – to ratify the covenant between Jacob and Laban.  (Radak and Ramban also interpret that the food was not payment for the sale; but that money passed hands.  See verse 34)

“..your birthright to me.”  –  The sacrificial service was then carried out by first born sons, and Jacob considered the wicked Esau unworthy of sacrificing to the Holy One, Blessed be He.  (Rashi)

According to Ibn Ezra’s primary interpretation, the birthright consisted of the firstborn’s right of a double share in the father’s estate (Ramban disagrees with this and maintains that this right was instituted later by Torah law); alternatively since the Patriarchs fulfilled the whole Torah, Jacob felt obligated to show honor to his older brother.  He considered the wicked Esau undeserving of this and therefore asked to purchase this privilege from him. 

25:32  “And Esau said, ‘Look, I am going to die..”  –  Following Rashi’s interpretation that the birthright’s only immediate privilege was the right to perform the sacrificial service, Esau now reasoned:  … ‘My birthright is an unstable privilege.’ …  For Esau learned that many breaches of the regulations governing the service – such as officiating after drinking much wine, or officiating bare-headed (see Sanhedrin 22b, are punishable by death at the hands of Heaven.)  Esau then exclaimed: “Look, I am going to die, it is likely that I will die while Father is still alive and the birthright carries no special distinction while he lives.  ‘Of what benefit is a birthright to me?

“…what use to me is a birthright?”  –  When Esau uttered these words, the Shechinah exclaimed:  then of what use is a blessing – a play on words between birthright, and blessing – to you.  (Midrash HaGadol)

25:33  “Jacob said, ‘Swear to me as this day.”  –  i.e. – Make your oath as clear as day..

He swore to him and sold his birthright.”  –  The Torah, by mentioning that he sold his birthright to Jacob thereby testifies to the validity of the sale.  The Midrash notes that Esau brought in with him a group of ruffians.  They jeered at Jacob saying, “Let’s eat his food and mock at him!”  As if the entire transaction had been in jest.  But the Holy One, Blessed be He, consented to the sale, as it is written (Exodus 4:22)  Thus says Hashem, Israel (Jacob) is my first born.

25:34  “Jacob gave to Esau..”  – Although, Sforno maintains that an unspecified amount of money eventually passed hands, and that the bread and lentil stew was not the purchase price, he suggests that the stew, or the pot containing it was the legal instrument of ‘acquisition by symbolic barter’, reminiscent of Ruth 4:7.  (For according to Halachah, whenever a transaction occurs, the transaction may be consummated – even before money changes hands – by a symbolic act signifying acquisition by the new owner.)

“…bread and lentil stew,..”  –  Not until here does the Torah reveal what it was that Jacob was cooking; why was the lentil stew not mentioned earlier in verse 29?  R’Bachya comments that mention of the type of food is left for after the sale to emphasize the grossness of Esau.  For what did he give up his precious birthright – for a pot of beans.

..and he ate and drank, got up and left.”  After eating and drinking he returned to his hunt which was the cause of despising the birthright.  Thus acts the fool; he eats and drinks to fulfill his passing desire, not giving a care for the future.  (Ramban)

“Thus, Esau spurned the birthright.”  As Rashi comments to verse 32.. Esau discarded the birthright because he feared the death penalties associated with it.  If so, he stood in awe of its responsibilities – why does the Torah accuse him of “despising” it?  Harav Moshe Feinstein derives from this that one must accept the responsibility of serving God even though he may be subjected to danger and calumny.  For one to refuse His service to avoid such burdens is equivalent to despising His Torah.

HaKsav V’haKaballah observes that Jacob was interested only in the spiritual aspects of the birthright, not the physical benefit.  We see, therefore, that Jacob always remained subservient to Esau, referring to him as my lord, and to himself as your servant, Jacob

As Hirsch notes, we find Jacob deriving no material advantage whatever from the sale.  To the contrary, in succeeding chapters, we find Esau growing powerful and mighty while Jacob became an exiled shepherd toiling for Laban.  Jacob’s desire was solely for the spiritual benefits of the birthright.  That relationship between the brothers has been acted out in succeeding generations.  Esau lusted for material wealth which Jacob gladly surrendered in return for spiritual growth.

Genesis – Chapter 24

24:1  “Now Abraham was old…”  –  The Talmud observes: Until Abraham, there was no old age.  Whoever saw Abraham thought him to be Isaac, and vice versa.  Abraham then prayed for (visible) old age, and his prayer was answered, as it is written: “Now Abraham was old” [i.e. visibly old; for though old age is mentioned prior to this, as for example regarding Abraham and Sarah in 18:11; the elders of Sodom (19:4); Lot (19:31), in those cases only chronological age is meant.  Our verse, however, traditionally alludes to the appearance of old age – grey hair – which originated with Abraham.]

The Midrash observes: One may have the dignity of old age without its years, or longevity without dignity.  In this case however, it was the dignity of old age matched by the length of days, and the longevity was matched by the dignity of age.

The Mussar is a Jewish path of character development and spiritual growth leading to awareness, wisdom, and moral conduct.  The Mussar masters perceive in this expression that Abraham’s life was full and meaningful in every aspect.  Every day of his life represented a new challenge and a new mission.  Thus, while a great person looks back upon a life full of fruitful days, a wicked one has a full catalog of wasted and abused days.  In this sense, our verse describes Abraham’s accumulated years as ‘he came with the days’ ~ he brought along into his old age all of his days.  Not one moment of his life was wasted or spent in anything but service to his Creator.

“..with everything.”  – The Talmud (Bava Basra 16b-17a) teaches that the Patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were given an inkling of the World to Come, and that the Evil Inclination had no dominion over them.  This is derived from the fact that expressions with the word ‘everything’ ~ which implies perfection, a totally unflawed blessing ~ are used in the Torah referring to each of the Patriarchs.

Regarding Abraham, this verse ~ ‘with everything’; regarding Isaac, it is written (27:33): ‘and I have partaken from everything’; regarding Jacob (33:11): ‘for God has been gracious to me and I have everything.’

24:2  The commentators emphasize that Eliezer’s loyalty was such that his name is never mentioned throughout this entire narrative, and appears only once in 15:2.  This is testimony to the extent that Eliezer’s entire self was devoted to Abraham, his master.  The righteous servant sublimated his own identity in order to be known as Abraham’s servant.  In fact, the Midrash notes, Eliezer’s features came to resemble Abraham’s and as the Talmud (Yoma 28b) comments, Eliezer was entitled, indicating that he sat on Abraham’s council and had acquired his master’s learning.  Yet, as a descendant of the accursed Canaan, he could not intermarry with Abraham.

“..who controlled all that was his..”  – Eliezer was the executor of Abraham’s will; one whom Isaac would have to obey in the event of his father’s death.  (Ramban)

“..your hand under my thigh.”  – Rashi explains that one who takes an oath must place his hand on some sacred object such as a Torah scroll or tefillin (Shevuos 38b).  Because circumcision was the first precept given to Abraham and came to him only through much pain, it was therefore particularly precious to him, and Abraham selected the organ as the object upon which to take this oath.

According to Abarbanel, this does not necessarily suggest that Abraham would actually allow his servant to grasp his organ, as such an act would be an indignity.  Rather the form of oath was such that the servant symbolically placed his hand under his thigh as if to signify: Remember the covenant of circumcision by which we have both bound ourselves.

24:3  “..I will have you swear..”  – Realizing the infirmities of his old age, Abraham feared that he might die before Eliezer’s return.  Accordingly, by having the servant undertake a sacred oath, Abraham assured himself of unwavering loyalty to his plan because he knew that Isaac would follow the counsel of Eliezer, who ‘controlled all that was his.’ (verse 2)

Since Abraham knew that Eliezer’s loyalty was complete, why did he find it necessary to administer an oath?  Shem MiShuel comments that every person has within him strength and fortitude of which he himself is not aware.  In time of crisis, he can draw upon them – if he is determined enough to do so – to conquer seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  Abraham knew that Eliezer’s mission could be beset by unpredictable pitfalls and difficulties, so much so that Eliezer dedicated himself to such an extent that he would persevere in the face of the ‘impossible’.  Precisely because he took the oath, the obstacles failed to materialize – because they could not have deterred him in any case.

‘..daughters of the Canaanites,..’  – A generic name for the eleven descendants of Canaan who populated the land ~ Zidonite, Hittite, Jebusite, Emorite, Girgashite; Hivvite; Arkite; Sinite; Erodite; Zimrite; Hamite.

The seed of Canaan was specifically cursed (9:25) while Abraham’s seed was blessed (22:18).  The two, could therefore not mingle. 

24:4  Rashi comments in 22:20 citing the Midrash, after the Akeidah Abraham was concerned that Isaac was still unmarried and he considered marrying him to one of the daughters of Aner, Eshkol and Mamre ‘for they are virtuous women and of what concern to me is their (accursed Canaanite) birth?  God therefore caused Abraham to be informed that Isaac’s mate had already been born in his family.  For until that time, there had been no births in Abraham’s family, and the righteous daughters of his comrades would have been the logical choice for him.  Now that the revelation of the birth was given him, he dispatched his trusted servant to his family.

It is noteworthy that Abraham did not clearly command Eliezer to bring back Rebecca.  Perhaps he relied on Divine Providence to guide Eliezer to the preordained spouse.  Or he may have felt that if Eliezer were told that there was only a single acceptable girl, he might have felt that the mission was too difficult ~ what if she preferred not to go?

Two considerations are to guide Eliezer in choosing the woman: her character must be such that she can become Abraham’s daughter, even as Isaac is his son; thus she must be worthy, ‘for my son’ but that is not enough: she must be suitable for Isaac’s personality, because two individuals may be of excellent character yet not be suitable for one another.  (Hirsch)

24:5  Eliezer does not doubt that he will find the suitable mate who will consent to marry Isaac; he is apprehensive, however, that she might not want to go with him and forsake her family. (Hoffman)

He also asked “What if I no longer find you alive upon my return from my mission.  Tell me now whether I should bring your son back there in the event she refuses to accompany me?  (Radak)

24:6  Radak continues: For Abraham thus emphasized that Isaac was on no account to leave the precincts of the Land which God had Promised to his descendants.  Isaac was the only Patriarch who never left Canaan.  God later forbade him to do so, even in days of famine.  (26:28)

24:7  “He will send His angel before you,..”  – Hashem will send His angel not with you but ‘before’ you.  The Midrash specifically stated that a particular angel was meant.  This is derived from the possessive “His angel”.  It refers to Michael, or to the angel of charge of marriage.

24:8  Abraham was completely confident of God’s Providential assistance in fulfilling his request, but he was, at the same time, prepared for a possible Divine denial of success.  This absolute trust exemplified by the righteous is a fundamental principle of faith.

24:11  “..a well of water..”  – He chose a well since it is the sort of central place where a stranger seeking information would usually station himself.  (Midrash HaGadol)

“ evening time,..”  – The Zohar notes that this timing, too, was part of the Divine Plan.  For when Eliezer reached Charan and met Rebecca at evening time it was the time of ‘afternoon prayer’.  Thus, the moment when Isaac began the afternoon prayer coincided with the moment when the servant encountered Rebecca. 

So, too, it was at the very moment of his afternoon prayer that Rebecca came to Isaac himself.  Thus, all was fittingly disposed through the working of the Divine Wisdom.

24:12  Eliezer was apprehensive that the family of the girl might object to her leaving home for a distant marriage.  He therefore proposed the test in the following verses in order that Abraham’s relations would recognize God’s hand in the ensuing events.  Since he implored God in His Providence to perform certain signs, and God fulfilled them in every detail – they would recognize that everything led to exclaim: The matter stems from Hashem! (which in fact they did – see verse 50), and would consent to allow their daughter to leave home and accompany the man. 

“..God of my master Abraham,..”  – Eliezer was not so brazen as to pronounce the Divine Name as God of the heaven and God of the earth as did Abraham (verse 3), because he felt himself unworthy.  Instead he contented himself to refer to Him as the God of his master who knows the Attributes by which God is called.  (Abarbanel)

“ kindness with my master Abraham.”  – For, if You act as I am about to propose, it will be a sure sign to me that You have done so as an act of graciousness for my master Abraham.

24:13  The criteria are established:  i.e. ~ away from a home atmosphere, and hence in a better perspective to judge the character of a prospective bride.  For here the girl will act freely in accordance with her own innate character, while what a girl does at home may not necessarily reflect her own nature because there she might be under constraint of her relatives’ orders or expectations.

24:14  “..even water your camels,..”  – This response would be a barometer of her wisdom and tenderness, showing that she had said to herself: This man is obviously handicapped if he cannot lower a jug to draw himself water from the well.  If he cannot give himself a drink than most likely he is unable to water the animals.

Her concern over the thirst of the camels would indicate her kindness to animals.

24:15  “..before he had finished drinking..”  – this is similar to Isaiah 65:24 “before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear”.  (Radak)

For so swift was the Divine response to his petition, that while he was still in the midst of his supplication, Providence had already caused Rebecca to leave her house and go to the well.  This may be compared to God’s interjected response to Abraham’s prayer for children in 15:4.

24:16  “ man had known her.”  –  According to Rashi the phrase “and no man had known her” is not a redundancy parallel to the word, virgin.  Rather, following the Midrash, he explains that heathen maidens preserved their virginity, you freely practiced unnatural intimacy.  He accordingly distinguishes between the two terms and renders as a virgin – in the literal sense; and no man had known her – unnaturally.

24:18  “Drink, my lord”  – She answers “drink” and adds “my lord” although he stands as a slave before her… Thus, step by step, she shows her Abrahamic feelings, and proves herself worthy to succeed Sarah as the family matriarch.  (Hirsch)

24:19  Rebecca did not respond by saying ‘I will water your camels as Eliezer had anticipated in formulating his criteria in verse 14.  Rather she offered only to draw the water for them.  This was further proof of her modesty, since the Sages in Kesubos 61b perceive it to be immodest for a woman to feed male beasts (i.e. from her hand).  Therefore, she modestly proposed to draw the water for them and fill the troughs after which they would drink their fill themselves.  It is also possible that since there was a trough from which the animals could drink themselves, when Eliezer said water them, he anticipated only that she would draw the water and fill the troughs.

24:20  “..running to the well..”  – Rebecca runs eagerly when he performs an act of kindness, as did Abraham when he was providing for his guests (18:7); a further sign of her suitability to join Abraham’s household.

“..she drew for all his camels.”  – Ten camels would consume at least 140 gallons of water!  The task so eagerly undertaken by Rebecca of drawing such large quantities of water for a stranger’s camels was indeed not a token gesture.

24:21  “..reflecting silently..”  – Although he was overawed by her compulsion to do such kindness, he maintained his silence instead of saying, as courtesy would have dictated, ‘Do not go to so much trouble.’  (Sforno)

24:22  “..when the camels had finished drinking..”  –  This must naturally have taken a considerable amount of time.  Since she did not ask for any payment he now knew that she possessed graciousness befitting the wife of his master’s son, and her motives were entirely unselfish.

There is a difference of opinion among the expositors as to whether Eliezer actually presented her with these gifts before inquiring as to her identity, or whether he prepared them in anticipation of the good news he would soon receive, but did not give them until he verified that she was a member of Abraham’s family.  The latter opinion is apparently substantiated by Eliezer’s own account.

Ramban interprets that Eliezer’s account in verse 47 reflected the true sequence of events as they actually occurred.  First Eliezer established her identity and then gave her the gifts as indicated in verse 47.  Verse 22 indicates only that he ‘prepared’ the gifts for her.

Hirsch agrees that the gifts were not presented until afterwards, but he perceives a special purpose in Eliezer’s preparation of the gifts at this point.  Rebecca had already demonstrated that her character was sterling, but Eliezer’s next request would be for hospitality for himself and his ten camels.  To comply with such a request; not only Rebecca but her whole family would have to be of Abrahamic character.  To obtain such a show of generosity, Eliezer felt that it would be wise to display his wealth.  Indeed, knowing the mercenary nature of Laban, the dominant figure in the family, Rebecca may not have dared invite Eliezer had she not seen that he would make it worth Laban’s while.  In recounting these events in verse 47, however, Eliezer tactfully omitted this point; another example of the subtle delicacy he displayed throughout his mission.

“..two bracelets on her arms..”  – The two bracelets were symbolic of the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments which were joined together.  (Rashi)

“..ten gold (shekels) was their weight.”  – This was symbolic of the Ten Commandments which were inscribed upon the tablets.  (Rashi)

24:23  “..for us to spend the night..”  – The us is emphasized: ‘Do you have a place suitable for us – i.e. a place free of idolatry, since we are members of Abraham’s household – to spend the night?’  Therefore, having been so informed, when she replied she simply answered that there was ample space in her home for lodging but she did not say ‘for you’, since, in effect, the house had to be first cleansed of its idolatry, as Rashi notes in verse 31.

24:26  Hirsch explains that bowing without bending the knees, signifies submission of one’s head, one’s mind completely to whomever one bows.  Prostrating the entire body, signifies placing oneself entirely at the disposal of the one before whom he prostrates himself.  Here, Eliezer first bows his intellect before the management and guidance of the Divine Providence which had been clearly demonstrated to him, and then gives himself up entirely to it.

24:28  “..and told her mother’s household…”  – The woman had separate houses where they did their work, and a daughter, of course, confides only in her mother.  (Rashi)  In the case of Rachel, however, she told her father (29:12) because her mother had died and there was no one else to tell other than her father.  (Midrash)

24:29  Laban Or HaChaim cites the Midrash that in the case of righteous people, the word ‘name’ is mentioned before their name as in ‘and his name was Saul’ (I Samuel 9:2).  In this case of the wicked, however, the names are given first as in ‘Goliath was his name’ (1Samuel 17:4).  If so, why is the wicked Laban introduced as are the righteous, with his name given first?  The reason is suggested by the seemingly difficult sequence of the verses, for, in verse 39, which contains the allusion to Laban’s righteousness, he is described as running toward Eliezer even before he heard the full account of the episode from Rebecca (verse 30).  When he heard that a stranger had accosted his sister, he hurried to defend her honor (verse 29).  Only later when he heard the full story did he learn that Eliezer had acted properly and honorably.  Because Laban is introduced to us as a brother acting virtuously in what he thought was defense of his sister, he is described in accord with his deed – righteously.

Laban was the brother of Rebecca and the father of the matriarch’s Rachel and Leah.  Although usually portrayed as a schemer – specifically in his later dealings with Jacob – he seems to have had certain admirable characteristics which occasionally emerged among his otherwise sinister traits and which reflected his shining character of his righteous sister and daughters.  Rashi, following the Midrashic perspective, views Laban’s every action in the most sinister light as motivated by greed ~ thus anticipating the character of Laban as it reveals itself later in his relations with Jacob.  Ramban, however, in interpreting Laban’s character strictly on the basis of how he emerges from the simple sense of the Biblical text in the narrative, views him here in more sympathetic terms as being basically straightforward and honorable.

Rashi also accounts for the unusual order of these two verses and notes that the next verse explains the reason for his running: he saw the jewelry and judged Eliezer to be wealthy; as well as the fact that he overheard Rebecca’s account; for were it Laban’s intention to be hospitable rather than greedy, there would be no need for the Torah to mention his ‘seeing the jewelry’; the fact that he ’heard the account’ would have sufficed.

24:31  “..O blessed of Hashem..”  The Torah now records a prophetic expression placed – unbeknown to him – on Laban’s lips.  For his exemplary kindness to Abraham, Eliezer passed from the category of accursed Canaanite, into that of blessed.  Laban, however, had thought he was addressing Abraham, because their features were similar. (Midrash).

“..when I have cleared the house..”  According to Rashi (citing the Midrash) the phrase implies: I have cleared the house from the defilement of idols.  The verb used here, ‘clear’, is generally used in reference to clearing away an obstruction or something which people would find objectionable.  Therefore, since Eliezer was the servant of Abraham who had been persecuted for his denunciation of idolatry, the commentators related this word to the idols, since nothing could be more objectionable to a member of Abraham’s household than to lodge in the presence of idols.

“ for the camels?”  – For it is known that not even Abraham’s camels would enter a place containing idolatry.

Why did Laban go to all of this trouble on behalf of a stranger?  Because he conjectured to himself: If that man was so generous to my sister only because she drew water for him and his camels, imagine how generous he will be to me if I offer him and his camels lodging and even go through the trouble of cleaning the room for him.

24:32  “..he gave straw and feed..”  – Laban provided feed for the animals and water for Eliezer.  It would be unlikely that Eliezer himself would fetch water for his own feet and that of his men.  (Ramban)  First, he gave feed to the animals and only afterwards was food set before the guests (v 33), for one must not partake of food until he has fed his animals, for it is written (Deuteronomy 11:13): ‘I will give grass in your fields for your cattle’, and after that: ‘you shall eat and be satisfied.’  (Midrash HaGadol)

‘…of the men who were with him.”  – This is the first time that the Torah explicitly mentions that Eliezer was accompanied by others, although it is alluded to several times.

24:33  “Food was set before him,..”  – The Midrashim record a tradition ~ a doctrine believed to have divine authority though not written in scriptures ~ that they placed a deadly poison before Eliezer.  In Abraham’s merit, however, the dish was changed: Bethuel ate of it and died later that evening.

“..until I have spoken my words.”  – The mission has thus far been successful.  Divine Providence led Eliezer on the right path to the home of Abraham’s relatives, and to the girl who, by the test of her character, proved to be worthy of marriage to Isaac.  However, there was one obstacle still left ~ the doubt Eliezer had expressed earlier to Abraham: Perhaps the girl would not consent to follow him to Canaan.  He, therefore, was resolved to complete his task; he would not eat until the matter was settled beyond doubt.

Verses 34-39  The Recapitulation  Radak emphasizes that Eliezer repeated the whole story in order to convince them that God willed this marriage, thus delicately hinting that their refusal would not hinder it.

However, the Torah ~ which contains not a single letter without purpose ~ now proceeds to record at length Eliezer’s recapitulation of the events which led him to Bethuel’s house, when in reality, the Torah could merely have stated, “And Eliezer related to them these things’, etc.

Hoffman notes that it is common for the Torah to repeat a halachic, a law, or a narrative passage because of a meaningful detail which is added in the second version.  As we note, Eliezer’s repetition contains several such instruction additions and variations.

24:34  “A servant of Abraham..”  – He immediately introduces himself as Abraham’s servant and thereby indicates that that is why he must carry out his master’s mission, even before breaking bread.

The Zohar applies to Eliezer the verse ‘a slave honors his master” (Malachi 1:6), for in spite of all the precious valuables he brought along with him by virtue of which he could have pretended to be whatever he desired, he made no pretentious claims but informed him he was merely Abraham’s slave ~ his purpose being to enhance Abraham’s stature, so they could judge the greatness of his stature.

24:35  When a man wishes to marry a girl, he tells her of his lineage and the lineage of his family, in order to endear himself and his family to her.  Eliezer acted accordingly: First he spoke in praise of Abraham and then in the praise of Isaac.

24:36  In mentioning that Sarah gave birth to Isaac after she had grown old, Eliezer was anticipating a possible objection on their part: ‘How can you expect to pair a son of Abraham with a granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nachor?  This son must be an old man!’  Therefore, Eliezer, informed them that Isaac was born only after Sarah was old, and he was still relatively young.  Isaac was forty years old at the time.

And, since God performed a miracle, allowing Sarah to give birth to him at the age of ninety, you can be certain that he is a perfect young man, for God would not perform such a miracle for the sake of an ordinary son.

24:37  “ whose land I dwell.”  – Abraham in verse 3 had actually said “in whose midst I dwell.”  Eliezer, with great delicacy, changed ‘in whose midst’ to ‘in whose land’.  They would have found Abraham’s choice of words offensive.  It would have suggested that he had a tendency to be critical of those around him.

24:39  “Perhaps the woman will not follow me?”  – When Eliezer discussed with Abraham the possibility that the appropriate woman would not return to Canaan with him, he said ‘perhaps the woman would not ‘wish’ ~ implying that her ‘willingness’ would be a crucial factor.  Here, however, he omitted any such reference, saying merely that she will – in fact – not follow.  Originally, Eliezer envisioned only that the woman ~ of her own volition ~ might refuse to go to Canaan.  Now, however, that he saw Rebecca had no objections, Eliezer realized that her family might hinder her.  He therefore makes it clear to them that even if the woman will, in fact, not follow me through no ill-will of her own, but because of family hindrance, Abraham’s oath would be nullified and Isaac would be forced to seek a wife from among the Canaanites.  Eliezer alludes to this in verse 41 when he states: “an if they will not give her to you”, making the mission dependent on their consent, rather than, as Abraham had said (v8) on the girl’s consent. 

24:41  Eliezer immediately added that although Abraham had complete faith that God would make the mission successful, he was nevertheless prepared for the possibility that his wish would not materialize and the family would not cooperate.  Eliezer emphasized this so that they would not miscalculate and believe that his promise to Abraham compelled him to bring back a bride at any price, with the result that he was completely dependent upon them. 

24:42  “I came today..”  – Today I left and today I arrived.  The road contracted for him.  In only three hours, he found that he had miraculously completed what would ordinarily be a seventeen day journey.  (Rashi)

24:45  “I had not yet finished..”  – He mentioned this to further emphasize that the Godly origin of the matter was demonstrated by the immediacy of the response to his prayers ~ coming as it did before he had finished meditating.

24:48  “..and I blessed Hashem..”  – Eliezer related this to proclaim his absolute conviction that she was indeed the woman whom Hashem had designated and he is merely seeking their consent to conclude the matter.  He further wished to impress upon them that because of his conviction he blessed Hashem, had there been any doubt, such a blessing would have been premature.

24:49  ‘to deal kindly and truly..”  – Kindness denotes an action which one is not obligated to do while truth means to fulfill the promise of kindness.

The truth is that it is obviously God’s Will, the kindness is that you comply with His will by consenting to her accompanying me ~ a slave ~ and not insisting that Isaac himself come and fetch her.  (Malbim)

“ the right or to the left..”  – To the right refers to the daughters of Ishmael, who lived in the Wilderness of Paran in the south.  To the left refers to the daughters of Lot who lived to the left, or north, of Abraham.

24:50  “The matter stems from Hashem.”  – The Midrash asks: From when did it stem… i.e. when did God decree this and how did these heathens come to acknowledge it?  Rav Chaninah ben Yitchak comments: It stemmed from Mount Moriah ~ in other words it was preordained at Mount Moriah when, as he was descending with Isaac after the Akeidah, Abraham was informed of Rebecca’s birth (22:20-23).  The Rabbis stated that Rebecca’s family became convinced as a result of this incident that the marriage was Divinely ordained, as in their statement (v51) ‘let her be a wife to your master’s son as Hashem has spoken’ – the entire narrative of how Eliezer was led to Rebecca, which was a continuous story illustrating God’s Providence, convinced them that it was divinely decreed.

24:52  “When Abraham’s servant..”  – This is the only time in the entire chapter when he was given the title ‘Abraham’s servant’.  Having accomplished his mission in total obedience to Abraham’s wishes, he feels entitled to such an honored designation.  (Hirsch)

24:53  For the purpose of betrothal to Isaac, Eliezer acted as Isaac’s agent and gave Rebecca gifts.

24:55  “Her brother and mother said..”  – Where was her father Bethuel?  According to an account in the Midrash Aggadah, Bethuel died because the angel who accompanied Eliezer took the poisoned dish which had been set before Eliezer and exchanged it with Bethuel’s.  He ate from it and died.

24:56  “Do not delay me now..”  – Since everything has gone so smoothly and God so speedily guided my mission, it is obvious that He wishes me to return to my master without delay.

24:57  “Let us call the maiden..”  – From this we learn that a woman may be given in marriage only by her consent.

24:58  Radak also points out that they may have been asking her only about when she would accompany the man.  Presumably, however, she had already consented to the marriage, even before they expressed their approval to Eliezer (v51).  Although this is not specifically mentioned in the text, one would certainly not give his daughter in marriage without first consulting her.

24:59  Whether, as Rashi would interpret, they gave permission reluctantly to avoid her threatened defiance; or as Radak and Ramban would interpret, that they graciously acquiesced to her wishes, it must be noted that once Rebecca expressed her intention, they no longer hindered her.  As Abarbanel observes, however, no member of her immediate family accompanied her.  Possibly they were angered by her.

“..and her nurse, ..”  – According to Seder Olam, the most common Rabbinic chronology, Rebecca was but three years old at the time.

Ibn Ezra, who believes that Rebecca was older and in no need of a nurse, explains that this was the nurse of her infancy.  It was usual for a nurse to remain with a girl even after she had grown.

Apparently, they had also sent her maidens with her as well, but they are not specified here as receiving the honor of a family escort.  The nurse alone is mentioned as she was the most prominent among them.  They are, however, mentioned matter-of-factly in verse 61.  (Radak)

The nurse’s name was Deborah, as she is identified in 35:8.

24:60  “..may you come to be mother of thousands..”  May you and your offspring be the recipients of the blessings given to Abraham on Mount Moriah.  (22:17)  May it be His will that these offspring descend from you, as Isaac’s wife, and not from another woman. 

However, as the Midrash notes, their blessing was futile since God caused her to remain barren for twenty years, lest the heathens say ~ It was our prayer that bore fruit!  For, in fact, Rebecca did not conceive until Isaac prayed for her as it says (25:21): “Isaac entreated Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren, and Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated by him and his wife Rebecca conceived.”

“..and may your descendants inherit the gates of your enemies.”  – This blessing appears almost verbatim in God’s blessing to Abraham after the Akeidah in 22:17.  As explained there, the capture of the gate, the stronghold of a city, is symbolic of its downfall.  Therefore, gate is used in this connotation, the blessing being that her offspring should possess cities by inheriting or seizing their gates.

According to Ha’amek Davar the blessing refers to wise judges and counselors who sit at the gate of a city (19:1).  Thus, the blessing was that Rebecca’s descendants should achieve such a reputation for integrity and wisdom that even their enemies would seek their advice.

24:61  According to Sforno, the phrase: ‘the servant took Rebecca’ means that in his capacity as Isaac’s agent, he formally received her as the bride of his master Isaac.  Thereby, he became her servant as well and from this point forward, Scripture once again refers to him as the servant rather than ‘the man’, as previously mentioned in this verse.

Note:  They left at noon and to prevent Eliezer from being alone with Rebecca at night, the road miraculously contracted for him on his return journey as well, and in three hours, at the time of Minchah, the Afternoon Prayer, they returned home.

24:62  Isaac meets his bride – The Torah narrates that Isaac ‘happened’ to meet them on the road before they entered the city, just as Eliezer’s encounter with Rebecca at the well, etc., occurred by what seemed to be ‘chance’.  In reality, it was a result of God’s Providential Will, for ‘God deals righteously with the righteous’.  (Radak)

Isaac was returning from Lachai Ro’i which was a place of prayer for him since it was there that an angel revealed himself to Hagar (16:14).  He went there to pray at this favorable site where Hagar’s prayers had once been answered.  Even before his wife was already approaching ~ as in the same manner of Isaiah 65:24.

“ the south country.”  – According to Midrash, HaGadol, the designation ‘south country’ refers in itself to Hebron since Hebron is specifically described in 35:27 as the place where Abraham and Isaac had lived.

Midrash Sechel Tov elaborates that when Isaac returned from the Academy of Shem and Eber where he studied for three years following the Akeidah, he rejoined his father in Hebron which, as in 12:9, is referred to as the South ~ facing Jerusalem and Mount Moriah ~ in what would become the territory of Judah.  Accordingly, it was towards Hebron, to his father, that Isaac was now returning after having gone to Be’er Lachai Ro’i.

24:63  “Joseph went out to supplicate..”  – The translation supplicate follows Rashi who explains that it means to pray, as in Psalms 102:1: A prayer of the afflicted when he pours forth his supplication before Hashem.

The follows the Talmud, Berachos 26b, and Midrash, which derive from this verse the tradition that Isaac instituted the Minchah, the Afternoon Prayer.  That Abraham instituted the Shacharis, the Morning Prayer, is derived from 19:27; and that Jacob instituted the Aravis, the Evening Prayer, is derived from 28:11.

“Camels were coming!”  – The Providential Hand of God was evident when Isaac saw them on his way home.  Isaac could not have expected to meet them because it was only yesterday that Eliezer had embarked on what should have been a seventeen day journey in each direction, but which was miraculously shortened to three hours each way.

24:65  “Who is that man walking..”  – When Rebecca saw a man walking in the field and turning towards them, she realized that he was approaching them either to greet them or to offer lodging.  As was proper for a woman, she reacted by discounting from the camel and stood modestly.  Then, as he was still approaching them, she inquired exactly who he was, and upon hearing that he was Isaac, she veiled herself.

Rebecca veiled her face out of awe of Isaac, and shame to be in his presence, as though to indicate that she considered herself unworthy of him.  This set the pattern for their subsequent relationship which was unique among the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah were often assertive in their relationships with their husbands.  Rebecca, on the other hand, never confronted Isaac directly.  Thus we find that she tolerated Isaac’s favor toward Esau although she knew that Esau had been deceiving his father.  When the time came for the blessings to be given, she employed deception to secure them for Jacob.

This sort of relationship was preordained by God in that the transmission of the blessings would take place in a seemingly underhanded manner.  The purpose of His plan will be discussed in the succeeding chapters.

24:66  Eliezer reported to Isaac the miracles that had happened ~ how the earth had contracted for him, and how Rebecca had been ready for him in speedy response to his prayers.

24:67  “..brought her into Sarah’s tent..”  – and behold, she was as Sarah, his mother.  That is, she became like Sarah in every respect.  For as long as Sarah was alive, a lamp burned in her tent from one Sabbath eve to another, her dough was blessed, and a cloud, signifying the Divine Presence, hung over her tent.  When Sarah died, these ceased, but when Rebecca entered the tent they returned.  (Rashi)

“He married Rebecca, she became his wife, and he loved her.”  – Hirsch notes that marriage preceded love; the longer they were married, the more Isaac loved her.  In this, the first Jewish marriage, the Torah illustrates the principal that has generally been followed by Jews: Jewish marriages are contracted not as a result of passion and romance, but as a result of good judgment and sound reason.  If the couple is well suited, the marriage will result in love and happiness.  Marriages based on pre-marital infatuation, however, all too often fail the test of married life.

Hirsch continues that the chapter ends with words that exalt and honor that status of a Jewish wife.  Isaac was a mature man when his mother died, but he could not be consoled as long as the sweetness and goodness of the Matriarch were gone from the home.  In his wife, he found consolation ~ she embodied worth, nobility and greatness.

Ramban says Isaac was deeply grieved for his mother and found no consolation until he was consoled by his wife through his love for her.  This love was inspired by her righteousness and aptness of deeds, the only criteria on which the Torah bases the love between a man and his wife.

Thus is the way of the world: a man is attached to his mother during her lifetime.  When she dies, he finds comfort in his wife.  (Rashi)

Genesis – Chapter 23

The question arises, why did Abraham and Sarah choose to leave Beer Sheba after twenty-six years to return to Hebron.

For many years, Abraham and Sarah had longed to be buried in the final resting place of Adam and Eve, but no one knew where it was.  Then, on the day when God transmitted to them the news for which they had hoped all their lives, the imminent birth of a son, He allowed them to learn this secret as well.  When the angels came to inform Abraham that Sarah would give birth to Isaac, the Patriarch went to his herd to select animals for the feast with which he honored his guests (18:7).  One of the calves ran away, and Abraham gave chase.  The calf ran into a cave, Abraham followed and as soon as he entered, he found Adam and Eve reclining on their couches, a spiritual light of unparalleled brilliance burning above them, and the entire scene was enveloped in incense-like fragrance.  He immediately desired the possession of that cave as his future burial site.  The place was the Cave of Machpelah in the field of Ephron, just outside Hebron.  Abraham kept the secret, and told no one except his wife of the cave’s significance.

When Sarah was 115 years old, she felt that the end of her life was drawing near.  As residents of Beer Sheba, then under Philistine control, she and Abraham could have no legitimate claim to burial in the Hittite city of Hebron, in the land of Canaan.  Therefore, they moved back to their original home, there to re-establish residency and eventually to claim the right, as permanent residents, to purchase a burial plot.  Accordingly, when Sarah died, it was natural for Abraham to come to the leaders of the city as an ‘alien and resident’ and ask them to intercede with Ephron to negotiate the sale of the plot he had chosen for his wife’s burial.

23:1  “..the years of Sarah’s life.”  – Rabbi Akiva was once giving a lecture when he noticed that his students were drowsing.  In order to rouse them he asked, “Why was it seen fit that Esther should rule over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces?  Because thus said God: ‘Let the daughter of Sarah who lived one hundred and twenty-seven years come and reign over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces.’”  (Midrash)

HaRim asks: Why would these words alert the drowsing students more than the topic of the day?  Rabbi Akiva wanted to impress upon his students the importance of time and the duty to use every second to best advantage.  It was because Sarah’s one hundred and twenty-seven years were perfect and completely sin-free that her granddaughter could hold sway over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces.  Each second meant a family; each minute, a farm; each day, a village.  Had Sarah idled away her time, Esther’s kingdom would have been diminished.  Time is too precious to waste.  Sarah’s well-spent time was rewarded during Esther’s reign.  Each of us, too, is presented with the fleeting gift of time ~ and the mission of utilizing it fully and well.  Who can say what the rewards will be for each fully utilized minute; or the penalty for each wasted minute?

This implied admonition brought Rabbi Akiva’s students to attention.

Another explanation has been offered.  Rabbi Akiva lived during a period of intense persecution by the Romans.  It was forbidden to teach Torah, and Rabbi Akiva was later executed for doing so.  During such times, it was inevitable that the morale of Torah scholars would suffer because they would see no benefit in their efforts.   Therefore, Rabbi Akiva consoled them by showing that Sarah’s good deeds did not go unrewarded even though many centuries went by before the time of Esther.  Nevertheless, when the reward was bestowed, it was enormous.

23:2  “..Sarah died..”  – The Torah records the birth of Rebecca (22:23) before mentioning the death of Sarah to draw attention to the tradition that Sarah lived until the birth of Rebecca who was worthy to succeed her, for there is a tradition that a righteous person is not taken until his successor has been born, as the verse implies (Ecclesiastes 1:5): ‘The sun rises and the sun sets.”  Thus, Sarah did not die until Abraham was informed of the birth of Rebecca, the next Matriarch. (Sforno)

“ Kiriath Arba..”  – The literal translation is ‘the city of four’.  The Midrash notes that the city had four names: Eshkol; Mamre; Kiriath Arba; and Hebron.  The Midrash goes on to enumerate several reasons why it was named Kiriah Arba ~ the city of four:  1) Because four righteous men resided and were circumcised there: Abraham, Aner, Eshkol and Mamre; 2) Because the four righteous patriarchs of the world were buried there: Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; 3) Because four matriarchs of the world were buried there: Eve, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah; and 4) Because from there Abraham went forth and pursued the four mighty kings.

23:3  The Torah specifies that Abraham rose up, to teach that it is proper to stand while addressing a gathering.  Accordingly, when Abraham wished to speak further, he again stood up (verse7).

“..the children of Heth.”  – Heth, being the son of Canaan (10:15), the Hittites were the leaders of the region.  Abraham gathered them together so that his request could be negotiated and approved by the proper authorities.  As a result, the property would legally remain the uncontested possession of his family forever.

23:4  Observe Abraham’s humility!  God had promised the entire land to him and his descendants forever, yet now he was landless and had to purchase a burial plot.  Nevertheless, he never doubted God’s ways, nor did he express resentment.  He furthermore addressed himself to the citizens of the country in terms of utmost humility, describing himself as a foreigner and a resident.

“..give me..”  – The term ‘give’ is then to be understood to imply: permit me to acquire.

Wishing to stress the urgency of his request, Abraham emphasized that his dead was still in his presence, since it is known that the sooner the dead are buried, the greater their peace.  (Ralbag)

23:6  “Hear us, my lord..”  – The Hittites referred to Abraham several times throughout this episode by using the term ‘my lord’ while Abraham, in turn, never once reciprocated by using this term in addressing them.  Abraham gave them his money; he even humbled himself to them but the term, my lord, he would not use, for there is no lord for Abraham except the Almighty.

“ the choicest of our burial places..”  – They were under the impression that Abraham was interested only in a single grave, and therefore accorded him the honor of offering him the grave of his choice.

But the fact that none of them would withhold his burial place did not satisfy Abraham’s request.  The bereaved Abraham was not satisfied merely to acquire a grave in which to inter his wife on another’s land, a grave next to which strangers could later be buried; he wanted to acquire permanent possession of a family sepulchre for the eventual burial of his entire family.  (Radak)  Abraham desired specifically the cave of Machpelah, but in order not to prejudice his negotiating position, he did not reveal that this was his desire lest the price become outrageously inflated (which it eventually did in any event).

23:7  Abraham rose wishing to address them further and bowed down in gratitude ~ not servitude.

23:8  Ephron was a rich and distinguished person.  Abraham did not approach Ephron directly and offer an inflated price for the field.  Instead he asked the people of the city to entreat Ephron on his behalf to magnanimously ‘give’ (allow to acquire) the property to Abraham, though Abraham would be prepared to pay handsomely for it and still consider it a gift.  (Ramban)

23:9  Abraham specifically reveals that the cave is the object of his intention. He stressed that the cave was at the extreme edge of Ephron’s field so that separating it would not interfere with his use of the field, nor would it impair his estate.

“..let him give it to me for its full price!”  – Abraham implied: Although I stand ready to pay any price Ephron may designate, I will still consider it a generous courtesy that so important a person will agree to cede his ancestral estate to me.  Abraham therefore made no mention of the word ‘sale’.  (Ramban)

Malbim interprets: Let Ephron make me a gift of the insignificant piece of property on the edge of his field; in that way he will not violate your common law which prohibits only the sale of property to aliens.  At the same time I will make him a gift of a substantial amount of money to offset any possible loss he may suffer by this transaction.

23:11  Abraham was interested only in acquiring the cave itself; he was content that the adjacent field remain Ephron’s.  Ephron, however, by way of good deed or trickery (possibly hoping for a higher price for a larger transaction) said he would give him the field as well as the cave on it, for it would be unbecoming for one as honorable as Abraham to own a cave as a sepulchre while the ownership of the field belonged to someone else.  Abraham rejoiced at Ephron’s offer and he purchased it in its entirety for the full price Ephron suggested.

23:13  Abraham indicated that he was ready to pay the value of the entire field for the cave alone.  The money was ready.  He no longer considered it his own.  Let Ephron pick it up and the deal would be done.

Apparently, Abraham was concerned that if he considered it a gift, Ephron might later retract, and wish to inter Hittite dead alongside the righteous Sarah.  Abraham therefore insisted on a formal sale.  (Abarbanel)

23:18  “..the children of Heth..”  – The Midrash notes that ‘the children of Heth’ is repeated ten times (eight times in this chapter and again in 25:10 and 49:32), corresponding to the number of the Ten Commandments.  This teaches that he who is instrumental in executing a purchase by the righteous is considered as though he has fulfilled the Ten Commandments.

23:19  Only after all aspects of the negotiations had been completed did Abraham proceed to bury his wife; before this he did not do so since, as the Talmud notes, it is degrading for the righteous to be buried in alien soil.

Note:  The burial of Sarah took place amid great magnificence of the kind usually reserved for royalty.  Shem and his great-grandson, Eber, Abimelech king of the Philistines, Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre, as well as the great of the land followed her coffin.  A seven-day mourning period was observed for her, and all the inhabitants of the land came to comfort the bereaved Abraham and Isaac.  It is chronologically noted that Abraham suffered the loss of several of his close relatives during this relatively short period.  His father, Terach, had died two years earlier; Lot died two years later at the age of one hundred and forty; and Abraham’s brother, Nahor, died shortly afterward at the age of one hundred and seventy-two.

The word ‘Machpelah’ derives from the root of ‘double’ signifying that the cave bore a special relationship to pairs.  The name Hebron has a similar connotation ~ ‘unite’ or ‘attach’.  Thus, the first Jewish possession in Eretz Yisrael was a place that stood for the attachment of husband and wife, and the loyalty of succeeding generations to one another in closeness and intimacy.  The name Hebron – unite – indicates that it was there that the souls of the interred reunite to their roots beneath the Throne of Glory.

It is there, the place of joining, that heaven meets earth in an ultimate acknowledgement of the single origin of both.  The patriarchs and their wives, “those who sleep in Hebron”, in the burial ground of Machpelah, achieved in their lifetimes this perfect dedication of their earthly activities to the will of God; therefore they were buried in Machpelah, at the entrance to the Garden of Eden (Zohar); to signify their achievement in uniting the two worlds.

Genesis – Chapter 22

The Akeidah – The Tenth Trial

Abraham missed Ishmael greatly and after several years, went to visit him.

He arrived at Ishmael’s tent and found Ishmael’s wife sitting with her children.  Abraham asked about his son and she told him that he had gone with his mother to get some fruit.  Abraham asked for some water and some bread.  She refused and would no longer acknowledge him, not even asking who he was.  She then went into her tent and Abraham heard her beating her children and cursing her husband.

When your husband comes home, Abraham told her, ‘tell him: “An old man from Canaan came to see you.  He said to tell you to change the threshold of your house for it is not good.”

When Ishmael returned home and heard what happened, he understood his father’s allusion and divorced his wife.

Three years later, Abraham repeated his journey and again did not find Ishmael at home.  His new wife, however, asked Abraham to discount and refresh himself in the tent.  Abraham declined, asking only for water.  She brought him water and bread and urged him to partake of it, showering himself with hospitality.  He blessed his son for having chosen so considerate a mate.  Again, Abraham left a cryptic message for Ishmael, but this time it was warm and complimentary.  When Ishmael returned home, his heart rejoiced that his father still had compassion for him, and that his new wife had found favor in Abraham’s eyes.

It is further related that from time to time, knowing that his father would favorably receive him, Ishmael repeatedly visited Abraham and apparently was there when God commanded Abraham regarding the Akiedah.

22:1  “And it happened after these things..”  – The phrase always demotes a close connection with the preceding.  In the case of this chapter, however, the opening phrase cannot refer to the preceding incidents because a period of twelve years elapsed between Abraham’s treaty with Abimelech and the Akiedah.

Some Sages explain that this event occurred ‘after the words’ (the Hebrew also translates to words) of Satan who accused Abraham (to God) saying: “Of all Abraham’s banquets he did not offer a single sacrifice to You!”  God answered, “He prepared it all for his son’s sake yet if I were to say: ‘Sacrifice your son to Me’, he would not refuse.” Therefore, immediately after these words God tested Abraham.

Others say that it means: After the words of Ishmael who boasted to Isaac that he – Ishmael – had willingly allowed himself to be circumcised at the age of thirteen, whereas Isaac was circumcised as an infant and could not protest.  By this taunt, as the Midrash further notes, Ishmael was indicating that he was dearer to God than Isaac.  Isaac retorted: ‘You intimidate me by boasting about your sacrifice of one part of your body?  If God were to tell me to sacrifice myself, I would not refuse.”  Therefore, immediately after these words – the sort of words which would precipitate such a test – God put Abraham to the test.

Note:  That Isaac’s age was thirty-seven at the Akiedah is derived as follows: Sarah was ninety years old at his birth, and 127 years at her death.  Since Sarah died when she heard that her son had been taken to be slaughtered, it follows that Isaac was thirty-seven years old at the time.

Rambam continues that the Akiedah narrative includes two great principles of our faith.  First, it portrays the extent of fear of God:..At the age of one hundred, Abraham finally is rewarded with a child who, he is promised, will become father of a great nation.  How intensely he must had his hopes on Isaac!  Yet as soon as he is commanded to slaughter him, he sets aside all considerations and undertakes to comply with God’s command not out of fear that God would punish him but because it is man’s duty to love and fear God … This is why the angel told him (verse 12): For now I know, i.e. your action proves that you truly deserved to be called a God-fearing man, and all people shall learn from you the extent of the fear of God.  This was accomplished because Abraham was commanded to perform an act that surpasses any other sacrifice of property or life and belongs to the class of actions which are believed to be contrary to human feelings. 

The second purpose was to demonstrate by Abraham’s example how a prophet must unquestioningly confirm the principles of the truth of prophecy – regardless of how difficult the command is to perform.  His compliance with the command to slaughter his beloved Isaac would have been impossible were he not to believe in the truths of the vision he perceived.


22:2  “Please take..”  – The mildness of the request was itself part of the test.  Sensing that this was not a harshly worded absolute command, Abraham might have been encourages to beseech God to rescind it, especially since God had repeatedly promised him that his seed would descend from Isaac who was to be the link with the future destiny upon which God’s promises to Abraham were based.  Thus, Abraham’s undertaking to sacrifice that son is perhaps among the profoundest personal experiences recorded.  In addition to offering his son, it involved giving up the objectives toward which his life had been focused, for they had revolved around Isaac and the mission to preach that God loves goodness and abhors human sacrifice.  Yet, true to his faithfulness, Abraham unquestioningly complied although the command was worded in a mild, supplicating manner.

Note: The Sages comment that Abraham spent the entire night persuading Sarah.  He could not bring himself to let her know of the plan, for he was afraid she would try to stop him.  On the other hand, he was afraid she would die of grief if he were to take Isaac without telling her.  He therefore asked her o prepare a banquet during which he engaged her in conversation and told her that he recognized God when he was but three years old, yet Isaac was already an adult and not yet fully trained in God’s commandments.

‘There is a place not far from here,’ Abraham told Sarah, ‘where youths are educated.  I will take him there and have him educated’ (see verse 19).  Sarah cautiously consented and prepared provisions for the way, giving Abraham extensive instructions regarding the care of their son.  She then gave Isaac one of the beautiful garments Abimelech had given her.

Sarah kissed her son and bade him farewell, praying that she live to see him again.  The entire household wept at the touching scene, which lasted until sleep overtook them.

This is one of the reasons that Abraham awoke early in the morning, – planning to leave before Sarah awoke, lest she change her mind and not consent to let them go.

“..bring him up there as an offering..”  – Rashi notes that God did not say slaughter him, because it was never his intention that Isaac should, in fact, be slaughtered, but only that he be brought up to the mountain and be prepared as a burnt offering.  Therefore, once Abraham had brought him up, God told him to bring him back down.

“..upon one of the mountains..”  – God first keeps the righteous in suspense in order to increase their reward.  For embarking on a journey without knowing the final destination makes the trial even more difficult and calls for unqualified devotion, therefore carrying with it much greater reward.

Abraham was familiar with the land of Moriah but not with the mountain.  Therefore, God told him to go to that country where he would be directed to the particular mountain.  God chose that mountain because it was to be the site of his future abode; He therefore wanted to be the merit of the Akiedah to be perpetuated in the sacrifices which would be offered there.

22:3  “..awoke early..”  – The implication ‘awoke’ is clear that Abraham actually slept that night.  One can only marvel at his complete trust in God which allowed him to remain clam and serene despite the knowledge that he would set out the next morning to slaughter his beloved son.

22:4  Abraham saw a cloud he recognized as the manifestation of God’s Presence enveloping one of the mountains. He turned to his son and said: ‘Isaac, my son, do you see the same thing I see?’ ‘Yes’, he replied.  Upon hearing this from Isaac, Abraham then turned to the two attendants and asked ‘Do you see the same thing I see?’  They answered ‘no’.

22:5  “..Stay here by yourselves..”  – Abraham was telling them that the spectacle about to unfold was beyond their capacity to comprehend.  They could never have understood Abraham’s motivation to slaughter his son; they might even have tried to prevent it.  For the Akiedah marked the difference between the seed of Abraham and the children of Noah.  Abraham and his descendants ignore the objections of the senses, the protestations of the rational and obvious.  To them the only reality is the will of God.  Until Moriah, all could go together; but now Abraham and Isaac had to walk alone.  (Hirsch)  

“..and we will return to you.”  – The commentators explain that Abraham’s statement was divinely inspired and therefore a form of prophesy.  God often causes the spirit of prophecy to enter the righteous as He did here in allowing Abraham to unwittingly prophesy that Isaac would return unscathed.

22:6  The Midrashim record that the satan appeared to Abraham as an old man and tried unsuccessfully to thwart this plans.

He asked Abraham: ‘Should an old man like you kill his son who was given to him in old age?’  ‘God Himself has commanded it,’ Abraham retorted.

To Isaac he appeared as a young man and confronted him saying, ‘…Your father plans to sacrifice you.’  ‘It does not matter; I shall follow him,’ Isaac answered.

The satan seeing that his scheme was spurned, disguised himself as a deep river.  Abraham and Isaac entered the water which reached their necks.

Abraham then cried out to God: ‘I did not refuse even Your command to sacrifice my beloved son, although You had promised me that through him Your Name shall be known throughout the world.  But the waters have reached the soul (Psalms 69:2): If I or my son Isaac drown, who will assert the Unity of Your Name?’

God then rebuked the satan and the water disappeared.

The satan then appeared to Sarah and asked her where Abraham and Isaac were.  ‘He took Isaac to an academy to study,’ she answered.  ‘You will never see your son again’ the satan said coldly.  ‘May God do as He wills,’ Sarah replied.

Nevertheless, she died from the shock of later hearing the account of the Akiedah.  See 23:2

22:7  The Midrash comments:  Why the stress on the paternal relationship: his father, … my father? ~ So that Abraham should have compassion with Isaac.  For as the Midrash points out, though the satan could not dissuade Isaac, his attempt nevertheless had some minor effect upon him and induced him to plead indirectly to his father.

Abraham responded to Isaac’s implied doubt.  ‘Here I am, my son,’ i.e. you are still my son, my love for you is undiminished.  Now that Isaac was reassured of his father’s love, he was convinced that Abraham could not wish to slaughter him.  That being the case, Isaac asked, ‘Where is the lamb for the offering?’  Abraham replied (verse 8), that the choice of the offering was the will of God: ‘You are to become a sacrifice because He desire it – and we both place His command above all else.’  Hearing this, Isaac resolved to fulfill God’s will and, as the next verse declares, ‘the two of them went together’ ~ of single mind and with a single purpose.

22:8  Hirsch comments that Isaac’s greatness in this trial ranks equal to Abraham’s.  Isaac had not been commanded directly by God; he heard from his father as Oral Law.  Nevertheless, the first Jewish son is ready to sacrifice himself for a tradition he knew only from his father.  This created the precedent for the devotion of future generations to the traditions of their fathers.  The Sages ask (Sanhedrin 89b) how Isaac could believe in such an extraordinary ruling, and allow himself to be a human sacrifice?  How dared he do so?  The answer is ~ where a prophet’s veracity is proven, one may obey his prophecy.

22:9  “..Abraham built the altar there,..”  –  Not an altar but the altar, which the Midrashim explain as referring to a previously existing altar.  It was the altar on which the ancients had sacrificed, and which Abraham now rebuilt after centuries of disuse.

God pointed out the altar to Abraham and said: ‘This is the altar; where Cain and Abel sacrificed; and where Noah and his sons sacrificed.’

This was a known tradition that the place where David and Solomon built the altar is the threshing floor of Aravnah (II Samuel 24:18  See also in II Chronicles 3:1 where he is called Arnon) was the same place where Abraham built the altar upon which he bound Isaac … it was the soil from which Adam was created.’

The Torah again emphasizes the orderliness with which Abraham proceeded: First he built the altar, then arranged the wood, then tied his son, etc.  Abraham maintained his full presence of mind throughout and no act was impulsive.  (Abarbanel)

“..he bound Isaac..”  – Why did he tie him?  According to the Midrash, Isaac said: ‘Father, I am a vigorous young man and you are old.  I fear that when I see the slaughtering knife in your hand I will instinctively jerk and possibly injure you.  I might also injure myself and render myself unfit for sacrifice.  Or my involuntary movement might make you unable to perform the ritual slaughter properly.  Therefore bind me so well that at the final moment, I will not be deficient in dutiful honor and respect, and therefore not fulfill the commandment properly!  Thereupon, Abraham immediately bound Isaac.  Could he have bound a thirty-seven year old man without his consent?

Isaac then said: ‘Father, make haste and execute the will of your Creator.  Do not delay.  After you have slaughtered and thoroughly burned me as an offering, gather my ashes, bring them to my mother, and place them in a casket in her chamber.  Whenever she enters the chamber and sees the casket, she will remember her son and weep for him.

‘O beloved father,’ Isaac continued, ‘what will you tell Mother when she asks what became of me?  What will you both do in your old age?’

The tears welled up in Abraham’s eyes and he answered: ‘My son, we know we will not long survive you, and our death is near.  But meanwhile, he who comforted us before you were born will comfort us until the day of our death.’

22:10  “ slaughter his son.”  – is mentioned so that we may infer the principle that specific intention is required for the slaughter of sacrifices. 

The Sages movingly depict the intensity of emotion that enveloped Abraham and the heavenly angels.  Abraham felt a mixture of joy, that he was fulfilling God’s will, and sadness, that his beloved son was about to die:  He stretched forth his hands to take the knife, while in fatherly compassion, the tears streamed from his eyes and dripped into Isaac’s eyes .  Yet in spite of that he rejoiced to do his Creator’s will.  (Midrash)  Abraham looked at Isaac, and Isaac looked up at the angels on high.  Isaac saw them, but Abraham did not.  The angels were also weeping as it were, and their tears fell into Isaac’s eyes. (Rashi to 27:1)  …  The angels appealed, ‘Sovereign of the Universe … was Abraham not hospitable to strangers and did he not lead them into Your service by proclaiming You as the source of all the blessings of the world?  Did not Sarah’s menstruation return in Abraham’s merit that she could bear Isaac?  Will now the promise made to Abraham regarding his offspring be broken?  The knife is at his throat.  How long will you wait?’

22:11  ‘And an angel of Hasem called to him from heaven.”  – When the Ministering Angels saw how the father wholeheartedly bound his son, and the son wholeheartedly allowed himself to be bound, the angels pleaded to God.  ‘Lord of the Universe, do not let Abraham’s progeny be erased from the world.’

God replied: ‘Was it not you who approached Me with charges about Abraham’s ingratitude, which instigated this trial?  Now you come to Me to plead for compassion?’

He nevertheless beckoned an angel of mercy to call Abraham, as it is written ‘an angel of Hashem called to him from heaven’.  (Midrash HaGadol)

The angel called and the divine Word ‘spoke’ – i.e. the actual communication came from God; the angel merely called Abraham’s name to draw his attention to the communication about to be heard from God.

God opened the heavens and said (verse 16) “By Myself I have sworn…” 

‘..Abraham! Abraham!”  – The repetition expresses love and according to the Midrash, it also expresses urgency.

Others, too, were addressed: ‘Jacob, Jacob’ (46:2); ‘Moses, Moses’ (Exodus 3:4); “Samuel, Samuel’ (I Samuel 3:10) – The repetition indicates that He spoke both to him and to future generations: There is no generation which does not contain men like Abraham, and there is no generation which does not contain men like Jacob, Moses and Samuel ~ each of whose name was likewise repeated.  Yafeh Toar explains that the four respectively represent philanthropy, service of God, Torah Study, and civil justice, which may be regarded as the fundamentals of civilization ~ and accordingly each age must have some who represent them.  (Midrash)

22:12  “..Do not stretch out your hand..”  –  Abraham protested, ‘Then I will have come here for no purpose, I will wound him and cause some blood to flow!’  God answered, ‘Nor do anything to him..’ 

Note: This must be understood in the light of how intensely Abraham wished to perform God’s command.  The dialogue is not meant to imply that he was eager to harm his son.  Rather, Abraham’s reaction should be understood in the light of the Zohar which explains that when the angel said to him: ‘Do not stretch out your hand against the lad’, Abraham was distressed because he erroneously understood it to indicate that his offspring was unacceptable and that his labor preparation had been for nothing.  He therefore attempted to demonstrate his desire to comply with the original command even in some lesser form than originally intended.

“..for now I know..”  –  When God sees that an individual has within himself great love for and devotion to Him, He tests him so that his spiritual greatness can be demonstrated and thus revealed to all.

“ are a God fearing man, ..”  – Radak explains that Abraham’s fear as expressed in this trial was an expression of love, for he did not fear in the physical sense that one seeks to avoid pain or punishment.  Rather he feared that his soul would be deemed unworthy.  He loved his son more than himself, yet he was prepared to sacrifice Isaac in order to safeguard his own place in the World To Come ~ so great was his love for God and his reluctance to forfeit the opportunity to cleave to Him.

Love and fear are not separate and distinct forms of divine service, rather they are one.  Love leads to fear, fear compliments love but is even a higher level than love.  The more a parent loves his child, the more that he will fear that the child may be endangered.  Similarly, the more one loves God, the more he will fear committing a deed that will cast dishonor upon His Holy Name.  Therefore, it was only from Abraham’s fear of God that the extent of his love was determined.

“..from Me.”  – Ikkarim 2:28 explains:  Angels are spiritual beings that are not subject to the flaws to which material beings are liable; such as envy, hatred, strife.  They are free from all evil, and always choose what is good and right in the eyes of God.  Therefore, when they are sent to man, they are given permission to speak in the name of God, as we clearly see in many instances where an angel speaks in the name of the One Who sent him.  The reason for this is because the angel cannot disobey the command of God and alter the message or speak of his own volition.  For this very reason an angel is called ‘messenger’ because he is not a distinct intellect, but the bearer of a mission from God.  If he changed the message he would no longer be an angel….

22:13  “..instead of his son.”  – The Torah specifies this to indicate that with each part of the sacrificial service which he performed on the ram, Abraham prayed to God that He accept that particular act as if it were being done to his son ~  ‘..As though his blood were sprinkled; as though he were flayed; as though he were consumed and became ashes’  (Rashi)

22:14  Hashem Yireh = “Hashem will see.”  – The plain meaning is: God will seek out for Himself this place for the dwelling of His Shechinah and the offering of sacrifices. (Rashi) 

Hashem will see to it for all generations, that the merit of the Akeidah shall remain with Isaac’s descendants for all time.

22:15  “The angel of Hashem called to Abraham a second time..”  – Hirsch explains that the angel appeared a second time, because after having sacrificed the ram and named the mountain, Abraham had turned this notable event into the external standard of behavior for his descendants.  Only then did the angel announce the great blessing that lay in store.

22:16  “’By Myself I swear,..”  – Before the Akeidah, God’s commitment to Abraham had been merely a covenant – something that was dependent upon the mutual fulfillment of both parties, although it was not dependent on external conditions.  Now, however, it became an oath – completely unconditional.  Abraham had fulfilled the highest possible demand and thereby had indelibly inscribed in his descendants the ultimate allegiance to God no matter how far they might stray along the way. (Hirsch)

God had already promised that He would increase Abraham’s children as the stars of the heaven (15:5) and the dust of the earth (13:16).  Now God assured Abraham by an oath on His name that his descendants would possess the gates of their enemies.  Thus, even should they sin grievously they would never be completely destroyed nor permanently fall into the hands of the enemy.  Accordingly this was a solemn assurance of the ultimate redemption.  (Ramban)

“..that since you have done this thing..”  – The Midrash asks: These were ten trials, yet God attaches everything to this one thing?  This, however, was the final trial which counterbalanced all the others, for had he not submitted to it, the merit of the others would have been lost.

The merit of the Akeidah is two-fold: through it, the highest moral perfection became part of Isaac and his descendants, and its example remained before them at all times.  This assured that Israel would always survive as the nation of God.  (Hirsch)

There were two aspects of Abraham’s devotion: 1. The act of placing Isaac upon the altar and the readiness to slaughter him.  2. Abraham’s reluctance to free Isaac from the altar thereby forfeiting the opportunity to serve God by giving up what was more precious to him than anything on earth.

22:17-18  “..that I shall surely bless you..”  –  The blessings given to Abraham were unconditional; God did not say that they would be granted only if his descendants scrupulously obeyed the commands of the Torah.  It is this promise to which we refer when we beseech God ~ Remember what You swore to our forefathers, “like the stars of heaven will I increase your seed.  We pray that God will fulfill His oath even though we are undeserving.

“..inherit the gate of its enemies..”  – The capture of the gate, the stronghold of a city, is symbolic of its downfall.  Therefore, ‘gate’ is used in this connotation, for they will possess the city by inheriting or seizing its gate.

Abarbanel explains that the three blessings of these two verses were given Abraham measure for measure.  1. Because he was prepared to render himself childless, he was blessed with abundant offspring;  2. Because he would have forfeited his inheritance (by slaughtering his only son), he was promised that his offspring would inherit the Land;  3. Because he was ready to incur the curses of the populous for having slaughtered his son, he was promised that all would bless themselves by his offspring.

22:19  “Abraham returned to his young men,..”  – Where was Isaac?  According to the Midrash, Abraham sent him to Shem, son of Noah, to study the Torah and he remained there for three years.

Note: Abraham felt compelled to return to Beer Sheva, site of the eshel (21:33), because it was there that he had experienced spiritual tranquility and had carried on his mission of proclaiming God’s Name.  And as Ramban suggests in 23:3, he went first to the site of his eshel to give thanks for the miracle that befell him.

22:20  Hoffman points out that the birth of Rebecca at this time is another instance of Divine Providence with which the story of the Patriarchs is replete.  Because she was born, Isaac, who had submitted himself to becoming a ‘perfect offering’, did not have to be defiled by marriage to one of the Canaanite women.  It is to accentuate this fact that the Torah does not mention the genealogy of Terach’s family previously.

Ramban observes that God must have performed a miracle in giving children to Nachor and his wife in their old age, for it appears from the verse that Abraham was unaware previously that they had children.  Milcah, like her sister Sarah miraculously gave birth to children in her old age.

The Midrash notes, when God had ‘remembered Sarah’, He remembered ‘all the other barren women in the world and they too, including Milcah, conceived.

22:21-24  According to one view, Utz is identified with Job.  For the Holy One, Blessed Be He, told Abraham after the Akeida that many, more severe trials, should have befallen him, but now that Utz, (who some believe was in fact Job) was born, they would not.  For God told Abraham (Ecclesiastes 9:7): ‘Go, eat your bread with you … God has already approved your deed.’

“And Bethuel begot Rebecca.”  – The entire genealogy was recorded only to lead up to this key verse.  (Rashi)

Laban is not mentioned here although he was older than Rebecca, because the Torah was concerned only with mentioning the eight children of Milcah.  Rebecca was mentioned only because her genealogy was necessary for the narrative.  (Ramban)

The Torah includes the genealogy of the concubine as well to establish that all of these children of Nachor were worthy to marry the children of Abraham, and they were all included in Abraham’s injunction to Eliezer in 24:38.  (Ramban)

Genesis – Chapter 21

The Birth of Isaac

21:1  That this verse is in proximity to the preceding one teaches that ‘Whoever prays for mercy on behalf of another when he himself needs that very same thing, he is answered first.’  For in the previous section, it is said: ‘And Abraham prayed for Abimelech … and they brought forth’ and here it says ‘and God had remembered Sarah’ – even before He healed Abimelech.  (I.e. – Abraham and Sarah were childless; when Abraham prayed that Abimelech’s household be cured of the inability to give birth, he was answered first, for Sarah conceived before anyone in the royal household was enabled to give birth).  (Rashi)

“..remembered Sarah as He had said; and Hashem did..”  – God said ‘Nevertheless, your wife Sarah will give birth to a son” (17:19) and “The Word of Hashem came to Abraham” (15:1), which introduced the Covenant Between the Parts at which time Abraham was promised an heir (15:4).  It was that heir which was now brought forth from Sarah.  (Rashi)

The term ‘remembered’ when said of God is anthropopathic (ascribing a human feeling to God – a non-human) because there is no forgetfulness before Him.  “God remembered Noah’ (8:1) and ‘God remembered Abraham’ (19:29).  The intent of the expression is that God manifests His Providence as if he remembered to carry out an earlier plan or promise.  Since a long span of time has elapsed from the promise until the event, God is spoken of – in human terms – as ‘remembering’, although such an expression, in absolute terms, is inappropriate to Him.

21:2  “..unto Abraham..”  – The use of ‘unto’ is noted.  Radak explains that a wife is figuratively like the soil which nurtures a seed until it is ready for harvest.  So, too, the husband’s seed grows until she ‘presents’ him with a child.

According to the Midrash, however, the Torah specifies that Sarah bore this son to Abraham in emphatic testimony that this child was Abraham’s and no one else’s.

“ the appointed time..”  – When He said (18:14): ‘At the appointed time, I will return to you.’  He (according to Midrash Tanchuma, the angel speaking n God’s Name) had made a mark on the wall and said to him, ‘When the sun’s rays come round to this mark next year she will give birth’.  (Rashi)

Note: According to the generally accepted chronology, the angels visited Abraham on what would later be Passover and announced that Sarah would bear a son ‘at this time next year’ (18:10).  The ‘remembering’ took place on the following Rosh Hashanah.  Isaac was born on the following Passover, 71/2 months later, one year after the angels made the announcement.  The four ‘barren ones’ were ‘remembered’ on Rosh Hashanah: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.

21:3  The repeated emphasis on ‘born to him’ testifies against the scoffers that the child was born of Abraham’s seed and of none other ~ that it was the child of Sarah – that aged woman!  She was not merely raising another’s child.

In compliance with God’s command to him, he named his child Isaac (17:19).  The birth of this child was ‘laughter’, for by all the laws of nature, the very possibility that he could be born was laughable.  When Abraham called his son Isaac, these facts were vividly in his mind.  (Hirsch)

21:4,5  The Talmud, Gittin 57b, notes that the verse (Psalms 44:23) ‘for your sake we are killed all the day’, can be applied to circumcision, a commandment that involves danger, and is painful to the infant and the father.  Nevertheless, God’s holy people are ready to risk themselves and their children to comply with His will that they circumcise their newborn infants.  The commentators liken the father who circumcises his own child to one who brings an offering and sprinkles its blood upon the altar, for it is extremely difficult for a father to bring himself to perform a circumcision on his own child.

How much more does this apply to Abraham who finally was given a son in his old age after all hope had been abandoned.  Nevertheless, he did not perform his son’s circumcision through another, but he restrained his compassion and circumcised Isaac himself.  All this because a deed is more meritorious if it is performed by oneself instead of through another, and so its performance should not appear to be burdensome.  (Rashi; Kiddushim 41a)

This, then, is the significance of our verse: ‘And Abraham circumcised … as Hashem commanded him.’

21:6  At the news that Isaac was born, Abraham and Sarah both laughed.  When he was born, the world laughed.  God commanded that the idea of laughter be embodied in his name.  Just as the belief and ideals of Abraham and Sarah were considered absurdities by their contemporaries, so too, God did not give them an offspring until an age when there was no rational reason for them even to hope that they could still bear a child.

Isaac, a patriarch of the nation, was given a name that expressed this universal ridicule, for Judaism will endure the mockery of humanity throughout its history ~ until the End of Days when all will recognize its grandeur.

‘…whoever hears will laugh..”  – The Midrash asks: If Sarah was ‘remembered’ and had cause to rejoice, why should others rejoice with her?  What did it matter to them?  The reason for the universal joy was that when Sarah was ‘remembered’ many barren women were remembered along with her, many sick were healed on that day, many prayers were answered along with hers and there was much joy in the world.  (Rashi)

21:7  ‘..Sarah would nurse children”  – According to Abarbanel: Although Sarah’s childbearing had been foretold by God on many occasions, no mention was ever made of a capability to nurse.  Therefore, Sarah explained ‘Who would ever have gone so far as to suggest to Abraham that Sarah would be capable of nursing this child born in old age?’  There is no doubt that this act of divine graciousness was done in Isaac’s honor so he should not have to nurse from Canaanite women.

Why the plural form ‘children’? – Many had scoffed and alleged that the old couple, Abraham and Sarah, had brought an abandoned baby from the marketplace and passed it off as their own child.  Therefore, Abraham invited the skeptics to a great banquet and Sarah asked the women to come with their suckling infants.  A miracle happened and Sarah nursed their children as well as her own!  (Bava Metzia 87a; Rashi)

The Midrash notes that many matrons brought their children to be nursed from that righteous woman.  The Sages said: ‘Whoever came, for the sake of heaven, (that their child might be saturated with the spirit of righteousness by drinking Sarah’s milk) became God-fearing.’  Rav Acha said: Even one who did not come for the sake of Heaven (but merely to see whether the miracle was really true) was granted dominion in this world. 

According to the Midrash HaGadol, the plural expression ‘children’ teaches that the son given her was equivalent to many sons, in the manner of I Samuel 1:8: ‘Am I not better to you than ten sons?’ and similarly we derive the same inference from Joshua 24:3: ‘I multiplied his (Abrahams) offspring and gave him Issac’ – all of which indicates that Isaac was equal to many sons.

For, as Hirsch elaborates, Sarah perceived the whole future of a nation is Isaac.  Through him she felt herself to be the mother of all Abraham’s descendants.  Thus, it was not only one child she nursed but in nurturing him, she was bringing up sons, the destiny of the entire nation.

21:8  “..Abraham made a great feast..”  – It was called ‘great’ because the great men of the generation attended:  Shem, Eber, and Abimelech.  For after Abraham prayed on his behalf, Abimelech became righteous and came to participate in Abraham’s feast.’

“..on the day Isaac was weaned.”  – Instead of making a banquet when Isaac was born or circumcised, Abraham delayed the ‘great feast’ until the weaning ~ the day he began his Torah studies.  It is not strange that Torah studies should be begun at so early an age, for, as the Midrash notes, Abraham was three years old when he recognized God.  It is also well-known that paternal love reaches its peak not when a child is born or circumcised, but when he is weaned.

21:9  “..mocking.”  – The verb as it occurs in Scripture has several connotations.  Rashi, citing various niews in the Midrash, comments that the verb denotes the three cardinal sins of idolatry, adultery, and murder.  In the root form, it denotes idolatry with reference to the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:6); and adultery with the reference to Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:17); in the related root form it refers to murder (11 Samuel 2:14)

Ramban suggests that this incident occurred on the day of the weaning and Sarah noticed Ishmael mocking Isaac or the feast itself.  Sarah resented that the son of a bondwoman should presume to do this, which explains her reference to him as the ‘son of Hagar, the Egyptian.

21:10 The Expulsion of Ishmael – The Ninth of the Ten Trials of Abraham

Despite the apparent harshness of Sarah’s request, it must be understood that it was dictated by the conditions.  In order to avoid the influences of Hagar and Ishmael upon the future house of Israel, it was necessary to banish them in such a manner that it was unmistakably clear that they were slaves, not integral parts of the family.

Israel’s repeated reference to ‘that slavewoman’, indicates the crux of her objection.  In principal, the son of a slave could indeed have carried on the Abrahamitic tradition – that had been Sarah’s intention in giving Hagar to Abraham.  But the unsuitable character of this particular slavewoman made such a course impossible.  (Hirsch)

21:11  According to Ramban, the Torah emphasizes in this verse that Abraham’s displeasure was not caused by the prospect of casting out his maidservant, but specifically: on account of his son.  God therefore told him in the following verse that he should not be displeased at all – neither for the son nor for the maidservant.  He should rather listen to Sarah’s bidding for only through Isaac – and not Ishmael – would his name be carried on.

In the commentary to Avos 5:3, Ramban explains: ‘On account of his son’ and not on account of Hagar…  This emphasizes the extent to which Abraham kept aloof from Hagar, having originally married her only to Sarah’s bidding.  But all things being said and done, Abraham considered Ishmael his son.  It is for this reason that God directed Abraham to ‘heed Sarah’ in regarding Ishmael as the ‘son of the maidservant’, and no longer to regard him as a son, for only in Isaac would his name be carried on.  That is why in verse 12, God justified Sarah by referring to him as ‘the youth’ rather than ‘your son’, and in verse 14 which relates the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, Abraham’s concession to this concept is alluded to by the fact that Ishmael is referred to as ‘the boy’ rather than ‘his son.’

21:12  God comforts Abraham by telling him that Sarah’s directive is prophetic and in accordance with His will.

On that night, God appeared to Abraham and said, ‘Abraham, do you not know that Sarah your wife was destined to you from birth?  She is your companion and wife of your covenant.  Sarah is called your wife (17:19) but Hagar is only your handmaid.  Everything that Sarah has spoken is true.  Do not be distressed!’

From this reply, Radak concludes that in his innermost heart Abraham also had pangs on account of this woman who had served him for so many years and from whom he had begotten a son.  In the earlier verse she is not mentioned because it was Ishmael and not Hagar who was the source of the conflict (or Abraham did not mention his pangs on account of Hagar’s expulsion out of sensitivity to the feelings of Sarah.)  But God, Who knows the innermost thoughts of man, included her as well in His statement.

“  since through Isaac will offspring be considered yours.”  –  (i.e. ` for it is only through Isaac – not Ishmael – that you will have achieved continued posterity, for only the righteous Isaac will follow in your footsteps and be considered your genuine offspring and consequently inherit the divine covenant sealed with you.)

Ishmael will not be referred to as your child.  For though Ishmael is referred to in verse 13 as “your offspring”, that is because he was born of you; he has much of his material and some of his spiritual being from you.  But he cannot be your spiritual heir; he cannot be called ‘son of Abraham’.  (Hirsch)

21:13  “..will I make into a nation.”  – This was promised to Hagar in 16:10 and specifically to Abraham in 17:20.  This was repeated Abraham now to reassure him, for he was afraid that harm might befall Ishmael in the desert. (Ramban)

“..for he is your offspring.”  – Sarah was justified in matters concerning the inheritance which affected Isaac.  But in other matters where Ishmael alone is concerned and which do not affect Isaac, then he is indeed Abraham’s seed.

21:14  Learning that the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael is God’s will, Abraham complies at once.

According to Rashi’s interpretation of verse 11 that despite Ishmael’s shortcomings Abraham was distressed at having to banish him, Abraham did not give them silver or gold because he hoped that the departure would not be permanent; when Sarah’s anger would subside he would call them back.

Ibn Ezra comments that many wonder how the merciful Abraham could have banished them penniless?  However, this question is groundless for it was God’s command that Abraham obey Sarah and expel them; he therefore, had no right to give them gifts against Sarah’s wishes.  Ramban’s comments are similar: After Sarah’s death, however, he did give gifts to the children of his concubines.  It may also be that he did give Hagar money, but the verse has no need to mention it.

“He placed them on her shoulder along with the boy,..”  – The Hebrew text ‘along with the boy’ is unclear.  Rashi’s understanding of the verse is that he placed the child, too, on her shoulder for he was unable to walk because Sarah had cast an evil eye upon him and a fever seized him.

Note: According to the Talmud Bava Metzia 87a, until the time of Jacob there was no sickness in the world.  How then could Ishmael been ill?  The Talmud refers to illness from natural causes; Ishmael’s illness, however, was the result of Sarah’s evil eye; such illness was not included in that dictum.

Gur Aryeh suggests that this phrase does not necessarily mean that she actually carried her seventeen year old sick son upon her shoulder, but that she supported him by having him lean on her shoulder.

Therefore, Hirsch explains that the phrase ‘placed on her shoulder’ is incidental.  That is why the Hebrew does not read that ‘he’ placed the provisions on her shoulder.  The identity of the one who placed the provisions is insignificant; what matters is the manner in which she was sent away: as a slave – and not as the wife of Abraham and the mother of his son.  The conditions and purpose of this whole dismissal inexorably demanded this.

“..and sent her off.”  –  The word is either to be taken literally: He sent her from his home, or that he graciously escorted her until the outskirts of the city,  (Radak; Sforno)

“..she departed and strayed..”  – According to Rashi, once in the desert and away from Abraham’s control (Zohar Chadash Ruth 82a) she reverted to the idolatry of her father’s house. (Midrash)

Gur Aryeh further explains why Rashi chose this interpretation rather than the more obvious one that she strayed and became lost.  Had she not reversed to her evil ways, Abraham’s merit surely would have been sufficient for God to guide her through the desert.  Because she was not wandering aimlessly, according to this interpretation, why did the water run out?  This, Rashi explains in the next verse.

21:15  Rashi answers that question by saying that the water was used up because sick people, in this case, Ishmael, drink more water than normal.

Rashi does not consider the possibility that Abraham gave them insufficient water for the trip.  Therefore, he comments that the water ran out ‘due to Ishmael’s unusual thirst’.  However, the question arises, if Ishmael was obviously so sick that Abraham had to ‘place him on her shoulder’, why didn’t he provide additional water?  The answer is either that Ishmael’s illness became worse or that Abraham mistakenly thought that his illness was not physical but a result of his temporary depression at being forced to leave his home.

“..cast off the boy..”  – According to the Midrash, she had been carrying or supporting the ill Ishmael from the time they had left.  Now that the water had run out and the child was dying, she gave up hope and cast him off.

21:16  Hagar’s behavior was disgraceful; it clearly revealed her flawed Hamitic character.  A Jewish mother would not have abandoned her child even though her presence would have done no more than provide momentary comfort.  For Hagar to leave because she could not bear to see his suffering is not compassion but selfishness.  She considered not Ishmael, but herself.  Therefore, although both Hagar and Ishmael wept, it was only the cry of the youth which God heard (verse 17).  Her self-pitying tears were worthless in God’s eyes   (Hirsch)

“..lifted her voice and wept.”  – The Torah emphasizes that she ‘threw’ away the child in utter despair rather than gently place him down, but like all compassionate women she reviews her plight and is driven to tears.

21:17  Ishmael, weakened from thirst cried out, “Master of the Universe, if You plan to grant me water, please do so and let me drink now rather than suffer from thirst, for death from thirst is the cruelest of all deaths.  Then God hearkened to his prayer.

Interestingly, God is here named in His Attribute of strict Justice: Elohim.  Even in this Attribute, He was aroused to answer the boy’s prayers.  God judges a person according to his present state, regardless of past or future wickedness.  At that moment, Ishmael deserved compassion even under the Attribute of Justice.

This translation follows Rashi who explains that God told Hagar not to fear because Ishmael will be judged ‘according to his present deeds’ and not according to what he would become in the future.

Rashi continues to say that the angels protested with God: ‘Will You create a well for him whose descendants will one day kill Your descendants by thirst?’*  God said to them: ‘But at the present, is he wicked or righteous?’  ‘He is righteous’, they replied.  ‘Then I will judge him according to his present deeds.’

*When did Ishmael’s descendants kill Israel with thirst?  At the destruction of the First Temple when Nebuchadnezzar carried the Israelites into exile, they were brought near the Arabs (Ishmael’s descendants).  The thirsty Israelites begged their captors to lead them to their cousins, descendants of Ishmael who, they thought, would certainly pity them.  They begged for water, and instead the Ishmaelites brought them salted meat and fish, and water-skins inflated with air.  Believing that these skins were filled with water, they put them to their mouths, and the air pressure distended their stomachs and killed many of them.  (Rashi; Midrash)

Mizrachi states that when the angels referred to Ishmael as righteous, they meant that he was innocent in terms of their particular accusation, for he had not yet slain anyone by thirst but he was guilty of the several transgressions implied by ‘mocking’ (verse 9).  The angels did not cite those transgressions, however, either because the question at hand was whether or not he should be allowed to die of thirst and they therefore cited a transgression concerning thirst although it had not yet happened.

21:19  “..God opened her eyes..”  – In reference to Adam and Eve in 3:17, Rashi explains that the passage ‘the eyes of both of them were opened’ is not to be taken literally, but refers to their eyes being opened with newfound intelligence and awareness.

21:20  “God was with the youth..”  – Not only was God with the youth, but also with all that eventually were his: his donkey drivers, camel drivers, and household; they all prospered.  (Midrash)

21:21  While in the desert of Peran, Ishmael married a woman by the name of Adisha, and ultimately he divorced her.  Ishmael’s first, ill-fated marriage had been with a woman taken, apparently, without his mother’s consent.  Hagar now chose for him a new wife by the name of Fatima from the land of Egypt.  (See note written at Chapter 22)

21:22  The Alliance with Abimelech  Knowing all the miracles which God did for Abraham, Abimelech came to seal a covenant with him.  (Rashbam)

“..God is with you in all that you do.”  – Abarbanel interprets Abimelech: ‘As evidenced by your departure from the locality of Sodom in safety; your defeat of the kings (Chapter 14); the birth of your child in your old age (Rashi); and also by the fact that your wife was saved from two powerful kings (Pharaoh and myself) ~ it is only because God is with you that I fear you and desire a treaty; not because of your wealth or might.’

Abimelech is surely not addressing Abraham as an individual, for nations did not seek treaties of peace with elderly people who may soon die.  Abimelech plainly knew that God had promised that an entire nation would descend from Abraham and therefore sought the friendship of the nation’s ancestor.  This was after the expulsion of Ishmael, Abraham was an old man who may not live long, the future lied with his barely weaned child, and the king of the land came seeking a treaty with the nation represented by the little boy.  (Hirsch)

21:23  Abimelech realized that an oath taken by Abraham in the name of God would be the most binding oath possible.

The Hebrew word for oath is related to ‘seven’.  Sabbath, the seventh day of creation, is the eternal symbol of God’s continuing connection with the universe as its Creator and Master.  Thus, the person who violates an oath, calls down upon himself the wrath of God, Who is symbolized by the number of seven.  Therefore, if someone say, as did Abimelech, ‘swear to me by God’, he says in effect, if you carry out this forbidden act, you will bring God’s wrath upon yourself.

Why did Abimelech request that the oath extend only as far as his grandchildren?  According to Chizkuni, when Sarah gave birth, the kings of the earth were convinced that God would keep His oath to give Abraham and his descendants the Land, as He promised in 15:18.  Abimelech, therefore, proposed that as a reward for the kindness he had shown Abraham, they undertake a pact that the land would not be taken from him, his son, or his grandson.  More than this he could not ask because God had specifically said that in the fourth generation Abraham’s descendants would return to conquer the land.  (15:16)

Ramban notes that Abimelech did indeed deal kindly with Abraham as evidenced by the fact that Abraham’s only complaint concerned the theft of some wells by Abimelech’s servants.

21:24  “..I will swear..”  – According to Rashbam in 22:1, this alliance by which Abraham covenanted to forgo part of the land which had been promised to his descendants was a cause for the Akeidah.

The Talmud comments that this oath between Abraham and Abimelech remained valid until it was abolished by Philistine violations in the days of Samson.  Not until Samson’s time do we find that the Philistines persecuted Israel although they later became bitter enemies of the Jews.  In his time, the Jews were evil, and God gave them into the hands of the Philistines for a period of forty years (see Judges 13:1).

Note:  The Sages considered it improper for Abraham to enter into a treaty whereby he limited his descendant’s rights to the Promised Land.  In fact, the oath is credited with having prevented the Israelites in the days of Joshua from conquering Jerusalem where the Philistines had settled.  Midrash Or Ha’Afeilah notes that when these seven sheep died, idolatrous images of them were placed at the entrance of Jerusalem, and when the Jews came to conquer the city, the Philistine inhabitants displayed this representation of Abraham’s covenant and prevented the Jews from possessing the city.  These were the ‘blind and the lame’, which David ordered removed so the city could be taken (II Samuel 5:6-8).

21:25  Abraham’s servants had dug a well in the area of Beer Sheba which was on the extreme border of Philistia; but Abimelech’s servants came and took the well by force claiming they were the owners.

Abraham accordingly rebuked Abimelech for tolerating flagrant violence in his country, and also for harboring such wicked people in his household.  (Sforno)  Abraham uttered his displeasure at the lack of fear of God – that very God by whom Abimelech wished Abraham to take an oath – which allowed such violence to prevail in the land.

21:26  Abimelech responded to Abraham’s accusation by saying, ‘I do not know who did this thing.’  Further responding to Abraham’s insinuation that as king, Abimelech should have been aware of everything happening in his kingdom. Abimelech accused Abraham, too, of impropriety in not asking the king to intercede on his behalf.  Therefore, it is Abraham’s fault that Abimelech remained ignorant of it until this very moment.

21:27  Having expressed his complaints, Abraham prepares the covenant.  The commentators explain the ratification of the covenant took the form of an exchange of gifts.  Abraham wished to be under no obligation for the gifts Abimelech had given him (20:14), so now that he was entering into their alliance in equality with him, Abraham made it a point to present gifts to the king.

     Midrash notes that slaves and maidservants were not included among the reciprocal gifts which Abraham gave Abimelech, although they had been among Abimelech’s earlier gifts to him.  This teaches that slaves who have undergone circumcision and midservants who have undergone ritual immersion, thereby converting to Judaism may not be given by their Jewish master to a non-Jew.

Abraham took seven female sheep and set them aside to symbolize the seven/oath significance of their word in their alliance.  (Radak)

Note: The Midrash consistently stresses that God was displeased with this treaty.  God said to Abraham:

‘You gave him seven ewes:  As you live, I will delay the joy of your children for seven generations’ (for the Jews were not able to conquer Eretz Yisrael until seven generations had passed – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Levi, Kahath, Amram and Moses.)

‘You gave him seven ewes: As you live, Abimelech’s descendants will slay seven righteous men of your descendants’: Hofni, Phineas, Samson, and Saul with his three sons.  (See Judges 16:30; I Samuel 4:11; and 31:2, 4).

‘You gave him seven ewes: According your descendants seven sanctuaries will be destroyed’ (or cease to be used):  The Tent of Appointment, the sanctuaries at Gilgal, Nob, Gibeon and Shiloach, as well as the two Temples.

‘You gave him seven ewes: My ark will therefore be exiled for seven months in Philistine territory’ (I Samuel 6:1).

21:30  “..that I dug this well.”  – Rashi, drawing on the Midrash explains that to settle the disputed ownership of the well, it was agreed that the well would belong to whomever the water would rise up for when he approached the well.  At the approach of Abraham and his flock, the water immediately rose up. 

Thus, in Rashi’s interpretation of the events, these seven sheep were those at whose appearance Abraham’s rights in the well were clearly settled.  He therefore set them aside to present to Abimelech, as testimony to his undisputed ownership.

21:31  Beer Sheba means ‘well of seven’ or ‘well of oath’.  That place (the well or the region) was called Beer Sheba at that time.  The city itself did not receive that name until the days of Isaac. (26:33)

21:33  Radak, in I Samuel 31:13 explains an eshel in a literal sense as a name of a tree.  Abraham’s action of improving the site was a public demonstration of his now undisputed ownership of the well.  And in the Rabbinic sense, it tells how he instilled in the residents of Beer Sheba that they, too, should greet visitors with every amenity: food, drink, and escort (attendance to their needs).

The mere planting of an orchard would not have been recorded in the Torah were it not that Abraham’s purpose was spiritual ~ to feed travelers and bring them close to him for spiritual nourishment as well, as the verse proceeds to inform us “And there he proclaimed the name of Hashem, God of the Universe”.  Therefore the eshel is interpreted in its figurative sense as well.

Through that eshel the Name of the Holy One, Blessed be He, came to be called “God of the entire Universe’ by every passerby.  For after the guests ate and drank at that eshel, they would get up to bless Abraham for his generosity.  But he would say to them, ‘Bless God of Whose possessions you have eaten!  Do you then think that you have eaten of what is mine?  You have eaten from His, Who spoke and the world came into being!’

The Name ‘God of the Universe’ is unusual and does not appear again.  A similar form, however, appears in Isaiah 40:28 where He is called ‘The Eternal God’.

Genesis – Chapter 20

20:1  When Abraham perceived that the region was destroyed and there were no more travelers to whom he might extend hospitality, he moved away.

Another interpretation: He wished to be far from Lot who had gained a notorious reputation through his intimacy with his daughters. Rashi offers this second interpretation because the primary one does not fully account for why he moved so far away.  Surely there were closer places where Abraham could have resettled to find travelers.

Note: In the commentary to 12:4, the Zohar discusses why Abraham took Lot with him when he left Haran.  Among the reasons given was that Abraham prophetically perceived that the Messianic House of David was destined to descend from Lot and his daughters.  Abraham therefore wished to keep him close by so he could watch over him.  That is why Abraham sped to Lot’s aid when he was captured in the War of the Kings (14:14), and desperately interceded on his behalf when Sodom was to be destroyed.  Now that Lot’s daughters had given birth, there was no further need for Abraham to remain in Lot’s proximity.

“..sojourning in Gerar.”  – That Gerar was considered part of the Land to be inherited by the Children of Israel is evident from the fact that God instructed Isaac to live in Gerar after having commanded him not to leave the Land which would become his inheritance.

“..between Kadesh and Shur..”  – These were two large cities.  He chose this area because it was heavily populated and would thereby provide him the opportunity to spread belief in God.  (Sforno)

20:2  Ramban in 12:13 explains that Abraham and Sarah had no fear until they came to a royal city for it was customary to bring a very beautiful woman to the king and to slay her husband through some contrived charge.  He suggests that, as evidenced from 20:13, it may have been their common custom from the time they left Haran to say that Sarah was his sister.  The Torah, however, mentions it only when something happened to them because of it.

Note: The rationale behind Abraham’s resort to the device of claiming Sarah as his sister despite their experience in Egypt requires explanation.

That even his son Isaac later resorted to the same tactic in light of his mother’s experience would seem to indicate that the manners of the tie made such an approach imperative.

As noted to the parallel episode in Chapter 12, Abraham clearly feared for his life, for had they known she was his wife, they would have murdered him knowing that he would never willingly consent to giving up his wife.  The immoral ones would deem it preferable to transgress but once and murder the husband of a woman after whom they lusted, and thus be rid of him, rather than transgress constantly by being adulterous with a still-married woman.  That Abraham was afraid of being murdered in godless Philistia as well as clearly stated by him in verse 11.

Claiming he was her brother minimized the danger.  Among the masses, unmarried maidens were apparently much safer than married women, for the people would befriend the brother of a maiden hoping to win her through his consent.  Meanwhile, Abraham could contrive delays until, with God’s help, he was able to escape.

As Ramban explains, Abraham claimed her as his sister whenever he traveled to a new location, and usually there were no repercussions.  As pointed out in 12:13, it was a half-truth for a man often calls his kinswoman ‘sister’, and Sarah was indeed the grand-daughter of his father as he explains here in verse 12.

The contingency that Abraham did not anticipate was the Sarah’s beauty would come to the attention of the king, the one person whom such a stranger would have to fear.  For it was only the king who would dare take a maiden without wooing her brother, and who later would have no scruples in admitting it.  Indeed, only in Egypt, notorious for its licentiousness – had such a thing happened.

According to Rav, Abimelech took Sarah, not because of her beauty, but because she was Abraham’s sister and he wished to marry into so distinguished a family.

This points to a lack of fear of God in that place.  Their attitude was that ‘the king may do as he pleases.’  A stranger comes to their city, and no one asks him if he wants refreshments.  The first thing that they do is to take note of the beautiful woman with him and ask “Is she your wife?  Is she your sister?”  Perceiving great danger to himself if he were to identify himself as her husband, he answers, “She is my sister”, and she is immediately abducted to the king’s palace.

20:3  “..God came to Abimelech in a dream..”  – To protect the honor of the righteous, God comes to gentiles in in prophetic dreams as occurs often in Scriptures.  To Pharaoh He did not appear in a dream, for he was unworthy even though the honor of the righteous was involved.  Instead he received punishment from God.  It is as Elihu said: “God speaks once, even twice, yet man does not perceive it.  In a dream, a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, in slumber upon their beds, the He opens the ears of men, and with discipline seals their instruction, that he may withdraw man from his purpose…” (Job 33:14-16).  The twice refers to the dream and subsequent punishment.  (Radak)

The Midrash notes that God appears to heathens only at night.  This was the case also with Balaam (Numbers 22:20) and Laban (Genesis 31:24).

Malbim perceives in this verse that Abimelech committed two wrongs for which he deserved the death penalty:  (1) “For the woman you have taken” ~ i.e. for kidnaping her against her will ~ for which Rambam in Hilchos Melachim prescribes the death penalty whether or not the victim was married, as was the case with Shechem and Dinah (34:1-2);  (2) “Moreover, she is a married woman” and thus you have committed a further transgression.  

“ will die..”  – No one has the right to take anything that is not his, least of all a woman.  It remains immoral even, though you are a king, and even though it is the accepted custom.  He added further that she is a married woman ~ another already has to the right to her.  (Hirsch)

20:4  “Abimelech had not approached her.”  – He had been prevented from doing so by an angel [by denying him the strength to touch her (Rashi to verse 6) or, according to Radak, because God deadened his desire], as it says in verse 6: “I therefore kept you from sinning against Me (Rashi)”

It is necessary for the Torah to explicitly testify that Abimelech had not been intimate with her, more so in this case than in the case of Pharaoh, because Isaac was conceived shortly after the incident with Abimelech.  (Chizkuni)

20:5  “I was mislead!  I asked him, “Is she your wife?”  To which he replied, “She is my sister.”  Yet in spite of that I inquired further of the members of his household, and they all told me, “She is his sister.”  (Pesika Rabbasi 42) 

The loyalty of Sarah’s servants indicate what a considerate mistress she must have been.  Servants ordinarily feel resentment against and jealously of their employers.  They would rejoice at the opportunity to win the favor and reward of a king by informing against their master or mistress.  But in this case the servants maintained their loyalty and corroborated their master’s story.  The servants were surely rewarded for the merit of their loyalty as was Lot for not informing against Abraham and Sarah in Egypt.

Abimelech expressed a not unusual sentiment: if his intentions were good, then he is automatically blameless.  Judaism rejects this view.  Good intentions do not purify a wrong deed.  It must be measured by the standard of whether it complies with God’s will.  If it is wrong in His eyes, then good intentions do not sanction it.  Moreover, lack of knowledge concerning its impermissibility is itself sinful, for a person has the obligation to seek instruction.  A person in Abimelech’s position has the further obligation to set an example of appropriate behavior, for, is it right that even an unmarried woman must fear the whim of every prince?

20:6  Since ‘dream’ is mentioned twice, it is apparent that Abimelech’s response in the previous verse was given to God after he awoke from the first dream.  Then God came to him in this second dream.

“I knew that you acted in the innocence of your heart without intention of sin.”  According to the principle of Avodah Zarah 55a: ‘One who comes to be cleansed is helped,’ “I prevented you from sinning against Me.”  (Rashi; Mizrachi)

Rashi continues: ‘You therefore cannot claim cleanness of hands, however, because it was not of your own will that you did not touch her; rather it was I who prevented you from sinning by denying you the strength to touch her.’

In the Midrash, Rav Aibu said: it is like the case of a warrior who was riding his horse at full speed, when seeing a child lying in the path he reined in the horse so the child was not hurt.  Whom do we praise: the horse or the rider? – Surely the rider!  Similarly, God said: ‘I did not permit you to touch her’ (and the credit is accordingly Mine – not yours.)

20:7  The Talmud asks: And were she not a prophets wife, would she not have to be returned?

This verse must be interpreted”  Return the man’s wife no matter who he is.  Regarding your defense that it is wrong of Me to kill a righteous nation (verse 4) because they themselves told you she was his sister (verse 7), be aware that Abraham is a prophet and as such he perceived from your actions and the questions put to him that his life would have been in danger had he not responded as he did.  A stranger coming to a city should be asked whether he needs food and drink.  Should he be asked: ‘Is this your wife? Is this your sister?’   (Makkos 9a) 

Therefore, it was your own improper conduct that caused him, as a prophet, to be cautious of revealing his true marital status.  You are therefore worthy of the death penalty for having taken his wife.  (Rashi)

The Midrash has it written: “Who will assure him that I did not touch her?’ Abimelech asked.

‘He is a prophet,” God answered, ‘and as such he knows it without need for your assurance.’ ‘But who will make it known to all that I did not touch her?’ Abimelech asked.  God answered  ‘He will pray for you and you will live,’ (and all will realize from the fact that he prayed for you that you were guiltless.)

Radak writes: ‘Because he is a prophet, he is close to Me, and I heed his prayer.  I will not forgive you unless you appease him and he prays for you, for even if she were unmarried you sinned by taking her against her will.’

The word ‘prophet’ is related to ‘expressions of the lips’ (Isaiah 57:19) ~ one who is frequently near Me and speaks My teaching; I love his words and listen to his prayers.  (Rashbam)

As Hirsch points out, it is not the function of a prophet to foretell the future.  To whatever extent he does that, it is incidental to his primary role which is to be the vessel and organ through which God’s will reaches mankind.

But if you do not return her..”  – The threat is repeated, now in the negative form, to emphasize the severity of the matter.  The threat would include his entire household including even the unborn children of your wife and maids.  (Sforno)

20:8  “and the people were very frightened.”  –  This refers to his servants who had agreed to his taking of Sarah and who had initially brought her to his attention.  According to the Midrash, they had seen the smoke of Sodom ascending like that of a fiery furnace and they said: ‘Perhaps Abraham will summon the angels that destroyed Sodom!’  Therefore, fearing a similar fate they were terrified.

20:9  “..brought upon me and my kingdom such great sin?”  For the sin of the king, as representation of the nation, affects all.  (Radak)

As Midrash HaGadol notes:  The king to his country is like the heart to a body.  If the heart ails, the entire body is ill.  So, too, if the king sins, the country is sinful and may suffer accordingly.

“Deeds that are not to be done..”  – It is beneath the dignity of a man like yourself to cause harm to people you have not known and ith whom you have no quarrel, one does not go about claiming his wife is unmarried.  (Radak; Sforno)

20:10  The precious questions were merely rhetorical, and Abimelech asks Abraham to clarify what his true motives were.  ‘What wickedness have you noticed in my conduct that made you fear that I would abduct your wife?  I have never taken wives from their husbands.  Wherever else you traveled, you were the bearer of blessings, while to us you brought this catastrophe.  Why?‘  (Midrash)

20:11  “..there is but no fear of God..”  You are partially right Abraham answered.  ‘The country is good, and the people well-mannered, but nevertheless, the basic flow here is that your subjects do not fear God, and therefore, it would not be beyond them to slay me because of my wife, for only the fear of God acts as a deterrent to unrestrained lust.’

Abraham informed Abimelech that there can be no assurance of safety even among the nation of well-bred, sophisticated people.  Their code of conduct may be based on an appreciation of decent and honorable behavior, but that will avail them only so long as lust and temptation are not aroused.  Let them be tested by a powerful desire for wealth or lust for physical gratification, and they will disregard all the behavioral norms.  Only one thing can stand in the way of such desire ~ a powerful fear of God based on the knowledge that He is aware of even the minutest deed.  (Malbin)

The extent to which Abraham feared that godless people would stoop, apparently motivated even Isaac to repeat the scenario when he traveled to Gerer many years later and identified Rebecca as his sister (26:7).  Although Abraham told him of all that occurred, Isaac, too, could expect no safety in a place ‘where there is no fear of God’.  In such a place, an innocent traveler, could be disposed of for the sake of his wife.

20:12  Having defended his action, Abraham goes on to explain that his claim of being Sarah’s brother, even in the literal sense, was not untrue; he never claimed that Sarah was not his wife, but emphasized that she was his sister.

Ramban maintains that Abraham’s explanation of his motive was given in the previous and the next verse that this manner of identifying Sarah had been routinely adopted as a life saving measure.  The statement in this verse is merely an additional justification that he spoke the truth by declaring her his sister.  Abraham asserted, ‘I spoke the truth.  Had the people been God-fearing, they would have asked if Sarah was also my wife since one may marry his paternal half sister.  Since your servants took her without making any such inquiry, I perceived that there was no fear of God in this place and I remained silent.

20:13  This was Abraham’s third justification: Since he had, at God’s command, become a wanderer, he had resorted to this plan whenever entering a new place; it does not imply low esteem for this particular region.  (Malbin)

“Let this be your kindness..”  – Abraham emphasizes that Sarah did not initiate this scheme, but agreed to cooperate as a kindness to him, prompted by his urgings (12:31).

The Torah explicitly mentions this plan only twice.  The true intent of his statement is: ‘Whenever we are aliens in a new place, and there is reason to believe that the wickedness of the population makes our position precarious, say, you are my sister.’  Apparently, wherever Abraham maintained a permanent residence, he was held in great esteem (see example 23:6) and there was no reason to hide Sarah’s true status.  (Radak)

20:14  ‘..and female slaves..”  – The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 15:1) records that Abimelech followed the earlier example of Pharaoh.  When he saw the miracles performed in his house on Sarah’s behalf, he gave his daughter to her saying: ‘Better that my daughter Hagar, be a handmaid in your house than a mistress in another!”

20:15  The commentators note the contrast between Abimelech and Pharaoh.  Abimelech displayed courteous hospitality by inviting Abraham to settle in whatever part of the land he chose; in similar circumstances Pharaoh had said to him: ‘Behold your wife; take her and go’ (12:19).  Rashi therefore explains (in Pharaoh’s defense) that Pharaoh, knowing that his people were steeped in immorality, told him to leave the country for Abraham’s own safety.

Also, the Philistines had become terrified because of what had happened in Sodom, and they were afraid that they, too, might be subject to destruction because of what had been done to Sarah.  Therefore, they invited Abraham to remain in their midst so his merit would protect them.

Additionally, by inviting Abraham to remain, Abimelech was demonstrating to all that he had not violated her, for a woman with whom they king had been intimate would never be permitted to return to a commoner husband in the king’s own land.  (Abarbanel)

It has been noted that in conferring full rights of citizenship upon Abraham by allowing him to dwell where he chose, Abimelech showed his recognition of Abraham’s qualities.  It was a prelude to the covenant Abimelech later made with Abraham (21:22)

Abimelech was a righteous heathen and desired to live near a righteous man.

Note: The intent of the Midrashim is that Abraham destined Abimelech’s offer by refusing to live in the capitol city of Gerar in Abimelech’s close proximity.  However, Abraham did decide to dwell in what would later be called Beer Sheba, which, as Ramban in 21:32 explains, was then part of the land of Philistines.  Thus, he excepted Abimelech’s offer to the extent that he settled in Philistia.  (When Eretz Yisrael was apportioned, it was in the territory of Judah.)

Following the above, which most closely accords with the Rabbinic interpretation of the narrative, Abraham resided in Beer Sheba.  It was there, apparently, that Issac was born, the great feast was held to celebrate his weaning, Hagar was expelled, and they treaty was made with Abinelech.  Abraham ‘planted an eshel’ (tamarisk tree) there, and in fact, after the Akeidah, it was to Beer Sheba that Abraham went first, even tough he and Sarah lived in Hebron at the time.

20:16  “..I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver..”  – Rashi interprets:’It was as a token of honor to you that I gave this money to your brother.” 

The commentators explain Rashi’s basis: Since Abimelech had given gifts to Abraham in order to prevail upon him to pray, this declaration to Sarah could have been only to appease her, for, in fact, he had not given the money for her sake.  How did Rashi know, however, that the gifts were, indeed, for the purpose of prayer?

  • For they were given after God told Abimelech that it was necessary that Abraham pray for him (Mizrachi)
  • If his original intention was only to ppease Sarah, then he should have given the gifts directly to her. (Gur Aryeh)

     “ eye covering for all who are with you..”  – The Talmud perceives this as a curse of blindness which was fulfilled in Isaac.  Rav Yitchak said: Let not the curse of an ordinary man be considered a trifling matter in your eyes for when Abimelech, (who although he was a king, he was an ordinary man in the spiritual sense), cursed Sarah, it was fulfilled in her descendants as it says “Behold! Let it be an eye-covering for you’, which means: ‘Since you covered the truth from me by not disclosing that he is your husband and causing me all of this trouble, may you have children of covered eyes’.

This was actually in her offspring, as it is written (27:1): When Isaac grew old, his eyesight faded.

“..and to all you will be vindicated.”  – The flow of the passage according to Rashi is:  The gifts I have given to you will serve to close the eyes of all those who would otherwise have regarded you contempt, and you will now have the opportunity to be proven before all the people of the world with these already evident facts.

20:17  “Abraham prayed to God..”  – Although he had returned Sarah and appeased Abraham, Abimelech could not be spared from the death penalty, as God warned him in verse 7, unless the prophet, Abraham, would pray on his behalf.  This was to make it manifest to all that it was on Abraham’s account that he had been punished.

This is the first time of Torah that this expression is used ~ that we find anyone praying to God on behalf of another.  (Rashi)  As soon as Abraham prayed, this ‘knot’ was untied.  (Midrash)

Thus, the Mishnah, Bava Kamma 92a derives from Abraham’s very generous act of forgiving of praying for Abimlelech, that an injured person who refrains from forgiving an offender who has asked for forgiveness, is called cruel.

Abraham’s forgiving Abimelech was considered an act of compassion and therefore it is noted in Beitzah 32b that ~ whoever is merciful to his fellow man is certainly of the children of our father Abraham.

Additionally, Yom Kippur makes atonement for man’s sins against God but not for man’s sins against his fellow man until he becomes reconciled with him.  (See Mishnah Yoma 85b)  The offended party must be compassionately forgiving, for when you have compassion for your neighbor, God has compassion for you.  Thus Abraham was compassionate and immediately received his reward, for when Abraham prayed on Abimelech’s behalf, his wife was remembered by Hasem (21:1) and bore him a son.

20:18  Ramban explains that (as pointed out in the commentary of verses 4 & 6) from the day that Sarah was brought to Abimelech’s house, Abimelech’s punishment ~ which was delicately not mentioned in the Torah ~ was to be unable to relieve himself.  He was, in effect, rendered impotent and unable to ‘approach her’ (verse 4), a euphemism for intimacy, and at the same time ‘the wombs of his wife and maids’ who were pregnant ‘were restrained’ and they could not give birth.

The situation then, as Ramban concludes, is that all of this did not occur in one day.  Sarah stayed in Abimelech’s house for a while and he persisted in detaining her without repenting until God spoke to him in a dream.  After Abraham prayed for him, Abimelech was cured and his wife and maid-servants gave birth.

According to the Talmud, the restraining of ‘all the wombs’ was so total that even the fowl in his household did not lay their eggs (Bava Kamma 92a).


Genesis – Chapter 19

There is a surface similarity between the behavior of the Sodomites in regards to Lot’s visitors, and that of the Benjaminites in the notorious episode of the Concubine of Gibeah. (Judges 19)

Ramban points out the basic differences:

In Sodom, cruelty to visitors was an ‘established policy with the Sanction of law and custom.’  It’s purpose was to avoid sharing the generosity of Sodom’s lush prosperity with the needy.

Gibeah had no such law, it’s inhabitants tended to be ungenerous and inhospitable, but there was no sanctioned policy to achieve exclusion of outsiders.  The perpetrators of the atrocity in Gibeah were a powerful hoodlum element; whereas in Sodom the entire population came to torment the visitors.  The Gebeanites did not commit a capitol crime and there was no intention to kill the concubine who had previously committed adultery.  The entire nation of Israel, by rising up in war against the sinful city, demonstrated conclusively that the atrocity was an unprecedented departure from the norm ~ while in Sodom there had never been a protest against the prevailing behavior.

19:1  “..two angels came..”  – one to destroy Sodom and the other, Raphael, who healed Abraham, to save Lot.

Rashi notes that here they are referred to as angels while previously (18:2) they were referred to as men.  When the Divine Presence was with them ~ as it was during their visit to Abraham ~ they were described as men.  In relation to God’s Presence, their superior status as angels faded to insignificance and, relatively, they were like mere mortals.  But now that the Divine Presence had ascended, they resumed their full status as angels.  Alternatively, in connection with Abraham to whom visiting angels was not uncommon, they were referred to simply as men, but Lot was overawed by their presence in his house, and the Torah therefore call them angels. 

“  in the evening..”  – It certainly did not take the angels so long to travel to Sodom.  According to the Midrash, they left Abraham in the mid-afternoon, and since angels move with ‘the swiftness of lightening’, what took so long from the time they left Abraham until they entered the city?  They were angels of Mercy and so they waited until Abraham finished his pleading on the chance that Abraham would succeed in his intercession for the place.  When they saw that he did not succeed, they entered the city to perform their mission. 

Note: It must be re-emphasized that the Torah is not merely a history book and would not tell us that they arrived ‘in the evening’ unless a message was to be derived from the fact.

According to Or HaChaim, they enter ‘in the evening’ to provide Lot the opportunity of offering them hospitality and thereby justify his being saved.  For though it was said that he was saved in Abraham’s merit, nevertheless, some personal merit had to be found.  Furthermore, had they arrived by day, the citizens might have prevented them from entering the city altogether.

When Lot came to Sodom, he emulated Abraham and practiced hospitality.  When the decree was made known in Sodom: ‘Whoever supports the poor with food shall be burned by fire’, he was afraid and did not venture to be hospitable by day but did it at night.  That is why Lot was sitting at the gate of Sodom in the evening.  He was looking for night-travelers to whom he could secretly show hospitality.

“..sitting at the gate..”  – The gates of a city were not a gathering place for idlers, but for the assembly of the dignitaries of the land.  So we find throughout Scriptures that the elders, and judges, stationed themselves at the gate of the cities.  Boaz who was a judge sat at the gate (Ruth 4:1); as did Mordechai who stationed himself at the gate of the king (Esther 2:19).  Solomon praises the woman of valor whose ‘husband is known at the gate, where he sits among the elders of the land’ (Proverbs 31:23).  Commercial transactions took place and disputes were settled at the gate of a city.

19:2  “ lords..”  – is not sacred.  It is a humble reference to the two gentlemen.

“..turn about to your servants house;..”  Were it still daytime, however, he might now have risked the consequences of so bold an offer; instead he might have simply brought them refreshments without inviting them into his home.  It should be noted, however, that according to the Midrashim, guests were not unusual in Lot’s house; perhaps the idea of harboring two at one time involved more than the usual risk.  These events should also be viewed in the light of the Midrashim which explain that the young girl who was smeared with honey and left to her painful death for feeding strangers was none other than Lot’s daughter.  One can only imagine the deadly fear under which Lot must have made his offer.  Nevertheless, his upbringing in Abraham’s house, in which he was exposed to constant hospitality, had its effects on Lot throughout his life ~ even while a resident of Sodom.

He dared invite them only under cover of dark and even then he had to use every manner of precaution bidding the angels to follow him in devious ways ~ ‘take a turnabout route to my house so you can enter unnoticed.”

“..spend the night and wash your feet..”  – Surely he should have first washed their feet as Abraham did (18:4) and then invited them to spend the night.  However, Lot feared that if the visitors washed their feet first and were then discovered in his house, the Sodomites would have accused him of having harbored them for several days without reporting it.  He, therefore, reasoned that it would be better that their feet remain unwashed, so it would appear that they had just arrived (Rashi); therefore, he asked them not to wash their feet until after they left his house in the morning.

Note: How were the guests discovered after Lot had taken such precautions?  According to Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, a young boy saw the guests and summoned the others.

The more familiar version (which does not necessarily exclude the above), is the Midrash records that Lot’s wife was not anxious to entertain her husband’s guests, and accordingly did not permit them in her portion of the house.  [That is what Lot implied in describing them as guests who have come under the shadow of my rafters (verse 8).]

As a result an argument ensued which is alluded to Midrashically by the word matzos (verse 3) which can also be translated quarrel (See Exodus 2:13, 21:22, Leviticus 24:10).

When Lot requested that a little salt be given his guests, his wife retorted: ‘Is it not bad enough that you invite these people into the house?  Do you wish to introduce the evil practice of giving salt also?’

So she betrayed him.  She went to a neighbor to borrow some salt.  When asked why she could not have prepared salt during the day, she replied: ‘We had enough salt.  But we need more for some guests.’

In this way, news of the visitors spread through the city.

“And they said, ‘No..”  – They declined Lot’s invitation but they accepted Abraham’s invitation immediately, saying (18:5) “Do as you have said.”  We therefore, infer that one may decline as invitation of an inferior, but not that of a superior (Midrash, Rashi)

19:3  Lot’s urgings were sincere and to his merit.  The angels declined at first in order to increase his merit by having him insist further.  Finally, they consented and took a roundabout route towards his house.

In the literal sense, this verse portrays Lot as preparing the meal, and even baking the matzos himself.  What a sad contrast with the cheerful spirit of hospitality that prevailed in Abraham’s entire household.  Here, neither wife nor child shared the mitzah of the father and husband.  Even in his own home he stood alone.

Nevertheless, Lot did not hesitate to maintain the teachings of Abraham even though he faced the opposition not only of his adopted city but of his own family, and rendered personal service to his guests.

19:4  The Midrashic interpretation of this verse is: Before they had laid down, the angels questioned Lot about the character of the townspeople, and Lot replied that they were wicked.  While the discussion ensued, the Sodomites, from every quarter of the city, surrounded the house.  There was not one righteous person among them to protect.

The most striking and illustrative feature of this public degeneracy was that it united every shade of the population.  Young people were given to sexual excess, but they tend to sympathize with the persecuted.  Older people tend to be callous of suffering, but intolerant of public licentiousness.  The powerful and wealthy are accustomed to treading upon the unfortunate, but they put a stop to public scandal.  But not he Sodomites!  In that corrupt city, all joined in their perverse inhumanity.  (Hirsch)

This graphically emphasizes how even the ten righteous ones on whose behalf Abraham had interceded could not be found in the city and therefore justified God’s decree against them.

The vise of Sodom was well known among the prophets:  Isaiah 1:10, 3:9, 13:19; Jeremiah 49:18; Ezekiel 16:46-57; Amos 4:11, Lamentations 4:6.

19:5  Lot had been praying for mercy on behalf of Sodom that entire night, and the angels were inclined to hear his petition.  (Note: Angels were sent to Sodom as God’s emissaries to make a final determination of the Sodomites guilt as explained in 18:21.  The Sodomites fate had not yet been firmly sealed.)  When all the people of the city converged upon the house with degenerate intent however, the angels warded off his prayers saying: ‘Until now you could intercede on their behalf, but after such morally wrong demands, have you still a mouth to plead for them?  Plead no further.”  (Midrash)

“..that we may know them.”  – know them carnally – The same expression is used in connection with the men of Gibeah (Judges 19:22).  (Rashi)

Ramban’s opinion is that their purpose – in so mistreating strangers – was to prevent the entry of strangers in their land.  Because their fertile land was as excellent as ‘the garden of Hashem (13:10), they imagined that their territory would attract many poor ‘fortune seekers’, and they refused to share their bounty with the less fortunate.  Although they were notorious for every kind of wickedness, their fate was sealed because of their persistent selfishness in not supporting the poor and the needy (Ezekiel 16:49), and because no other nation could be compared to the cruelty of Sodom.

19:7  Lot refers to them as ‘my brothers’.  Perhaps he hoped to appease them, or it may well be that even this gross injustice did not inspire him to reevaluate his relationship to the wicked Sodomites.

19:8  The narrative up to this point related Lot’s hospitality; now it relates his wickedness.  He made every effort to protect the guests because they had come into his home, but he shows himself ready to appease the Sodomites by offering his daughters for immorality, which was apparently not offensive to him, nor did he feel he was doing a great injustice to his daughters.  It is for this reason that the Sages have said: Usually a man will fight to the death for the honor of his wife or daughters, to slay or be slain, yet this man offers his daughters to be dishonored.   Said the Holy One, Blessed by He to him: ‘By your life!  It is for yourself that you keep them!’  The Midrash also adds: ‘for eventually school children will read (v36) that Lot’s daughters came to be with child by their father.’

“come under the shelter of my roof.”  – The Midrash notes that Lot’s expression ‘my roof’ implies that his wife had protested their presence and Lot sheltered them in his portion of the house.

19:9  To Lot’s offer of his daughters, the Sodomites calmly answered “Stand Back!” but to his attempt to be protective of the strangers – in defiance of every Sodomite law against hospitality – they responded ‘This fellow came to stay temporarily…”  (Rashi)

Based on the Midrash interpretation: ‘You wish to destroy the judgments of your predecessors who forbade hospitality?’  Therefore saying ‘…and he would re-judge the judgments…’ ~ condemning them and introducing new ones.  For the Sodomites made an agreement among themselves that whenever a stranger visited them, they should force them to submit to sodomy and rob him of his money.

“..upon the man, upon Lot,”  –  the undertone of ‘man’, one whom they themselves had proclaimed a magistrate over them, nevertheless, they pressed exceedingly upon him, and approached to break the door.

19:10  “The men stretched out their hand..”  – This was measure for measure.  When Lot had invited them into his home, he extended his hand to them and provided for their safety.  Now they reciprocated by extending a hand to protect him.  (Midrash)

“..closed the door.”  – So that in trying continuously to find the entrance until they exhausted themselves (v11), the Sodomites would demonstrate how utterly dedicated they were to wickedness.

19:11  “..both small and great..’  the small (the young) had initiated the wrongdoing, as it is said in verse 4 ‘from young to old’.  Therefore, they are mentioned here first – they are the first to be punished.  (Midrash; Rashi)

Though stricken with blindness, they still did not redirect their efforts and cease their evil plan.  Though blind they stilled sought the door, vainly trying to gain entrance.

19:12  The wickedness of the Sodomites had become irreversible and their doom is announced to Lot.  (Hoffman)

Rashi explains that Lot had four daughters: two of whom were engaged and still lived in his home and two who were married and no longer lived with him.  It is apparently necessary to so interpret because in verse 8, Lot describes his daughters who ‘have never known a man,’ while here sons-in-law are mentioned.  Apparently then there were sons-in-law who married to other daughters and ‘betrothed suitors’ to the two who were with Lot at home.

19:13  Ramban’s explanation in verse 5 was that although there were other very wicked nations on earth, they were not as severely punished as Sodom.  This is because Sodom was part of Eretz Yisrael which, as God’s heritage could not tolerate such a abominations in its midst… and it was also God’s purpose to make it an example to the children of Israel who were to inherit it as it says (Deuteronomy 29:17-24) “Lest there be among you….whose heart turns from Hashem our God… Hashem will not spare him… and shall blot his name from under the heaven… The land shall be brimstone and salt and burning… like the overthrown Sodom and Amorrah, Admah, and Zaboiim which Hashem overthrew in His anger. (Tur)

“..because we are about..”  – The Midrash comments that for revealing God’s secret and intimating that they were going to destroy the place, the ministering angels were banished from their abode in the Divine presence for a period of 138 years (until they re-ascended at Beer Sheba in Jacob’s dream.  These were the angels who Jacob saw ascending the ladder to return to their sacred precincts.)

The calculation is as follows:  The overthrow of Sodom took place when Abraham was 99 years old.  He lived until 175, leaving 76 years until his death.  Jacob was 77 when he saw the dream, making a total of 153.  Deduct the 15 years that Jacob lived during Abraham’s lifetime (Jacob was born when Abraham was 160) and that leaves a total of 138 years from the overthrow of Sodom until Jacob’s dream.

“..Hashem has therefore sent us..”  – Having initially intimated that they were going to destroy the city – thus ascribing the act to themselves – they were now required to admit that the matter was not I their control but in Hashem’s, and that they were but His emissaries.  Therefore, they restated the fact and said ‘Hashem has sent us to destroy it.”

It is significant that in the whole story God is called Hashem – the Name signifying His Attribute of Mercy and His care for the future of mankind.  It was in His Attribute of Mercy that He decreed the destruction of Sodom.  To such depravity, complete annihilation itself is an act of merciful love [for Mankind].  (Hirsch)

19:14  Lot’s initiative to his sons-in-law rather than to his daughters does not indicate an indifference to them.  In the Middle East more than anywhere else, a woman becomes totally subservient to her husband from the time of her marriage.  By the nature of the relationship, Lot could only speak to the husbands.

But Lot’s sons-in-law laughed at him and their dialogue apparently continued until dawn when the angels rushed him and permitted him to take only those who were at hand.  However, Lot’s merit would have been sufficient – had they not laughed and run out of time – to save his entire family.

Lot referred to God destroying the city by His name ‘Hashem’ – which indicates His Attribute of Mercy.  They therefore did not take Lot seriously because, they reasoned, ‘shall Hashem in His Mercy destroy a city?’  But indeed it is so, for ‘the wicked turn the Attribute of Mercy into the Attribute of strict Justice.

Note:  Lot did not attribute the impending destruction to angels but to God Himself.  His sons-in-law laughed because unlike an angelic Destroyer who does not distinguish between the good and the wicked, God does distinguish.  Therefore, they reasoned that if God Himself was the destroyer, any attempt to escape would be futile for He would find them wherever they might flee, while if He wished to spare them, they would remain in the midst of the city and no harm would befall them.  Therefore, they looked at him as foolish to suggest that they flee.

They did not realize however that the target of destruction was the city as an organized society that has selfishness and cruelty at the base of its social order.  Therefore, those who escaped before the destruction would not be overtaken but would be judged on their own merit.  Furthermore, while the Attribute of Mercy decreed the destruction, the execution of the decree was through an angel.

19:15  According to the Midrash, the angels waited until dawn when the Sodomites began to awake so Lot could depart in full view of them all.

Now that their true mission has been revealed, they are referred to as ‘angels’ for the first time since their arrival.  (Ralbag)

The salvation of Lot’s immediate family was perhaps in reward for his hospitality as it is befitting for messengers to save their host and all his belongings, just as the messengers of Joshua similarly saved all the families of their hostess, Rehab (Joshua 6:23).  As the Midrash notes: ‘Because Lot honored the angel by offering him hospitality, he accordingly befriended Lot.

19:16  The angels could wait no longer. God had contained His wrath for the fifty-two years of Sodom’s existence.  Now its measure of iniquity was full and its doom was sealed.  Although the angels had told Lot to gather his possessions (v12), he had squandered the precious moments allowed him.  They could not wait merely to allow Lot to gather his material wealth.

“..the men grasped him…”  – Here the angels are once again called ‘men’ because they acted like mortals by grasping the hands of and tugging along those who were being saved.

Rashi explains that the angels are referred to in plural because one was there to save Lot and the other to destroy the city.  Since the destruction could not start until Lot and his immediate family were safely out of the city, the acts of removal are described in plural because both angels participated in getting Lot out.  This joint participation in the removal of Lot does not constitute a second mission for the destroyer; otherwise this would run counter to the rule that one angel does not perform two missions.

Hirsch explains that Lot did not truly deserve to be saved for he had allowed greed to draw him to Sodom, keep him there, and even allow his children to become so degraded that they laughed at his requests that they escape the impending destruction.  His life was saved but he did not go unpunished.  His entire ill-gotten fortune was left behind in the destruction of Sodom.

19:17  “..that one said..”  – The previous acts, having been performed by both angels in order to expedite Lot’s departure, are described in plural.  Now It says ‘one said’ because no longer are both angels assisting Lot.  Now that Lot has been removed from the impending holocaust, Gabriel, the angel of destruction, was free to begin his mission, and he returned to perform his task.  Therefore, the angel whose mission it was to save Lot (Raphael or Michael) now performed his mission and directed Lot to flee for his life implying ‘Be satisfied with saving your lives; do not think about saving your wealth also.”

“Do not look behind you..”  ‘ You are as wicked as they are and you are being saved only because of Abraham.  It is not proper for you to look upon their punishment while you yourself are being spared.  (Rashi)

According to Rashbam ~ one is not to gaze unnecessarily upon angels performing their tasks as Manoach said after he realized he had seen an angel (Judges 13:22): “We shall surely die because we have seen God”; and Jacob’s exclamation (32:30): “For I have seen God face to face and yet my life was preserved.”

Kli Yakar interprets this as a directive not to look back in regret for the wealth they left behind.  Lot’s wife, however, could not make peace with the loss of possessions.  Had she been concerned with having money with which to help others she would have been spared.  But her punishment revealed her true intention.  She was converted to salt, a corrosive substance that eats away the substance of coins.  So, too, Lot’s wife.  In her hands, money was corrosive, a tool of greed rather than goodness, for it was only Lot who provided hospitality for guests.  When his wife turned around it was in selfish grief and fear that when her husband died penniless, none would provide for her.  Therefore, the Torah says that she looked ‘behind him’ (verse 26) ~ her concern was for the time when he would be gone.

Ramban comments that no punishment would be inflicted for violation of the angel’s command not to look backward.  Rather the angel was warning them of dire consequences that would be a natural result of such a glance, for the mire sight of the atmosphere of destruction and all contagious diseases has a very harmful effect.  Furthermore, the destroying angel stood between earth and heaven enveloped in fire as did the angel seen by David (I Chronicles 21:16).  It is for this reason he was prohibited from gazing.

The Zohar explains that the Shechinah was about to descend and one such as Lot may not gaze in the Presence of the Shechinah ‘for man may not see Hashem and live.’ (Exodus 33:20)

“..flee to the mountains..”  – indicated that Lot should flee to Abraham who was dwelling in the mountain, for as shown by 12:8 and 13:13, he still resided in his tent on the mountain where he originally lived when he came to Canaan.  Although Abraham had many tents which extended as far as Hebron (13:18), his primary home did not change.  (Rashi)

19:18  The Sages interpret that the word Adonai, My Lord, in this case is sacred and refers to God.  The reason for not rendering it as an address to the angel is because Lot continues in the next verse to say that he was speaking to the One Who showed mercy ‘in keeping me alive’.  Therefore, this entire phrase – beginning with the introductory My Lord – must refer to Him in Whose power it is to put to death and to keep alive ~ The Holy One Blessed be He.  (Shev.35b; Rashi)

19:19  Rashi, based on the Midrash, continues his interpretation of verse 17 that Lot was ordered to flee to the mountain where Abraham resided:  Lot pleaded, ‘Please do not ask me to go to the mountain to my uncle Abraham.  When I dwelt among the Sodomites, God compared my righteousness to theirs and in comparison to them, I deserved to be saved.  But if I go to the righteous one (Abraham), I will be considered wicked by comparison.

18:20  ‘..this city is near..’  – Rashi explains ‘near’ is not referring to distance but to nearness in time: it was populated recently and so its measure of sin is not yet full.  This interpretation is based on Shabbos 10b: ‘A man should always seek to dwell in a city which was recently populated, for since it was, it’s sins are few ~ as it is said, ‘Behold, please, this city is near and small.’

“..and it is small;”  – Because Lot had been forbidden to even look back, he understood that he was meant to be left with no possessions ~ nothing but his life.  Now he argued that the poverty of living in insignificant Zoar would be equivalent to being left with only his life.

Lot gave two reasons for his request that Zoar be spared.  1) It was but a small city and it is natural for a village to be less steeped in immorality than a big city.  Therefore, Zoar had not descended to Sodom’s level of wickedness.  2) ‘So I may live’ – spare it so I can survive.

The difference between the two reasons is that according to the former, the city should be spared entirely, while according to the latter, its destruction should be postponed until such time as Lot departs from it.

19:21  “And he replied..”  – The angel replied in God’s Name, for Lot was not worthy of direct communication with God.

“I have granted you consideration even regarding this,..”  – i.e. not only will you be saved, but I will also save the entire city of Zoar for your sake.  (Rashi)

Radak derives from this that angels, as intelligent beings, are granted the authorization from God to modify their instructions according to their own judgment and assessment of particular circumstances.  Ramban (v 12), however, perceives no suggestion of independence in the angel’s sudden concession; rather the angel was acquainted with the intentions of God Who had granted Lot’s request.

“..that I not overthrow the city..”  – According to the Midrash, the city itself was not overthrown but its residents were ultimately destroyed.  Perhaps this is why Lot ‘was afraid to remain in Zoar’ (v30), filled as it was with corpses.  In the literal sense, however, the commentators maintain that Zoar was spared intact with its citizens.

19:22  This refers to the upheavel which had to wait for Lot’s safe arrival in Zoar; the sulfur and fire from God, however, had begun descending with dawn.

Note: The sulfur and fire had already begun raining down from the moment the morning broke, referring to verse 15: ‘just as dawn broke’, the time when the moon is in the sky together with the sun.

Because some of the Sodomites worshipped the sun and others the moon, God said, “If I punish them by day, the moon worshippers may say, ‘Had it taken place at night when the moon holds sway, we would not have been destroyed.’  However if I punished them by night, then sun worshippers might say, ‘Had it taken place by day when the sun holds sway, we would not have been destroyed.’”

Therefore, it is written ‘just as dawn broke’, for He punished them at a time when both the moon and the sun are in the sky.

Thus, according to Rashi, the descent of the sulfur and the fire does not sequentially follow Lot’s entry into Zoar when the sun had already risen upon the earth (v23) but preceded it and began at dawn.  This is why the angels urged him on ‘lest he be swept away’ and it is thus that Abraham upon waking up early in the morning (v27-28) was already able to see the smoke rising.  The angel’s remark: ‘I cannot do anything until you arrive there’ (v22), referred only to the overthrowing of the cities; the sulfur and fire from God, however, had already begun descending since dawn.

Be’er Yitzchak adds that the best proof that the Destruction described in these verses began before Lot entered Zoar lies in the narrative itself for in verse 25, Lot’s wife is described at having peered behind her (during their flight to Zoar) and having been turned into a pillar of salt from witnessing the Destruction which had obviously already begun.

“..for I cannot do a thing..”  – This forced admission by the angel of his powerlessness was his punishment for having boosted (v13) ‘we are about to destroy this place’, implying an independent initiative.  Now the matter could not be concluded until they were compelled to make this admission that they were powerless.  (Rashi)

19:23  This refers to sunrise, at which time the sun becomes visible on the horizon.  It is later than dawn mentioned in verse 15 when Lot departed from Sodom on his hurried escape.  Thus the entire journey is estimated in the Midrash as having taken as long as the lapse of time between dawn and sunrise.

19:24  “..caused to rain sulfur and fire”  – the term rain is used because it descended first as rain.  Nothing evil descends directly from heaven.  First, it descended as rain, only when it approached earth did it turn to sulfur and fire.

19:25  “He overturned these cities..”  – Some read this as ‘He reversed these cities’ ~ what had previously been a fertile region ~ “Well watered… the garden of Hashem’ (13:10)  He now turned it into barren desolation; its stones had been the place of sapphires; it had dust of gold; earth out of which comes bread, was overturned as if it were fire (Job 28:5-6).  He rained down sulfur and fire upon it and utterly devastated it, from man to beast to vegetation.  (Radak; Abarbanel).

The Midrash says: ‘To this very day, if one collects rain from the atmosphere of Sodom and pours it into a furrow, it will not promote growth.’

19:26  According to Ramban, Lot’s wife Edis (Iris) was filled with compassion for her two married daughters who had been left behind in Sodom and she turned to see if they were following her.  She saw the Shechinah and became a pillar of salt.

She sinned through salt and was therefore punished through salt.  When Lot asked her to bring salt for guests, she replied, “Do you wish to institute this evil custom of hospitality, also, into our city?”

Ralbag explains that by her very act of showing compassion upon ‘the hatred of God’ who did not believe enough to join in saving themselves, she thereby also sinned.  Thus, when her compassion caused her thoughts to cleave to them and she turned around, the punishment overtook her as well.

The Midrash notes, had Lot’s wife been righteous, she would not have come to harm ~ certainly not in this manner.

Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer*:  She beheld the Shechinah and became a pillar of salt, which still stands (at the time that Midrash was redacted.  Oxen lick it every day until it dwindles down to the toes of her feet; by the morning it has risen up again.  *Rabbi Eliezer lived 80-118C.E.

19:27  Abraham arose early and went to the place to which he had accompanied the angels (18:16, 22, 23) for it was there that ‘the Hand of Hashem’ had come upon him.  Having failed to find earned merit in their behalf, he now came to plead for their mercy but it was too late.  Destruction had already begun, as Abraham was soon to witness.

19:28  He looked toward Sodom and saw the fusion of the heavenly sulfur and fire which had scorchingly rained down since the crack of dawn and had by now created a column of smoke so thick that it resembled the smoke rising from a kiln.

19:29  The Torah, in its usual style now proceeds to summarize that to which it had earlier alluded: That Lot had been spared was due entirely to his uncle, Abraham.

“..God remembered Abraham..”  – What bearing does God’s remembering of Abraham have to do with the rescue of Lot?  He remembered that Lot compassionately kept silent and did not betray Abraham when he told Pharaoh that Sarah was his sister; therefore, God now had compassion upon Lot.  (Rashi)

Note: The primary factor determining reward and punishment is a person’s own deeds.  When someone is saved for the sake of a tzaddik, it is not just because the person is righteous. Rather it is because someone who considers bound up with the life of a righteous person deserves to survive on his account.  Lot still felt an attachment to Abraham.  He had endured hardship for Abraham’s sake, had accompanied him, learned from him and as history testifies, was to become part of Abraham’s destiny because Ruth and Naamah descended from him.  Ishmael’s descendants, however, who severed their ties with Abraham, received no divine favor on his account.

The Torah emphasizes that he was not taken away before the upheavel began for this would not have been such an obvious miracle; rather Lot was plucked away ‘from the midst’ of the upheavel which had already begun.  Had he left Sodom earlier, when the angel wanted him to, his own merit would have sufficed to save him.  But because he waited until the destruction began, this verse makes clear that he was saved only because God remembered Abraham.

19:30  Moab and Ammon, Lot’s daughters ~ the roots of Jewish Monarchy

Lot’s daughters were modest, righteous women whose actions were motivated for the sake of heaven.  Therefore, they did not ask their father to mate with them and the Torah does not lavel their actions as adulterous.  They sincerely thought there was no other way to insure the propagation of the species.  Because their intentions were pure, they merited that Ruth, ancestress of David, and Naanah, queen of Solomon and mother of Rechavam, should descent from them.

Lot became afraid to stay in Zoar.  Now that he lived among them and witnessed their wickedness, he feared that as soon as their measure of iniquity was full, they too would be doomed.  (Radak)

According to the Midrash, however, the residents of Zoar were annihilated, and this is why Lot was afraid to stay there.

Hoffman remarks: Having seen Abraham’s concern for Lot and that Lot’s life had been saved for the second time thanks to Abraham, we would have expected Lot to return gratefully to his loving uncle.  But it was not to be.  Instead, an act occurred that caused the final break between them.  From Lot were born two nations conceived in impurity.  Abraham no longer cared to associate with Lot, who was never again mentioned in the Torah.

19:31  “..there is no man..”  – According to Rashi, they thought that the whole world had been destroyed as it was during the Flood.  And again, the Midrash does cite that all the inhabitants of Zoar were killed as part of the upheavel, therefore, the fear of Lot’s daughters is easily understandable.

Rav Yosef Kara suggests that the motivation behind Lot’s daughters scheme was prompted rather by their observation that their father was old and it was futile to expect him to take a new wife, while at the same time they would not find a husband, for they would not find a man willing to marry them since they had lived among people who had deserved such a disaster.  They, therefore, devised their scheme to assure continuity of their father’s line.

19:32  Perhaps Lot’s daughters were motivated by a sense of sincere duty (being under the impression that the destruction was universal) to take whatever steps they could to give birth to a son and a daughter through whom the earth could be rebuilt, and thereby demonstrate it was not in vain that God had saved them.  (Ramban)

19:33  Where did the wine come from?  According to the first view in the Midrash, wine was available in the cave because owing to the abundance of wine in the area, the Sodomites used to store wine in caves.

“..he was unaware..”  – Rav Shimon says, “and he was not aware” means that it was God’s purpose to raise from her King David, King Solomon, all the other kings, and ultimately King Messiah.  (Zohar)

19:34  The older daughter planned and orchestrated the entire episode.  In naming the sons, she was the more brazen of the two.  Indeed, we find that of the descendants, the Moabites were more immoral than her sisters Ammonite nation as in Numbers 25:1.  (Hoffman)

19:36  We are told that they conceived from the intimacy of that night, for there was never any further contact between them, their only purpose being to ‘give life to offspring’.  (Radak)

Additionally, the phrase ‘their father’ is included to accentuate Lot’s shame.  He was lustful and allowed himself to be caught in such a situation.  Therefore, he deserved to have his shame inscribed in the Torah for all future generations to know, and for all to hear when this portion is read in the Synagogues.

Note: When the Holy One, Blessed by He, came to give the Torah to Israel, He revealed Himself not to Israel alone, but to all the peoples…  He went to the peoples of Ammon and Moab and asked them, ‘Will you accept the Torah?’  They asked, ‘What is written in it?’  He replied, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ (Exodus 20:13)  They answered, ‘Sovereign of the Universe!  How can we accept the Torah?  We epitomize immorality for our very existence orginated through incest!’

19:37  Moab (i.e. ‘from father’) – This daughter who was immodest openly proclaimed his origin as being ‘from the father’, (thus publicizing her indecent act) but the younger daughter delicately veiled the name by naming him Ben-Ami which means ‘a son of my people’.  She was rewarded for this in the time of Moses, who was commanded regarding the Ammonites (Deuteronomy 2:19): ‘Do not contend with them’ – in any manner; it was even forbidden to annoy them.

Regarding the Moabites, however, it was forbidden to wage war against them (Deuteronomy 2:9); annoying them, however was permitted.  (Rashi)

Although the Sages proclaimed (Bava Kamma 38b): ‘Let a man do a good deed at the earliest opportunity, for on account of the one night whereby the elder preceded the younger, she merited to precede the younger by four generations in Israel: Obed, Jesse, David, Solomon who were ascended from Ruth the Moabitess, whereas the younger had to wait until Rehaboam, son of Na-amah the Ammonitess through Solomon.  Nevertheless, she is criticized for having disgraced her father’s honor for all eternity by giving the child that indecent name.  (Tur)

Genesis – Chapter 18

18:1  “Hashem appeared to him..”  – Rav Chama (Beva Metzia 86b) taught that it was the third day after Abraham’s circumcision (the third day after an operation being the most painful for adults (see 34:25); and God came and inquired after his welfare (Rashi).

The above reason for God’s visit is suggested by the fact that nowhere else in Scripture do we find God appearing without a direct communication immediately following.  Since no other reason is given for God’s appearance to Abraham, and since it is our verse that is traditionally cited in the Talmud (Sotah 14a) as the reason for visiting the sick – as the Talmud says: ‘imitate Hashem, He visits the sick’ ~ therefore, Rashi cites this tradition as the simple meaning of the text that this was God’s primary purpose.

The Midrash emphasizes that God appeared to Abraham as Hashem, as the God of Mercy and Healing ~ to Abraham but not to the other circumcised members of his household.

Hirsch explains: God’s Presence is everywhere but is not apparent to everyone.  Only after an act of devotion such as Abraham had just preformed, does it become apparent. 

‘..plains of Mamre’  – The Torah does not usually mention the sites of revelations; and we already know from 14:6 that Abraham’s house was in the plains of Mamre.  Rashi explains that the location is given because it was Mamre who had given Abraham encouraging advice regarding the circumcision.  Therefore, God honored Mamre by appearing to Abraham on his land.

This is where Abraham and his household were circumcised.  God appeared to Abraham and not to the others because he was the worthiest for that vision which had as its purpose the acknowledgement of the circumcision as the fulfillment of the Covenant.  Perhaps it is for this reason that it is customary to set a chair (of Elijah) at the circumcision) at which Elijah, as God’s emissary, acknowledges the fulfillment of the Covenant. (Sforno)

18:2  ‘..he lifted his eyes and saw..’  – Though God had appeared to him and, from the context, was still present, Abraham continued to be engaged in his work of seeking travelers to whom he could display hospitality.  Therefore, the verse says, ‘he lifted up his eyes’ implying that he was actively seeking out transients.

The word ‘behold’ suggests the unexpected – the men had not approached from afar, but were suddenly standing there as though materializing from thin air.

Three different angels were sent because each had a different function: One, Michael, to inform him of Sarah’s conception (v14); one, Gabriel, to overthrow Sodom (19:24); and one, Raphael, to heal Abraham for one angel does not perform two missions and likewise two angels do not perform one.  (Midrash, Rashi)

Rashi goes on to explain that the interpretation – that each mission was performed by a single angel rather than all the angels sharing the performance of each mission ~ is evident from the text itself, for the Torah speaks of their eating (v8) and talking (v9) in plural; while the performance of each of their commissions is related in the singular.  For example regarding the announcement of Sarah’s child (v10); and the destruction of Sodom (19:21, 22) the angels are referred to in singular, (especially 19:25: ‘he overthrew those cities’ (Bava Metzia 86b).  Raphael, who healed Abraham, went on from there to save Lot.  (That Raphael was charged with both missions did not violate the principle of ‘one angel does not perform two missions’ for the missions were not simultaneous as the second mission was in another place and the angel was commanded about it only after he had completed his first mission; therefore a fourth angel was not required.  Additionally, since healing and rescue are related missions, and both were done for the benefit of Abraham, one angel could be charged with both tasks (Ramban).

‘He perceived..’  – Rashi notes that this is the second time in this verse that the verb (‘and he saw’) appears.  He explains that the first time it has its ordinary meaning and he saw; the second time it means he understood; ‘perceived’!  First he saw that they remained standing near him but made no move toward him.  Then, he perceived that they did not wish to trouble him and he feared they were about to depart.  For their part, they knew he would take the initiative, but stood in a display of respect, to show that they wished to spare him any trouble.  Therefore, the verse continues ‘he ran towards them’.

18:3  ‘My Lord..’  – the word is sacred, referring to God.  Abraham was taking leave from God, imploring Him ‘to pass not away from Your servant’ but to wait while he attended to his guests.

In Talmud, Shabbos 127a, Rav Elazar writes: Come and observe how the conduct of the Holy One, Blessed be He, is not like that of mortals.  The conduct of mortals is such that an inferior person cannot say to a greater man: ‘Wait for me until I come to you’; whereas in the case of the Holy One, Blessed be He, Abraham asked Him to wait.

We know from Abraham’s behavior that hospitality takes priority over the Divine Presence, but how did Abraham know?

If a king is someone’s houseguest and, during the royal visit, the king’s child comes with an urgent request, the host will quickly care for the child.  The king will not feel slighted, for a service to his child is a service to him.  So, too, with Abraham.  After his circumcision, his every instinct and organ was devoted to God’s service.  By hurrying to extend hospitality to God’s creatures, he was still engaged in the service of God.

18:4  The phrase ‘let some water be brought’ indicates being brought by a servant and not himself.  Therefore, when Abraham’s descendants required water in the desert, God recompensed Abraham by providing them with water through his servant Moses – and not directly Himself – as it says in Numbers 20:11 ‘And Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock.’

Whatever Abraham personally did for the Ministering Angels, God did Personally for his descendants; and whatever Abraham did through an emissary, God did for his descendants through an emissary.  And as a reward for ‘let a little water be brought’, they were rewarded with Miriam’s well.

18:5  ‘a morsel of bread..’  – An understated, modest description of a lavish meal about to be served.  The Talmud derives from this that ‘the righteous say little and do much.’  (Bava Metzia 87a)

The Midrash notes that in the Torah, Prophets, and Writings, we find that bread is the sustenance of the heart.  In the Torah this verse: ‘I will fetch a morsel of bread and sustain your heart; in the Prophets (Judges 19:5): ‘Sustain your heart with a morsel of bread’: and in the Writings (Psalm 104:15): ‘Bread sustains man’s heart..’

The term used in this verse for ‘heart’ is not the usual form l’vavchem’ which is a longer form for hearts denoting the heart as the seat of two Inclinations ~ Good and Evil.  Instead ‘libchem’ is used indicating only one heart, one inclination.  This teaches that angels are free of the Evil Inclination.  There was no conflicting desires in their hearts.  Their only desire was to do good.

‘Insomuch as’  –  Rashi comments: insomuch as, you have honored Me by calling upon Me.  This is the meaning of this phrase whenever it occurs in Scriptures (19:8; 33:10; 38:26; Numbers 10:31.

‘Do so, just as you have said’  – The Talmud (Bava Metzia 87a) notes that the angels accepted Abraham’s invitation immediately, whereas in the case of Lot, he had to ‘urge them greatly’ (19:3).

The ethical lesson derived from this is: one may show unwillingness to an inferior person, but not to a great man.

18:6  ‘Hurry’  – As soon as a man has taken hold of a Mitzvah (literally means commandment or a command of God), he must rush to bring it to a conclusion, not as thou he were anxious to get rid of a burden, but in the spirit of apprehension lest he fail to complete it… whatever the righteous undertake, they carry out with haste.  Of Abraham it is written: ‘Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Hurry, Three se’ahs of meal, fine flour, knead it and make cakes.’  And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf… “  We are similarly told of Rebecca, ‘And she hastened and emptied her pitcher into the trough” (24:20).  Commenting on the verse, “and the woman made haste, and ran, and told her husband’ (Judges 13:10), the Midrash adds, “We may learn that the deeds of the righteous are always performed with speed and efficiently; no time is lost in undertaking a Mitzvah or in the execution of it.”

See then that a man who is righteous does not act sluggishly in the performance of His Mitzvos.  He moves with the swiftness of fire, and gives himself no rest until his object is attained.  Note, further, that as enthusiasm calls forth zeal, so zeal calls forth enthusiasm, for when a man is engaged in the form of a Mitvah, he feels that as he hastens his outward movements, his emotions are aroused and his enthusiasm grows stronger.  But if his bodily movements are sluggish, the movements of his spirit also become lifeless and dull.

In the worship of the Creator, blessed be His Name, it is most important that the heart truly yearn after Him and the soul feel a longing for Him.

Therefore it were best for a man in whom his desire does not burn as it should, deliberately exert himself so that his zeal might become part of his nature, for the outer action awakens the inner attitude.  And the outer action being certainly more subject to a man’s control than the inner attitude, if he avails himself of that which is within his control, he will in time acquire that which is beyond his control.  As a result of deliberate effort, there will arise within him an inner joy and an ardent desire to do the will of God.

‘Knead and make cakes’  – Here, the word used is cakes, while in the case of Lot, the Torah specifically states that he served matzos, a thin unleavened bread, (19:3) in order that one chapter shed light on the other.  The entire Torah is filled with allusions and lessons, what one part omits is supplied by another.

Although it was obvious that flour must be kneaded to make dough, Abraham nevertheless specified to Sarah ‘knead it’.  He intimated to her that she should not share with a servant the mitzvah of hospitality, rather she should do even the kneading herself.  According to the Midrashic interpretation that it was Passover and these were matzos, the significance was that she should knead and make the cakes without any intervening delay, lest they become chametz (for when time allows, it ferments and becomes leavened bread.)

18:7  “Abraham ran to the herd,”  – Ramban emphasizes how this portrays Abraham’s great desire to show hospitality.  Though he had many servants eager to serve him and he was old and still weak from his circumcision he nevertheless personally ran to choose the animals for the meal.

We see similarly in the Talmud (Shabbos 119a) that although many of the Sages of the Talmud had servants, they would be scrupulous to participate personally in the Sabbath preparations, considering it a great honor: Rav Huna would light the lamp, Rav Papa would braid the wicks; Rav Chisdah would cut vegetables; Rabbah and Rav Yosef would chop wood; Rav Zeira would kindle the fire; and Rav Nochman would carry home the marketing.

Note: Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (Ukraine) was famous for his hospitality, to the point where he would perform even demeaning, menial chores to assure the comfort of his guests.  Once his father-in-law was annoyed with his excessive tasks: “For a few pennies, you can hire a servant to do those chores!’ he shouted.  Rabbi Levi Yitzchak replied, ‘Shall I give away the mitzvah of hospitality and even pay someone to take away my privilege?’

“..gave it to the servant..’  – The Talmud, noting that singular ‘it’ although there were three calves, answers that he gave each calf to a different young man to prepare ~ either in order to hasten the preparation process, or to train his men in hospitality.

18:8  Rashi says that even though there were three calves prepared, they served them as they became ready.  This also offers a solution to the question: ‘Why did Abraham seemingly serve meat and milk together in violation of the Kashrus laws?  Rashi’s explanation would thus imply that, following the order of the verse, Abraham first served the daily items for they naturally required less preparation and were ready first.  Only afterwards, after they satisfied their thirst, and hunger, did he bring out the full meal which consisted of calves meat.  From this we learn that butter and milk may precede meat.

18:9  ‘They said..”  – Midrash Sechel Tov notes that all three asked, for had only one asked he would have cast suspicion upon himself.  Subsequently, however, only the angel Michael conveyed the good tidings about the birth of a son.

‘.Where is Sarah..?’  – According to Rashbam the question was merely rhetorical, serving as an opening for their conversation, much in the manner that God asked Adam (3:9) “Where are you?”

Interestingly, according to Zohar, the angel’s question as to Sarah’s whereabouts was sincere for angels do not know what is happening in this world except what is necessary for their mission. (Tosafos Shabbos 12b)

18:10  “I will surely return..”  – Surely, the angel was not announcing that he would return, he was speaking only as God’s agent indicating that God would return; this is similar to the angel who addressed Hagar (16:10) in first person but was speaking only as God’s messenger.

Ibn Ezra adds as proof that the angel spoke in God’s Name, that in verse 14 God Himself reiterates that it is He Who will return.  Though it is not recorded that He did indeed return at the promised time, a reference to this return may lie in 21:1: “And Hashem remembered Sarah as He had said, and Hashem did to Sarah as He had spoken.”

“At this time next year..”  – It was Passover, and on the next Passover, Isaac was born.  There are differences of opinion as to when this visit took place: after Yon Kippur, or Passover.  There is, however, no dispute regarding Isaac’s birth; all agree he was born on the first day of Passover.  (Rosh Hashanah 11a)

In any case, the promise of the angel is this verse: “and behold Sarah your wife will have a son’ is not to be understood to imply that on this day next year ‘Sarah would give birth’, but that by this time next year Sarah will already have given birth on the original appointed day promised in 17:21 and will by then already have a son.

“Sarah was listening..”  – She did not merely happen to overhear; she was listening.  Although modesty kept her from the table, she did not want to miss the conversation, for Abraham’s every word with the guests was surely well worth the trouble of listening. (Hirsch)

18:11  “Abraham and Sarah were old,..”  – This expression is used to describe one upon whom old age weighs heavily; one who has ‘entered into those days’ when he knows he must go the way of all flesh; one upon whom life has taken it’s toll.

18:12  “Sarah laughed..”  – She laughed in disbelief because she thought that the guest’s statement was simply the courteous blessing of a human prophet (like that of Elisha – II Kings 4:16) and not a prophesy from God.  She thought, therefore, his blessing unattainable in view of her advanced age.  Such a miraculous rejuvenation would be as great a miracle as the resurrection of the dead, which only the command of God Himself could accomplish. (Radak, Sforno)

Note: A fundamental question arises: Abraham was already assured in 17:19 that Sarah would bear a son.  Why, then, does Sarah now react with incredulous disbelief after God Himself ~ only three days earlier ~ made the promise?

Ramban concludes that Abraham had not revealed to Sarah what God had told him before his circumcision.  Perhaps Abraham thought that God would undertake nothing until He revealed His plans to Sarah, His prophetess (see Amos 3:7).  Or it is possible that within the hectic days in which Abraham in righteous diligence undertook to circumcise himself and his household, and the painful days of convalescence that followed, Abraham neglected to mention it to Sarah.

Additionally, Sarah did not know they were angels, and therefore gave no credence to their words.

Hirsch points out: it appears that Abraham felt he had no right to tell Sarah because he had not been specifically told to do so.  Apparently, Sarah was meant to hear the news suddenly so that the very idea should appear ridiculous to her.  She would laugh just as Abraham did (17:17) (but for a different reason) and in the future they would always bear in mind that the birth of a child seemed to them to be an impossibility.

18:13  “..Hashem said to Abraham..”  – God Himself had been, if one may so express it, waited patiently while Abraham entertained the angels.  Now He interjects in response to Sarah’s unbelieving laughter.  Hashem accused her in Abraham’s presence of considering His promise to be impossible of fulfillment.

Why did God rebuke Sarah for her laughter and not Abraham for his (17:17)?  This is comparable to a wise woman who wished to rebuke her daughter-in-law.  Instead she directed her rebuke to her daughter, and the daughter-in-law understood the indirect message.  Here, too, God rebuked Abraham indirectly in order to spare his feelings.

Perhaps the meaning is that when the offense was duplicated, God no longer wished to overlook it.  He had not rebuked Abraham earlier but now that Sarah laughed too, He rebuked her for the offense, with the result that Abraham, too, was indirectly rebuked for his earlier laughter.

According to Midrash HaGadol, this teaches that when the lesser is rebuked, than the greater will understand also, but in the reverse case, if the greater were rebuked, the lesser might consider himself exempt because being greater obviously imposes greater obligations.

Since only Hashem holds the key to conception, it is He Who will cause her to give birth.  That being the case, age was never a factor because the laws of nature are neglected in the face of God’s will.

18:14  “Is anything beyond Hashem?”  – “Is anything so far distant and concealed from Me that I cannot accomplish whatever I wish?” (Rashi)   “Do I not know that Sarah is old?  Nevertheless, it is I Who promised, and there is no room for doubt!” (Abarbanel)

“At the appointed time..”  – “the time I originally intended when I promised you to return (17:21) ‘at this time next year!” (Rashi)

This intended time was Passover, when everyone agrees when Isaac was born. 

God Himself reiterated the promise now to reassure Abraham that in His displeasure with Sarah, He did not withdraw the promise, but that He would surely fulfill it at the destined time.

18:16  Two of the angels went on to Sodom, as it is written (19:1) and the two angels arrive in Sodom.

God, Himself, spoke to Abraham.  He had come to visit with Abraham in verse 1, and if one may so express it, had been waiting all this time while Abraham had taken leave of Him to show hospitality to his guests.

gazed down toward Sodom”  – The term “gazed down” is used because they were in Hebron, probably standing on one of the peaks of the Judean mountains from which they gazed down upon the panorama of the valley of Sodom.

Rashi notes that wherever the verb form of ‘gazing down’ occurs in Scripture (specifically in the Five Books of the Torah) it is always used in connection with calamity except in Deuteronomy 26:15 – “gaze down from Your holy habitation…and bless Your people.”  (The verse deals with declarations that the required tithes, including that given to the poor, have been given) for so great is the virtue of charity that it changes what would ordinarily be an expression foretelling evil, into mercy.

“Abraham walked with them’  – The Zohar emphasizes the importance of escorting a departing guest ~ Rav Yesa says: ‘That Abraham escorted them shows that he was not aware that they were angels; for if he was aware, what need had he to send them off?

Rav Elazar disagrees: ‘Although he knew, he kept to his usual custom with them and escorted them.  It is highly necessary for someone as a duty or responsibility to escort a departing guest, for this crowns a good act.

This is why the present tense ‘was walking’ is used, because this escorting is linked with the next verse.  For while Abraham was accompanying them, God appeared to him to reveal His intentions.  Thus, when one escorts his departing guests, he draws the Shechinah to accompany him on a way as a protection.

18:17  ‘..shall I conceal from Abraham..”  –  ‘Since I have given him this land, including these Sodomite cities (10:19), is it proper that I carry out my plan without his knowledge?  Furthermore, I called him Abraham the father of a horde of nations (17:5): should I then destroy the children (the Sodomites) without first informing the father who loves Me?’ (Rashi)

The prophet Amos similarly expressed it (3:7): ‘Surely My Lord Hashem/Elohim will do nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets.’

From our verse we see why God reveals His ways to the prophets.  The reason is so that they can interpret historical events to their peers, making history a teacher of the people.  Abraham was not primarily a prophet to his own time – although he did proclaim the greatness of God.  His primary function was to teach the way of Hashem, to the future descendants of Israel.  In order that he might derive the appropriate lessons from the destruction of Sodom, God revealed what he intended to do.  (Hoffman)

Also, had Abraham not been given the opportunity to plead for Sodom, he would have thought that the destroying angels had done their work without sparing any righteous people, or that God had acted through the strict Attribute of Justice without tempering it with mercy.  Thinking it inconceivable that there were no significant numbers of righteous people even in Sodom, Abraham would have been deeply grieved.

18:18   Ramban interprets that God felt constrained to inform Abraham because, seeing that Abraham is destined to become a great and mighty nation, future nations will ask: ‘How could God have hidden this from him?’ or ‘How could Abraham have been so callous about his close neighbors that he refrained from praying on their behalf?’  He recognizes that I love righteousness, and he will charge his children to cultivate their virtues.  Now, if there is a righteous cause to pardon the Sodomites, he will beseech Me to do so.  If, on the other hand, they are completely guilty, he too, would desire that their judgment be carried out.

18:19  ‘For I have loved him..”  – The literal translation is ..known him.  The insight of know, as loved, follows Rashi who explains that affection is the secondary meaning of ‘know’, for one who loves another brings him close to himself and thus knows him well.

Hirsch’s interpretation also sheds some light.  He explains that to know means to perceive.  When the word refers to the relationship of a man to a woman, it designates the most intimate act of married life (4:1); concerning the relationship of God to man, it designates His special care, the special consideration of His protection or spiritual care.

There are those whose attitudes to God are merely casual, who allow other considerations to come before their obligations to God.  Such people are under His general protection, but God leaves them to the haphazard twists of life.

But there are people who place themselves completely under God’s guidance and wish only to be His messengers on earth, leaving everything else to Him.  God takes such people under His guidance and care.  Hirsch accordingly renders this verse as ‘For I have given him My special care so that he will command his children…’

It is noteworthy that Abraham’s greatness is ascribed to his role as spiritual mentor of his future generations.  Despite the many converts whom he and Sarah had brought under the wings of the Shechinah, it is not they who are mentioned in this testament to Abraham’s greatness – indeed, their belief in God did not survive the passing of Abraham.  It is clear that Jewish generations are built primarily upon the constant dedication of parents in raising their own children to walk the way of God in charity and justice.

“…keep the way of Hashem..”  – Hirsch explains that ‘the way of Hashem’ has a dual connotation: the way of God that He takes, and that which He wishes us to take.  The two are really identical, since the way of good runs parallel with the way in which God leads and guides the world.  That is why the way of the wicked clashes against it.  As the prophet Hosea says in 14:10 – “The ways of Hashem are right, the righteous walk in them but transgressors shall stumble in them.”

“..doing charity and justice..”  – The Talmud (Yevamos 79a) notes that the Israelite nation is distinguished in three ways: they are compassionate, bashful, and benevolent.  The last is derived from this verse – to do charity.

Rambam says, “We must therefore practice the mitzvah of charity more than any other because it is the characteristic of the true descendant of Abraham.

Hirsch continues that here the concept of righteousness precedes justice.  Sodom, too, had a kind of justice but it was far from God’s justice.  Sodomite justice became a double edged sword which lives by the saying “I keep what is mine, you keep what is yours!’  It’s philosophy branded the needy as criminals endangering the public welfare.  Rich men like Lot may be admitted, because they brought profit to the community, but ‘begging is prohibited’ and hungry unfortunates are jailed or told to move on.  Thus, justice without ‘tzedakah’ (acts of charity) becomes perverted into cruelty and harshness.  For this reason, in contrast, the testament of Abraham to his children stresses tzedakah before righteousness.

Rashi notes that since the verse says ‘upon Abraham’ rather than ‘upon Abraham’s children’, we may learn that he who leaves a son as righteous as himself is as though he had not died.  Therefore, Abraham himself – not spiritually dead because he left righteous children – will personally be the recipient of God’s blessings.

18:20  “..because the outcry..”  – The outcry of its rebellion against God or the outcry caused by its violence.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 109b) specifically relates this to the incident of a young girl (some say she was Lot’s daughter, Pelotis) who, in defiance of the laws of Sodom which forbade the giving of charity, once carried out bread concealed in a pitcher to a poor man.  When the matter was discovered, they smeared her with honey and placed her atop a wall; bees came and consumed her.  In the opinion of the Sages, this was specifically the cry of the young girl, cruelly put to death, which finally sealed the fate of Sodom.

The Talmud records many similar instances of the horrendous deeds of the Sodomites.  To cite a few: They had beds upon which travelers slept.  If the guest arrived who wished to rest, he was lead to one of the beds.  If the guest was too tall, his feet would be cut off to make him fit; if on the other hand he was too short, they would stretch him out.  They would kill and steal the money of wealthy men who entered their cities.  If one laid out his fruits, they would each take a sample until nothing was left, claiming “I have taken only one.’

Also their laws were so unreasonable that the victim of a crime would often be fined!  Also, adultery, incest, and other sexual deviations were the norm.

It was these cries that ascended to God, and which caused the Rabbis to exclaim: ‘The people of Sodom have no share in the World to Come.’

18:21  “I will descend and see..”  – This is one of the ten instances that the Shechinah is recorded as having ‘descended’ into this world.

God obviously had no need to ‘descend’ in order to ‘see’ what was happening on earth.  Rashi therefore explains as in 11:5, the Torah uses this expression to teach a moral lesson: A judge must not render a verdict in capital cases without personally investigating the matter.

Ralberg also explains the ‘going down’ in the sense of testing them once more by sending two angels to them in the guise of men (Chapter 19) and seeing how the Sodomites will treat them – thus, indicating that their doom was not yet finally sealed and they were given a final opportunity to repent.

“ accordance with its outcry..”  – Rashi continues by saying the literal translation is ‘her outcry’ – the cry of a certain girl whom the Sodomites killed in an unnatural manner because she had given to the poor.  The sense, then, is that the girl’s cry ascended to God, and was indication of the city’s wickedness which had reached intolerable proportions.  God therefore resolved to make a personal investigation of the facts.

Midrash states: ‘She cried out: “Sovereign of the Universe!  Maintain my right and my cause at the hands of the men of Sodom!”  Her cry ascended to the throne of Glory and God said: ‘I will descend and see whether they have done in accordance with her cry which has come to Me, and if they have indeed done everything implied by the cry of that young woman, I will turn its foundations upwards and the surface downward…’

According to Ramban, the words ‘I will know’ implies ‘I will show divine Mercy’, as it does in Exodus 2:25 where ‘and God knew’ means He directed His mercies upon the children of Israel because He was aware of their sufferings.

18:22  Although the angels who were to destroy Sodom had already reached their destination, Abraham still stood in prayer on the Sodomites behalf.  This follows the Sages teaching (Berachos 10a): ‘One must not desist from prayer even when a sharp sword is upon his neck’.

18:23  Abraham Intercedes on Behalf of Sodom

In the following verses, Abraham exemplifies his new role as ‘father of a multitude of nations’ in its most noble form.

His intercession on their behalf demonstrates his cognizance of the need for both justice and mercy.  He recognized that only through merit could the wicked be saved, nevertheless he felt anguish at the thought that human beings were about to perish.  (Abarbanel)

It is this characteristic of Abraham – in contrast to Noah who held his peace when told of the impending flood – that has ennobled him as the compassionate Patriarch of the Jewish Nation.

Hoffman notes however, that to Noah the decree had already been decided ~ “The end of all flesh has come before Me…behold I am about to destroy them from earth (6:13)”.  No room was left for intercession, and indeed Noah maintained his silence because he thought the decree was irreversible.  However, to Abraham, God merely said that ‘because the outcries of Sodom were great’ He would ‘descend and investigate further’, thus affording Abraham the opportunity ~ as a father of a multitude of nations ~ to intercede on their behalf.

This is the first time we find one man praying on behalf of another.  Thus, Abraham mustered all his inner resources to intercede on behalf of the Sodomites.

Abraham pleaded that it would be proper ~ according to the Divine Attribute of Mercy ~ that God should spare the entire group of five cities if they contained fifty righteous men.  Furthermore, it would be inconceivable in any event ~ even according to His Attribute of Justice ~ that He slay the righteous along with the wicked (v25) for if so, ‘the righteous will be as the wicked’ and people will say it is vain to serve God.  This is the significance of the double use of ‘it is sacrilege to You’ (v25).  Once for the Attribute of Mercy and once for the Attribute of Justice, for actually there are two pleas in the following verses: a request that the entire city, including the wicked, be forgiven for the sake of the righteous, and that at the very minimum, the righteous be spared and not be stamped out along with the wicked.  Ramban concludes that God conceded that He would deal mercifully.  He notes that God’s Name is significantly written here as Hashem (signifying Divine Mercy), while Abraham addressed Him throughout the dialogue as Adonai (My Lord) signifying Divine Justice.  From this we infer that Abraham was under the impression that they would be judged only by Divine Justice.

18:24  “ the midst of the city..”  – i.e. righteous people who are openly God-fearing.  In other words the righteous must be ones who fear God not only in the safety and privacy of their homes, but ‘in the midst of the city’ playing a prominent part in public life and exerting their influences in its many fields of activity.  Only in such a manner, and not by remaining anonymous, could these righteous hope to possess the spiritual merit of saving the city.  If a moral climate of a city is such that it forced its righteous into seclusion, then that city is not worthy of being saved by virtue of a handful of men, who lead a secluded life within it.

Hirsch stresses the parallel between the deficiencies of Sodom and those of Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the First Temple.  There, too, righteous people were not ‘open’; they failed to fulfill their responsibility to influence their fellow man.  Thus, in Sodom as well, a person more righteous than his fellows could not earn salvation by withdrawing into his own private existence.  In Jeremiah 5:1, Radak comments that no one could be found ‘who acted justly and seeks the truth in the streets of Jerusalem’, for the righteous were forced to remain inside by the animosity of the wicked.  Therefore, there was no hope for the Holy City.

Abraham knew very well that there were no truly righteous people in Sodom.  If Lot was the greatest among them – and Abraham was painfully aware of Lot’s shortcomings – how righteous could the others be?  However, Abraham was also convinced that no matter how immersed Lot had become in the evil ways of Sodom, he could not have become deserving of destruction.

Abraham thought that there must be others who were similar, people who submitted to wrongdoers as long as they were flourishing, but who could be saved.  If Sodom were punished rather than destroyed, perhaps there were people who could take the lead in achieving repentance.  (Sefer HaParshios)

18:25  And should you maintain that the righteous cannot save the wicked, why, then, should you kill the righteous?  Even if my prayer prevails upon You to spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous, surely You will at least spare the righteous.  That they be spared is not a matter of special favor, for it is only justice that the presence of a significant number of righteous should be a reason for clemency.  (Rashi)

“to do such a thing”  – The Torah does not say ‘this thing’ but ‘such a thing’ implying – do neither this or anything like it – even of a lesser nature. (Midrash)  For example, were God to determine that the Sodomites deserved not total annihilation but punishment, these words would imply that God should not even afflict the righteous along with the wicked.  Each person has his own measure of guilt and should be punished only equivalent with his own wickedness.

“..righteous and wicked fare alike..’  – Ramban: ‘And if two are treated alike, people will say: It is vain to serve God.’  And if this comes about, Free Will and service of God will cease, and heresy will flourish in the world. (R’Bachya)  For although the righteous will undoubtedly receive their due reward in the Spiritual World, nevertheless their punishment will have an adverse effect in This World.  (Da’as Sofrim)

‘Shall the Judge of all the earth..”  – Malbim notes: You are the Judge over the entire earth and You must therefore scrutinize the righteous men of Sodom in comparison with their wicked contemporaries.  It is not proper for them to be swept away by the general destruction seeing that within their own environment they are considered righteous.

18:26  “..then I would spare the entire place..”  – God thus answered that He would go even beyond what Abraham requested.  ‘If fifty righteous people were found in Sodom, I will not only forgive the sins of the four other cities, I will even spare the entire place – even the surrounding villages for their sake.’ (Radak)

18:27  God acquiesces to Abraham’s petition.  Abraham realizes, however, that his first request would achieve nothing because fifty righteous men would not be found in Sodom.  But, encouraged by his success, he petitions further and begs God’s indulgence.

Although I am unworthy, my intention is not to dispute You. but merely to resolve my personal questions regarding Divine Justice and to fathom Your methods. (Sforno; Radak)

“..although I am but dust and ashes.”  – The sense of this verse then following Rashi: ‘Behold, now, I desired to speak to You because I have known from personal experience how, were it not for Your mercies, I would have been by now but dust and ashes.’  To dust by the kings (Chapter 14) and to ashes by the furnaces of Nimrod (11:28) had it not been for Your mercy.’

Abraham stressed his unworthiness in this way to eliminate any possible notion that he considered himself worthy and righteous enough in God’s eyes to pray on another’s behalf.  He therefore stressed that he felt compelled to present his pleas to God in spite of his unworthiness.

God said to Israel: I delight in you, because even as I bestow greatness upon you, you humble yourselves before Me.  I bestowed greatness upon Abraham, and he said ‘I am but dust and ashes.’  Upon Moses and Aaron and they declared (Exodus 16:8) ‘Yet what are we?’  Upon David and he declared (Psalm 22:7) ‘But I am but a worm, and no man.”  (Chullin 89a)

18:28  “What if the fifty righteous people should lack five?’  – According to the Midrash, Abraham’s question literally means: ‘What if there would be lacking the entire fifty righteous and there would be no more than five?  Abraham’s expressed intention being: Would you destroy the entire city despite the five? God therefore told him following the Midrash: ‘Revert to the beginning ~ to a number closer to your first and count down more gradually ~ it is too great a jump as five are too few a number to save the cities’.  God made this clear to him by His specifically worded response which completely clarified the double meaning:  “I will not destroy if I find there forty-five” ~ not the give you suggest. (Radak)  Abraham therefore worded his following petitions more carefully, gradually lowering the figures to forty, thirty, twenty, and then, finally ten.

Note also, that here God did not specify that the righteous had to be within the city, influential and prominent in public life.  God indicated that He would not measure righteousness by this criteria as Abraham requested.  He would not destroy even if there were five lacking.

18:29  Since Abraham was encouraged by God to continue his supplication, Abraham seized the opportunity and pleaded further.

God indicated to him in each instance that he might plead further, but at a gradual rate.  Abraham pleaded further while reverently begging his indulgence before each new request.

18:32  Why ten?  The Midrash notes: So that there might be sufficient a number for an assembly, a quorum, of righteous men to pray on behalf of them all.

Some suggest that Abraham did not consider it necessary to ask for less than ten.  He thought that Lot and his wife along with his four daughters and sons-in-law, totaling ten, would be sufficiently worthy to save the town.  But he was mistaken in thinking they were righteous.

“I will not destroy on account of the ten.”  –  Because Hashem did not wish Abraham to intercede further, the Holy Presence and Spirit of Prophecy departed from him as soon as Abraham finished his last plea.  Abraham understood that it was God’s will that he pray no further.

“..Abraham returned to his place.”  – During God’s revelation to him, Abraham ceased to be a physical being, rising to a level of prophetic spirituality.  With the departure of the Shechinah, Abraham returned to his physical realm.

Abraham could have been expected to be distraught.  He had prayed and won God’s pledge to spare a wicked population for the sake of only ten people, only to discover that all of his prayers had been in vain because their was no semblance of righteousness in any of the five cities.  Nevertheless, ‘Abraham returned to his place’.  He did not grieve over his failure for he had full faith that whatever God did was merciful and just.