Parshas Lech Lecha; Avraham and His Mission We are told that on their journey, Avraham and Sarah took with ‘the nefesh that they made in Charan’ (12;5), which Rashi explains means the people they converted their. The question is what exactly was Avraham’s message to the world? Let’s elaborate…the dictionary definition of Avraham Avinu is that ‘he is the one who taught monotheism to the world’ ie he was the only one who believed in one G-D, and he introduced that to a world which, having forgotten Noach and Adam HaRishon and their occurrences, was bereft of monotheistic values. However, this definition is imprecise for several reasons. Firstly, Shem and Ever (Noach’s son and great great grandson respectively) ran a yeshiva, which Yaakov learnt in for 14 years. Secondly,
Noach and Avraham lived at the same time for 58 years, and Mesushelach, who lived at the same time as Noach (for 600 years), also lived with Adam HaRishon for 243 years. Thus, the world was not empty of belief in one G-D. Moreover, the origins of idol worship did include the belief in one G-D, though they erred in the worship of His ’agencies’ (eg the Sun) as if they had their own independent powers (see Rambam hil. avodas kochavim 1;1.)
Taking all of this on board, what exactly did Avraham introduce that no-one else had done? The answer given is taught via a true story which illustrates the uniqueness of Judaism. In the 20th century, there was a Polish government which had several self-hating Jews in it. The prime-minister at the time was not Jewish, but was respectful of the Jewish faith. These Jewish ministers wanted to belittle their religion in front of the prime minister, and thus cited several halachos about ’insignificant’ actions, eg the way one must put on their shoes (right, left, tie left, tie right) and cut nails. The Polish prime minister responded ’I think your religion is amazing if it can even find meaning in actions so small as cutting nails.’ This is the uniqueness of Avraham’s as opposed to Shem and Ever’s teachings. Avraham taught that a religious system must be expressed as far into the physical world as via the fingers and toes (Avraham has the gematria of 248; the number of limbs in the body.) Shem and Ever, on the other hand, taught a lofty spiritual system, but not its connection to the physical body and physical world.
This is mirrored in their methods of teaching too; Shem and Ever taught privately to individuals who would make the journey to their yeshiva, whilst Avraham (and Sarah) went out and taught everyone possible; for Avraham’s Torah was the connection between the spiritual and physical worlds, and thus how it must be reflected by each and every person and aspect of the physical world. But Shem and Ever’s more disconnected Torah was taught to individuals who would make the commitment to come to them and thus remove themselves of their physical surroundings [it says that Yaakov did not sleep when in Shem and Ever’s yeshiva (Rashi 28;12) ; for that was the Torah of the severing from the physical.] Similarly, it says that the idolatrous population wanted to kill Avraham, but there is no such desire recorded regarding killing Shem and Ever. Why? For it was only Avraham’s teachings that threatened the people and their ‘values,’ for he espoused the reflecting of the spiritual in all aspects of the physical world, but they were unthreatened by Shem and Ever’s yeshiva and their teachings. [It is important to note that there exists the other extreme too; pe’or was an avodah zarah whose worship included excreting in front of the idol. Their idea is to show that even the lowliest physical act can manifest godly service; which at the same time is a complete removal of sanctity and respect for their ‘power.’ Judaism is not as extreme as that; we are not allowed to think Torah thoughts in the toilet, for example. But we do then thank HaShem afterwards, when we are clean, for the ability to go to the toilet.]
This entire idea is encapsulated perfectly in a ‘showdown’ meeting between no less than Shem and Avraham in this week’s sedra. Rashi (14;18) quotes the gemarra (nedarim 32b apparently) that Malki-tzedek was in fact Shem. After Avraham wins the battle and rescues Lot, he meets Malki-tzeddek (Shem), described as the’ kohen l’kel elyon’ (priest to HaShem above) (14;18), and M-Tz blesses Avraham, calling him ’baruch Avram le’kel elyon konei shamayim va’aretz (blessed is Avraham to HaShem above, who fixes/acquires heaven and earth. The difference is that in conjunction with Avraham, HaShem is described as both ’above in Heaven’ and down on earth, whilst adjoining Shem, He is only described as HaShem above. Why? For this is a product of the above discussion regarding the differences between the messages of Shem and Avraham: Avraham taught that HaShem was in Heaven and controls, and indeed must be reflected by earth, whilst Shem’s message was only one of focus upon HaShem as kel elyon - that HaShem is above in shamayim. Have a great Shabbes and pG we should all merit to fulfil our gift and responsibility as a tzelem elokim, (From R’ Tatz and R’ Moshe Shapira)