Rabbi Fishel Todd
A verse which leads the Ramban to an important philosophical insight.
For I know him (Hebrew: “yedativ”) because he will command his children and his household after him and they will keep the way of Hashem to do righteousness and judgment, that Hashem shall bring to Abraham that which He spoken of him.
For I know him: Rashi: This (the word “yedativ”) is an expression denoting affection, as in (Ruth 2:1) “a kinsman of her husband” …………..But, in fact the essential meaning of all these examples is “knowledge” since one who likes someone draws him near to himself and gets to know him and is familiar with him. And why do I hold him dear ?
“Because he will command” because he commands his children regarding Me to keep My ways. But if you will explain (the word “yedativ”) as the Targum does ( “I know of him that he will command his children” etc.) then the word (Hebrew: “l’ma’an”) does not fit.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING ?
Rashi is dealing with the word “yedativ” which literally means “I have known him” but Rashi finds this translation difficult in the syntax of this verse. Therefore he shows that the same verb which ordinarily means “knowing” can also mean “having affection for”, and that is its meaning in our verse. In short Rashi does here what he frequently does, gives us his understanding of the correct meaning of a word.
THE RAMBAN’S UNDERSTANDING
The Ramban offers other meanings, in addition to Rashi’s, to the word “yedativ.” Then he ends by saying something quite astounding. He says:
“But the correct understanding, in my opinion, is to “know him” literally. This hints at the principle that G-d’s knowledge, which is divine providence, in this lower world is (just) to guard the species and even humans He leaves them to chance happenings. Until their time of accounting ( i.e. death) comes. But with His righteous ones He directs His heart to know him individually, to have His protection cleave to him at all times. As it says (Job 36:7) “He does not remove His eyes from the righteous man.” There are many other similar verses which make this point.”
WHAT IS THE RAMBAN SAYING?
The Ramban is telling us something that is quite different from the common understanding of the Jewish view of “hasgacha pratit” – personal providence in our lives. The Ramban says that only for the righteous is there divine guidance for what happens to us in this world. (The Rambam – Maimonides – takes the same position.) All the ordinary people are subject to the “whims” of nature and other accidents. This is quite different from the Talmudic saying that “No man stubs his finger in this world unless it was decreed from Above. “(Tractate Chulin 7b) which means that everything that happens to people in this world is the result of divine decree. The Ramban is saying this is not so. Such divine providence exists only for the truly righteous.
The “Jewish” View on Things
When discussing Jewish Hashkafa questions, we should keep in mind that there are many and varied opinions expressed by the Torah giants. Some of these opinions may appear surprising to us when compared to the views most advocated today. Let us keep our minds open to constantly learn from our teachers, the Torah greats throughout the generations.
As Abraham was sitting before his tent, after having circumcised himself, God appeared. Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw three men standing there. Abraham invited them to come in and made a fine meal for them.
One of the men said that Sarah would have a son by the time he returns to their tent. Sarah heard this comment and laughed to herself, saying, “Oh, that I shall have the greatest fulfillment now that I am already worn out and my husband is an old man!”
God said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Is there anything too wondrous for God?”
The visiting men left and Abraham escorted them on their way to Sodom. Now, God said, “Should I keep undisclosed from Abraham that which I am doing? The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah already weighs very heavily. I will go down and see if I need to destroy it. If not, I shall handle it case by case.”
Now, Abraham stood before God asking, “Will you ruin the righteous along with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous in the city. To kill the righteous along with the wicked such that the righteous should be like the wicked–to do such a thing, I know would be a profanation to You, God. Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?”
And God said, “If there be 50 righteous, I will forgive the city because of them.”
Abraham continued, “See, now, I have begun to speak with my Lord and I am only dust and ashes. How about if there were only forty-five righteous? Or 40? Or 30? Or 20? Or 10?”
And God responded to each. “I shall not destroy the whole city if there are forty, or thirty, or twenty or even ten righteous people.”
After Abraham and God parted, the two angels went to Sodom in the evening. Lot greeted them with a reverent bow and urged them to stay at his house overnight. At first they refused, but then they agreed and Lot made them a feast.
But before they lay down to sleep, the men of Sodom surrounded the house. They wanted Lot to reveal his guests, but Lot refused, begging them to not act wickedly. But the men pushed harder until they almost pushed down Lot and his door. The visitors grabbed Lot and brought him inside, then struck down the men with blindness so that they could no longer find the entrance.
The visitors then told Lot to get his family and leave Sodom, for God had sent them to destroy the city. Lot lingered, but God took pity on him and had the men seize him and his wife and two daughters and lead them out of the city. They warned them, “Do not look back and do not stand still. Escape.” God caused sulfur and fire to rain upon Sodom and Gomorrah. When Lot’s wife looked back, she became a pillar of salt.
Lot ended up in a cave with his daughters. Because the daughters wanted to give descendants to their father, they made their father drunk with wine. Each slept with their drunken father, but he did not know when each daughter lay down or when each rose up. The elder daughter bore a son and named him Moab. He is the ancestor of Moab. The younger bore a son and she named him Ben-Ami. He is the ancestor of the sons of Ammon.
Abraham journeyed to the land of Abimelekh, king of Gerar. He said that Sarah was his sister, so Abimelekh took Sarah for his wife. Now, God came to Abimelekh in a dream and said, “You shall die, because the woman you have taken is already married.” But Abimelekh responded, “My God, will you even slay a righteous nation? They both told me they were siblings. In my innocence I have done this.”
And God answered, “I know you did this out of innocence. That’s why I prevented you from sinning against Me and touching her, even indirectly. Now, restore the wife to her husband, for he is a prophet, so he will pray for you and you will remain alive.”
Abimelekh returned Sarah and gave Abraham animals and servants, money and the right to settle on his land. He told Sarah she no longer had to disguise her marriage. So Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his handmaids, and they gave birth.
Now, God remembered Sarah, and she conceived and bore Abraham a son, Isaac, at the appointed time, which God had spoken. Abraham circumcised his son Isaac on the eighth day. Isaac grew, and on the day he was weaned, Abraham made a great feast.
But Sarah saw Ishmael, the son of Hagar, the Egyptian woman, making mockery. Sarah said to her husband, “Cast out this handmaid and her son, for the son shall not share the inheritance with our son, Isaac.”
But the matter was very displeasing in the eyes of Abraham because of his son. And God said to Abraham, “Let it not be evil in your eyes because of the lad and your handmaid. Hearken to Sarah’s wishes, for in Isaac shall be your seed. And also for the son of the handmaid, I will make a nation, for he is your seed.”
Abraham rose early in the morning, took bread and water and gave it to Hagar and Ishmael and sent them away. Hagar lost her way in the wilderness of Beer Sheva and the water came to an end, and she threw the child under a shrub. She sat away from him, saying “Let me not look upon the death of the child.” Then she cried.
But God heard the voice of the lad, and an angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said, “What ails you, Hagar? Do not be afraid! For God has already heard the voice of the lad. Arise, pick him up and strengthen your hand upon him for I will make him a great nation.” And God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. God was with the lad and he grew up and became a master archer.
And it came to pass that God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham.”
“Here I am,” Abraham responded.
God said, “Take, I beg of you, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and get yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him on one of the mountains.”
So Abraham did as he was told, journeying with his wood for the offering and with his son and his servants to the place that God had told him. On the third day, Abraham and Isaac left the servants and took the wood for the offering, some fire and a knife. So they went, both of them, together.
Isaac spoke to his father, Abraham, “My father!”
Abraham said, “Here I am, my son.”
“Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the offering?” asked Isaac.
”God will see that we have a lamb for the offering, my son.”They came to the place of which God had spoken, and Abraham built the altar and arranged the wood and bound Isaac, his son, and placed him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. And an angel of God called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am!” said Abraham. And God said, “Do not stretch your hand toward the lad, nor do the slightest thing to him, for now I know that you are God-fearing and did not withhold from Me.”
Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked and lo! There was a ram caught in the hedge. Abraham took the ram and offered it up as offering in place of his son. Abraham named this place, “God sees.”
An angel of God called to Abraham a second time out of heaven and said, “By Myself have I sworn, says God, because you have done this thing and not withheld from Me your son, your only son, that I will bless you without fail, and without fail multiply your descendants as the stars in heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore, and your seed shall inherit the gate of its enemies. And all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves through your seed, as a consequence of your having hearkened to My voice.”
Then Abraham and Isaac and the servants returned to Beer Sheva.
Rabbi Fishel Todd