Weekly Reading Insights: 



From The Masters Of Kabbalah and Chumash (5 Books of Moses)

13th century - "RambaN" - Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman

14th century - "Bachya" - Rabbi Bachya ben Asher

16th century - "Alsheich" - Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Tsfat

17th century - "Shelah" - Rabbi Yeshaiya Horowitz

18th century - "Ohr HaChayim" - Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar


"And the Eternal said: 'The outcry against Sodom and Amorah is so great, and their sin is so very grave. I will go down and I will see. Have they done everything implied by the outcry that is coming before me? If not, I will know." [18:20-21]

I shall now intimate to you the opinion of those who received the truth. Our Rabbis have exposited (Yerushalmi Ta'anit II, 1) from the verse "For behold, the Eternal comes forth out of His place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth" (Michah 1:3): "He comes forth and goes from attribute to attribute; He comes forth from the attribute of mercy, and goes to the attribute of justice." We interpret this matter similarly. "And the Eternal said (to Himself) The outcry against Sodom is so great, and their sin is so very grave. I will go down from the attribute of Mercy to the attribute of justice, and I will see in mercy if they have done everything implied by the outcry that is coming before me through the attribute of justice, and if so, punishment; If not, I will know and I will show mercy", just as in the verse, "And G-d knew" (Exodus 2:25).


Rabbeinu Bachya

"G-d's angel called to him from heaven and said… "Do not harm the boy. Do not do anything to him." [Gen. 22-11-12]

The apparently strange phenomenon in this paragraph, i.e. that G-d's is the one who subjects Avraham to the trial whereas the angel prevented him from going through with it, needs to be understood as follows: The "angel" mentioned in our paragraph is not of the category of the nifradim, "disembodied spiritual creatures," but it belonged to what are known as the netiyot, "the emanations of G-d" [a divine voice much closer to G-d's Essence than "mere" angels]. Had the angel who called out to Avraham and instructed him to desist belonged to the category known as nifradim, Avraham would have ignored him, would not have allowed himself to be countermanded by a subordinate of the One who had instructed him in the first place. Moreover, it is quite unthinkable that an angel of the "lower" category nifradim would have been allowed to say to Avraham, "you did not withhold your son from Me." He would have had to say: "from Him."

All of this proves that the voice which the Torah describes as emanating from an "angel of G-d" was of a superior divine level. This "angel" is also known as the "great angel" who manifested himself in Exodus 14:19 when the Torah describes him as traveling in front of the encampment of the Jewish people (performing all kinds of miracles). The words malach ha elohim employed there by the Torah do not mean "angel of the Lord," i.e. the word malach is not a possessive clause, the angel being merely an attribute of G-d. The word elohim in that verse must be understood as an explanation of the word malach. When the Torah describes this divine emanation as malach the meaning is that G-d is "contained, present," within this divine emanation. We encounter something similar in Exodus 23:21 where G-d explains to Moses that the malach who will be accompanying the Jewish people needs to be related to with the utmost reverence as "My name within him". Apparently, the word substituted for this attribute of G-d we called pachad Yitschak, an attribute which brooks no defiance of any sort. When we read in Genesis 48:16 when Yaakov blesses before his death, "the angel who has rescued me, etc. etc. is in the midst of the terrestrial world," which is an allusion to the adnut, the attribute of "mastery" which this "angel" represents. He has authority within the whole terrestrial universe.



"G-d said: Shall I hide from Avraham what I am going to do?" [18:17]

It was to convince Abraham that the impending destruction of Sodom was due not only to the attribute of justice being invoked, but the attribute of mercy too, that G-d decided to take Abraham onto His confidence. For Abraham to be able to also convey this insight to his descendants was very important. The teaching of emunah, faith, becomes so much harder when the student believes that G-d's power can be applied without the tempering effect of the attribute of mercy. Tzeddek and Mishpat, righteousness and justice, both are yardsticks that have to be employed when meting out justice. In this particular instance, if the angles were to be allowed to destroy indiscriminately, Avraham's function of being a source of blessing would appear to him to have been aborted.



The Midrash states that G-d wanted to create a universe that would be administered solely by the attribute of Justice. (Bereishit Rabba 12 and 15) These Midrashim say that when G-d realized that such a universe could not endure for long, He adopted the attribute of Mercy.

I have also explained that one must not conceive of G-d as having "changed His mind", having abandoned a previous plan, seeing that, "He is not human that He should have regrets". (Num. 23:9) All that happened to G-d's original plan is that instead of the yardstick of the attribute of Justice being applied universally, it is applied only to the truly righteous. To them G-d applies the most stringent yardstick. It is the application to them of the undiluted attribute of Justice which stamps them as superior creatures. They are but few in numbers. G-d applies a mixture of the attributes of Justice and Mercy to the vast majority of people. In the future, however, when everybody will qualify as a member of that formerly select group, everybody will be judged by the undiluted attribute of Justice and will prevail even under such scrutiny.

It is impossible for people nowadays to qualify for such a status until after their bodies, i.e. the raw material their bodies are made of, have undergone a process of refinement, such as the experience of exile and other afflictions. The more such suffering the Jewish people experience, the greater the evidence that G-d has decided to become very exacting with us in order to prepare us for that idyllic state.

When viewed from this perspective, we understand that the application of the attribute of Justice is really an expression of the greatest love of G-d for the Jewish people. Isaac is usually referred to as "Isaac, son of Abraham"; this means that Abraham, who represented the attribute of chesed, was the natural forerunner of Isaac, who achieved the status of being worthy of the attribute of Justice.

The power of the son in this case proves to be greater than the power of the father, since the attribute of Justice is the highest form of the attribute of Mercy. G-d rises, so to speak, from the throne called Justice and sits on the throne called Mercy. At that time the name Yitzchak (Isaac) which is related to the aspect of Justice, will be revealed as the source of joy, the deeper meaning of that name spelled as Yischak. (Psalms 105:9) The Zohar sees in the letters of Isaac's name when rearranged "kuf-tzadik chet-yud= kaitz chay," a hint of the attribute of Justice, since judgment ends in death, i.e. "kaitz chay", "end of life". In the future his name will symbolize joy as in Psalms 105.

Ohr HaChayim

"G-d appeared to him" (18:1-lit. "Appeared to him G-d")

Why is Avraham, the subject of the vision, mentioned before G-d? The normal construction would have been 'appeared G-d to him'. In the previous visions Abraham received, G-d is always referred to first (compare 12:7 and 17:1). Why does the Torah not mention the nature of this vision, the subject matter discussed, etc? Our sages in Baba Metzia 86 say that G-d simply paid Avraham a visit, seeing the latter was still recovering from the effects of the circumcision. While this is a nice explanation, there is not a hint of this in the text.

I believe that the message to Avraham was that henceforth G-d's presence would rest on him on a permanent basis. In kabbalistic terms. Avraham had now become a "carrier of the Shechina." The present form of address indicates that G-d's presence became felt by Avraham. Had the Torah used the usual wording we could not have become aware that G-d distinguishes between revelation itself, and the One who reveals Himself. It is because of this that Avraham's future visions are never again introduced by the word veyera (appeared). We find only: "G-d spoke to Avraham". This is a reminder he already wore the "crown" indicating that G-d's presence was upon him.

The term "He appeared to him" also alludes to the letter yud of G-d's name becoming visible on Abraham's flesh as mentioned in Tanchuma 96 and Zohar 1.95: "when the holy imprint rests on someone this means that G-d's presence rests on that person."
The message is also that now that Avraham was circumcised he was able to absorb a vision of G-d in His superior light. Not all became privy to a prophetic vision in the full sense of that word. He was able to absorb the full four-letter name of G-d. We would not have understood this if the Torah had written: "And G-d appeared to Avraham."



Ramban - credits
Adapted from the 13th century classic by the illustrious scholar, philosopher and defender of the faith, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman-known as 'RAMBAN' or 'Nachmanides', a master kabbalist in his own right and a major link in the transmission of Jewish mysticism-based on the excellent annotated English translation, Nachmanides on the Torah, by Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel

Bachya - credits
Selected with permission from the seven-volume English edition of The Torah Commentary of Rebbeinu Bachya, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk. Rabbi Bachya ben Asher [1255-1340] of Saragosa, Spain, was the outstanding pupil of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (the "Rashba"), a main disciple of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the "Ramban"). Several books have been written about the Kabballah-based portions of R. Bachya's commentary.

Alsheich - credits
Adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech, the "Preacher of Zefat" on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

Shelah - credits
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz was born in Prague around the year 1565. He served as Rabbi of Cracow and other congregations before he was appointed as the Rabbi of the community of Frankfurt on Main in the year 1610. In 1916, Rabbi Horowitz moved to Prague where he became the Chief Rabbi of the city. He moved to Eretz Yisrael about 1621. He was rabbi in Jerusalem and in Tiberias, where he died in or about 1630. In addition to his magnus opus, Shenei Luchot HaBrit, he also compiled an edition of the prayer-book with a comprehensive commentary. Many of his innovations, including his formulation of the Kol Nidrei prayer, have become part and parcel of the Ashkenazi Siddur.

Ohr HaChayim - credits
Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco, on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only to his Torah commentary.

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