Weekly Reading Insights: 

Lech Lecha


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 behold, a smoking furnance, and a flaming torch...." (15:17)

It appeared to Abraham as if the furnace was all smoke and in its midst a flaming torch was burning, similar to a great smoke, with a fire flashing up. The "smoke" mentioned here is the cloud, and thick darkness mentioned at the giving of theTorah, and "the flaming torch" in its midst is "the fire" mentioned there: "You did hear His works out of the midst of the fire"; and it is further written: "The appearance of the glory of the Eternal was like devouring fire," etc. Thus the Divine Glory passed between the parts of the sacrifices, and this is the covenant which He made with Abraham forever. This is the meaning of the verse, 'the Eternal made a covenant with Abraham,' as the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself carried through 'the covenant of between the parts,' The student versed in the mysteries of the Torah will understand.


Rabbeinu Bachya

"…And count the stars if you are able to count them." [15:5]

G-d meant that just as Avram was unable to count the number of the stars so his own descendants would be innumerably many. An additional meaning in that message was that the cumulative wisdom possessed by the Jewish people would be beyond comprehension. Just as there are stars that give off more light than others, so there would be Jews who would possess more wisdom than others with which to enlighten their peers. Still another meaning included in that message to Avram was the promise that the degree of reward for which different Jews would qualify in the hereafter would also vary in proportion to the intensity of the light radiated by different stars. There is a reward for the souls and it is apportioned in accordance with the achievements of these souls while imprisoned in a body. Our sages in Sifri on Deut. 1:10 explained the words "as numerous as the stars in the sky" as referring to seven different groups of righteous souls in the hereafter. Each group differs from the next group in the level of reward G-d has accorded to it. Some radiate the kind of light radiated by the sun; others the kind of light radiated by the moon, and so on.



"There was famine in the land so Avraham descended to Egypt..." [12:10].

It is remarkable that Abraham did not think G-d's promises concerning the land included economic viability. Why else would Abraham have left the land as soon as famine struck? We have no evidence that the local inhabitants fled the country. Ramban considers Abraham's lack of faith so serious that it is seen by him as paving the way for eventual exile in Egypt. Our sages, however, do not view Abraham's conduct in this manner (see Bereshit Rabba 8).

The well-known Mishnah (Avot 1:2) states that the existence of the world is due to three factors: Torah, avodah (service to G-d) and loving kindness. Our sages taught that prior to the giving of the Torah there was only one factor: loving kindness. When the Torah was given the second factor was added, and when the tabernacle was erected in the desert, the third factor, avodah, was added.

Since Abraham personified loving kindness, he said to himself that were he to remain in Canaan, G-d would surely provide sustenance for him, but he nevertheless would be unable to practice loving kindness to others, not having the wherewithal, the surplus, to provide for the many who were starving. To enable him to acquire that, he had to move to a land of plenty. Abraham's main weapon in proselytizing, was his willingness and his ability to share his wealth with those less fortunate than he. If he would not have anything worthwhile to share, he felt that all his endeavors would be futile. He was the exact opposite of Elimelech (see opening verses of Ruth, and commentaries there), who left Israel to escape having to share his wealth with those who were suffering depravation due to the famine. The Talmud (Berachot 13) comments on the change of name by G-d from Abram to Abraham, that he who had been acting like a father to the people in his country, deserved and was destined to become the father (founder) of a multitude of nations.



Our sages tell us that there are three gifts that can be obtained only through [submission to] afflictions, and one of these three is the Land of Israel. We have experienced as a nation that we were very close to G-d when we first took over the Holy Land (received that gift), and, subsequently, G-d expects more of us; when we disappoint His expectations we are dealt with as severely as a father deals with his son, since he has the son's rehabilitation at heart. Being punished for transgressions immediately after one has committed them is the greatest sign that one is beloved of G-d. In such a situation it is an error to expect G-d to employ His attribute of "bearing iniquity", suspending punishment for a while.


Ohr HaChayim

" G-d said: 'But you wife Sarah will bear a son for you." [17:19]

Why did G-d add the word "but"? G-d may have wanted to explain to Avraham that if the gift of a son were something intended only for Avraham, it would suffice to grant his prayer and assist Ishmael to become worthy. However, there was another person to be considered, his wife Sarah. Inasmuch as Sarah was destined to bear a son, he Avraham, had no right to waive the gift of a son by Sarah in order for Ishmael to grow up worthy of his father.

…It is also possible that the Torah here hinted at G-d's displeasure that Avraham was satisfied with Ishmael, someone who contained residual poisonous material from the original Serpent. Had it not been for Avraham's prayer regarding the future of Ishmael, his son Isaac might not have originated in what kabbalists know as the sitra denekuva, an emanation of the left and female side of the emanations. Had Isaac originated in the other side of the emanations he might never have fathered an Esau. This matter had ramifications at the time of the akeida, when Isaac received the soul who would bear children for him, i.e. the moment at which Rebecca his life partner was born.



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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