So much happened in the life of Abraham that is not recorded in the Torah. The Midrashim are full of information about Avraham Avinu’s life. When the Torah begins to tell us about Abraham he is already at the advanced age of seventy five. Abraham already lived a full life and a holy life. Yet, at the stage in life when most people envisage taking things easier after full and active years; the story of Avrohom Avinu begins!
I’m reminded of when Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky OBM retired as Rosh Yeshiva of Torah VaDaas after an illustrious career , and probably at a similar age to Avraham Avinu, he remarked that finally now, he would now have the opportunity to grow to be become a great Torah leader.
It is only now, at seventy five years old, that Hashem starts him on a new journey both physically and spiritually, to be recorded for his children eternally.
What has happened until now?
Most famously he smashed all the idols in his father’s shop. He was the original, and literal, iconoclast. He was thrown into Nimrod’s furnace after refusing to recant his beliefs and miraculously survived to tell the tale. He fought against Nimrod as a king in his own right, militarily taking up the side of good and God.
Avraham was, above all, a man of truth. Truth was his driving force and truth gave him a fiery edge which would put him an odds with world and bring him to conflict.
Yet that is in marked contrast to the labeling of Avraham as the epitome of Chesed Kindness which is how he is primarily known to us. So, which was his defining characteristic – Emes or Chesed?
The Talmud (Taanis 4) teaches us that if we see a ‘tsurba m’rabbonon’ or what we would call today a Yeshivah Bochur, behaving in an angry, fiery fashion, we should not judge him harshly. We should realize that it is not he that is angry, rather ‘it is his Torah burning inside of him’. Rashi understands the term ‘tsurba m’rabbonon’ to refer to a young, sharp but not yet developed Talmid chacham, in contrast to ‘hahu m’rabbonon’, a mature scholar.
In other words, at the beginning of a Torah scholars development in Torah it is to be expected that the inherent fire of the Toras Emes which he is absorbing with such intensity will cause him to be fiery and even angry. However, says the Talmud, as he matures he learns to integrate his learning with his personality as he develops the necessary self control to be able to relate to others without excessive ardor.
I’ve been fortunate to have had personal contact with a number of Gedolei Yisroel of the previous generation – Rav Scheinberg, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Shach, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Satmer Rebbe, and more. Their most obvious common feature was a genuine personal warmth. I remember being scared before speaking to Rav Eliezer Shach OBM only to learn that he was the warmest of them all, holding my hand throughout the conversation. Mature Talmidei Chachamim transform from a place of ardor to a place of Chesed, kindness and peace.
Let’s look at Avraham’s first descent to Egypt. As they see the road signs to Egypt he tells his wife Sarah ‘now I know that you are a beautiful woman’. At seventy five he suddenly realized that Sara is beautiful! During all of years of marriage he never realized that his wife was the most beautiful woman in the world!
Clearly something had changed for Avraham Avinu. He has now joined the world and is now relating to the world around him differently. Until now he was a man of pure, unadulterated truth. Such a perspective is one which can’t fully relate to the physical world in which we find ourselves with all it’s faults and imperfections. Pure truth is the realm of the mind alone, of philosophy, disconnected from the world at large.
One who lives in this realm will clash with falsehood that is inevitably encountered. “Beauty is vain!” However the Torah indicates that at the point of entry to the most materialistic place on earth, Avraham descends from his lofty level, where earthly beauty is entirely irrelevant, to relate to the physicality around him more directly. It is only now, at age seventy five, that he can bring his connection to supernal Truth down to a physical realm, thus elevating it. It is now, as he enters into Egypt, that he is entering the real world.
It is here that we meet Avraham. The Torah begins to record his life as a paragon for all future generations. As he is transforming from an otherworldly man of Truth to the man of kindness, he becomes primarily defined by his outpouring of chesed in the physical world at large. He becomes a man of the world.
This transformation is to become the primary purpose in the life of his descendants; the ability to integrate supernal idea and ideals to an imperfect physical world in order to elevate physicality itself and make the world Godly.
The Leshem notes that the numerical value of ??? + ??? (beauty + truth) is 541, the same as the word Yisroel ?????. “Beauty is vain”worthless and empty in most contexts. However the Jewish people have the unique capacity to transmute Yofi or beauty into the realm of truth. If we further add the numerical value of of Chessed,???, to 541 we get 613, the number of mitvos in the Torah.
Our spirituality must be very practical and down to earth. We have mitzvos involving every detailed aspect of physical life that force us to be part of the world and it’s betterment.
Together we travel on Abraham’s journey through life. We travel through the physical world as we make the spiritual contribution that we are so able to make.
Thanks to Dr. Ben Bradley for his help in transcribing this shiur