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PARSHAT LECH LECHA – CHESED AND MAGEN ABRAHAM

בס”ד

PARSHAT Lech Lecha – 5784

וְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ לְג֣וֹי גָּד֔וֹל וַאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ וַאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה שְׁמֶ֑ךָ וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה׃

I will make of you (Abraham) a great nation,
And I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
And you shall be a blessing.

וַאֲבָֽרְכָה֙ מְבָ֣רְכֶ֔יךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ֖ אָאֹ֑ר וְנִבְרְכ֣וּ בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָֽה׃

I will bless those who bless you
And curse the one who curses you;
And all the families of the earth
Shall bless themselves by you.”[1]

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said with regard to G-d’s blessing of Avraham: “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). “And I will make of you a great nation”; this is fulfilled in the opening of the first blessing of the Amida, as Jews say: G-d of Abraham. “And I will bless you”; this is fulfilled when they say: G-d of Isaac, as it is a blessing for a father when the name of his son is eternalized. “And I will make your name great”; this is fulfilled when they say: G-d of Jacob. One might have thought that Jews should conclude the first blessing of the Amida prayer with the names of all the forefathers; therefore the verse states: “And you will be a blessing” i.e., with you, Avraham, they will conclude the blessing, and they will not conclude with a mention of all of the forefathers. This is why the first blessing of the Amida prayer ends: Shield of Avraham.[2]

We see the following connected together:

A great nationAbraham
And I will bless youIsaak
I will make your name greatJacob
And you shall be a blessing.Abraham – Shield of Abraham

However, we have yet to see a good explanation for why it stops with Shield/Magen Abraham rather than all three Jewish patriarchs.

Because not everyone is likely to be familiar with the Shemoneh Esrai / Amida, I’ve included over here the first bracha:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ד’ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ וֵאלֹהקי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ אֱלֹקי אַבְרָהָם אֱלֹהֵי יִצְחָק וֵאלֹקי יַעֲקֹב הָאֵל הַגָּדוֹל הַגִּבּוֹר וְהַנּוֹרָא אֵל עֶלְיוֹן גּוֹמֵל חֲסָדִים טוֹבִים וְקוֹנֵה הַכֹּל וְזוֹכֵר חַסְדֵי אָבוֹת וּמֵבִיא גוֹאֵל לִבְנֵי בְנֵיהֶם לְמַֽעַן שְׁמוֹ בְּאַהֲבָה:

Blessed are You, A-donoy, our G-d, and G-d of our fathers, G-d of Abraham, God of Isaac, and G-d of Jacob, the Almighty, the Great, the Powerful, the Awesome, most high Almighty, Who bestows beneficent kindness, Who possesses everything, Who remembers the piety of the Patriarchs, and Who brings a redeemer to their children’s children, for the sake of His Name, with love.

The Chatima of the Bracha[3]:

מֶֽלֶךְ עוֹזֵר וּמוֹשִֽׁיעַ וּמָגֵן: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ד’ מָגֵן אַבְרָהָם:

King, Helper, and Deliverer and Shield. Blessed are You, A-donoy, Shield of Abraham.

Let’s zoom in a bit on the attributes on these tree Jewish patriarchs. The sagas tell us that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, embodied the three attributes of chesed (love, benevolence), gevurah (severity, restraint) and tiferet (harmony and truth).[4]

Let’s supplement our table with this.

A great nationAbrahamChesed
And I will bless youIsaakGevurah (which is in Chesed)
I will make your name greatJacobTiferet (which is in Chesed)
And you shall be a blessing.Abraham – Shield of Abraham 

Let’s zoom in on Abraham. Abraham’s love for G-d was so strong that he confidently left his native land, his father’s house to go to a land he knew nothing about. His generosity to the people was extraordinary. He gave people chesed wherever he could. A chesed that went above and beyond the natural. Abraham’s soul, his entire being, his entire existence was chesed. Not as it is sometimes with us, because we want to help others and give to charity, but this is frequently motivated by the reward we consciously or unconsciously gain for doing so. It makes us feel good, people respond positively to it, you get a compliment, and so on. Abraham’s chesed had nothing to do with this; he did it simply out of love for G-d, knowing that G-d had ordered him to do so, for one of the attributes of G-d is chesed and man must be in the image of G-d.

Let’s zoom in on the word chesed. Chesed means kindness or benevolence. It denotes the unbounded loving-kindness with which G‑d created the worlds and with which all of creation is permeated, as the verse states, “The world was built with chesed” (Psalms 89:3). Chesed is the foundation of our world. It was the reason G-d created the world, so that He could offer His Chesed to it. The sages teach that the world was created for the sake of Abraham. Because Abraham was the first to openly recognize G-d as King of the world and, following suit, spread chesed in the world…… G-d created the world with Chesed so that Abraham, and in his footstep’s mankind, would give chesed to others.

A great rabbi said: a day without kindness is a day not lived. Which resulted in him not going to bed before performing an act of chesed on the day.

G-d’s chesed keeps us alive every day and provides us with all we require, but it is also the reason we live. Our task is to give chesed to others; otherwise, the day is a waste.

The Psalm says that chesed is the foundation of the world, which begs the question why Pirkei Avot 1:2 says that the foundation of the world is Chesed, Avoda and Tora?

שִׁמְעוֹן הַצַּדִּיק הָיָה מִשְּׁיָרֵי כְנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה. הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְעַל הָעֲבוֹדָה וְעַל גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים:

Shimon the Righteous was one of the last of the men of the great assembly. He used to say: the world stands upon three things: the Torah, the Temple service (avodah – this days Prayer), and the practice of acts of piety (chasadim).[5]

These three points mentioned can again be linked to the 3 Jewish patriarchs. Let’s include them in the table:

A great nationAbrahamChesedChesed
And I will bless youIsaakGevurah (which is in Chesed)Avoda
I will make your name greatJacobTiferet (which is in Chesed)Torah
And you shall be a blessing.Abraham – Shield of Abraham  

Isaac’s gevurah was expressed in his great awe of G‑d and his exacting self-discipline. His avoda that he was willing to give his life when G-d asked.

Jacob’s attribute, tiferet, was his capacity for harmony and truth: his ability to integrate the attributes of Chesed and Gevurah of his soul into a cohesive whole. He was the one who sat in the tents studying Torah as stated in the vers:

וַֽיִּגְדְּלוּ֙ הַנְּעָרִ֔ים וַיְהִ֣י עֵשָׂ֗ו אִ֛ישׁ יֹדֵ֥עַ צַ֖יִד אִ֣ישׁ שָׂדֶ֑ה וְיַעֲקֹב֙ אִ֣ישׁ תָּ֔ם יֹשֵׁ֖ב אֹהָלִֽים׃

The lads grew up and Esau became one who knows hunting, a man of the field, but Jacob was a wholesome man, dweller in tents.[6],[7]

Now we see why Gevurah and Tiferet are in Hesed. Only through Chesed can we find ourselves “working” for G-d, praying, giving gratitude, and doing good things. Chesed is the only way to learn Torah. G-d’s Chesed in giving His Word, His Torah, to humanity.[8]

So, while Pirkei Avot identifies Torah, Avodah, and Chesed as world foundations, we find that Torah and Avodah rest on, come from, and are based on Chesed.

In the Misneh Torah we find that the foundation of the foundations is Emunah:

יְסוֹד הַיְסוֹדוֹת וְעַמּוּד הַחָכְמוֹת לֵידַע שֶׁיֵּשׁ שָׁם מָצוּי רִאשׁוֹן. וְהוּא מַמְצִיא כָּל נִמְצָא. וְכָל הַנִּמְצָאִים מִשָּׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ וּמַה שֶּׁבֵּינֵיהֶם לֹא נִמְצְאוּ אֶלָּא מֵאֲמִתַּת הִמָּצְאוֹ:

The foundation of foundations and firmest pillar of all wisdom is, To know that there is a First Being, that He caused all beings to be, and that all beings from heaven and earth, and from between them, could not be save for the truth of His Own Being.[9]

To know: The foundation of everything is total trust/faith/emunah in G-d. It was Abraham’s faith/emunah in G-d that transformed his essence into chesed, into a reflection of God’s chesed. This Emunah compelled him to listen and leave his country to the land G-d promised him.

Emunah is the foundation of Chesed, but it is not mentioned as one of the three (4) foundations in Pirkei Avot. This is due to the fact that while we can conceive chesed, avodah, and Torah, Emunah is bigger and more elusive than these three. Every day, even the greatest prophets and virtuous ones increase and deepen their emunah.

Our table now looks like this:

EMUNAH
A great nationAbrahamChesedChesed
And I will bless youIsaakGevurah (which is in Chesed)Avoda
I will make your name greatJacobTiferet (which is in Chesed)Torah
And you shall be a blessing.Abraham – Shield of Abraham  

Now let’s look at “and you shall be a blessing” and what that has to do with “magen – a shield”.

Anyone blesses Abraham (or his descendants) will be blessed, while anyone curses Abraham (or his descendants) will be cursed. If you choose to do good, you will be blessed; if you choose to do evil, you will be damned. We will be blessed if we commit to Abraham’s faith/emunah and the chesed that he learned and endeavor to emulate it.

In that way, Abraham was the polar opposite of Korah. Those who followed Korah were cursed, while those who followed Abraham were blessed. And we can apply that notion to today by following sincere, righteous people and avoiding cruel and evil people. Because your interactions will “infect” you.[10]

This leads us back to Emunah. We can have emunah in G-d and defeat a spiritual or physical foe, only to be terrified of what comes next. Then G-d adds, “You trusted me; continue to trust me,” because “I was with you, I am with you, and I will always be with you.”

EMUNAH
A great nationAbrahamChesedChesed
And I will bless youIsaakGevurah (which is in Chesed)Avoda
I will make your name greatJacobTiferet (which is in Chesed)Torah
And you shall be a blessing.Abraham – Shield of AbrahamG-d helps us to increase our emunah, chesed, Avodah and Torah study. [11]

By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources:

[1] Genesis 12:2-3
[2] Pesachim 117b:11
[3] The Chatima can be seen as a kind of “summary” of the brachot, in which the most important words are quoted. In this case “Abraham” and “Magen”. Source: Elke Morgen Nieuw by B. Folkertsma-Stichting 1978 p.59
[4] The Resemblance Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Courtesy of MeaningfulLife.com
[5] See also the blog: Pirkei Avot 1:2 – Torah, Temple Service and Kindness
[6] Genesis 25:27
[7] Rabbeinu Bahya, Bereshit 25:27:8-9 יושב אהלים, “a dweller in tents.” The plain meaning of the text is that Yaakov spent his time in the tents of Shem and Ever, i.e. in their academies.
[8] The Torah consists of 613 commandments for the Jews and 7 commandments for the non-Jews
[9] Mishneh Torah, Foundations of the Torah 1:1
[10] See also the blog: What Made Korach’s Sin so Severe?

Other used sources:

Shemoneh Esrei by Rabbi Ezra Bick, chapter 3
[11] This returns us to the top of our table to go through it again, but at a higher/deeper level. Abraham trusted G-d totally to leave his nation, and afterwards gained trust on a new level in situations where self-confidence may have been eroded.

Texts: Sefaria.org
נתיבות שלום

With thanks to B. Yaniger for the inspiration

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