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FATHER OF MANY

בס”ד

Genesis 17: 4

As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You shall be the father of a multitude of nations. אֲנִ֕י הִנֵּ֥ה בְרִיתִ֖י אִתָּ֑ךְ וְהָיִ֕יתָ לְאַ֖ב הֲמ֥וֹן גּוֹיִֽם

The Relationship Between G-d’s Covenant with Abraham and His Role as the Father of Many Nations

We see from the wording of the verse that the fact of Abraham being “father of a multitude of nations” depends on the covenant G-d made with him.

What’s the explanation of the relationship between these two facts?

To understand this, we need to analyze the spiritual meaning of the covenant G-d made with Abraham.

G-d made a Covenant with Abraham through circumcision. This, in a physical way, means to reveal something that was covered. The same happens spiritually: there’s a Divine energy that was “covered” and, through Abraham’s circumcision it became “uncovered”.

The Divine energy refers to G-d’s kindness. We find that the people of the generations before Abraham lived long lives. This represents, as our sages tell us, that they lived from G-d’s kindness. However, this kindness was indiscriminately available to everyone, even those behaving in a bad way. This is the meaning of the “covering” of the Divine energy: nobody recognized that G-d was the source of their well-being.

When G-d told Abraham to circumcise, the fact that the source of this energy was G-d became “uncovered” and, therefore, only available to those who deserved it.

This is one explanation of the relationship between the covenant and being father to a multitude of nations: before the covenant Abraham was not the father (that means ruler) upon many nations because they didn’t need it nor wanted it.  We see this reflected in the story of Noah and the Great Flood. Despite that this Divine energy was widely available, humanity largely spurned it, descending into violence and depravity. Even Noah, known for his righteousness and close relationship with G-d as we read in Genesis 6:9

This is the line of Noah.—Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with G-d.— אֵ֚לֶּה תּֽוֹלְדֹ֣ת נֹ֔חַ נֹ֗חַ אִ֥ישׁ צַדִּ֛יק תָּמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹֽרֹתָ֑יו אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹק֖ים הִתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ:

failed to intercede on behalf of his generation and did not ask G-d for His kindness for his generation.

After the covenant, Abraham became the conduit through which G-d’s kindness was revealed on the earth. Thus, he became the father (ruler) over a multitude of nations. We see this reflected in the story of Abraham, who boldly conversed with G-d regarding the impending judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah advocating fervently for mercy. Abraham’s actions demonstrate a profound understanding of how G-d intends His grace to be applied.

This also explains why the people after Abraham’s circumcision lived shorter lives. Abraham became the role model for goodness in the world and only those emulating him (to a certain degree) actually benefited from G-d’s kindness.

Another explanation of this relationship refers to Abraham being the father of all converts.

As explained, before Abraham’s circumcision all humanity could benefit from G-d’s kindness regardless of their behavior. This is the reason why we don’t find converts before Abraham’s circumcision. Nobody had a reason and the will to convert.

However, after Abraham’s circumcision, there was a descent in humanity’s capability to benefit from G-d’s kindness. Chassidism teaches that every descent has to be for a later ascent, even to a higher level than before the descent. What’s the ascent for humanity generated by Abraham’s circumcision? The idea of conversion and Noahides. That’s why we find people with a reason and the will to convert nowadays or to become a Noahide[1].

The Shift from Universal to Specific Grace

To further explain this second idea in the relationship between the Covenant and being “father to a multitude of nations”, we can dwell on the fact that G-d told Abraham in Genesis 17:19-21 that his true descendant would be that this only applies to Isaac.


G-d said, “Nevertheless, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac; and I will maintain My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring to come.
 וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים אֲבָל֙ שָׂרָ֣ה אִשְׁתְּךָ֗ יֹלֶ֤דֶת לְךָ֙ בֵּ֔ן וְקָרָ֥אתָ אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ יִצְחָ֑ק וַֽהֲקִֽמֹתִ֨י אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֥י אִתּ֛וֹ לִבְרִ֥ית עוֹלָ֖ם לְזַרְע֥וֹ אַֽחֲרָֽיו
And as for IshAs for Ishmael, I have heeded you. I hereby bless him. I will make him fertile and exceedingly numerous. He shall be the father of twelve chieftains, and I will make of him a great nation. וּלְיִשְׁמָעֵאל֘ שְׁמַעְתִּ֒יךָ֒ הִנֵּ֣ה | בֵּרַ֣כְתִּי אֹת֗וֹ וְהִפְרֵיתִ֥י אֹת֛וֹ וְהִרְבֵּיתִ֥י אֹת֖וֹ בִּמְאֹ֣ד מְאֹ֑ד שְׁנֵֽים־עָשָׂ֤ר נְשִׂיאִם֙ יוֹלִ֔יד וּנְתַתִּ֖יו לְג֥וֹי גָּדֽוֹל
But My covenant I will maintain with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” וְאֶת־בְּרִיתִ֖י אָקִ֣ים אֶת־יִצְחָ֑ק אֲשֶׁר֩ תֵּלֵ֨ד לְךָ֤ שָׂרָה֙ לַמּוֹעֵ֣ד הַזֶּ֔ה בַּשָּׁנָ֖ה הָֽאַחֶֽרֶת

This means that access to the Divine energy is only available to Isaac and, later, to Jacob. This caused all other people to be excluded. That kindness which they once had access to—despite often being misused—is now inaccessible. Particularly among the descendants of Esau, there are those who recognize this absence and consequently seek conversion to Judaism.

Once someone converts to Judaism, they are metaphorically reborn. This concept is stated in the Talmud, Yevamot 22a:10: “And the legal status of a convert who just converted is like that of a child just born.” When someone is reborn in this manner, they adopt Abraham as their spiritual father (Rambam, Laws of Bikkurim, 4:3) and, like the physical descendants of Abraham, gain access to this Divine energy.

There are also non-Jews who, for various reasons, cannot or do not wish to convert and formally join the Jewish people. However, they believe in the G-d of Israel and are aware of the grace that G-d extends to Israel, to them, and the world. They recognize that G-d desires the world to be a habitable place, as written in Isaiah 45:18.


For thus said G-D, The Creator of heaven who alone is G-d, Who formed the earth and made it,
Who alone established it— Who did not create it a waste, But formed it for habitation:
I am G-D, and there is none else.
 כִּי־כֹ֣ה אָמַר־ד’ בּוֹרֵ֨א הַשָּׁמַ֜יִם ה֣וּא הָֽאֱלֹקים יֹצֵ֨ר הָאָ֚רֶץ וְעֹשָׂהּ֙ ה֣וּא כֽוֹנְנָ֔הּ לֹֽא־תֹ֥הוּ בְרָאָ֖הּ לָשֶׁ֣בֶת יְצָרָ֑הּ אֲנִ֥י ד’ וְאֵ֥ין עֽוֹד:

A place where righteousness and justice prevail, where people treat each other well, is a place where God desires to dwell because He seeks a relationship with His creation. Those who are not part of the Jewish people can achieve this by connecting themselves to Abraham—specifically, to Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel—who can transmit this grace. By learning and observing the Seven Noahide Laws as transmitted by the Masoretic[2] tradition, Noahides can build a meaningful relationship with G-d.

In that sense, Abraham is the spiritual father of Noahides because he taught his children to do Justice and Righteousness, as we can read in Genesis 18:19:


For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of Hashem by doing what is just and right, in order that Hashem may bring about for Abraham what has been promised him.”
 כִּ֣י יְדַעְתִּ֗יו לְמַ֩עַן֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצַוֶּ֜ה אֶת־בָּנָ֤יו וְאֶת־בֵּיתוֹ֙ אַֽחֲרָ֔יו וְשָֽׁמְרוּ֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ ד’ לַֽעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט לְמַ֗עַן הָבִ֤יא ד’ עַל־אַבְרָהָ֔ם אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֖ר עָלָֽיו:

Conclusion

Before the covenant with Abraham, G-d’s grace was available to all, but due to misuse and the great merit Abraham had, G-d decided to channel this grace through Abraham. Converts reconnect with this grace by becoming spiritual descendants of Abraham, while Noahides align themselves with Abraham’s descendants to maintain their relationship with G-d. Thus, Abraham’s role as the father of many nations is both a literal and a spiritual truth, encompassing all who seek to walk in the path of G-d’s grace.

By Rabbi Tuvia Serber and Angelique Sijbolts

Notes:

[1] This also explains why we don’t find that so many people from the Arab world want to convert. Because Ishmael, Abraham’s first son, was born before the circumcision. This represents that he had a connection to that stage of humanity where G-d’s kindness was available. But we do find people coming from Esav willing to convert, because he was born after Abraham’s circumcision, that means, Esav came from a stage in humanity where G-d’s kindness was directed only through man’s good actions. In other words, G-d’s kindness was directed and not available for all: a deep descent in humanity. This descent itself is for a higher later ascent.

[2] The term “Masoret” (also spelled “Masorah” or “Masores”) refers to the Jewish tradition of the transmission and interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. It is a Hebrew word that means “transmission” or “tradition.” The Masoretic tradition encompasses the meticulous transmission of the text of the Hebrew Bible, including pronunciation, annotations, and liturgical and legal interpretations.

See also the shiur on Youtube from Rabbi Tuvia Serber

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