Lech Licha – Blind Faith: A History of the Arab World

For Food for Thought in Spanish: Haga clic aquí para leer en español. Please share this with your Jewish Spanish speaking family, friends, and associates.

Towards the end of this week’s Torah Portion of Lech Licha Hashem gives a blessing to Yishmael because Avraham, his father, prayed to Hashem that he should receive a blessing; not because he was part of the covenant with Yitzchok, as the Rabbeinu Bachye (17:20) points out based on the pesukim in the Torah: “And regarding Ishmael, I have heard you; behold I have blessed him, and I will make him fruitful, and I will multiply him exceedingly; he will beget twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Yitzchok, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.” (Breishis 17:20, 21).

The Rabbeinu Bachye goes on to explain in more detail the blessing given to Yishmael, and how it came into fruition. “Yishmael had 12 sons who were enumerated by name at the end of the Torah portion of Chaye Sarah. It was written there: ‘The first born of Yshmael was Nevayot, [then came] Kedar, Adabel, Mivasem, Mashma, Domeh, Masa, Chadad, Teimah, Yitur, Nafish, and Kedmah, which equal out to 12.’ The fact that it says he begot 12 princes and not 12 nations is to show us their leadership and the profound greatness which was placed upon them because of the blessing, more so than on other nations, just as Hashem the Blessed One promised:  ‘Behold I will bless him and cause him to multiply very, very much.’ There is another implication to the word ‘princes,’ ‘נשיאים’ in that they disappear from the world after their profound greatness. For it comes from the pasuk, ‘נְשִׂיאִ֣ים וְ֖רוּחַ, Clouds and wind’(Mishlei 25:14), and it is coming to hint that they will be destroyed and lost from the world, like the language of ‘Just as a cloud is consumed and goes away’ (Iyov 7:9). This is also why the word for princes in this pasuk is spelled ‘נְשִׂיאִם֙’ without a yud towards the end of the word. The pasuk is coming to teach you about the kingdom of Yishmael that in the beginning they will be strong and in the end they will be weak. So to the angel said to Hagar ‘And he will be a pere adam’ (Breishis 16:12), meaning he will act amongst people like a barbarian who defeats everyone, and afterwards the hand of everyone will be upon him.”

Yishmael and his descendants were blessed by Hashem, due to Avraham’s merit and prayers, to be great and mighty rulers of enormous multitudes, for a long period of time; but only temporarily. Yet their time seemed not to have come too quickly, as Rabbeinu Bachye writes in the name of Rabbeinu Chananel: “We have seen that this promise was delayed for them by 2,333 years and this delay was not because of their sins, and they were yearning for its fulfillment all these years, and in the end it was fulfilled, and afterwards their empire was strengthened. As for us, whose kingdom was taken away because of our sins, and a time of 1,335 years was set, all the more so we should be yearning for His promise and never give up!”  (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We must put into perspective what Rabbeinu Chananel means, and the lesson he is trying to drive home. It so happens that his calculations are exact, for Avraham and Yishmael had a bris in the year 2047 (on the Jewish calendar) and Yishmael’s reign started in 4374 (622 C.E.) which is the year Mohamad fled Mecca, which started the Arab conquest, ten years before they spread throughout the world (4374-2047=2,337 years which is just 4 years off of Rabbeinu Chananel’s calculation of 2,333).

The 1,335 referenced for the Jewish people is referring to the second to last pasuk of Daniel, where it is discussing the Final Redemption and coming of Moshiach. It writes there: “Fortunate is he who waits and reaches days of one thousand, three hundred, and thirty-five” (Daniel 12:12). What this number means is completely obscured; it definitely does not mean, according to Rabbeinu Chananel, that Moshiach was supposed to come 1,335 years after the time of Daniel, for Daniel lived between 3304-3399 / 457-362 BCE which means, at latest, from Daniel’s death, 362 BCE. 1,335 years later would put it at the year 973 CE, and Rabbeinu Chananel lived from 965 CE until 1055 CE, which would have made him 8 years old at the time. It is evident that he wrote this many years later, and yet still said with confidence that ‘all the more so we Jews should have full trust in Hashem for our reckoning since there is some timetable even though that timetable is totally incomprehensible, and was purposefully written in that fashion.’ In fact, the Metzudas Dovid, many centuries later, said on that pasuk in Daniel: “It says happy is the one who waits for it and will then reach that moment and it then explains what we are hoping for which reaches a certain number but we don’t know what this is referring to (anything of its kind).”

Rabbeinu Chananel is trying to teach us a lesson from Yishmael’s descendants. Just as they knew without a doubt, and had blind faith that Hashem’s blessing and promise to them would one day come to fruition, as it did, all the more so we have to have unyielding trust in Hashem that He will bring the ultimate salvation to his Chosen People. Why should it be so obvious for us? Rabbeinu Chananel says our kingdom was only taken away from us because of our sins so it is up to us to repent and rectify the matter but it is also because we were given a number to look forward to, a sign, and though it is obscure and unknown, it is something to “hang our hats on,” as an impetus to strengthen our trust that His word will come true.

The History of the world is quite vast! It took 1,656 years before Hashem decided to send the flood. Yishmael and his descendants, the Arab world, were steadfast for 2,333 years in their blind faith and trust in Hashem, without any indications of when His promise to them would be fulfilled, and look where they are today!

We not only have that clarity of belief in Hashem, just as they do, but Hashem, out of his love and mercy for us, gave us some hint, albeit a very subtle one, in order to strengthen our yearning, drive for the End of Days and our Salvation.

Appreciating True Value

For Food for Thought in Spanish: Haga clic aquí para leer en español. Please share this with your Jewish Spanish speaking family, friends, and associates.

The philosophical debate over how Hashem is the Almighty and All Knowing yet we have free choice in this word has been debated for thousands of years. There is a Yalkut Shimone in this week’s Haftorah for the Torah portion of Behar which brings to focus the obvious but awesome reality that Hashem is in charge, knows and created everything.

The Yalkut Shimone is based on a few pesukim from the Haftorah in Yirmiyahu, perek 32: “Ho! O Lord God, behold, You have made the heaven and the earth by Your great power and Your outstretched arm, and nothing is hidden from You, Who exercises loving- kindness to thousands and requites the iniquity of the fathers in the bosom of the children who follow them, O Great and Mighty God, the Lord of Hosts is His Name. Who is great in counsel and mighty in carrying it out, for Your eyes are open to all the ways of mankind, to give everyone in accordance with his ways and in accordance with the fruit of his deeds” (Yirmiyahu 32:17-19).
The Yalkut Shimone, quoting a Medrish Rabba (Breishis 9:3) in the beginning of Breishis says, “‘Behold, You have made the heaven and the earth by Your great power and Your outstretched arm, and nothing is hidden from You.’ Reish Lakish said in the name of Rebbe Elazar ben Azariah, ‘‘Behold, You have made the heaven and the earth,’ from that time nothing is hidden from You.’ [The Zayis Ra’anan explains that at the time of the creation of heaven and earth, Hashem created all that in the future will be, during the six days of creation.] Rebbe Chagi in the name of Rebbe Yitzchok quoted a pasuk in Divrei Hayamim, “And you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father and worship Him with a whole heart and with an eager soul, for the Lord seeks all hearts, and He understands the thoughts of every creation; if you seek Him, He will be found to you, and if you forsake Him, He will abandon you forever” (Divrei Hayamim alef 28:9). Before a person finishes his thought in his heart Hashem already knows it. Rebbe Yudan in the name of Rebbe Yitzchok said that before Hashem even created his creation he knew their thoughts (see Maharz”u on this step of the medrish.) Rebbe Yudan himself quoted a pasuk in Tehillim, ‘For there is no word on my tongue; behold, O Lord, You know it all’ (Tehillim 139:4). Before one speaks Hashem knows what he is going to say. ‘O Great and Mighty God’ (Yirmiyahu 32:18).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The medrish is addressing fundamentals in our belief system. The famous pasuk in Mishlei says “There is nothing new under the sun.” The latest technology, computers, cars, airplanes etc. were all created during the six days of creation. Hashem might not have sent his messengers to reveal it to us until today, when it is the proper time for them to be introduced into the world, but everything that was “invented” or “discovered” has always been around in its potential for 5779 years and a tiny bit, ever since Hashem created the heaven and earth. Not only that, but Hashem knows every word that will come out of your mouth before you say it, every thought you think before you finish thinking it, and in fact he knows every thought and the nature of every human being even before he or she is born. That is how great and awesome and powerful and all-knowing Hashem truly is. If that is the case then the famous question arises of where is our free will?
The fact is the Rambam on a mishna in Pirkei Avos addresses this issue. The Mishna says in the name of Rebbe Akiva, “Everything is foreseen, yet the freedom of choice is given. The world is judged with goodness, and everything depends on the abundance of good deeds” (Pirkei Avos 3:15). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Rambam explains that every action a person does or will do is all known to Hashem. But don’t say that since Hashem knows what a person will do then his actions are forced to be righteous or evil based on his preordained destiny because freedom of choice is given into one’s hands to choose between good and evil and nothing forces anyone to do anything at all. And since this is true, the world is therefore judged with goodness, to punish the wicked and to give good reward to the righteous, for the sinner willingly sins and is befitting to be punished and the righteous is willingly righteous and is befitting to accept reward.

It is self-evident that we have free will. We make choices every day, for good or for bad. How then can we understand that Hashem, the Almighty, already created everything from the beginning of time and knows what we are going to say and even think before it actually happens? How are we not preprogramed robots with no sense of worth or growth in our lives? Furthermore, what is the lesson that we can learn from this dichotomy?

Briefly, without much detail, the way I very humbly understand with my significantly finite mind this seemingly contradiction is, granted the song is absolutely true: “Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere”, but in a whole different dimension out of our time and space which He himself created for us. Meaning Hashem is above and beyond our time and space and therefore he is able to see and know past present and future. He created it and constantly runs it consistently. Hashem specifically created the world and the entire universe, programming it to give humans free choice, a will to do good or bad within their time space so that within “Human time” we are able to make decisions that can affect all of existence. We can discover and invent things which were unknown in “Human time,” accomplishments for the betterment or the deterioration of humanity and the world around us. Yet, Hashem in His dimension, is all knowing, all powerful, above, beyond, and “one step” (really a lot more) ahead of us. He has everything figured out because He created it. Kaviyachol, sort of like a video game which has multiple possibilities and many ways to succeed or get out but the maker knows what’s going to happen at the end of the game because he created it.

Hashem did all this because He is a “Meitiv,” always positive and giving. In His infinite wisdom Hashem understands He can’t just make a world which is robotic and preprogrammed to do whatever it is supposed to do because there is no value to it and it would not be good. Rather Hashem created a system where people are able to earn their way through life or G-D forbid ruin it, in this fashion one can show his or her true value and it can be appreciated which is exactly what the Rambam explains the mishna in Pirkei Avos to be saying: “The world is judged with goodness, and everything depends on the abundance of good deeds.” The Rambam in fact concludes that Hashem hints to us  ways to accrue a lot more reward, “through the more one repeatedly and consistently does acts of good, thus his reward is multiplied, for there is a big difference between handing out a gold coin one hundred times for tzedaka than giving one hundred gold coins all at once for tzedaka.”

Being that we have a mitzvah to emulate Hashem’s ways, there is an important lesson among many that we can learn from this which is that we should appreciate the value and accomplishment of our fellow human beings just as Hashem does of us all, for Hashem went out of His way to create a system in its own dimension of time and space, programming it with the ability to have free choice and creativity in order so that we can choose between good and bad and automatically be recognized for the actions, speech and thoughts we accomplish, though of course Hashem in his dimension knows all that was, is and will be, and even created it, but this appreciation of value and worth must be good. So to, we, ourselves should go out of our way to seek out, appreciate and acknowledge the good of everyone around us and throughout the entire world.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder