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The Mitzvah in the Story

By: Rav Chaim Kanterovitz

At the very beginning of his commentary to the Torah Rashi quotes a Midrash and poses a fundamental question as to the order of the Torah itself. Considering that the Torah is a book of law shouldn’t the Torah begin with the Mitzvot in the book of Shemot rather than with the narrative of Breishit? (See Rashi Breishit 1:1)

In fact, what is the point of this narrative at all? It seems that both Rashi and Ramban explain the need for the book of Breishit in different ways. Rashi attaches a national importance to the order explaining that creation and Hashem's omnipotence is the source for the right of Am Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael, whilst Ramban emphasizes faith in the creator as a prerequisite to the Mitzvot that can only be gleaned if one believes in creation.

Yet I have always wondered as to why the Torah includes certain details in narrative and excludes others. When the Torah tells us in the portion of Noach that the world was to be destroyed and that one man was chosen to save humanity singled out from all mankind. The Torah tells us why that is:

These are the offspring of Noach, Noach was a righteous man perfect in his generations Noach walked with God (Breishit 6:9)

Yet Avraham is the founder of ethical Monotheism, the forbearer of our faith and the verses that tell us about him are sparse at best and lack information as to his qualifications to being the father of our nation.

Yes, it is true to say that in the midrashim there are various narratives of Avraham’s greatness, his discovery of God, his mesirut nefesh in being thrown into the fire of Ur Casdim and his denouncement of idolatry whilst proclaiming the faith in One God. Yet these are teachings of Chazal, our sages, and do not appear in the Torah itself. My query here is as to why that is the case? Why would the Torah tell us the details of Noach but not do so when it comes to Avraham?

Ramban (Breishit 12:2) asks this question and wonders why the Torah does not single Avraham out and name him as a Tzadik so that we may know what type of person he was.

The Ramban explains that Avraham excluded numerous types of Avodah Zarah, Idol worship systems, before he came to the realization and recognition in Hashem. If the Torah was going to set out his credentials it would have had to share this narrative which is not in the interest of the Torah and is irrelevant to our faith system.

However Maharal (Derech Hachaim 5:17) in explaining the Mishnah in Avot (5:16) where the Mishnah teaches that there are two types of love explains this otherwise. The first is dependent on something, conditional love whilst the other is independent and unconditional.

I suppose we could understand this Mishnah as teaching that if someone loves another because of their beauty, if that beauty were to disappear then their love would wane. Whereas if one loves another without any condition at all, there is no waning at all, the love remains always. This is the love Hashem has for Am Yisrael, independent of anything that we may do, and this is the love that Hashem had for Avraham Avinu.

If the Torah were to tell us why Hashem chose Avraham Avinu, teaches Maharal, it would set out conditions. Yet Hashem's love for Avraham is like the love Hashem has for his children, for Am Yisrael, unconditional and independent of any variables.

A brilliant comment in the name of the Gaon of Vilna recorded by his brother in a work called Maalot HaTorah teaches that the Gaon of Vilna couldn’t accept that there are only three Mitzvot in the entire book of Breishit. Rather he teaches that the book of Breishit is in fact narrative but that the narrative is also teaching Mitzvot - meaning that when we study the narrative and stories of the book of Breishit the actions and behaviors, moral ethical lessons that emanates from them, obligates us in the same way the mitzvot do, since these too are mitzvot but taught to us in narrative instead.

If this is so, perhaps we could say that if the Torah would have told us Avraham’s thought patterns and behaviors before he was chosen by Hashem and introduced to us in the Torah, we would be obligated to behave in the same way. Perhaps it is omitted because we can’t be expected to do so, or this is not within our obligatory relationship expressed through the Torah.

In any case, it is clear to me that Avraham Avinu remains the father and Pillar of our faith and as such very much our inspiration.

Shabbat Shalom


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