By: Rabbi Guido Cohen, Director of Jewish Studies,
, Buenos Aires, Argentina and part of the leadership in the Latin America region.
(Rabbi Guido Cohen can also be contacted at
, or twitter: @guicohen)
Two weeks ago, when we read about the beginnings of Abraham’s journey, the Torah described Abram (the additional H in AbraHam was not yet added) as a “wealthy” man. The term used in Bereshit 13, “
” is translated by many editions as “rich”, but means literally “wealthy”. Most of the commentators understand this metaphorically, as if Abram was rich in many aspects. Some connect the word “
” with “
”, making Abram not only a rich man but also an honorable one. Others connect the idea of Abram’s wealth with the fact that he was already well versed and carefully observant of the not-yet-written Torah.
However, right after this word, the Torah explains: “Abraham had lots of possessions: gold, silver and cattle”. Based on this, Rashi reads Abraham’s wealth not necessarily as a blessing but as a burden. His commentary on “
” says: “laden with burdens”. Probably Rashi refers to the fact that all these possessions were difficult to carry during Abraham’s wandering through the land. However, I would like to offer an alternative interpretation, comparing that verse with another verse that describes Abraham’s situation in this Parashah: “
And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and God had blessed Abraham in all things
” (Bereshit 24:1)
What happened, between chapter 13 and chapter 24, that the Torah defines Abraham not as wealthy but as a man that received God’s blessing in all things? What does it mean that God had blessed Abraham in all things? What is the nature of this blessing?
Interestingly, right after the Torah shares with us the fact that Abraham was wealthy, a series of unfortunate episodes happened in Abraham’s life. First, his herdsmen quarrel with Lot’s and he decides to divide the land and to separate from Lot, who was not only his nephew but one of his ‘partners’ in his project of establishing a new people in the Land of Canaan. His fight with Lot is only the first of a series of difficult family situations that Abraham experiences, the peak taking place in Parashat Vayerah, when Abraham endangers his three most important family relationships: his wife Sarah spends the night with a foreign king because of Abraham’s fear to admit that she is his wife; he cast his son Ishmael out of his house at Sarah’s request; and he almost sacrifices his son Isaac at Mount Moriah in order to obey God’s commandment.
Vayerah, last week’s Parashah, shows us how difficult it was for Abraham to deal with his relationships. The more successful he was with his enterprise of founding a new people and a new culture in the Land of Canaan, the more difficult it was for him to deal with the challenge of being a father and a husband. Perhaps, that is the reason for Abraham’s being ‘wealthy’ but not yet ‘blessed’ in the Torah portion we read two weeks ago.
Very often, these two terms are confused. Wealth is perceived (and expected) as a blessing and blessings are expected to take the form of wealth. Abraham gets it right, and waits to feel blessed much more than he had to wait to feel himself as a wealthy person. He knows wealth and blessing are not necessarily related, and only in the last part of his journey does he devote time and establishes the priorities that will allow him to feel blessed.
What happens in Parashat Chayei Sarah? Abraham cries over the death of his beloved wife and takes care personally of acquiring a site for her grave in order to dedicate a space for her memory. He starts drafting his will and commands his servant Eliezer to make sure Isaac will continue his father’s footsteps. Isaac marries Rebekah and by witnessing that, Abraham can look back at his life and see that the seeds he has planted are yielding promising fruits:
journey may be over, but there is now someone who will continue walking in his footsteps. And to close with this beautiful series of moments of blessing, Abraham leaves this world to rest next to his wife in the Machpelah cave, buried by his two sons, who meet now as adults to pay tribute to the memory of his father.
Abraham was very ambitious in what he expected for his life. The measure of success, of richness, is not defined by possessions, but by our expectations for life. Abraham didn’t care about camels, sheep, gold and silver. He knew that in order to feel “rich”, he would have to be ”
“, happy with his portion, and his idea of portion included much more than possessions that make one “wealthy”. It is at the end of his life, when he repairs what was once broken and when he allows himself to feel his humanity as a father and husband putting this above his responsibility as a leader, that Abraham is truly blessed.